Columbia's Tree Power Program Helps Lower Utility Bills

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COLUMBIA - Lowering monthly utility bills can be as easy as well-designed landscaping.

Columbia Water and Light offers the Tree Power program, aiming to help conserve energy by encouraging homeowners to use energy-efficient landscaping.

Recent studies show proper landscaping can lower energy costs by as much as 30 percent as well as add 7 to 15 percent to a home's resale value.

Columbia resident Terry Freeman is participant in the Tree Power program.

In 2004, Freeman planted an Oak tree in his side yard to shade his home from the sun.
In addition to saving money on energy bills every month, Freeman said the tree provides more than just shade.

"Trees are aesthetically pleasing so I think they can have multiple effects," Freeman said. "They're nice to look at, help save money, and provide excellent shade, it's a great combination."

Homeowners who wish to participate in the program can begin the process by requesting an audit at

An auditor is then sent to the home to survey the existing yard and to help the homeowner decide where the tree should be planted as well as what kind of tree best serves the homeowners needs.

Once decided upon, the homeowner will be given a coupon for a free shade tree redeemable at Superior Garden Center in Columbia.

The program gives homeowners the choice between River Birch, Red Maple, Crab Apple and Pin Oak trees.

Additionally, Tree Power warns residents to avoid certain trees that are susceptible to problems in our area. Silver Maple, Silver Poplar, Weeping Willow, Sycamore and Cottonwood trees are a few trees to avoid.

By and large, the program is designed to lessen energy costs year round. During the summer, when air conditioning use is at its highest, shade trees can be used in several ways.

Trees can be strategically planted to shade an air conditioning unit, utility meter or to shade a home itself. To achieve the most shade, it is best to plant trees on the west and south sides of the home, blocking the hot summer afternoon sun.

The program suggests homeowners use deciduous trees, those that shed their leaves at the end of the growing season, to conserve energy in the summer. These trees will not only block sunlight during summer months but will allow sunlight and warmth to penetrate a home during the winter.

Conversely, during the winter, blocking cold winter winds can help reduce costs.

Evergreen trees as well as other shrubs planted in the north and northwest corners of a property can create a windbreak, therefore reducing energy costs.

Ryan Williams, of Columbia Water and Light, says planting small shrubs can help conserve energy as well.

"If you plant small shrubs and other plants right next to the house, it creates a small dead air space that helps insulate your home," said Williams.

The city has given out over 2,600 vouchers for shade trees since the beginning of the program in the nineties.