This recent heat wave in Richmond was pretty rough, topping temps of over 100°F for a few days in a row, and it has a lot of people thinking about ways to cool down. You might immediately consider grabbing a cold drink and staying inside, but not everybody has the ability to escape to their homes to relax in the air-conditioning. You could consider other innovative ways of cooling the house by using reflective paint or insulating building materials to keep your house cool – but the number one recommended solution for a cooler home and surrounding area is increased vegetation and tree coverage.
I live in the downtown area of the city, and it is noticeably hotter there because of the urban heat island effect. Hot air gets trapped there and slowly emits, making the area 7 to 10 degrees higher than the surrounding rural counties. As you leave the city, the landscape becomes more green and lush, open to more vegetation and trees that can use the groundwater to cool the air. Trees have pores on the underside of their leaves that release droplets of water through transpiration, creating a cooler zone in the immediate space. And don’t forget the difference the shade provides, blocking direct sunlight. I was curious about this and decided to take some temperatures around town in different environments.
I ventured to Publix to grab a digital thermometer and decided to get the temperature of the parking lot. It was close to noon and the temperature read 89 degrees in the direct sunlight. The pavement definitely made everything feel hotter with the surface heat all around me. There was a Crepe Myrtle on a small parking island close by that I set the thermometer on briefly. After a few minutes, the temperature read 85 degrees, a fair bit cooler in the shade, but very significant for such a little tree!
Later in the day, I was out on the west end of town past Tuckahoe village in a wooded lot. There were a ton of mature trees overhead creating a fantastic shaded area for a few hundred feet. At that point it was later in the day, close to 1:30 pm and the average temperature for the day read that it had risen, but the thermometer only showed 83 degrees in the shade. I bet if it had been closer to the same time as the first reading, I would have had an even lower temperature.
It was a quick and fun experiment to learn about the difference trees can make. We tend to forget about the benefits of our trees and worry about the potential hazard a tree is when it’s close to the house. We trim or remove it altogether and find all this out the hard way. I will not soon forget what I am saving on the energy bill with my large tree, and continue to monitor its health instead of taking it down. This perspective really gives a new meaning to my cool tree.