A New Report Finds Sustainable Roofs Deliver Millions in Benefits to ‘Roof Aware’ Cities

“Roof Awareness” has come a long way during the years. It used to be that people only thought about their roofs when something went wrong. Building owners then started realizing that making smart choices about the roof could save money on energy costs. Roofs are now seen as essential platforms for cities to meet energy-efficiency and renewable-energy goals, to improve the health and quality of residents’ lives, and to achieve social equity. A new effort to better quantify those benefits and costs shows cities with good roof awareness are reaping millions in economic benefits.

TABLE 1: Summary of cost-benefit analysis results (NOTE: There is no internal rate of return, simply payback, or benefit-to-cost ratio for rooftop PV because we all rooftop PV systems are financed with a PPA [so there is no upfront cost to DGS]).

TABLE 1: Summary of cost-benefit analysis results (NOTE: There is no internal rate of return, simply payback, or benefit-to-cost ratio for rooftop PV because we all rooftop PV systems are financed with a PPA [so there is no upfront cost to DGS]).

With that change in role comes new challenges for evaluating what type of roof makes sense for building owners and cities alike. There are well-developed building models and field studies that give us great insight into how sustainable roofing—that is, reflective, vegetated or solar roofs—saves energy and energy costs. But there is not a single tool that could evaluate all the benefits that accrue from good roofing choices beyond energy savings, such as better health, enhanced air quality, greater stormwater management and improved social conditions. Until now, that is.

A recently released report—the “Affordable Housing Smart Roof Report”—from Washington, D.C.-based Capital E, a firm dedicated to accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy, now allows city officials and owners of affordable housing developments to see and calculate the full lifetime costs and benefits of roof decisions. “This is the first model that helps the user puta dollar value on the various benefits of sustainable roofing options. We see this as a great tool for contractors looking to quantify the full benefits of sustainable roofing for their potential clients. It will also help city officials to enact policies that recognize the value of smarter roofing that may not be directly visible on the building owner’s books,” says Keith Glassbrook, a Capital E senior analyst and one of the lead developers of the new model.

TABLE 2: Present value summary of costs and benefits for the three technologies on all low-slope DGS roofs (NOTE: All PV is financed with a PPA so there is no upfront cost to DGS; results may not sum due to rounding).

TABLE 2: Present value summary of costs and benefits for the three technologies on all low-slope DGS roofs (NOTE: All PV is financed with a PPA so there is no upfront cost to DGS; results may not sum due to rounding).

Building the Tool

Rather than reinventing the wheel, Capital E identified existing tools, models and methods from the huge base of existing science for each item in its cost-benefit analysis. The model integrates these individual, detailed components into a form that is accessible and easy to use for non-scientists and that provides straightforward results in dollars per square foot.

The model is an extension of an analysis undertaken for the Washington, D.C., Department of General Services (DGS) as part of its Smart Roofs Initiative. The initiative is designed to help Washington achieve its aspirations to become the greenest, healthiest, most equitable city in the U.S. by using the roofs of city-owned buildings more thoughtfully. DGS owns and controls more than 400 buildings in Washington, including office buildings, schools and hospitals. The city is using this portfolio (28 million square feet of buildings with approximately $62 million in annual energy expenditures) to drive deep improvements in energy efficiency and achieve other objectives.

Like a growing number of cities, Washington, D.C., is committed to using its roofs to deploy photovoltaic panels to generate electricity, cool roofs to reflect sunlight and reduce unwanted heat gain in summer, and green roofs to cut stormwater runoff that results in water pollution and requires construction of expensive water-treatment plants and other grey infrastructure. Tommy Wells, a former councilmember and current director of the District Department of the Environment, summarized the reasons in the Smart Roof cost-benefit report’s press release: “Past research shows that ‘smart’ roof strategies that reduce extreme temperatures in buildings can literally save lives. This new report provides additional justification for cool, green, and solar roofing solutions by showing that they also make compelling financial sense as we work to make D.C. a healthier and more sustainable city.”

Washington has been among the most advanced cities in the nation in deploying sustainable roof technologies. But because there was no established methodology for quantifying the full cost and benefits—including health benefits—for any of these technologies, Washington to date had not been able to quantify the full costs and benefits of these roof choices or compare the merits of each to make informed decisions about which technologies to deploy and at what scale. The analysis undertaken by Capital E to remedy this issue concluded that DGS’ Smart Roofs program can deliver between $47 and $335 million in benefits to the city over 40 years, depending on the roof technology chosen.

