White roofing isn’t always the best choice

Adverse effects include heat reflection onto nearby walls.

November 16, 2017 |

Although LEED and ASHRAE 90.1 (Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings) standards require or reward use of white “cool” roofing to mitigate urban heat island effects, it is not always the best choice of material.

Cool roofs can cast heat where it is not wanted. “Architects and roof consultants need to be aware of potentially adverse thermal effects when choosing roof membranes, particularly where roof surfaces are adjacent to walls that can be affected by bounced sunlight,” says Elizabeth Grant, associate professor in the School of Architecture + Design at Virginia Tech.

Choosing the best material for a commercial roof is a nuanced decision requiring a careful examination of the application. “Roof selection is an architectural issue,” Grant said. “It’s not as simple as slapping a white roof on everything to gain a LEED point.”

The study compared the thermal impact of white and black roofs. The black roof heated the air within 5 ½ inches, but there was no difference in air temperature impact for black or white roofing above that zone. Researchers also found that electrical metallic tubing and glazed and precast concrete wall panels near white TPO roofing were 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than those near black EPDM roofing.

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