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The effect of landscaping and architecture on energy consumption

The effect of landscaping and architecture on energy consumption

Introduction: (Initial Observation)


Architecture and Landscaping designed with energy efficiency in mind can serve as a means of lowering energy consumption. The key lies in maximizing shade potential in hot hours of summer days, maximizing the sunlight input in cold winter days and finally reducing wind-chill and proper insulation in cold winter days.

Both architectural design and landscaping designs can contribute to energy efficiency of a home.

Why this project?

The cost of heating and air-conditioning is a large portion of every household’s annual expense. We expect a comfortable temperature in our house regardless of the season and the outside temperature. By learning about the factors that may affect energy consumption, we can reduce such expenses while maintaining the acceptable level of comfort in our houses.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.

Project advisor

Adult supervision and consulting an electrician is required if you choose to use electrical lamp in this project.

Information Gathering:

Heat absorption and heat loss are two physical properties that we need to control in order to have an energy efficient home. Different factors affect the heat absorption and heat loss in a house, however in this project we focus on factors related to landscaping and architecture. To gather information about this project you can study any book related to landscaping and architecture.

If you are searching the Internet, use keywords such as “landscaping + energy”, “architecture + energy efficient” and “Wind chill”.

You will find information such as:

Landscaping is a natural and beautiful way to keep your home more comfortable and reduce your energy bills. In addition to adding aesthetic value and environmental quality to your home, a well-placed tree, shrub, or vine can deliver effective shade, act as a windbreak, and reduce overall energy bills.


Are you looking for cost-effective yet eye-pleasing ways to lower your energy bills? Planting trees, shrubs, vines, grasses, and hedges could be the answer. In fact, landscaping may be your best long-term investment for reducing heating and cooling costs, while also bringing other improvements to your community.


Why do windy winter days seem so bitterly cold? A winter day with a strong wind can seem much colder than one with only a mild wind, though the air temperature may be exactly the same. The effect that wind has on our perception of cold is called the wind chill factor. The greater the wind speed, the faster we lose body heat.


In your gathering information activity, try to find out how different elements such as trees, windows and ground covering affect the heat absorption and heat loss of a home. Read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to learn about the such effects in energy consumption. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Make sure to review the website of U.S. Department of Energy about the effect of landscaping in energy consumption.

How to do this project?

Landscaping and architecture is a complex and multi-facet subject. No student or scientist is expected to take over all different aspects of this subject at once. Select one or two questions and restrict your project and study to those elements.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

The purpose of this project is to identify landscaping and architectural elements that keep the house warmer in winter and make it cooler in summer days. Specific questions that can be the subject of independent studies are:

  1. How do trees, bushes and shrubs around a house affect energy consumption of the house in winter?
  2. How do trees, bushes and shrubs around a house affect energy consumption of the house in summer?
  3. How does the outside ground cover (grass, sand, stone, concrete, asphalt) affect the energy consumption in winter?
  4. How does the outside ground cover (grass, sand, stone, concrete, asphalt) affect the energy consumption in summer?
  5. How does the size of windows affect the heat absorption and heat loss?
  6. How does the color of windows glass affect the heat absorption and heat loss?

You can think and come up with many additional questions related to the effect of specific architectural design and landscaping elements in energy consumption.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Independent or manipulated variables that may affect the energy consumption of a house are architectural design and landscaping elements such as windows (size and location), outside ground covering (grass, sand, stone, …), Trees and shrubs (presence, absence or size and location).

Dependent variable (or responding variable) is the rate of heat exchange of the house.

Controlled variables vary based on the variable that we are studying in our experiment. For example if we are studying the effect of shrubs around the house, all other variables that may have some affect must be controlled and kept constant. These variables include inside and outside temperature, size and location of windows, wind speed and direction, outside ground covering and experiment procedures and duration.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

Following are sample hypothesis corresponding to each of the above questions:

  1. Trees, bushes and shrubs around a house reduce wind-chill in winter and act as a natural heat insulator. This reduce the heat loss and energy consumption?
  2. Trees, bushes and shrubs around a house create shade and cool off the area by natural evaporation of water through leaves. This condition reduce the need to cooling systems and reduce energy consumption?
  3. A ground covered by grass makes it possible for rain and snow to infiltrate, so the ground will dry up faster. The infiltration will not happen with stone, concrete and asphalt and cold icy water will remain around for a longer time. Mass of cold icy water around the house can contribute to excessive heat loss of the house and a higher rate of energy consumption.
  4. A ground covered by grass remains moist and it’s natural evaporation will reduce the air temperature in summer time. That is why in hot summer days, you enjoy sitting on the grass and you feel it is cooler. So grass around the house can keep the house cooler and reduce energy consumption.
  5. Larger windows always contribute to heat loss, however if they are positioned properly, they can also allow the heat energy of the sun to enter the house as a perfect source of energy in winter. So windows can reduce energy consumption only if they are positioned properly.
  6. I think dark color window glasses can absorb more heat in winter, while reducing the heat in summer. In summer, dark glass windows create shade in the house. So I think that dark color glass can help energy consumption for both winter and summer.

