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Get Cool: Paint Your Roof White


Environmental solutions are rarely black-and-white. But making roofs more reflective—basically, painting them white—may be a simple strategy for curbing climate change, experts say.

Dark roofs reflect about 10 to 20 percent of sunlight, whereas so-called cool roofs send about 70 to 80 percent of it back into the atmosphere, according to researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California.

A reflective-roofed house or building with 1,000 square feet (93 square meters) of roof area would offset 10 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, according to a 2008 study led by Lawrence lab scientists in the journal Climatic Change.

And it’s also an energy-saving boon: White roofs cut on air-conditioning use by 20 percent, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Not to mention cooler roofs also cool down urban dwellers—which now make up half the world’s population—during summer months.

That’s because reflective roofs and pavements reduce sweltering city temperatures—a city can be up to 5.4 degrees Fahrenheit (3 degrees Celsius) hotter than surrounding areas, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Such high temperatures require that buildings crank up the air conditioning and overall increase their energy usage, which in turn emits more pollution and degrades air quality.

Put together, the combined effect of energy and air-quality savings from increasing reflective surfaces just in the United States may exceed $2 billion a year, according to Lawrence scientists.

White roofs as a win-win hasn’t been lost on U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has been advocating for the roofs as a simple and cheap form of geoengineering, or manipulating environments to combat global warming.

“Now you smile, but if you look at all the buildings and make all the roofs white, and if you make the pavement a more concrete type of color than a black type of color, and you do this uniformly &#133 it’s the equivalent of reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars in the world by 11 years,” Chu told the U.K.’s Independent newspaper in May.

To spread the white-roof gospel, the Lawrence lab researchers suggest launching an international campaign in large temperate and tropical cities to install white roofs and pavements when such structures are built or repaired.

An international cool-cities program need not require “delicate negotiations,” the authors point out, and could be a global, coordinated step in combating global warming.

In the meantime, if you’re keen on cooling your own roof, check out the Energy Star program’s Web site, which offers a useful guide for reflective-roof products already on the market.

Likewise, you can find comprehensive information on so-called cool roofs at the U.S. Deparment of Energy’s Web site.

Go raise the (white) roof!

Christine Dell’Amore

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–Learn how to get a green roof on a shoestring budget.

–Browse Green Guide’s Home Improvement hub for more ecofriendly housing ideas.

–Check out green roof photos at National Geographic magazine.

Photograph courtesy U.S. Department of Energy


  1. April
    November 4, 2016, 4:04 pm

    When Leonardo DiCaprio did the movie Before the Flood this was not mentioned in the movie on what we can do to help with greenhouse effect. Why not????

  2. battery4laptop
    July 12, 2010, 2:24 am
  3. Joan Sylvester
    July 8, 2010, 10:04 am

    Another great way to green your home is to use VOC free flooring. I just found a company that creates eco friendly flooring out of recycled wood strips. It’s kinda like reclaimed flooring, but for homes or companies that use modern or transitional design. Tre chic, indeed!

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  5. John
    June 29, 2010, 1:52 am

    Wow I never know the art behind this painting and polishing. Well Thanks for sharing such a nice idea. This would also help us cut down our air cooler bills.
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  6. Linda
    June 21, 2010, 3:05 am

    That’s very interesting one. Even in clothing we know that white sort would reflect the heat whereas dark sorts would absorb in most of the heat. Well we can utilize this simple idea than spending too much in air conditioners
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  7. somedays
    June 7, 2010, 5:38 am

    Perhaps they will try a little Ed Hardy experimentation based on North Vietnamese torture tactics??? Gucci bags or perhaps they just wont bother with prisoners, unless tiffany jewellery they believe they have useful information…

  8. Dusty99
    June 6, 2010, 12:35 am

    This is a really clever idea. It’s too bad that most roofs are black, but then again I guess that’s free heating in the winter. white mini fridge

  9. biplab
    August 14, 2009, 8:11 am

    Yes,It is a good way to cool in hot summer than other homes