Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Made in the Shade

This week's newspaper column:

Here we are, about to enter the dog days of summer. Temperatures and electric bills are predicted to rise as outdoor activities give way to inside endeavors, and air conditioners work overtime.

Noel Coward, in song, famously proclaimed that “mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.” Leaving the Brits out of this for now, have you ever noticed a dog following shade across the yard as the hot sun arcs its way through the sky? A sane dog, that is.

Even the dumbest of our canine friends know how to “go green” with their choice of lounging real estate. Rover instinctively understands the value of shade.

Shade trees can reduce the mid-summer temperature around your house by up to 20 degrees. Appropriately placed, shade trees can cut your air conditioning bill in half while sculpting outdoor rooms that - even in the midday sun – become habitable spaces. Add a big outdoor fan for additional conditioning on still-air days (and for mosquito control) and you can transform your hot-as-heck lawn into a comfortable outdoor oasis.

The best time to plant a tree is when the temperature is cold, but for now, taking note of the harshest exposures will give you a foundation for figuring out where to plant trees come winter. Deciduous trees - the ones that lose their leaves in the winter - planted on the south and west side of your house will be most effective.

“That’s fine and dandy” you say, “but I need relief now! “ OK, I feel your pain. Shade trees, even fast-growing varieties, take years to fulfill their promise. In the mean time, here are a few architectural suggestions that might bring you some comfort.

For instant gratification, install thick-clothed curtains or blinds over south- or west-facing windows. They act as thermal barriers keeping cool air in and the hot rays of the sun out.

Consider canvas awnings over windows as an outside treatment. Awnings can be fixed or retractable, and canvas comes in a wide variety of colors and patterns adding a splash of excitement to a drab facade.

Operable window shutters – in contrast to the silly fixed ones that don’t ever seem match the window width - are an option but this takes a bit more time as these will probably need to be custom-made. Shutters can be installed on the inside or outside of your windows for manual shade control.

And for the more ambitious homeowner, think about constructing a sun-shade trellis. An interesting wood pattern can enhance the aesthetics of your home year-round while climbing vines provide a nice cooling effect in the summer.

So take Fido’s lead, get creative, and you’ll have it made in the shade.

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