Reroofing Is One of the Few Opportunities to Improve the Built Environment

All of us get misled by catch-phrases, like “Save the Planet” or “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”. Although phrases like these are well intended, they can be misleading; they really are off topic. Something like “Save the Humans” is more to the point and truly the root of the entire sustainability movement. Let’s face it: The efforts to be more green are inherently aimed at a healthier you and me, as well as our children’s and grandchildren’s desire for continued healthful lives and opportunities.

The discussion about green and sustainability needs some context to make it real and effectual. The question to ask is: How does green construction help humans live a healthier and happier life? The answer is: It is because of the co-benefits of building (and living) in a more environmentally appropriate way.

One key component of building environmentally appropriate buildings is that, collectively, we use less energy. Less energy use means no need to build another power plant that creates electricity while spewing pollution into the air. Less pollution in the air means people are healthier. It also means the water and soil are less polluted. We drink that water and eat what grows in the ground. We also eat “stuff” from the rivers, lakes and oceans. Healthier people means reduced costs for health care. Reduced sickness means fewer sick days at the office, and fewer sick days means more productivity by employees. And, dare I say, happier employees all because of the environmentally appropriate building, or a “human appropriate” building.

So what does all this have to do with roofs? Rooftops, because they are a significant percentage of the building envelope, should not be overlooked as an important and truly significant energy-efficiency measure. Building owners and facility managers should always include energy efficiency components in their roof system designs. There are few opportunities to improve the building envelope; reroofing is one of those opportunities, and it shouldn’t be missed.

According to the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing and building envelope research firm Tegnos Inc., roof systems have the potential to save 700-plus trillion Btus in annual energy use. Too many roofs are not insulated to current code-required levels. If our rooftops were better insulated, these energy-saving estimates would become reality. Imagine the co-benefits of such a significant reduction in energy use!

But how do we know we’re doing the right thing? RoofPoint and the RoofPoint Carbon Calculator will help. The RoofPoint Carbon Calculator uses seven inputs to compare an energy-efficient roof with a baseline roof: insulation, thermal performance, air barrier, roof surface, rooftop PV, solar thermal and roof daylighting. The outputs from the Carbon Calculator are total roof energy use, energy savings due to the energy-efficient roof design, energy savings during peak demand, and CO2 offset for the energy efficient roof design. This can be used to compare an existing roof (the baseline roof) to a new roof design (the energy efficient roof), and this will help verify the energy savings and reduction of carbon output. It’s an excellent tool for verifying how green a new roof can be.

And don’t just take my word on this co-benefits idea. The Economist recently published an article about the EPA and rulings on interstate pollution. The article cited a claim that by 2014—if pollution rates were half of those in 2005—hundreds of thousands of asthma cases each year could be prevented and nearly 2 million work and school days lost to respiratory illness could be eliminated. And just think, improving your roof’s energy efficiency is key to the reduction of power-plant use and the pollution that comes from them. So, yes, your roof can help your kids and your grandkids be healthy and happy.

About the Author

James R. Kirby
James R. Kirby, AIA, is vice president of Sustainability for the Center for Environmental Innovation in Roofing. The center is a 503(c)6 non-profit, membership-based organization based in Washington, D.C., that provides industry-vetted information about environmentally appropriate, long-lasting roof systems.

2 Comments on "Reroofing Is One of the Few Opportunities to Improve the Built Environment"

  1. Hi Brad,
    I’m not familiar with recycled shingles being used to make new shingles. It is a nice idea, though. Your comment, I believe, is a terminology mixup. The term RAS implies to me that same as it does to you–that RAS is shingle with recycled shingle in it. However, based on this link — http://www.shinglerecycling.org/content/ras-webinar-wrapup-2010 — RAS is the recycled shingle that is used in pavement.
    Let’s both hope that shingles get recycled into shingles soon!
    Thanks for you comment.
    Jim

  2. I agree that if going green doesn’t “help the humans,” or serve some purpose, then what’s the point? I would be interested in shingle recycling, though. I’ve heard that they can even turn used shingles into a product called RAS (recycled asphalt shingles) – similar to RAP (recycled asphalt pavement) that can be used (at a certain percentage, like maybe 8% or so) in new asphalt pavement.

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