2. Plant Vines
Frank Lloyd Wright once said “a doctor can bury his mistakes, but an architect can only advise his clients to plant vines.” It turns out he could have been a mechanical engineer, for it is surprising how effective vines are at keeping a house cool. With the new weatherization grants, the salesmen are out peddling ground source heat pumps to keep you cool for less, but really, free is better.
Climbers can dramatically reduce the maximum temperatures of a building by shading walls from the sun, the daily temperature fluctuation being reduced by as much as 50%. Together with the insulation effect, temperature fluctuations at the wall surface can be reduced from between 10°/14°F to 60°C/140°F to between 5°C/41°F and 30°/86°F. Vines also cool your home through envirotranspiration, described in TreeHugger’s post Be Cool and Plant A Tree.
Surprisingly, they also work in winter to keep you warm, by maintaining a pillow of air and reducing wind chill. Heating demand can be reduced by 25%.
Some say that vines damage a building, but if the masonry or siding is in good shape they should be fine. Others claim that it actually protects the building from very heavy rainfall and hail, and shields the building from the effects of ultraviolet light, which can degrade paints and some sidings.
Top that off with the fact that it absorbs pollutants and offers a habitat for insects, spiders and birds.
So it is another low-tech, energy free way of shading your home and keeping cool, perhaps even eliminating the need for air conditioning in many climates.
3. Plant a Tree
I don’t own an air conditioner. The house immediately to the south does it for us, completely shading the south side of our house. What it misses, a huge ancient maple in its front yard gets, so in winter I get a lot of sun in my window, and in summer I am always in shade. A tree is as sophisticated as any electronic device around; it lets the sun through in winter and grows leaves in summer to block it.
And wait, there’s more: Oikos writes:
“Trees provide a cooling bonus. To keep themselves cool, trees pump water from the ground into their leaves. As this water evaporates from the surface of the leaves, it cools the tree. This ‘evaporative cooling’ cools the surrounding area, too.”
They estimate that the energy savings can be as high as 50%. (In our case, where we don’t own an air conditioner, they probably are.) So before you invest in fancy hardware, invest in a tree. The payoff will probably be faster and last a lot longer. (More in Planet Green)
Next: optimize your windows and shutters