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White above our heads

By Sustainability Office on April 16, 2014

By Sale Rhodes ’16

The media is buzzing about LEED building certification, solar hot water heaters, insulation, and other cutting edge ways to ‘greenify’ your home, but have you put enough thought into your roof? Studies and new technologies are ubiquitous about roof options that can help reduce your carbon footprint. From solar panels to rooftop gardens, how should you choose what to put above your head?

A typical roof made of shingles, concrete, tar, or other ‘non-renewables’ are referred to as black roofs and because they neither reflect sunlight nor convert sunlight into energy, they are the least energy efficient option. Solar panels that convert UV rays and heat into energy to be used within the home or elsewhere on the nearby energy grid are a great option, but they are pricey and difficult to get approval for.

Green roofs, otherwise known as rooftop gardens, are a very popular option among environmentalists and outdoorsy folk. While having a living system on your roof fueled by sunlight and rainwater sounds about as ideal as can be, the feasibility of green roofs is often over estimated. Slanted gardens two stories above ground can actually be extremely hard to manage. One of many reasons for this is that soil retains water, so you would definitely need a sturdy roof that won’t spring any leaks to keep the garden from collapsing into your own home. Another worry here is that while every garden needs diversity, your rooftop would be at risk for growing all sorts of weeds and potentially unwanted plants. Therefore, unless you have the ability to weed regularly, a green roof might be a bigger hassle than you think. However, the facts are not all negative; green roofs will save money spent on heating and cooling, as they will effectively insulate the home from the top down. If you’re still set on a green roof regardless of your slanted, difficult to access shingles, check out this out.

What we really want to know is how can you live beneath an earth-friendly roof without breaking your bank or your back? White roofs! According to the White Roof Project, painting your black roof white could save a total of $5 billion in energy costs in the United states and potentially 24 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Painting rooftops white increased the albedo effect of our homes and cities. This means that it improves the reflective qualities of our structures so that less sunlight is absorbed by the earth and subsequently trapped in our atmosphere. Reducing the dark surfaces on our planet is a major way that we can reduce global warming by reflecting sunlight back out of our atmosphere. So, what do we think? Should Colgate go white as part of its mission to go green?

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