Are pine trees a good option for planting around my home for energy conservation?

All pine species have evergreen needles and grow seed cones; however, pine species vary considerably in where they are found, how big they get, and how fast they grow.  Therefore, pine species also vary in their potential for energy conservation benefits.

Because pines keep their foliage year-round, they are well-suited for use in windbreaks to abate harsh winter winds. A windbreak is a dense grouping of trees, often situated in several parallel rows, that is planted adjacent to a house, building, or outdoor space to intercept and slow prevailing winds. By slowing wind speed, windbreaks reduce the loss of heat through walls, windows, and rooftops of buildings, thereby helping to conserve energy.

To maximize the heat conservation benefit of a windbreak, the proper pine species must be selected and placed in the proper orientation and distance from the building, typically on the north or northwest side of the building at a distance no more than the mature height of the trees being planted. Species that thrive in the local soils and climate should be selected.

In most regions, large-maturing evergreens should not be planted on the south side of buildings because the dense shade they cast deters passive solar heating of the structure in winter.  As such, more energy will be consumed for heating.  Also, some pine species may grow too large for small residential landscapes, potentially leading to conflicts with driveways, sidewalks, rooftops, and powerlines.  More information on winter windbreaks is available from the Arbor Day Foundation.

Contributed by P. Eric Wiseman, Associate Professor of Urban Forestry, Virginia Tech