If placed properly in the yard, just three trees could save you between $100 and $250 a year in energy costs. Image: Peter Gridley/Getty Images
Trees don’t ask for much — dirt, water, sunlight. Yet they provide a wealth of benefits: They improve the air you breathe, cut your energy bills with their shade, provide a home to wildlife, and add beauty and value to your home.
But every year, 3.2 million acres of forest are cut down, according to the Nature Conservancy. Several million more acres are lost to fire, storm, and disease. That’s why planting new trees and protecting the ones we have is so important. You can do your part by
Caring for the trees in your yard
Supporting tree-planting activities in your community
Donating to organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, which works to preserve the world’s trees and forests, and American Forests, which offers a unique way to take action. First, use its online Climate Change Calculator to determine your carbon footprint. Then, make up for your emissions by donating to a forest restoration project.
Why should you care about trees? Bankable benefits
The most tangible bang from your bark comes from energy savings. Three properly placed trees could save you between $100 and $250 a year in energy costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Trees save energy two main ways. Their shade cuts cooling costs in the summer. In winter, they serve as windbreak and help hold down heating costs.
The National Tree Benefit Calculator estimates that a 12-inch elm in an Omaha yard can save $32.43 a year on your energy bills; the same tree in Atlanta would save you $11.89 annually. The calculator also breaks down other dollars and cents benefits of your tree, like decreasing storm water runoff, removing carbon dioxide from the air, and increasing property values.
In our elm example, the 12-inch tree adds $40.23 to the Omaha home’s value and a $57.33 to the one in Atlanta. And as trees grow larger, they can add even more value.
A 2002 study by the USDA Forest Service pegs the value a single tree adds to a property of about $630. Of course, tree value depends on size, species, location, and condition.
Adds Frank Lucco, a real estate appraiser with IRR-Residential in Houston, “On a $100,000 home [in my market], as much as $10,000 of its value could be associated with mature trees.”
That’s peanuts compared with the role trees play as the lungs of the planet. A report by the Trust for Public Land estimated that one mature tree takes 48 pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year and returns enough oxygen for two human beings.
Plant your tree in the right spot
To get the full benefits from your trees, choose the right one and put it in the right location. Planting a deciduous tree on the west side of a house provides cooling shade in the summer. In winter, after it loses its leaves, the same tree lets in sunlight that cuts heating and lighting bills. On the other hand, an evergreen on the west side blocks sun all year long, making a home colder and darker in winter. Rather plant evergreens, a great choice for blocking icy winter winds, on the north side of your home.
If you’re planting a new tree, think about its fully grown size and shape before you dig. Branches from a tree located below power lines can cause outages as it grows. Roots from a tree located too close to a home can damage the foundation or block sewer lines. The wrong tree in the wrong place could actually lower your home’s appraised value if it’s deemed hazardous, says Frank Lucco, a real estate appraiser with IRR-Residential in Houston.
Expect to pay $50 to $100 for a 6- to 7-foot deciduous tree, such as a katsura or evergreen. The same tree at 15 feet will cost $100 to $200, according to Brad Swank of Molbak’s Nursery in Woodinville, Wash. The Arbor Day Foundation sells saplings for as little as $8-$15, or less if you’re a member.
Since trees cost money, be cautious about any home construction work. “Tree failure can happen seven to 10 years after construction, primarily because the root system fails when the soil is compacted,” says Thomas Hanson, a member of the American Society of Consulting Arborists from Kirkland, Wash. Also watch for diseases or pests that can threaten trees in your yard and community.
Become a tree advocate
Ensuring that your community has lots of healthy trees doesn’t have to be more complicated than a trip to the nursery and a hole in your backyard. Dig it twice as wide as deep. Let kids push in the dirt and help water weekly until the tree is two years old. The Arbor Day Foundation will tell you how to select the right tree for your needs and climate, where to plant it, and how to maintain it.
The foundation also is a great place to look for community and educational programs.
Its Tree City USA initiative provides expert advice and national recognition to cities and towns that want to establish tree-management plans.
Considering everything trees do for you, it’s the least you can do for them.
Brad Broberg is a freelance writer from Federal Way, Wash. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he writes about business, health care, and real estate for REALTOR Magazine, the Puget Sound Business Journal, and Seattle Children’s Hospital, among others. He’s lived in the same home for 22 years—a home he shares with seven towering Douglas firs.