Going Green? Don’t Forget the Roof!


By Art Valentz

These days, green construction is rapidly becoming the new normal. By 2012, an estimated 48 percent of US commercial projects had already incorporated green building practices. That percentage continues to rise as existing projects prove the financial, environmental, and social advantages of going green.

Why Roofs Matter in Green Construction

Roof design is critical to optimizing building performance. Not only does the roof cover the entire building footprint, but direct radiation to space results in approximately 15 percent more heat loss through the roof than through other parts of the building envelope. Roofing can also affect water quality and conservation, albedo effect and heat island mitigation, and urban aesthetics. There are many sustainable roofing options on the market today, each with their pros and cons. Here are a few:

  • Living roofs – Literally green, living roofs utilize live plants as roofing material. Proponents of living roofs cite many benefits, including energy savings, creating a wildlife habitat, improved water and air quality, noise and fire protection and even reduction of EMF radiation. However, they can be quite expensive to install and must be properly engineered for structural rooftop pipe and equipment stability and water management.
  • Cool roofs – A “cool” roof is any roof that has high solar reflectance. Cool roofing materials range from light-colored metal roofs to coatings sprayed onto a new or existing roof. Cool roofs can reduce roof temperatures by up to 60°F on hot summer days compared to conventional roofing materials. This can significantly reduce cooling costs and even reduce the urban “heat island” effect in the building’s proximity. Many cool roofing options are quite affordable. Most are compatible with standard rooftop support systems, and, like living roofs, they can help a project earn LEED points for solar reflectance. Cool roofing technologies provide the greatest payback in hot, sunny climates in the south and southeast part of the country.
  • Solar roofing – While solar panels are still the most popular solar option, advances in thin film solar technology are making integrated solar roofing a viable option for certain applications. Solar-integrated shingles and other thin roofing materials offer built-in electricity generation without the bulky appearance of panels. These systems can be pricey, however, and require full sun for optimal payback. Shade from phone wires and rooftop protrusions such as HVAC equipment can seriously impair performance, so be sure to analyze the site thoroughly before investing.
  • Metal roofs – Metal roofs last for decades and can easily be recycled when their work is done. They are also ideal for integration with rainwater collection and solar panels, and can be manufactured as cool roofs, too. However, the upfront cost can be high, and they can be noisy during rainfall. Keep in mind, too, that metal has a high coefficient of expansion. Care must be taken to allow for this during installation of the roof and rooftop equipment.

In addition to their environmental and financial benefits, these roofing systems can help buildings meet standards for LEED and other popular green building certifications, as well as meet tightened federal energy efficiency standards for new construction. No matter what your next project, be sure to find a green roofing material to fit the bill!

Art Valentz is the founder and CEO of PHP Systems/Design. With over 24 years of experience in rooftop support systems, he is well known for his industry leading research, design, testing, and engineering practices. When he is not on the rooftop, Art enjoys supporting the Wounded Warriors Project and fishing with his family.

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