The roofs over our heads have long been neglected when it comes to sustainable living. They are such an essential, long-lasting part of our lives that it’s easy to forget about them. While advances in technology and thinking have produced some exciting and innovative ways to use our roof to the benefit of the environment, installing solar panels or growing a “green” roof isn’t always practical.
If you are looking to replace your roof, however, here’s what you need to know to be as eco-friendly as possible in your choice:
1. Pick a Pro
Roofing is not a do-it-yourself project. It is a dangerous job requiring highly skilled professionals. If you need a new roof, do some research based on the information below and pick a contractor who will best be able to work with your eco-friendly efforts. Chief among these is the ability to recycle your old roofing material rather than sending it to the landfill. Recycled asphalt shingles (the most common type of roofing material) are now being used in pavement, offsetting the need to produce new paving materials. According to the National Asphalt Paving Association, the shingles from a single roof can contribute to 200 feet of paved highway. Nearly 1.65 million tons of recycled asphalt shingles were put to use in new pavements in the U.S. during the 2013 construction season alone, saving taxpayers more than $2 billion.
Most importantly, for your budget and long-term security, make sure you choose a contractor with a solid warranty that will stand by their work long after it’s completed.
2. Choose the Right Material for You
The eco-friendliest roof is one that is both durable and “cool.” Roofs require a large amount of material, so the longer it will last, the lower the impact on the environment. Additionally, roofs are a large contributor to the greenhouse effect. When the sun hits the roof and the roof reflects the light back into the atmosphere, the intensity and angle of that light creates what’s known as a “heat-island effect” in cities. This effect damages the atmosphere. Picking a “cool roof”—a roof that reflects the sun’s heat back to the sky—will help reduce the amount of heat transferred into the house, and also help lower the use of your HVAC system, therefore reducing energy use.
Asphalt shingles are the most common roofing material, due to a low price point and potentially long life. Other materials include tile, metal and wood.
- Wood: Once popular, wood is not a very sustainable option today as traditional wood shingles are made from the harvest of old-growth trees. If you want wood shingles, however, look for a product made from reclaimed or FSC-certified lumber. Be aware that wood roofs are highly combustible and not allowed in many parts of the country.
- Tile: Predominantly clay or slate, tile is made from natural material and is extremely durable. However, mining and transportation of tile is a very energy-intensive process. These materials do last a long time though and are available in lighter colors, a key component of a cool roof as they reflect rather than absorb light. Additionally, tile is easily recycled and clay tiles can help with ventilation. They are popular in hot climates because their curved shape and high density helps trap cool air inside on a hot day.
- Metal: An exceptionally durable and fire-resistant material, metal is a good choice if you live in a dry climate and want to collect rainwater from your roof for household use, because the risk of chemical leaching from your roof into the water is minimized. While metal is not a cool roofing material, it can be painted with a reflective coating and a light color to increase its cooling properties.
- Asphalt Shingles: Standard asphalt shingles are a petroleum-based product, which requires a lot of energy to manufacture. However, as asphalt shingles are far and away the least expensive roofing material, these negatives can be offset by using 40 or 50 year-rated shingles or recycled shingles, made from recycled waste materials such as plastic, rubber, or wood fiber. In fact, recycled asphalt shingles are actually the “greenest” roofing material currently available, as their use actively diverts a huge amount of un-biodegradable waste from the landfill and means no energy is expended extracting or processing raw materials.
To improve the green factor of your asphalt shingle roof further, also consider these options:
- Opt for light-colored shingles over dark to help limit light reflection and create a “cool roof.”
- Install radiant heat barriers (a thin layer of metal insulation on the back of the roof material) to improve insulation.
- Install rainwater catchment systems to funnel water from your roof into your garden.
- Hire a vetted professional roofer—a poorly installed roof can contribute to health problems from mold and higher energy use due to air leakage.
3. Don’t Forget to Ventilate
An attic ventilation system can extend the life of your asphalt shingle roof as it allows cool, fresh air to enter and lets hot, stale air escape. A ventilation system allows the roof to breathe during warmer months and keeps humidity in the attic down in cooler months to minimize condensation, which can cause mold and mildew to grow. An estimated nine out of 10 homes lack properly balanced attic ventilation systems. As a result, the average roof lasts only 10 to 12 years, when it should last 25 years or more. Additionally, many manufacturers’ shingle warranties are void if there is not proper ventilation for the roof.
If you’re in the market for a new roof, do your research to assure you choose the best professional for the job, the best materials for your situation, and a disposal plan for your existing roof that’s the right choice for the Earth.
About the author
Jennifer Tuohy is a homeowner in Charleston, S.C., who writes about sustainability and eco-friendly ideas for The Home Depot. For a wide selection of roofing solutions available at Home Depot, you can click here.
Feature image courtesy of Jeremy Levine