Investigating the Impact of Urban Tree Planting Strategies for Shade and Residential Energy Conservation

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Virginia Tech

Expanding urbanization, characterized by increased impervious surfaces and decreased tree canopy, is contributing to rising urban temperatures. This trend has implications for energy consumption, which strategically placed trees can modify by casting shade upon building and ground surfaces. However, urban densification, a paradigm of modern residential land development, often constrains space for planting shade trees. Thus, the overall objective of this dissertation was to investigate shade tree planting strategies and their effects on residential cooling and heating energy conservation for dense urban neighborhoods in U.S. cities on a latitudinal gradient. The first study used a computer program called Shadow Pattern Simulator to examine the effects of tree form, tree placement, and sunlight exposure on shade provision for a residential structure model. Simulation results affirmed the conventional strategy in northern latitudes that recommends planting shade trees on the east or west aspect for maximizing beneficial shade while avoiding tree plantings on the south aspect to minimize any heating penalty of undesirable shade. However, in southern latitudes, planting trees on southerly aspect should not be discounted because the shorter heating season lessens the detrimental heating penalty while providing beneficial season shade. The second study, using an energy simulation program called EnergyPlus, evaluated the effect of a single shade tree upon the energy consumption of the structure model. This study affirmed that energy conservation benefits are influenced by the quantity as well as the quality of tree shade upon building surfaces. In addition, interactions between sun angle, tree form, and tree placement were observed to influence tree shade effects on annual energy consumption. In the third study, based on the first two studies, an alternative tree placement strategy, which reconfigured tree placement around the residential structure, was developed to maximize cooling and heating energy savings while attenuating space conflicts. The alternative strategy was found to be as effective as the conventional strategy while being more responsive to parcel or building orientations in dense urban neighborhoods. Overall, understanding the fundamental interactions between tree form, tree placement, and geographic settings is critical for improving energy conservation benefits of shade trees in dense urban settings.

arboriculture, cooling and heating energy, energy savings, simulation modeling, urban forestry, urban heat island, urban tree canopy