An Oklahoma landscape architect shares tips on how your home’s yard can yield energy-efficiency savings
Landscaping is an approach that can beautify your home and help you control future energy costs for years to come.
The change of seasons brings opportunity for new beginnings, especially with your home’s landscape. Whether you are starting from scratch or tweaking an existing space, the concepts of beauty and energy-efficiency don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
“Landscape can change the quality of life,” Mark Myers, landscape architect, says.
Myers’ passion for landscaping was planted early in life. As a teenager, one of his first jobs was working for the Oklahoma State University horticulture department. The grunt work included a lot of hoeing, but he also became familiar with plants, vegetables, fruits and ornamentals.
He fell in love with the field, and more than 40 years ago Myers created his own landscaping business, Courtyard Gardens. Among many beautiful spaces, you may have seen the fruits of his labor at the Oklahoma City Zoo, which was an installation project, and a design-build at the Wedding Garden at the historic Dominion House in Guthrie, Oklahoma. For Myers, a well-landscaped space not only offers aesthetic benefits, but thoughtful planning can also increase air quality and provide energy-efficiency savings.
“Oklahomans are very adaptable and interested in self-sufficiency,” Myers says. “We can trace our roots back to early pioneers and note how they built their houses in sod to provide insulation.”
Today, we can see similar results in protecting and shading homes with trees. The landscaping efforts can be worth several thousand British Thermal Units (BTUs) of air conditioning. BTUs measure the amount of heat a conditioning unit can remove from a room per hour. According to the Department of Energy, a well-shaded home can reduce an unshaded home’s air conditioning costs overall by 15-50%.
Creating windbreaks is also important in Oklahoma. Wind is one of the harshest factors in our climate. Myers recommends planting dense evergreen trees on the southwest side of your home to help block warm winds in the hot summer months and planting on the northwest side of the home to shield from bitter winter winds.
Native trees are excellent species to consider including in your space because they are known to survive and thrive in the state. When planting trees, it’s important to follow guidelines recommended by your rural electric cooperative. Daniel Lofland, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative’s energy efficiency and solutions specialist, says trees can be an excellent feature for members’ homes.
“We often get the reputation we don’t like trees, but we actually encourage members to plant trees, as long as they are placed correctly and safely,” Lofland says.
Lofland recommends members use “Call OKIE” to first call before they dig. Also, he advises members to “look up.” If there is a power line, he says trees should never grow taller than 30 feet. He often suggests redbuds and dogwoods to members to add interest and savings to members’ yards.
Myers likes to work with native trees and many varieties of maple trees. However, he says experimenting with your own home can also be an adventure. While most of the state falls into the Temperate climate region, each space has its own “microclimate” to consider as well.
“You might have an area at your home that isn’t typical for Oklahoma,” Myers says. “Whether that is a space that allows protection from the wind or an orientation that provides different sunlight, you might be able to grow plants successfully that others could not.”
Myers also recommends adding seasonal color so you can look forward to a transformation in your space throughout the year. With good planning and research, you will be on your way to a landscape that lasts and saves you some green too.