My house will be in need of a new roof in the near future, and I have a checklist of features for this big-ticket item that I hope to be able to tick off. I am looking for a roofing material that is long lasting, energy efficient, environmentally friendly and relatively affordable.
Does such a roof exist? I set out to learn all I could about the current options for ecofriendly roofs and came away with the five top contenders and three optional add-ons you’ll find here.
Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of each green option, to help you find the right ecofriendly roof for your home and budget.
White Roof, aka “Cool Roof”
Pros: A light-colored or white roof of any material is also known as a “cool roof” for a reason — it can significantly cool the roof’s temperature by reflecting the sun’s rays away from the house, keeping the interior of the home cooler as well. This reduces summer energy bills and helps deter the “heat island” effect in cities. White asphalt shingles (such as the Energy Star–rated GAF 25-Year Royal Sovereign White Shingles available at Home Depot) are similar in price to regular, darker shingles, making this one of the least expensive eco friendly roofing options.
Cons: Just because it’s a cool roof does not mean it is <em>completely</em> eco friendly. If it’s made from asphalt shingles, those are still petroleum based and are nearly impossible to recycle. A metal roof in white could be a better option.
Standing-Seam Metal Roof
Pros: Extremely durable, long lasting, light reflective and fully recyclable, metal roofs are a great investment for anyone — not just green homeowners. You can ramp up the green factor by choosing a metal roof made with recycled content and in a lighter color.
Cons: More expensive than asphalt shingles (though less than copper and slate), a standing-seam metal roof is a bigger investment upfront. Also, homeowners in areas with heavy snowfall must include a plan for dealing with snow — it slides right off metal roofs, potentially creating huge drifts around the perimeter of the house.
Sustainable Wood Shake or Shingle Roof
Pros: Natural and biodegradable, wood shingles from sustainably managed forests are a good option if you have your heart set on the classic look of wood shingles. The Green Depot carries FSC-certified cedar shingles.
Cons: Wood shingles are flammable, so they may be controlled in some areas where fire danger is high. They are also fairly expensive (the cost is on par with metal roofing), and last just 15 to 25 years, whereas metal roofs can last 40 to 50 years.
Reclaimed Clay or Slate Tile Roof
Pros: Durable and natural, clay and slate tiles have a long history in roofing and are still highly coveted today. Nothing complements a Spanish-style home better than the classic curve of red clay tiles, and slate does wonders to enhance the look of elegant historic homes. Even longer-lasting than metal, clay and slate tiles can last up to 100 years. Clay tile can also be found in lighter colors, which offer cool-roof benefits. Salvaged tile is the greenest option, keeping usable tile out of landfills.
Cons: Clay and slate tiles are very expensive, typically twice as much per square foot as metal roofing. Tile is also extremely heavy, which means some reinforcement of the roof is usually required, adding to the cost. You can also expect regular maintenance costs to replace chipped and broken tiles.
Recycled-Content Shingle Roof
Pros: A growing number of shingles on the market today have recycled content, from those that mimic the look of cedar shakes (like these from EcoStar) to recycled slate-look shingles (like these available at Green Depot). These options provide an appealing lower-cost alternative to pricey slate and sustainable wood, while still offering green benefits like a manufacturer recycling program and a 50-year product lifespan.
Cons: From what I have seen, none of the recycled-content shingles on the market today are available in white, so cooling benefits may not be optimal (though this may change, as new products are continuously being developed).
Add-On Number 1: Solar Panels
Pros: Today’s solar panels are less expensive than they once were, can be fitted onto many styles of existing roofs (that part of your roof facing south is most important) and can potentially save you a big chunk of change on your energy bills in the long run.
Cons: The initial installation costs are still quite high, and you won’t recoup your investment with energy savings for many years. So if you are planning to move anytime soon, it could be wiser to wait to install solar panels on your next home.
Add-On Number 2: Green Roof
Pros: Adding insulation, cooling your home, cleaning the air and reducing the amount of storm-water runoff are just a few of the benefits of adding a green roof to your home. Planting green roofs in urban areas can also help mitigate the heat-island effect and add natural beauty to what is usually a neglected space.
Cons: Aside from the initial installation (which can be pricey depending on the size of your roof and the type of garden), a green roof may also require some structural reinforcement to support the weight of the plants and soil.
Upkeep also can be an issue — even automatic irrigation systems and native plant gardens need maintenance from time to time, and other roof repairs can be more difficult when workers need to access areas beneath the green layers.
Add-On Number 3: Roof Overhangs
Pros: Roof overhangs are great ways to passively cool your home. When properly positioned, a deep roof overhang can shade your home from the sun, reducing energy and electricity costs.
Cons: The cost of adding a roof overhang can be high, but if you are already planning changes to your home’s structure or are building from scratch, it can be worth it to look into adding a deep overhang.
The bottom line: There is no one-size-fits-all solution, but I was pleasantly surprised at the resource-saving choices on the market today. From recycled products to simply choosing a lighter color in a traditional roofing material, there is a green option to fit just about every budget.