Saturday, May 30, 2009

Roofs and roads

Here's something I've been thinking about -- a bit off topic from recent posts, but then again, it's all connected. Oil wars... marketing of petroleum products ... barriers to green building... the personal is political.

I just listened to the "Wait Wait.... Don't Tell Me!" segment on NPR that was taped in Austin this week. Jeff Salamon's piece about it in today's Austin American-Statesman is what alerted me to it, since I rarely listen to the show, even though NPR is my station of choice most of the time.
I have to say that I didn't find the show as hilarious as those in the audience seemed to. It was pretty white-centric. Interesting that quite a few of the jokes involved drug use, as though it's fun or funny to use illegal drugs and defer the risk of the drug trade to those who have to break the law in order to provide the goods. I'm just sayin'.

Here's what I really wanted to write about, though, based on a quick current event item mentioned in the program: white roofs. I think this news brief is what was being referred to, about the mayor of Phoenix suggesting painting roofs white to reduce energy costs. I believe a similar push has been made in Atlanta.

I've had roofing on my mind for the past year because our house needed a new one after the hail storm of last spring. We hoped to get a metal roof to replace asphalt shingles, but, in the end, we felt we couldn't afford the cost, so we went with customary shingles. Because we also needed new decking, we sprang for the plywood with a foil radiant barrier to hopefully keep the attic cooler. So far, that seems to be helping. We haven't used our AC at all yet this year.

Because we needed a roof, I began looking more closely at roofs all around. Why were so many roofs being shingled with dark colors in our climate? Our old shinges were "white" asphalt, and we wanted the same light color in the dimensional shingle we were choosing. But, when our roofer brought by the sample board, only one of the options was a light gray, not even as light as our old shingles. Most of the colors ranged, basically, from black to brown. When I asked the roofer about it, he said he didn't know why dark colors were more prevalent. Style? That was his guess.

When we chose the lightest color on the sample board, we were then told that it would be a few months before that color was available -- did we want to choose another? No, we didn't. The light color wasn't out of stock because it was in high demand, but because relatively few people chose it, apparently.

Eventually, the roofer told us that another company made a shingle in a similar light color and we chose that one. In that company's color selection, too, dark tones dominated.
Most new homes, condos and apartment buildings in Austin, even at the new green Mueller development, are roofed with these dark asphalt shingles. I was surprised to see so few metal roofs at Mueller. There are metal awnings, but the main roofs are dark shingles. Mueller would be the perfect place for metal, I'd think, since they don't yet have large trees to drop leaves and cause corrosion. I could picture every home collecting its own rainwater for their flower beds, but I didn't see personal rainbarrels when my partner and I tooled around the development on our bikes last weekend.

This year, I've used air travel several times, which felt novel because I usually use Greyhound. Since roofs were on my mind, I took note of the roof colors as we passed over the cites where we landed and took off. Black and dark brown asphalt were by far the norm, north and south.
I don't know about painting roofs white. Paint will peel. How about unpainted galvalume? How about light colored clay tiles? Now, clay tiles are very expensive, but if they were more common, would the cost go down? Roof framing would have to be stronger, I guess. I like the new, green (that is, actually green and growing) roofs that are being tried here and there, and solar panels on roofs will surely become more common. We looked into that, but our two large shade trees prevented viability of that option -- and solar panels are still quite expensive.

I do have to wonder if, someday, asphalt in our roofs and our roads is going to be considered just too unhealthy for us and the environment. Can the oil industry transition to safer alternatives? I think it's got to if we are serious about saving ourselves and the planet. In the meantime, are dark asphalt shingles a fad or a marketing choice by roofing manufacturers? I don't know, I'm just askin'.

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