Tag: Sustainable building

Raising the Roof

Here is the latest example of why people in politics need to be kept away from sharp objects and environmental policy. Bill Clinton has joined the chorus of people calling for rooftops to be painted white. This would reflect sunlight and make the buildings cooler in the summer, potentially saving about $700 million in cooling costs (which sounds like a lot more than it actually is).

There’s a problem. And if you aren’t someone starry-eyed over the wisdom of our greens, you should already see it. There is a reason that roofs are painted black. And it’s not because the industry is controlled by goths. (Help an out-of-touch scientist out here — goths are still a thing, right?)

Sure, having a white roof in the summer is great because it cools when we all want some cooling. But what about the winter, when we actually want the heat from the sun? Is it really better to lose the winter heat in order to lose the summer heat?

Keith Oleson of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder and colleagues attempted to answer that very question.


Oleson’s calculations indicate the former: overall, if white roofs became ubiquitous, the extra energy needed for heating in the winter would exceed the energy savings in the summer. And, assuming that most heating and cooling comes from burning fossil fuels, that would mean an overall increase in global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Clearly not an ideal recipe for addressing global warming.

Actually, roof color is climate-dependent. In warm climates, white roofs are a net positive. But in cold climates, you’re better with a black roof. I’ve heard these dimwits talking about putting white roofs in Chicago and Washington. On balance, that will be bad. The article goes on to talk about temperature-sensitive tiles, but those aren’t really a thing yet.

This is just another illustration of why command-and-control politics guided by uninformed politicians sitting around saying, “Hey, what about this!” is the wrong way to run our economy. When energy prices rise, people will figure out how to save energy. And dollars to doughnuts, they will be better at it than a bunch of politicians trying to fool the public into white-washing roofs for their Aunt Polly.