Mother Earth Living

Cool Roofs: Energy-Efficient Roofs

California renters save money with energy-conserving roofs.
By Peter Asmus
September/October 2002
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One of the chief challenges facing renters, who are not directly eligible for the energy efficiency programs that typically target homeowners, is how to lower their power bills. Now, thanks to a state program that helps offset the costs of installing light-colored, energy-conserving cool roofs, California residents living in multifamily complexes are enjoying both financial savings and increased comfort.

While homeowners can also benefit from the program, most cool roof products are designed for flat roofs, and financial rebates in California are limited to duplexes, triplexes, and multifamily complexes. Funded by the California Energy Commission, the Cool Savings with Cool Roofs Program offers fifteen to twenty cents per square foot of eligible roofing on existing and new buildings.

The program is based on the simple fact that dark colors absorb more heat than light materials. Dark roofs absorb at least 70 percent of the solar energy radiating from the sun, which in sunny California translates into peak roof temperatures ranging from 150 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Cool roof coatings are white surface treatments with the consistency of thick paint, which can be applied to roofs that are still in good shape. Special additives improve adhesion, durability, and resistance to dirt, algae, and fungus. Costs for these coatings range from seventy-five cents to $1.50 per square foot. Also available are single-ply prefabricated sheets, which are installed in a single layer. This option is a typically used when the roof needs to be replaced or requires extensive repair. Cost ranges from $1.50 to $3 per square foot.

Donna Hughes, manager of the Sunrise Villas Home Owners Association in Palm Springs, says her tenants have been “very pleased” since the company installed a white surface treatment. “We have had several unsolicited comments from tenants claiming their energy bills are a lot less,” she says.

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