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Iowa shade trees bring energy bills down, beauty up

Posted Nov 10 2010 6:00am

In 2008, flooding and tornados tore across Iowa, devastating communities and natural landscapes across the state.

More than 30 percent of the trees in Parkersburg, a small town hit hard by the tornado, were displaced and destroyed.

“When a community loses all that green on top of all the devastation, it’s a real loss,” says Meredith Borchardt, who works with Trees Forever, a non-profit based in Marion that works to develop sustainable tree planting programs across the state. Trees Forever is working with communities to maximize energy savings and minimize carbon sequestration through strategic tree-planting.

Two Trees Forever volunteers digging to plant a tree

Volunteers from the Waverly Trees Forever group are planting windbreak trees on the north side of the mobile home court. Waverly experienced record flooding in 2008. | Photo courtesy of Trees Forever

“We’re looking to regreen these communities,” says Borchardt. “By replanting in these communities, we’re not only offering them energy savings, the regreening make it seems like they’re getting back to normal, back to the way the community used to look.”

Recovery Act brings more than green bills

Using nearly $160,000 in Recovery Act funding through the State Energy Program and more than $725,000 through collaboration and partnerships—including the Iowa Power Fund—Trees Forever has increased their tree-planting efforts through a new project: trEE-O2.


Project trEE-O2—with a capital “EE” to stand for energy efficiency and O2 to represent cutting down on carbon dioxide emissions—is a sustainable tree planting program that strategically plants trees to help with energy efficiency and reducing carbon dioxide sequestering. 

trEE-O2 will reach Parkersburg and nine other communities in Iowa ranging in population from under 1,000 to the second most populated city in Iowa, Cedar Falls.

Aesthetically pleasing and energy saving

TrEE-O2 will plant two different classes of trees in the state: wind break trees and large shade trees.  “Wind break trees divert a portion of cold winds up and over a building structure, slowing wind speed down by roughly 50 percent,” says Borchardt.

“That’s a lot less cold air infiltrating homes. It’s a very practical and common sense way to cut heating bills in the winter and can save between 10 and 15 percent.”

Large shade trees are planted in strategic locations around structures to provide shading. These trees—often oak or maple—can save up to 30 percent in summer cooling costs when widely casting their shade.

The trees will be planted within the next year, primarily during the major fall and spring planting seasons. Borchardt hopes that 750 trees will be planted each season.
“We have a really ambitious goal of 2,500 trees total,” says Borchardt. “Each town recovering at a different pace, so the number of trees and planting schedule varies from place to place.”

In order to help local business, Borchardt explains that the trees are purchased from nurseries in or near the community.

Volunteers foster community and growth

Once planted, it’s essential to monitor the trees’ growth and development, which is where training volunteers comes in. Project trEE-O2 has been doing awareness and outreach through city councils and service clubs. Ideally, Borchardt says that these involved volunteers will continue to strengthen the group in their community and educate others on the benefits of trees while caring for and monitoring tree growth and development.

“People are beginning to realize that trees are a lot more than just a pretty addition to your yard or school. They can work for you and provide great benefits,” says Borchardt.

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