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The giving tree: Shade trees save money, raise resale values

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Ng Han Guan/AP

(Read caption) A woman sleeps on a bench under the shade of trees in Beijing, in this June 2012 file photo. No matter where you live, planting shade trees is an economic and environmental win.

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The house we live in now was built in 2000 and is sitting in an area that was open, flat farmland before that. The previous homeowners only planted one tree and it’s a slow-growing one. We’ve planted two trees since, but they haven’t grown enough to provide shade.

Our neighbors, however, have a beautiful shade tree behind their home. They planted a fast-growing tree almost the instant they moved in twelve years ago and it’s grown rapidly ever since. Today, it provides amazing shade for a large portion of their yard and, in the last year or two, a portion of our yard as well. During the early morning hours, it’ll provide shade over a portion of our garden, making morning garden work quite pleasant.

For them, it’s even better. For a good portion of the morning, the tree provides shade to the back of their house. It keeps the hot rays of the morning sun from going in their windows, enabling them to throw open those windows for fresh air without worrying about the heat of the sun and keeping them from running their air conditioning until a bit later in the day than they otherwise would.

Even from a neighbor’s perspective, I can see that the shade tree saves them money.

A shade tree is a giant sun blocker. It keeps the heat of the sun’s rays off of your home, keeping the temperature of your home naturally lower than it otherwise would be. The exact effectiveness of a shade tree in shaving money off of your energy bill is difficult to calculate as it depends on a lot of factors, but a properly positioned large shade tree can easily cut $25 off of your annual cooling bill.

Even better, a nice shade tree can increase your property value. A few shade trees in the back can significantly increase the curb appeal of your home when you choose to sell it. A few shade trees can add 10% or more to a home’s resale value.

It is important to note, however, that shade trees are a long term investment. You’re not going to immediately recoup your money on a shade tree. It requires many years to grow into its full size, and it won’t provide many of the financial benefits until it gets there. Planting a shade tree right now will see dividends in twenty years or so.

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How can you go about this? The first step would be to contact city hall and see if they have recommendations for trees in your area. Not all trees work well in all areas. It’s best to trust the advice of a local arborist when selecting a tree.

You should also carefully plan where to plant the tree. The best place to plant a tree is on the east or west side of your home, preferably at an angle to maximize shade during the peak summer months. If you live in northern areas, this won’t be to the direct east and west of your home, but at an angle due to the sun.

You’re also going to want to avoid above-ground and below-ground utility lines when planting. Make sure you’ve contacted your state’s department of natural resources before you plant so that you know where the below-ground lines are, and use your own eyes to judge nearby utility lines. The more you can avoid them, the better.

If you’re going to be living in your current home for a long time, consider planting a shade tree or two. It’s something you can do today that will begin to slowly save you money in a few years and eventually increase the return you get on your home.

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