Green Roofing Options

There are green roofing products that are gentle to the environment and many of them are more attractive than standard roofing materials.

| February/March 2005

Builders have always said “a good hat and good shoes” are essential to protect a house from any type of weather. Even so, home builders opt to install the cheapest, shortest-lived shingles on four out of five new homes built in the United States today.

“‘First cost’ is the overriding issue in most home building,” says Alex Wilson, executive editor of BuildingGreen, publishers of Environmental Building News and Green Building Products. “Builders are trying to get the most house for the least money. And most homeowners have bought into the idea that they should build or buy the largest house they can afford.oing so means they cut corners on the material’s durability and performance.”

Incorporating green building materials into your home makes much more sense when you take a long-term view of home building and its life cycle costs. Only then is it apparent that building with better roofing materials is in your best interest. And now, eco-friendlier roofs are more attractive, affordable, durable and readily available than ever. 

Criteria to Consider

Not all roofing material is created equal. Each has attributes that best suit certain structures and environments. Choosing the right product for your home involves a careful analysis of such factors as durability, solar reflectivity, cost and ecological impact. If you have considered re-roofing your home or are planning to build a new house, weigh these criteria before selecting a roof material.

First, consider the roof’s durability: How long will it last? Some asphalt shingles are inexpensive to buy, but they have half (or less) the life expectancy of many other roofing materials. But higher-quality asphalt shingles can be a viable option if properly chosen, says Clarke Snell in his book, The Good House Book: A Common-Sense Guide to Alternative Homebuilding. “Poor quality asphalt shingles ... are the Styrofoam cup of the building industry, [but] high-quality asphalt shingles are much cheaper than metal, easy for one person to install, accommodate roof punctures such as chimneys and skylights with relative ease, and can last 30 to 40 years or more.” The moral here is that even the same product type can have a wide range of quality, so be sure you know what you’re getting before you buy.

Another consideration when choosing a new roof is the material’s solar reflectivity, known as the albedo. If you are planning to retrofit an older home with a greener roof, its albedo may be a greater concern than a newer house with efficient insulation. Use of lighter colored, low solar-absorbent roofing surfaces is one of the key measures advocated in the “Cooling Our Communities” program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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