This Is Why We're Hot: Sun-Absorbing Black Roofs Need a Coat of White Paint

Posted by Zak Stone

white roofs bowery mission

If you live anywhere in America other than the shores of the Pacific, you are probably sweating right now. A lot. And it's likely that the paint job and materials on your building's roof are making it worse. As we've reported on GOOD before, painting white the black roofs that top many of American cities can deflect 70 percent more sun, keeping interiors cooler,  reducing the urban heat island effect, and curbing global warming. Luckily it seems like 2011 could be the summer where this idea goes mainstream, with the combination of powerful heat waves and politicians (Bill Clinton!) getting behind the idea.

When temperatures heat up, white roofs can stay up to 30 degrees cooler than traditional dark roofs, generating a cooling effect throughout the building below, which means less electricity used for air conditioning. Interiors of a white-roofed building can linger at 80 degrees when it's 90 outside. As President Clinton wrote in Newsweek on Tuesday, "Every black roof in New York should be white; every roof in Chicago should be white... Every flat tar-surface roof anywhere!... It’s the quickest, cheapest thing you can do," and as a bonus, it can help the economy by putting people to work. 

New York City—where the high today is 100 degrees—is the focus of a number of white-roof initiatives worth highlighting. A city-backed project NYC °CoolRoofs is working with property owners to incentivize covering roofs with reflective white material. So far they've already coated 1.5 million square feet of roof and aim to coat one million more. A grassroots initiative, White Roofs Project, plans to give an entire block in the East Village the white roof treatment in August. (They've also created a great infographic explaining the importance of their work). If you live in New York, sign up here to volunteer with WRP.

Image via White Roof Project's Facebook album.