White Roofs Offer a Simple Strategy to Help Combat Global Warming

It’s amazing how the ambient temperature in a building can change so significantly through this simple action…

Millions of rooftops in America are made of tar, and they absorb an enormous amount of heat during the summer months. Covering rooftops with a solar-reflective white coating reduces temperatures inside and out. White roofs are cost effective, cut carbon emissions, lower the risk of ‘brown-outs’ by reducing stress on the power grid during peak summer months, and save millions in energy costs.

Secretary of Energy Dr. Steven Chu, an advocate of white roofs, has stated that there is a potential savings of $735 million in energy costs if 85% of all air-conditioned buildings in the US had white roofs. In fact, he has mandated that all new roofs on Energy Department buildings be either white or reflective. Individual homeowners can also lower their electricity costs as much as 40% by painting their roofs white.

While the concept of converting roofs to white reflective surfaces has significant merit, putting it into practice requires some initiative. In New York, the White Roof Project, a non-profit organization, has been founded to educate and enable individuals, businesses and institutions to benefit from the energy savings of converting roofs to white, while also contributing to the reduction of carbon emissions. The White Roof Project identifies rooftops, organizes volunteers to paint them, funds community initiatives, and builds awareness in cities.

The following narrative was submitted by a team member of the White Roof Project:

It was early in the morning on one of the hottest days in NYC when we went up to paint La Mama, a historic theater on the Bowery. It’s one of many rooftops we’ve painted for the past year. We’ve been working with the Lower East Side community to find solutions to our City’s energy usage and climate change problems. Conservation efforts in this thriving neighborhood could reduce stress on our power grid more than any other neighborhood in New York State. The Lower East Side needs our help, after all, it is the heaviest energy user in the city, so our efforts there get more ‘bang for the buck’ every time a roof is coated white.

One thing that amazes me is how much the ambient temperature in a building can change so significantly through this simple action. I can say from experience that the top floors of the buildings we’ve coated are quite cool. We’ve measured the temperature inside the building on 94 degree day, and inside it was 80 degrees. We did not even need to turn the A/C on and I think that’s pretty miraculous. Compare that with the inside of a building with a black rooftop, a scorching 105 degrees.

A New York simulation assumed a 50% adoption of cool roofs on available roof space and ran models to evaluate the temperature changes. The model predicted a city wide temperature reduction of 0.3°F.

At the end of the day we create simple, tangible change in our city by working in our community and getting our hands covered in white paint. You can be a part of the movement by coating your own roof with our easy-to-read Do It Yourself Guide. This simple step towards sustainability is comparatively cheap and easy to complete on your own. If you need help getting started, visit WhiteRoofProject.org. We’re happy to help you begin saving electricity costs and become part of the movement to help reduce global warming.

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