On cold winter days, a ray of sun streaming into your house can be most welcome - a free source of heat. But what about in the summer, when those rays of sun and other, less-evident solar heat, seep into our already too-hot houses and become a costly nuisance?

When that happens, you lose money. Luckily, landscaping to shade your home can be a beautiful way to lower energy costs.  When plants release water vapor through evapotranspiration, nearby air temperatures can be reduced up to 9°F, creating a cool microclimate around every tree. Adeptly placed trees that shade east- and west-facing windows can reduce costs in any climate, and south-facing windows just need a little more thought. Deciduous trees are the best choice in our cold climate because they drop their leaves and welcome solar heat in the winter.

According to the Department of Energy, the average return on investment for landscaping as a means of low energy cooling is less than 8 years. And if you plant trees as saplings, it's likely that they will begin shading your windows within a year, and reach the roof within the next 5 to 10 years.  But then again, since when did we need to do an ROI calculation for planting a tree?