White Roofs Gain Ground as a Remedy for Climate Change

While the US Senate was busy confirming this week that it has no intentionof acting to reduce the causes of climate change soon, the US Department of Energy at least continued making strides toward reduced fossil fuel consumption in the United States—albeit one small step at a time. Over the week, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu made the announcement that all new roofs on his department’s buildings will come with white or some other reflective color, designed to reduce energy consumption and save money.

Reflective roofs are a cheap and simple way to cut back on a building’s energy consumption and the carbon emissions that result from burning fossil fuels. Because they absorb less heat than a typical black or dark-colored surface, reflective roofs reduce the need for air conditioning in summer, dramatically cutting back on cooling costs. Painting a building’s roof white can save the owners as much as 15% on electricity costs for air conditioning. According to Chu, putting reflective roofing on 85% of all US buildings that use air conditioning would save a total of $735 million per year.

Reflective roofs also reduce the urban “heat island” effect, making cities more pleasant to live in. Today pavement and heat-absorbing roofs in most US cities tend to trap heat and increase the temperature in urban centers, making hot summer days even more uncomfortable than they have to be. Of course by making cities more livable, reflective roofs that reduce the heat island effect also have potential to make more people choose urban lifestyles that require fewer long car trips to get around. This will again serve to reduce carbon emission and reliance on fossil fuels.

Secretary Chu has been talking for a long time about white roofs. At a climate conference in London last year, he launched the white roofs campaign in earnest by recommending in a highly-publicized setting that roofs in urban areas around the world be painted white to reduce energy consumption and the effects of climate change. So far the US Department of Energy has itself put white roofing on two million square feet of surface on its own buildings’ roofs. This week’s announcement that all new department buildings will have white roofs is another sign that the department is willing to lead by example.

Of course for reflective roofing to really make a noticeable impact on climate change, it will have to become the new norm in cities across the US and the world. Companies and nonprofits have a chance to help jump start the transition by painting the roofs of their own buildings white. While perhaps not as snazzy as a solar array on the rooftop, this should be a relatively easy step to take. White paint is a lot cheaper to buy than are solar voltaic cells.

What’s your opinion? How should socially aware companies and other innovators make use of reflective roofing to reduce the causes of climate change?

Photo Credit: Flickr