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living fence to filter summer sun

 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 189
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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We get a lot of southern sun on our two-story house, which is great in the winter but leads to too much solar gain in the summer.  We've thought about adding awnings on that side of the house, but another option would be some sort of living screen.  Vines on a trellis are one option, but the trellis would have to be quite sturdy to survive the snow load, and I'd be worried about vines trying to attach to the house higher up than I can easily reach.

Has anyone tried using pleaching or plashing trees to create a screen like this?  I have access to free Osage Orange seeds (the neighbor has a large OO tree) and shoots from a Linden and maybe an American Hornbeam.  The Osage Orange might be too thorny, but it's supposed to be VERY strong, which is appealing given that it would be in an exposed location and subject to a lot of snow.
 
David Hernick
Posts: 54
Location: Oakland, CA
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chicken fungi trees
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I have seen tall Linden hedges, which can get pretty dense.  Linden has edible foliage and flowers.  It is also good for pollinators, i.e. melliferous.   I would recommend not limiting yourself to one species, a mixed screen of deciduous trees can provide the same benefit while being more interesting and potentially more useful
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 378
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I have a nearly similar issue on the west side of my house.  I haven't figured out the best solution but here are some of my thoughts:  (for what that's worth)

I'm not sure how much heat gain is through the windows and how much is through the walls.  Should I try to shade the windows in the summer?  Or just shade the walls?  My walls are only R8

If you shade the building with a tree of some sort (espalier, pleached, etc) or perennial vine, the branches will cast more shade than you realize in winter, limiting your winter solar gain.

Maybe annual vines are a better option?  Runner beans or peas climbing a string trellis in the summer to cover the wall, then take down in winter for full solar exposure.  Issue is getting something that will climb more than 12'.  And if they cover your window you won't be able to see out.

For a South facing window you may be best off with an awning that will block sun in the summer and not the rest of the year.  On my West side it wouldn't help me as much.

I'm considering building a pergola off of that side of the house.  It would cast moderate shade year round for the exposed basement.  Then I could grow pole beans up to the pergola to shade the basement in the summer.  Or train a squash across the top of the pergola to get the same effect.  And I could possibly put planters on top of the pergola and train beans from there to the roof to shade the upstairs.
 
Rebecca Norman
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Location: Ladakh, Indian Himalayas at 10,500 feet, zone 5
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I agree with Mike Jay above. You're probably getting the uncomfortable overheating in summer from the western windows or walls, and to lesser extent from the eastern or northern exposure. Our sun in Massachusetts is low and weak enough in winter that you probably shouldn't plant anything that will shed its leaves and cast dappled shade in the winter. This winter, check out how long snow lasts under the shade of deciduous trees -- I think you'll find it lasts a lot longer than it does in direct sun. So if your overheating is coming from the south, the suggestion above to install some kind of awning that you can retract seasonally is probably best.

In any case, increasing your insulation might improve your thermal extremes both summer and winter, and reduce overheating in summer as well as heating load in winter.
 
Steven Kovacs
Posts: 189
Location: Western Massachusetts (USDA zone 5a, heating zone 5, 40"+)
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Rebecca Norman wrote:I agree with Mike Jay above. You're probably getting the uncomfortable overheating in summer from the western windows or walls, and to lesser extent from the eastern or northern exposure. Our sun in Massachusetts is low and weak enough in winter that you probably shouldn't plant anything that will shed its leaves and cast dappled shade in the winter. This winter, check out how long snow lasts under the shade of deciduous trees -- I think you'll find it lasts a lot longer than it does in direct sun. So if your overheating is coming from the south, the suggestion above to install some kind of awning that you can retract seasonally is probably best.

In any case, increasing your insulation might improve your thermal extremes both summer and winter, and reduce overheating in summer as well as heating load in winter.


Thanks.  We've already maxed out the insulation in the walls and the attic is R32 (I'd like to take it higher).  Insulating the house definitely helped reduce temperature swings.

The west is probably not the issue in the summer, since there is a forested hill that rises abruptly to our west, making the sun appear to set fairly early.  Likewise, the house is shaded nicely to the east by a couple of large (deciduous) street trees.  The rooms that heat up the most in the summer are the ones on the southern side (and especially on the 2nd floor).  Keeping the honeycomb shades down during the day, then opening windows and shades at night helps to keep the house cooler in the day and cool it down at night, but it isn't quite enough.  Awnings are probably the easiest solution, but I was hoping that there might be some sort of plant-based option.  Like Mike Jay said, though, perennials cast some shade in the winter, and I'm not aware of annual vine that grows fast enough to shade 2nd story windows by late June.  Building and maintaining a two-story trellis, and keeping the vine from attaching itself to the house, seem like more trouble than they're worth.

Mike, do you have enough space to the west of your house to plant deciduous trees?  It would take years for them to grow enough to be useful, but long term it works well.
 
Mike Jay
Posts: 378
Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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I have full sized trees at the edge of the yard (80' from the house) but the sun is still brutal from 1pm till it drops behind them at 6pm.  I have a retaining wall that also turns the exposed basement into a huge West facing sun trap.  In my climate, I welcome the sun from Sep-June, it's just July and August where it's an issue.  I could plant a tree closer to the house but I'm afraid of the dappled winter shade Rebecca mentioned.

The pole beans in my garden were 8' tall on July 18th this year.  I'm guessing in Mass they would get that tall a bit earlier in the year.  But you're right that they won't shade the upper story much. 

I did have one crazy idea that you may want to consider or laugh at.  Put window boxes on the second story windows and then make a mini awning frame above the window.  Plant climbing peas or beans in the window box and let them grow up the sides of the windows and out onto the awnings to provide shade.  Maybe make it removable so you don't have to look at it all fall/winter/spring.  A crafty person could do the awning with willow branches or something foraged.
 
David Hernick
Posts: 54
Location: Oakland, CA
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If you hang guide wires or twine from the second story eve you could grow hops.  It can grow up to a foot a day and could probably climb to cover the second story in the second year.  Since it is perennial it grows fast in the spring.  I am sure you could devise a way to disconnect the wires to make it easy when it comes time to harvest/ take it down or you could use twine or natural fiber rope.
This is a home brew thread with good information:
https://www.homebrewersassociation.org/forum/index.php?topic=3679.0
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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Runner beans can grow VERY tall if you give them fantastic soil and regular moisture.  Mine get 10' tall very quickly before I top them off to keep them from continuing to grow.  I've had rogue vines that escaped captivity and ran up into a crepe myrtle tree -- WAY up into the tree.  They also stay green for a long time.  Getting a crop from them (Permaculture Design Principle # 3) is an added bonus.  With a lot of N and healthy fertile soil, I'd bet you could get them to grow 15' or more quite easily.

I've never grown hops, but it would be the same principle as pole beans.  If you aren't going to harvest and use the hops, you could still use them as bio-mass for mulch or compost.  You'd mainly want them to be thick and lush in July, August and into September, correct?  You could cut them down by late September and move them to the compost pile.  In that way, it would Permaculture Principle #2, capture and store energy.  All that carbon would be captured from the air and transferred to your system as mulch. 
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
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