Windbreaks and Snow Fences

2 min read

Since people began building shelters, they have had to work with nature to address their thermal comfort. Part of these efforts extended into the landscape. The teepees of the Plains’ Indians often used skin or blanket windscreens to protect the entrance from wind and snow. The same technique is used by the Inuit Indians on their igloos. Windbreaks and wind fences specifically address wind issues. They are designed slightly differently than snow breaks and snow fences, due to snow being heavier. Here are a few tips:

Windbreaks #

Windbreaks are collections of trees or fences organized to minimize unwanted winds and maximize breezes. The best windbreaks are a mix of staggered evergreens and deciduous trees planted with berries and garden plants.

Evergreen trees offer year-round protection from gusting winds. Excellent choices for the evergreens in your windbreak include arborvitae, spruce, pine, or fir. Deciduous trees only work for hot summer winds, since they are bare in winter, but they do offer 60% of the wind protection that evergreens do.

Depending on your areas’ specific climate and the direction of the prevailing winds, you might need to adjust this rule of thumb, but windbreaks are usually most effective when located on the north and west of structures, planted away from the house at a distance no less than 10 times the height of the tallest trees and no more than 15 times that height. You also want to plan for about 3 times the height of the trees for open space beyond the trees in the direction the wind is coming from. Wind velocity increases as it flows around the ends of windbreaks, so curve the edges slightly towards the home to provide a sheltered interior and minimize this effect.

Place deciduous shade trees to the south and west of your drives, patios, porches, and sidewalks to keep them cool if you live in a hot climate. Place evergreen trees to the north of paving if you live in a freezing or snowy climate. Deciduous trees are fine to the south as they lose their leaves in winter.

Snow Breaks #

To minimize snow piles and heat loss in winter, plant 3-5 rows of staggered evergreens in the in the north as well as the direction snow is coming from (if it is not the north), starting at least 10 feet away from the home.

To figure out the best direction for your snow break, pay attention to snowdrifts and leaves that fall from the trees. Where do they end up? Put the snow break in between these piles and the wind. Place the snow break in the same way you would a snow fence, as described below, using the tree’s full grown height as the multiplier.

Snow Fences #

Position a snow fence away from the home at a distance 35 times the height of your fence, in the direction the wind is coming from. So if the fence is 4 feet tall, you will want to place it 140 feet away from the home.

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