Roofs give homes one of life’s most basic requirements: shelter from the elements.
A home’s roof has a tough job; it has to endure dramatic variations in temperature, constant exposure to damaging sunlight, wind, rain, hail, and snow.
A roof typically doesn’t get much attention until something goes wrong.
Finding the right roofing material for any home is important, but if you’re factoring in environmental impacts, the job gets a bit more complicated. The roof must not only be able to stand up to the extreme conditions up on the roof, it must also meet the criteria necessary to be considered ‘green': use of recycled material, durability, recyclability, energy-saving, etc.).
-Roof Criteria #1: Durability-
The main job of any roofing material, whether it’s considered ‘green’ or not, is protecting the roof and everything in the house below.
Failure to protect can not only do real damage to the roof, but also to the building structure itself, as well as anything contained within it. This damage only increases the environmental cost of using lower-quality roofing materials.
- Types of Roofing Materials-
Asphalt shingles are by far the most commonly-used type of roofing material for homes due to their lower cost and ease of installation. They do have some environmental drawbacks, which may not make them the best choice when trying to use the most environmentally friendly roofing options.
Asphalt shingles are sometimes made of recycled content, and have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years. They are a very resource-intensive product using lots of energy to produce, and they typically end up in a landfill at the end of their life cycle. The National Roofing Contractors Association has estimated that 75% of all money spent on roofing in the U.S. goes to replacing or repairing existing roofs. These are most commonly asphalt shingles.
Due to the lower durability and lack of recycling opportunities for asphalt shingles in some areas, only the heaviest-duty shingles should be used if chosen as a roofing material. There are other alternatives to traditional asphalt shingles, many of which are more environmentally friendly roofing options.
-Eco-Friendlier Alternatives to Asphalt Shingles-
Roofing alternatives to asphalt shingles are those products made of natural and/or extremely long-lasting materials like steel, plastic, rubber, and cement. Most of these options contain some or all-recycled content and are available in shake or traditional shingle styles. Other environmentally friendly roofing options are clay or concrete roof tiles; their natural ingredients and attractive long-lasting appearance make them a great choice in areas that typically don’t get hail.
Steel roofing is yet another option that is gaining in popularity for its toughness, ability to withstand brutal weather, its high levels of recycled content, and its ease of recyclability when removed.
- Cool Roofing Materials-
One easy way any roofing material can be more environmentally-friendly is by being lighter in color, or by containing reflective materials. The EPA has started the “Cooling Our Communities” program, which calls for lighter colored, low solar absorption roofing surfaces. All roofing materials, including newer Energy Star-certified asphalt shingles, can be made more reflective to save energy.
By reflecting more of the sun’s energy away from the roof rather than absorbing it, these reflective roofs keep the house much cooler, and can lower cooling costs by up to 20%.