Hagen sees a persistent “undertow of people wanting contrast, a dark roof with light siding”—the prevailing fashion. I suspect we can blame anxiety over property values; call it Zillow syndrome. With inflated home prices composing larger shares of owners’ net worth, who wants to take a chance? This is the sort of thinking that has supported water-sucking green lawns in places like Arizona, not to mention racist exclusionary covenants across the country.
The roofing industry itself encourages it. The website of Apple Roofing, which has offices from Florida to South Dakota, credited dark shades with “significantly improving curb appeal.” (Sometime after I spoke with an executive there, this reference was removed.) Its blog argues that the choice between dark and light shingles “should really be about your color preference and curb-appeal over cooling costs … You can rest easy knowing proper ventilation and insulation will ensure the color has no effect on heating costs!” For roofers and manufacturers, such reassurances represent the path of least resistance—or, less graciously, pandering to consumers. And, because light shingles generally cost more to produce (the rock granules embedded in the asphalt base need an extra kiln-fired coating), dark shingles let companies charge higher margins or offer customers lower prices.
But, this prevailing fashion comes with downsides:
All this despite the fact that light shingles tend to last longer than dark ones; they stretch, contract, and crack less in the heat. Factor in energy costs and they’re a bargain: A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that white roofs cost considerably less over their lifetime than both black and sustainability-flaunting grassy “green roofs,” which have other environmental benefits but cost more to install and, contrary to popular belief, don’t do much to counter global warming. Researchers at Australia’s University of New South Wales, another hotbed of cool-roof research, determined that such roofs reduced indoor temperatures by up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
This can save lives as well as pocketbooks: Researchers found that living on the top floor under a black roof was “a major risk factor in mortality” in Chicago’s July 1995 heat wave. Cooler roofs and whiter walls may explain why fewer people die in heat waves in Greece and North Africa than in France, Russia, and other countries to the north; all that whitewash isn’t just for scenic effect.
Where are the home roofing influencers who can tilt roofing fashion in a different direction? I say this partly in jest, but the piece goes on to briefly discuss the limited involvement of governments in regulating cool roofs for residences.
The fashion for roofs will probably change at some point; home styles come and go based on a variety of factors. If it can be tilted in a direction that helps limit energy bills, limits indoor overheating, and generally is positive for the environment, this could be helpful.
The trick here might be to link cooling roofing to property values. Homeowners are very interested in increasing their property values. Having the correct style helps but style is not everything. Do cooler roofing options provide a better return on investment in the long-run? Wouldn’t not replacing a roof as often be a good thing? When do green options for homes become a very important factor in deciding property values?