Sustainable Landscape: height of trees and distance from house?

chueh(7B)September 30, 2011

I have about 20-28 ft clearance from the loblolly pine trees (I am guessing about 50-55 ft tall), to the house all the way around the house. Are they close enough (or too far) to cast enough shade for the house in summer for sustainable purpose?


Latitud 33.436975


Sun Chart on June 21

Sun Chart on December 21

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

chueh, I'm not exactly sure what your concern is. Your use of the word "sustainable" makes me think that you think that your plants will perish unless you prepare their environment with nothing less than perfection. Most landscaping is more forgiving than that. You'll have some plant failures, but likely far more successes. If you're using gardening plants (as opposed to landscaping plants) with other gardeners, much of getting things to come out right is respecting general knowledge about the plant' requirements and then, trial and error. If a plant doesn't perform well in one place, you try to figure out why and move it to a place where you think it will be happier. If you're using landscaping plants, it's likely that your success will be easier because many of these plants are tough and adaptable to a wider variety of conditions. Lots of plants grow in sun or shade.

Your house is in a clearing of pines. In the summer during the earlier and later parts of the day, your house will be shaded because the sunlight is coming from a sharp angle to the earth's surface. When the sun is high, you're not going to have any shade on the house...unless the pine canopy is VERY wide (which I doubt.) During the winter, your house and yard (depending on it's overall size) may be in shade most, or all of the day. If you have a second story, it might get sun.

For the most part, what will matter are the conditions during the growing seasons...Spring and Summer. Here, your observations from being on the property will far outweigh any scientific predictions based on charts, measurements and theory. By and large, place plants where they are happiest during the growing season and they will care little about the conditions during the dormant season.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 6:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

A bosque or grouping of trees placed on the SW side of the house can provide significant degrees of cooling shade thus lowering your cooling bills. ( This is part of what is called sustainable design )
The trees appear to be close enough to provide shade to your structure in both the hot and cold months.
It you find there is too much shade in the winter time you could thin them so as to increase solar gain for the cold months.

Ideally, sustainably design speaking, your trees would be deciduous.
1. providing shade in the summer
2. providing solar gain in the winter
3. providing compostable materials for soil enrichment

( I'm a certified sustainable design consultant )

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 11:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thank you for the replies.

Oh, yes, deviant, I forgot about the trees; they HAVE TO BE DECIDUOUS. In my case then, I would have enough shade in summer but would not have solar gain in winter... :-(

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 12:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
karinl(BC Z8)

Deciduous also works better in part because it usually has a wider canopy up high, compared to conifers, though I don't know the profile of your pines, thus enhancing the list of benefits given by DD. But that is only for trees to the south (including SW and SE) of the dwelling.

Where I think sustainable design places conifers, dense ones if possible, is to the direction of prevailing winter winds, usually north I think. So the perfect combo is conifers north of the house, where they don't affect sun on the house at all, and deciduous trees to the south.

Given that your pines apparently already exist you likely won't replace them, but if you thin them, then you needn't bother with the ones to the north. Although, if this is where your storms come from, these are the ones most likely to fall on the house if they are too close.

Karin L

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm not sure how to word this question, but - Do evergreens provide any insulation? protection from the cold? I have enormous ones on 2 corners of my house so was wondering.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 12:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yes, exactly karinl...... Thank you.

I have had some readings on sustainable landscape design, and what karinl said resembles them all.

Plant deciduous trees preferably in SE and towards S but not cover all S. An air pocket is needed; AT the true S, no tree is planted. For the sun is high in summer, not much shade is provided.

Plant evergreens in W, NW, and continue 2/3 N, as wind breaks.

My best bet is to thin some pine trees, as karinl and deviant said, and perhaps plant some deciduous which will grow wide. Well.... I may be in my deathbed already when they grow up, LOL

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 1:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

BTW, deviant... I will hire a sustainable architect to design the house plan. Once the plan is done, I will hire a sustainable landscape architect. I would like to know according to the lot setting I have now, if it is better suitable for sustainable architecture with one floor or two floor, upon the original info I provided. I don't want to decide to build one or two storied house, and then when the landscape architect comes to design, he finds out the house we will build is not suitable to do passive solar landscaping.

Right now, I am trying to figure and understand as much as possible before I hire anyone, so I would have a better idea what I am dealing with.


P.S. My lot is about 152 ft long and 152 wide. The pine trees I was talking about are on the border of the lot. The 20-28 ft clearance between the edge of the house and the pine trees is only the distance I figure after I have the rough idea of my house width

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 2:50PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
terrene(5b MA)

I have large deciduous trees that are between 55-60 years old on the southeast and southwest corners of the house. This is an ideal placement for summer shade because the sun is at a lower angle when coming from the SE and SW directions. There used to be a huge awful Norway maple due south, but I had that cut down. What an improvement!

