Energy Conservation & Tree Planting: Tips for Renters


Living in an apartment or renting a home does not preclude citizens from helping their communities conserve energy with trees. Apartment dwellers and renters have numerous opportunities to advocate, organize, and implement community forestry projects that help with energy conservation.

Residents of apartment complexes and home renters often do not have the opportunity to plant shade trees around their homes because they do not own the property. Also, because tenants usually pay for their own electricity consumption, apartment complex owners and homeowners do not have a financial incentive to invest in tree planting for energy conservation. However, there are numerous indirect benefits that apartment complex owners and landowners can receive from planting shade trees, which tenants can stress with their landlords.

First, shade trees increase the curb appeal of the property, which can raise demand for the apartment units or the rental home. Second, tree shade slows the degradation of exterior paint, shingles, and parking lot asphalt from excessive heating and ultraviolet radiation, extending the service life of these materials. Finally, keeping buildings cool reduces the wear and tear on air conditioning systems that must run more frequently in the absence of tree shade.

Apartment tenants may encourage complex owners to plant trees and may even consider volunteering to assist with tree planting, watering, and maintenance.  Apartment complexes that are government subsidized for low-income citizens may be eligible for grants to purchase trees. In addition, numerous civic groups and corporate foundations may be willing to volunteer their time and resources to plant trees around public housing complexes.

Photo Credit: Raina Sheridan

Beyond the apartment complex, there are other ways to get involved in community energy conservation with trees. Towns and cities have lots of asphalt, brick, tar, and gravel. In contrast to vegetation, these materials absorb and retain heat energy from sunlight. This leads to elevated air temperatures — a phenomenon known as the urban heat island — which results in increased air conditioner use in their homes, offices, and cars to maintain a comfortable temperature. By planting trees to cast shade upon parking lots, streets, sidewalks, and plazas, the urban heat island can be moderated. Numerous public spaces — parks, school campuses, and streetsides — can benefit from citizen involvement in planting trees to cool the city.

If you are currently renting, why not contact the homeowners to see if they might be interested in planting trees around their home to increase curb appeal, home values, and rentability, as well as improving energy conservation aspects of the home.

These tree planting projects are usually organized by the municipal department of public works or parks and recreation, often with the assistance of a tree commission and local civic groups. The Alliance for Community Trees is a nationwide network of tree advocates that orchestrates community tree planting projects annually during National Neighborwoods Month. Citizens can also contact their state urban forest council to learn about local tree planting initiatives.


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