More Analysis

A parallel analysis was funded by the New York-based JPB Foundation, which seeks to enhance the quality of life in the U.S. by creating opportunities for those in poverty, promoting pioneering medical research, and enriching and sustaining the environment. JPB Foundation launched its analysis based on the success of this initial analysis by DGS. This time, the model was adapted to evaluate actual affordable-housing buildings in Baltimore; Los Angeles; Philadelphia; and Washington, D.C. The sample buildings, which were part of the National Housing Trust, Washington, or Columbia, Md.-based Enterprise Community Partners Inc.’s portfolios, included steep- and low-slope roofs, high- and low-rise structures, as well as some attached row houses. The project team for this study included the National Housing Trust; Washington-based American Institute of Architects; Washington-based Global Cool Cities Alliance; Enterprise Community Partners; and U.S. Green Building Council, Washington. In each city and building type evaluated, the model found sustainable roofs would generate more benefits than they cost (first cost and maintenance) and would, in some cases, have an immediate payback.

The results were variable by building and city but they confirmed that sustainable roofing was the superior economic choice compared to traditional dark roofs in the cities studied.

The JPB Foundation analysis shows there is no one-size-fits-all solution to maximize value with sustainable roofing. For example, green roofs made the most sense in Washington, D.C., because of the city’s stormwater rules. On the building in Baltimore, cool roofs were the best choice. The results were variable by building and city but they confirmed that sustainable roofing was the superior economic choice compared to traditional dark roofs in the cities studied.

A second phase is currently underway by JPB Foundation to extend the model to large areas of cities to capture the impact of sustainable roofs at a community scale, as well as other technologies, such as reflective pavements, and to better quantify some of the social benefits of cooler, more enjoyable surroundings.

Karnak Discusses Roof Coatings Industry with Rep. Leonard Lance

Karnak Corp., a member company of the Roof Coatings Manufacturers Association (RCMA), hosted U.S. Representative Leonard Lance (R-NJ-7) at its headquarters recently in Clark, N.J. During his visit, he met with Karnak President Sarah Jelin and Chris Salazar, chief operating officer, to discuss the roof coatings industry and the issues impacting coating manufacturers, such as clarifying the IRS 25C tax credit and concerns over the EPA’s potential proposal to lower the National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for Ground-Level Ozone.

In 2013, Congressman Lance first met with Jelin, Salazar, and RCMA Executive Director John Ferraro during the RCMA Government Affairs Lobby Day in Washington. RCMA, the national trade association representing the manufacturers of cold-applied coatings and cements used for roofing and waterproofing, facilitated meetings with 70 different congressional offices during their Lobby Day on July 24, 2013. Since then, the Association’s manufacturing members have continued their dialogues with the members of Congress from their states and districts. The visit to the Karnak Corporation manufacturing facility to learn more about the issues of interest to the roof coatings industry can be seen as a product of these efforts.

“We are very pleased with the visit by the Honorable Congressman Leonard Lance to Karnak Headquarters in Clark, N.J. Congressman Lance listened carefully to the regulatory challenges that affect and threaten our industry,” said Salazar.

During their meeting, Jelin and Salazar emphasized to the Congressman some of the issues that are most highly impacting their industry, including modification of language used in the Homeowner Energy Efficiency Tax Credit (IRC Sec. 25C) to include roof coatings, the Commercial Building Tax Deduction (IRC Sec. 179D), and the EPA’s potential proposal to lower the Ozone NAAQS from the current 0.075 parts per million (ppm) to 0.06-0.07ppm.

At its 2013 Lobby Day, RCMA spoke in opposition to the proposed reduction to the EPA NAAQS for Ozone, as this highly-costly regulation would be damaging to companies, jobs, and the economy. Of particular concern to the RMCA is that a reduction to the standard would likely result in the implementation of hundreds of state and local regulations aimed at further limiting the volume of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) contained in products. Over-reduction of VOCs in roof coatings can result in a number of issues for the effectiveness of the products, and the regulatory burden of keeping apace of hundreds of different rules is extremely high for small businesses.

“The EPA-proposed reduction of ground level ozone will impact VOC limits throughout the U.S. and generate a multitude of different requirements by county and state, making compliance extremely burdensome,” noted Salazar, who has worked to ensure the VOC compliance of his company’s products for decades. “Congressman Lance recognized that our businesses are important to the economy, and promised to do his best after reviewing the RCMA informational materials we provided.”

Roof coatings protect roofs against water, chemicals, and physical damage, and can prolong the life of new roof systems and extend the lives of existing roof systems, which can result in less tear-off waste and a reduced environmental impact from fewer full roof replacements. Solar reflective roof coatings, which reflect visible light as well as infrared and ultraviolet radiation, lead to lower roof temperatures and have been shown to reduce building energy costs and improve air quality.