My trees are only about 20 feet from the corners of the house, which has turned out to be too close. They really needed to be about 10-20 feet farther, because the canopies have reached 50-60 feet high and equally wide which spans the parts of the roof, walkways, and deck. One big drawback is that lots of debris is dropped and I have to sweep often, and clean the gutters out at least twice a year, and this year 3 times because of tropical storm Irene. And there's nothing I can do about these huge trees now, except have them trimmed or cut down...

The tree species is an important decision (the tree forum is good for this). Some trees are water hogs and will grow towards any water source and do bad things like invade your septic system or sewer pipes. Some have unfavorable root systems that heave sidewalks and driveways. A deciduous species that drops its leaves relatively early is good because it means increased solar gain when the weather is cooling off.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 4:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bahia(SF Bay Area)

The results will be more appropriate to your site if you have the architect and landscape architect working together from the beginning, rather than wait to get the landscape designed. One versus two story design can both work with a house designed for passive solar gain in winter. I think the term "sustainable" design is entirely misunderstood by many. The broader concept of sustainability has to do with best use of resources for the desired use, and the most sustainable designs for housing would focus on rehabbing existing structures utilizing local recycled materials for best energy efficiencies. New construction is not really ever an example of sustainable design in the larger sense if it consumes more resources than rehabbing/upgrading existing older homes.

I think instead you might prefer to define what you're interested in building as an energy efficient design for your climate that minimizes materials which require the most imbedded energy use to provide. Recycling materials from demolished construction and/or repurposing already manufactured materials in-lieu of newly made materials are examples of more sustainable design. Garden design sustainability would look at design for least energy inputs of off-site water and energy, minimizing the need for using power tools for maintenance, as well as on-site recycling of tree trimmings and garden debris. Planting choices and layout would emphasize plants that need the least pampering with added fertilizers and irrigation, placed to facilitate passive solar heating/cooling of the home, as well as a layout that minimizes the need for constant pruning to compensate for over-planting. Sustainability in the larger sense of the word is not really compatible with the classic idea of gardens; which nearly always require constant maintenance and inputs of labor, water, fertilizer,haul away of debris, weeding, etc to maintain the design concept. One may only come closer to being sustainable than actually truly sustainable with a garden, IMO. Therefore I find the buzz around being green and sustainable is often more hype and marketing to the wealthy than truly making our society more sustainable at large. I see this especially well illustrated at the high end residential home market with ridiculously large yet energy efficient homes built with expensive materials and systems that can't begin to scale for mass production or lower income homes, and represent silly claims of sustainability that can't logically be supported.

If you really are interested in minimizing your energy footprint, keep the new home sized small, emphasize re-use and repurposing of materials, and look at overall imbedded energy costs of material choices for the home and garden, and try to maximize local energy efficient materials. Design choices will always have to balance tradeoffs between initial costs and energy savings over time.

I bet there are local builders, architects and landscape designers who are exploring how these ideas play out in your local climate. I'd also advise that there's a lot of hype over cost effective performance, and it will come down to your personal choices and preferences as to how "sustainable" you choose to be. In my own case, I chose to remodel my existing home of relatively modest square footage, replacing all existing windows, electrical and plumbing, adding additional insulation throughout as well as adding a more energy efficient radiant floor heating system along with new skylights for better day time lighting, rather than looking to build a new home from scratch. If I'd had the money, I'd have liked to add solar panels to the roof, but couldn't justify the additional upfront costs. I've made the house less expensive to heat in winter and use less water and power on a monthly basis, but don't make claims that the process was sustainable to the degree of recycling of all removed materials and only using recycled building products. I do think it is more sustainable staying in an older existing dense urban neighborhood already built out and well connected to utility and transit grids rather than moving to the exurbs.I've managed to keep my commuting to jobs within a 15 to 30 mile drive, at the same time I've improved the comfort and lifespan of an exsisting home built with old growth redwood, as well as reorganize the interior space for better living without enlarging the footprint. Those are the sort of concepts I believe are more realistically sustainable as compared to brand new construction.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 4:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Bahia, thanks so much on your input, which is exactly I am after. That's why I cannot find any house plan to fit my own needs with sustainable design in mind, for I don't use any room or space all day long. Multi-purpose spaces are what I am looking for. Nowadays, people are more eco-friendly conscious than before, yet they build bigger houses than ever while looking for energy efficient alternatives to justify, which may even cost a lot of energy to transport materials and such. Thank you so much again for your honest response.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2011 at 7:38PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Tiffany, purpleinopp GardenWeb, Z8b Opp, AL(8B AL)

Another word to use when searching for this type of info in regard to the landscaping part would be permaculture.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2011 at 12:13PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Need landscaping ideas for new home please
Hello everyone. We moved into our new build in November....
Need landscaping ideas
Hi, we just built this house on a junior acre in zone...
Help with small retaining wall
I am starting to landscape my yard and am having trouble...
Please need help 100% blank slate both front and back
Hi guys glad I found this forum been reading alot of...
Help with frontyard design changes
Hi, I’m in the process of replacing turf in my front...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™