Watt, Why & How e-Newsletter

Cool Roofs: Saving Energy Starts at the Top

Cool roof Your roof absorbs a substantial amount of heat from the sun, reducing comfort on hot summer days and making your air-conditioning system work harder. Cool roofs are made with special materials that reflect sunlight and absorb less heat; lowering surface temperatures and keeping your home cooler. Not only will a cool roof make your home more comfortable, it will save you money by reducing the need for air conditioning. 

How Cool Roofs Work

Two characteristics of cool roofs—high solar reflectance and high thermal emittance—help to keep your home cooler in the summertime. Solar reflectance is a measure of a roofing material's ability to reflect sunlight and heat away, keeping the roof cooler. Thermal emittance describes how well a material releases absorbed heat. Together, these properties allow cool roofs to stay up to 60°F cooler than conventional roofs.

Types of Cool Roofs

You can make a new or existing roof cool by selecting the right material. A variety of cool roof products are available for different roofing systems, including the following:

  • Shingled roofs. Cool asphalt shingles use specially coated granules that provide improved solar reflectance. Cool shingles are coated in the factory; coating of existing shingles is not recommended.
  • Tile roofs. Tiles are made of slate, clay, or concrete and are glazed and coated to provide waterproofing and customized colors. Some types are naturally reflective enough to be considered cool, while surface treatments transform other varieties into cool materials.
  • Metal roofs. Unpainted metals are highly reflective, but have low emittance, so they are not considered cool. Painting a metal roof can increase reflectance and emittance. Also cool roof coatings can be applied, allowing the surface to achieve cool roof status. 

Although most homes have steep-sloped roofs, cool roof coatings can be applied to homes with low-sloped roofs (commonly used in commercial buildings). Cool roof coatings contain special pigments that reflect sunlight and protect the roof from ultra-violet (UV) light.  

Benefits and Costs

In addition to keeping your roof cooler, a cool roof can benefit your home and family in a number of ways: 

  • Lower energy costs by reducing the need for air conditioning
  • Increased indoor comfort, especially in areas that are not air conditioned
  • Lower surface temperatures help extend roof life 

In addition to saving energy and making your home more comfortable, installing a cool roof can also benefit the environment and your community. Used in tandem with other buildings in your community, they can reduce surface air temperatures in the summertime, often called the urban heat island effect. Saving energy also helps reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

A cool roof does not necessarily cost more than a non-cool roof. In fact, there is often little or no cost premium for cool roofing materials compared to non-cool alternatives, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If you are installing a new roof or replacing an older or damaged one, a cool roof is highly recommended, especially if you live in a warm climate. If your roof is in good condition, replacing it with a cool roof may not be economical.

The decision to install a cool roof depends on your local climate, the condition of your roof, and the availability of incentives. See the Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency (DSIRE) for information about available incentives in your area.

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