Cool Roofs for a Cool Baltimore: An Environmental Weapon Against Climate Change, Air-Conditioning Costs, and Sweltering Summer Heat

September 2013 / Abell Reports / Community Development, Environment

Seven recommendations for putting white roofs to work—faster.

From New York to California, governments, scientists and nonprofits dedicated to energy efficiency, mitigating climate change and weatherizing homes for the poor are embracing the widespread adoption and  installation of “cool roofs.” Also called “white roofs,” cool roof systems are designed to reflect the sun’s rays and limit heat absorption. Unlike traditional black roofs, cool roof reflective surfaces stay up to 60°F
cooler, reducing a building’s temperature, cutting air conditioning costs and eventually shrinking the “urban heat island” effect that makes cities so unbearable in summer. Longer lasting, cost-competitive, and often safer to install than traditional black roofs, cool roofs could become Baltimore’s next climate mitigation priority and environmental target.

Roofs play an obvious function in keeping buildings sealed and protected from moisture. Yet increasingly, rooftops are being looked to for their environmental potential, including cooling, stormwater retention and
solar energy production, all of which can also lower operating costs. While green or vegetated roofs and rooftop solar panels can also address a building’s environmental and energy performance and should be encouraged, this report focuses primarily on the potential for expanding the installations of cool roofs.

Baltimore stands to learn much from the experience of other cities and states in promoting widespread installation of cool roofs through enabling building code requirements, availability of utility rebates and incentives and nonprofit programs. Cooling a significant number of Baltimore buildings with reflective roofs can increase energy efficiency and relieve peak demand on the electrical grid, reduce emissions and greenhouse gases, improve air quality, and reduce heat-related health risks for the elderly and vulnerable populations, while at the same time enhance Baltimore’s resilience to withstand prolonged heat events as a result of climate change.

Increasing the number of high-performance roofs could go a long way toward achieving city and state energy-saving, sustainability, and climate action goals, especially as Baltimore focuses on the implementation of the newly released Climate Action Plan, and Baltimore City Public Schools are on the brink of an unprecedented $1.1 billion overhaul of school buildings including renovation of existing buildings and construction of new buildings. High performance roofs should be considered as the city reviews its green building codes and standards, and utilities and government are working to meet ambitious energy consumption reduction targets.

This report contains six sections:

  1. A definition of cool roofs;
  2. A summary of cost, environmental and public health benefits and considerations;
  3. A comparison to other environmentally beneficial roofing options;
  4. Examples of cool roofs in Baltimore through government, nonprofit and private efforts;
  5. Examples of other city and state initiatives designed to increase adoption and implementation of cool roofs; and finally,
  6. Recommendations to increase the pace of cool roof installations in Baltimore.