Crazy In Alabama…Reaping the Energy Savings Of A Light Colored Roof
By Debra Miller
Okay, I’ll admit it. Everyone thought I was nuts when I insisted on having a white roof for my 1939 home located in the Beaty Historic District in Athens, Alabama. But as the resident “green” board member and construction committee member for our localHabitat for Humanity, I understand the positive impact that a white roof can have on saving energy.
Replacing the roof was part of badly needed energy makeover to our 3-bedroom home, located within walking distance of Athens State University where I work. I wanted the home look right and perform well. As a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) AP (Accredited Professional) for Homes, an Architectural graduate, and a Historic Preservationist, I wasn’t willing to compromise efficiency or aesthetics.
Our makeover included a lot of upgrades, from adding insulation to replacing windows, appliances and the front door with more energy efficient, Energy Star products. But it was the replacement of our roof that created one of our greatest challenges. Thing is, not that many people request white roofs any more, so none of our local building supply stores had any white shingles in stock.
It was clear we would have to special order the shingles, but I wanted assurance that the shingles we ordered would look good. The big-box stores only had tiny samples of white shingles; nothing large enough to help me determine how they would look on my red brick historic home. Since there were no real life examples in our area for me to use to make that call, I used online software offered by the shingle-maker to do some “what-if” scenarios of white shingles on red brick homes. Finally, I found one that satisfied my tastes.
My husband, on the other hand, remained skeptical but had enough confidence in my designing ability to ‘go along’ with my judgment. So we ordered the white shingles, and about a week later, they arrived. The installing contractor didn’t say much about our choice, except that he hoped we ordered enough, since getting more would be difficult.
I was a little worried that the white shingles might not pass muster with the Historic Commission in our area. I did some research and found that about 20 years previously there were more houses with light colored roofs and planned to use this in my case. (Dark, even black roofs are a more modern trend, despite the fact that they really add to a home’s cooling load in the summer.) Fortunately the commission did not need to rule on our shingle selection, but I was ready just the same.
Don’t Call Me Crazy. My Name Is Debra and I Cut My Utility Bills In Half!
“It looks like you have snow on your roof,” one neighbor observed after our new white roof was installed. I’m not sure if this was a compliment, but I’m happy to say that most of the feedback we have received since installing our energy efficient, historically acceptable roof has been positive. Even my husband decided I did the right thing.
Would I do this again? In a heartbeat! Am I happy with the aesthetics? Absolutely! Am I pleased with our investment in a more energy efficient roof? You bet!
While we can’t isolate the roof’s impact on our total energy consumption because we added open-cell insulation to the roof deck at the same time, I can say that the two upgrades together appear to have cut our energy usage in half when compared to the previous year. That’s good enough for me.
I know that some people may think my choice of a light colored roof is “crazy” when darker roofs are more in style (at least for now). Personally, I think that not pursuing energy efficiency in our homes is only crazy—not to mention wasteful. As we each have the opportunity to upgrade, making smart choices in our built environment can make a big difference in our quality of life and put money back in our pockets. I’m thrilled that with these choices we have approached what I consider to be the ideal home – like the LEED Platinum houses that our Habitat for Humanity affiliate builds. These homes, which have light colored shingles, have utility bills that run about $30/month!
Debra Miller is the DBA for Athens State University, a LEED AP Homes, the Construction Chairperson for Habitat for Humanity of Athens/Limestone County Alabama (www.habitatalc.org), Board Member, and LEED specialist. She holds a BS in Architecture and a MA in History, with a concentration in Historic Preservation. And she’s NOT crazy.
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