The potential of trees and other vegetation to reduce building cooling loads has been recorded in a number of studies but the meso- and microclimate changes producing such savings are not well understood. This paper describes a preliminary attempt to model the effects of landscaping on temperature, humidity, windspeed and solar gain in urban climates using information from existing agricultural and meteorological studies, with particular attention placed on quantifying the effects of plant evapotranspiration. The climate model is then used in conjunction with the DOE-2.1C building simulation program to calculate the net reductions in air-conditioning requirements due to trees and other vegetation.
Preliminary results show that an additional 25% increase in the urban tree cover can save 40% of the annual cooling energy use of an average house in Sacramento, and 25% in Phoenix and Lake Charles. If this additional tree cover is located to optimize summer shading, the savings are further increased to more dun 50% in Sacramento and 33% in the other two cities. The calculated savings are minimal for Los Angeles because the base case cooling energy use is small (65 hours) on the assumption that window venting is used whenever possible in lieu of mechanical cooling. There are additional benefits in lowering peak power consumption, where the savings are as much as 34% in Sacramento, 18% in Phoenix, 22% in Lake Charles, and 44% in Los Angeles. Parametric analysis reveals that most of the savings can be attributed to the effects of increased plant evapotranspiration, and only 10% to 30% to shading. The energy penalties of reduced windspeeds are found to be small in all four locations.
The preliminary results suggest that while the conservation benefits of planting trees are appreciable at the individual house level, equally dramatic savings can be realized at the urban level through modifications of the urban climate by increasing the total amount of vegetative cover. Such a conservation strategy may be elective in counteracting the summer heat island evident in cities and may improve ambient conditions as well as reduce summertime air-conditioning requirements.