Cities covered in white: How a roof’s color can save

Posted by Steve Kleber on Oct 21, 2010

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Black is often the color chosen for roofing material. But with the emphasis on energy efficiency and green living, it’s ironic that a color that absorbs light and produces a significant amount of heat would be the standard in home building. Not anymore. The Associated Press reports that white roofs can be more than 45 degrees cooler than conventional dark-colored roofing. Especially in hotter temperatures, white roofs are in the spotlight and gaining more attention by the minute as cooler indoors means less air conditioning, which makes a home or building more energy efficient.

Cities like New York have quickly caught on to the benefits of white roofs. Why shouldn’t they? White roofs are surprisingly inexpensive, only requiring a few low-cost materials and a bit of elbow grease. Deemed the “cool roof” program, this city-sponsored happening has attracted volunteer groups that want to help with the fight against global warming.

“Cool roofs are one of the quickest and lowest-cost ways we can reduce our global carbon emissions and begin the hard work of slowing climate change,” said Energy Secretary, Steven Chu while announcing that Department of Energy buildings would be painted white wherever possible.

Philadelphia, a city with an ambitious green energy plan that recently put cool roofs at its center, held a “cool roofs for free” competition, and a block of row houses won. Organizer of the block’s winning entry, Terry Jack, said, “The biggest difference is definitely when we wake up in the morning. I noticed a difference the very next morning after they painted the roof. It was a good 15 degrees cooler inside; it was much more livable.”

Philadelphia is not the only one. In Arizona, cool roofs are mandatory for state and state-funded buildings, while New York has vowed to paint 1 million square feet of roof on city-sponsored community buildings. Organizers have advertised on Craigslist for volunteers, promising that the painting is rewarding and fun.

If you’re worried that a white roof will have a reverse effect during the cold winter months, think again. While white roofs keep homes cool in the summer by letting less heat in, they have little impact on winter heating bills because the sun is much less intense in the winter, according to the Cool Roof Rating Council.

Even if you’re not keen on having a bright white roof, there are more sophisticated cool roof materials dedicated to reflect the heat. This is especially important in home building where white roofs aren’t aesthetically pleasing and may not be allowed in neighborhoods with Homeowners Associations. Still, an average 1,000 square-foot roof painted white can save 10 tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of emissions from one car for about 2 ½ years, according to former California energy commissioner, Arthur Rosenfeld. On a national scale, that’s equal to taking 20 million cars off the road for 20 years.

If you’re still undecided, consider a tax credit for using cool materials when replacing a roof. However, there are no federal tax credits for roof coatings as of yet. In my opinion, the benefits outweigh the loss of a simple tax credit.

I’m already thinking of what I would do with all of that extra money…

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Thursday, October 21st, 2010 at 11:06 am and is filed under Green Initiatives, Housing Market. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.