Note that the result of your experiments may show that your hypothesis is wrong.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiments proposed here are related to our specific questions. You may modify these experiments and use them to test other hypothesis and find answer to your other questions related to energy consumption.

Experiment 1:

How do trees, bushes and shrubs around a house affect energy consumption of the house in winter?


In this experiment you will test the effect of shrubs and trees on reducing wind chill or reducing the heat loss of a house that already has a warm and comfortable temperature. Make two identical house models from cardboard or thin balsa wood to be used for your experiment. Also use two thermometers to monitor the temperature of the inside the houses. Place natural or synthetic plants around one of the house models and then expose both houses to the cold wind. Record the temperature of inside the house every minute for 15 minutes. This drawing shows your initial plan of your experiment setup.


The details of this experiment procedure includes 3 parts. First part is preparing a house model. Second part is preparing a cold wind generator. Third part is exposing the house models to cold wind and record the temperature drop.

Prepare two identical house models:

A house model can be any small empty box. It can be made from cardboard, balsa wood, a glass jar or even a metal can. Cardboards are made from cellulose fiber, the same as wood, so they are very similar to a real house. However cardboards also are good insulators, so the change in temperature will not be as fast.

If you are using a glass jars as a house model, you may place a thermometer inside the jar. Glass jar conducts heat better than ceramic and brick. So the effect of cold wind in reducing the temperature of inside the jar is faster than a break building.

It does not matter what type of thermometer you use as long as it can show the proper range of temperature. (30-100 ºF or 0-40 ºC)

If you are going to make a model house from balsa wood or cardboard, you may optionally want to have a heating system for that.

A small 5 watt or 7.5 watt light bulb works fine.

Thermometer can be placed inside the house or inserted from the roof. In any way you need to be able to read the temperature without moving the house.

Use masking tape to secure your house model on a wooden or cardboard base that you may use.

Also use masking tape to seal all the seams.

You need two identical house for this project. You will use two thermometers (one for each house) to record the inside temperature of houses. You may optionally use two more thermometers to show the outside temperature of houses.

Prepare a cold wind generator:

You need a large plastic or metal tray about 14″ x 18″ and about 1″ deep. If you can’t find such thing, make it yourself from wood or heavy cardboard and cover it with a sheet of plastic. Plastic is needed to protect the tray from getting wet and to prevent water from leaking.

Fill up the try up to about one inch with crushed ice. You may need about 4 to 6 lbs of crushed ice. Add about 1b table salt over the ice. Salt can reduce the temperature of resulting ice water and make it much cooler.

Place an electric fan in one side of the tray and two houses on the opposite side. Air flow from the electric fan must pass over the ice water and get to the homes.

Place natural or synthetic (plastic) flowers around one of the houses. Make the bushes and shrubs as condense as possible. Make sure all trees and shrubs are secured to the ground. Use the shrubs and trees excessively in the side of the house that is faced to the wind.

If the wind is too much, reduce the speed of the fan or move it back (away from the tray). You may also use another sheet of cardboard above the tray to bring the air current down towards the cold ice water in the tray.

Expose the house models to cold wind:

Record the initial temperature of the houses (for example 80ºF) and then turn on the electric fan. Cold wind created by the fan and ice starts to cool off the houses. Record the temperature of both houses every minute for 15 minutes and record the results in a table like this.

Time in minutes

House without trees and shrubs

House with trees and shrubs

0 80º F 80º F

Experiment 2:

How do trees, bushes and shrubs around a house affect energy consumption of the house in summer?


In this experiment you will test the effect of shrubs and trees on reducing excessive heat from sun in hot summer days. Make two identical house models from cardboard or thin balsa wood to be used for your experiment. Also use two thermometers to monitor the temperature of the inside the houses. Place natural plants around one of the house models and then expose both houses to the light of a flood lamp. Record the temperature of inside the houses every minute for 15 minutes.


This experiment is very similar to the previous experiment. The only difference is that instead of cold wind, you use a light bulb to simulate the sunlight.

You can use any good quality, metal desk lamp as a source of hot light. The light bulb needs to be 100 watts or more. The lamp shown in the picture is known as grip light. That is what contractors carry around and connect it to the pipes and rods as needed. The lamp has a clamp for easy and quick attachment. The light bulb in it is a flood light. Flood light has a focused light and is the best choice for this experiment. You will need two identical lamps and two identical houses for this experiment. One house must have bushes, trees and shrubs around it while the other has no protection against the sunlight.

For the house that is going to have trees and shrubs, it is best if you use natural plants around it. Natural plants will also cool off the environment by evaporation of water from leaves, but plastic plants are only a source of shade.

Record the initial temperature of both houses. Then turn on the lights and start to record the temperature every minute for 15 minutes.

Record the temperatures in a results table similar to the previous experiment.

Use the final results table to draw a chart or graph.

Other experiments:

By now you should be able to design your own additional experiments. If you have any specific question or want me to verify your experiment results, click on the help on the top of this page to send me a message.

Project Advisor

Materials and Equipment:

List of material can be extracted from the experiment section. The final list of material, also depends on your final experiment design. For example the thermometer shown in the above photos is the type that is used for cooking, however later I could find other thermometers from a 99 cents store that could do the same and are much cheaper.

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.


No calculation is required for this project.

Summary of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.