Skip to content – July 22 2009

By: Dr. Patrick Moore – Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Source: Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.

When choosing roofing materials for commercial buildings, a buyer has several options, including commonly used black tar. One technology, however, stands apart from others in terms of its environmental and safety benefits and its affordability: vinyl roofing and membranes.

Vinyl scores well in life cycle tests. The U.S. Green Building Council, European Commission and the state of California all looked comprehensively at vinyl’s pros and cons and concluded the overall impacts were in line with those of other materials – and that vinyl could do better than the competition in some applications like roofing.

The surface temperatures of black tar roofs can rise by as much as 90 degrees F in the midday sun, raising the internal temperature of a building, and requiring significant amounts of energy to keep it cool.

By comparison, the temperature of a white vinyl reflective roof generally increases by only 10 to 25 degrees in hot sun, substantially reducing energy requirements for the building.

A Vinyl government-funded study conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that, compared to the original black rubber roof on a Texas retail building the study examined, a new vinyl roof provided an average 42 degree F decrease in surface temperature and a 14 percent drop in peak air conditioning energy consumption.

Many vinyl roofing products qualify for an EPA Energy Star rating and the EPA has recognized certain vinyl roofing manufacturers as Charter Partners of their Energy Star Roof Product Program because of their commitment to energy saving.

The reduced energy costs of vinyl roofs result in both significant savings for building owners and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Roofing is also safer to install than black tar roofing because it is applied cold, as opposed to tar which is applied hot and can expose workers to burns and toxic fumes.

Governments at the federal, state and local level are recognizing the safety, energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction benefits of vinyl roofs and are offering a range of incentives to have these roofs installed.

For example, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 extends the benefits of the 2005 Energy Policy Act through December 31, 2013. This means that businesses that install a vinyl roof — which is covered under the Act — can receive a tax deduction equal to the costs of the roof, up to $1.80 per square foot for buildings achieving a 50 percent energy savings target.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency ( is an excellent source for additional information on government rebate and incentive programs that can be applied to vinyl roofing technology.

Such incentives are making vinyl roofs even more affordable and provide a win-win for both building owners and the environment at large.

Vinyl roofing materials can also be combined with other roofing technology to form a green roof – a roof covered in vegetation that traps heat in the winter while insulating against the sun’s rays in the summer.

Green roof components can include a root resistant vinyl water proofing membrane, a drainage system, a filter cloth, a lightweight growing medium and a variety of plants.

Vinyl membranes are designed to withstand the toughest weather conditions. Workers building a green roof at Carnegie Mellon University, for example, needed to wait for warm weather before installing soil and plants on the roof.

Consequently, the vinyl roof membrane was left exposed to severe weather conditions, including storms, for many months. Yet the membrane performed perfectly, protecting the building from any leaks, even without the green roof fully installed.

Once a green roof installation is complete, energy savings can be substantial. A Canadian government study found that an ordinary one storey building with a grass roof and 3.9 inches of growing medium had a 25 percent reduction in summer cooling needs. Another study showed that a 6 inch intensive green roof reduced heat gains by 95 percent and heat losses by 26 percent compared to an ordinary roof. The benefits of vinyl reflective roofing and membrane technology are clear: significantly reduced energy costs, carbon emission reductions, health and safety benefits, and access to a range of government incentives.

So whether it’s new construction or an existing roof replacement, a vinyl roofing product may be your best bet from both an environmental and a pocket book perspective.

An advisor to government and industry, Dr. Patrick Moore was a co-founder of Greenpeace and is now Chairman and Chief Scientist of Greenspirit Strategies Ltd.,

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