GoodSeed Farm > Trees Are Nature’s Air Conditioning

Trees Are Nature’s Air Conditioning

Maxfield Parrish’s painting “Twilight” captures the wonderful feeling of being sheltered from the evening sun by a stately tree.

This is the time of year when we are extremely grateful to have shade on our home in the hottest part of the day. We have a young London Planetree (a seedless cousin of the native sycamore) in our front yard, big enough to cast a shadow on our entire house at five in the afternoon, and the protection it offers would be priceless if it weren’t for the fact that we could probably put a dollar value on it.

Having the tree in the middle of our front lawn is no accident. Our house faces west, a fact we quickly discovered when we first moved in. At that time we had a narrow front porch, typical of old farmhouses (our dates back to the early 1800’s), just wide enough for us to sit in a row facing the setting sun each evening. Like so many southern Ohio farmhouses, ours has a steep metal roof and, when we moved in, had no insulation, air conditioning or shade whatsoever.

Relaxing on the front porch in the evening after a hard day’s work was our only escape from the sweatbox that our house became on a typical summer day. It was obvious that we needed some shade, so we planted a young tree. We placed it very carefully, directly between my porch chair and the sun at 6PM, so that its puny shadow pointed at the exact spot where I wanted to spend my summer evenings.

This precise placement paid off almost immediately. We have since extended our front porch from six to ten feet, but even before this improvement we got relief from the afternoon sun as our sycamore sapling rapidly spread, its saucer-sized leaves protecting us from the sun’s rays like thousands of tiny parasols. As the years rapidly passed and the tree continued to grow, its shadow gradually encompassed the entire house, for an ever-greater portion of the afternoon and evening.

The air temperature under an established shade tree on a hot summer day is at least 20 degrees cooler. Protection from the radiant heat of the sun reduces the ground temperature even more, not to mention the attic temperature under the metal roof of our old house. What used to be a sweatbox at 6PM is now quite comfortable all afternoon, and my porch chair is in shade for almost the entire day. Over the years we’ve had to rearrange the perennial gardens adjacent to our front porch, as sun-loving perennials (and Marjorie’s porch planters) struggled for lack of sun and had to be replaced with shade-lovers.

I’m not sure how to calculate the dollar benefit of energy savings (thanks to the tree we still haven’t installed whole-house air conditioning), however I have no doubt that the modest cost of the young tree we planted in 1998 has been repaid countless times. The cool shade on our front porch is priceless, as is the ambience of our front yard, graced by the now foot-thick trunk with its peeling bark and distinctive white mottled color.

I grew up in southern New Jersey, where there are numerous old farms named “Buttonwood Farm” after the graceful old sycamores planted in their farmyards. Maxfield Parrish immortalized this classic scene in a painting called “Twilight” that has hung in our living room for decades. Something about this painting spoke to me many years ago, and probably led to our choice of a sycamore to shade our own farmhouse when we moved to Ohio. Having this tree has enriched our lives tremendously. It has also saved us a bundle of money on air conditioning.