These days, a lot of our clients are interested in installing a “green roof.” Yes, energy efficiency and sustainable materials are good for the environment. But our clients also realize that taking steps to create a greener home can save you money over the lifetime of your house.

You can install new windows or an energy-efficient HVAC system. But we can tell you from experience, going green starts at the top… with your roof.

The term “green roof” is loosely defined. But in general, it describes a roof that has a more positive environmental impact than a traditional asphalt shingle roof. A green roof may cost you more up front, but there are distinct benefits that are worth considering. Here’s a breakdown of some popular types of roofing materials — and some benefits available with greener roof options, that aren’t available with more traditional roofing products.

Can I have a green roof if I install asphalt shingles?

Asphalt shingles are the most common type of shingle and with good reason: They are the cheapest option on the market. We love a deal as much as the next person, so we get it. A smaller price tag can be hard to ignore.

The downside of asphalt shingles is they tend to have the shortest life spans. Depending on how long you decide to stay in your home, you may have to replace your asphalt roof sooner rather than later — at which point the cost of a new roof may have gone way up. Asphalt shingles also absorb the most heat, which is the opposite of what you want if you’re out to create a greener home. Finally, asphalt shingles require significant natural resources to produce, which can be a turn off for those looking to install a more environmentally friendly roof.

On the upside, recycling programs for asphalt shingles have become popular in recent years. For example, used asphalt shingles in Atlanta are dumped in a special location for recycling. These old shingles are eventually converted to highway asphalt, which is then re-used in road projects. Anytime we can re-use roofing materials, rather than depositing them in landfills, we consider it a win. However, since asphalt shingles can have a significant environmental impact if not recycled properly, we recommend other options for those looking for a green roof.

‘Greener’ roof material options

If your goal is a green roof, you may want to consider metal, composites or wood. They cost more — in some cases two to three times the cost of a roof built with asphalt — but they are more durable and more eco-friendly. That can save you serious money over the lifetime of your roof.

Wood shingles are beautiful and natural

Wood shingles, typically chosen for their more traditional style, can be a slightly greener option than traditional asphalt shingles. Cedar, a popular wood choice, is naturally decay resistant so that can increase the longevity of your roof. But, even if you choose redwood, cypress, spruce or pine, your wood roof will be able to hold its own against wind and impact. When managed properly, wood is a recyclable and renewable resource, but be sure these options are available in your area before you choose wood. Wood shingles also do wonders for your insulation and are not subject to freeze-thaw cycles that can take a toll on a roof. On top of all those benefits, you can count on a wood roof to last up to 50 years. While wood does not provide the reflective benefits of metal that reduce energy costs (see below), the longevity and natural splendor can be a good option for those seeking a greener roof.

Composite shingles have environmental benefits on your greener roof

Composite shingles are made up of recyclable materials and are designed to mimic the look of wood shakes or stone tiles. Companies such as CertainTeed, Davinci and Brava produce a variety of composite shingles to provide your favorite look while keeping your roof green. In addition, many composite shingles are backed by a warranty of up to 50 years and some are even Energy Star-certified. With this type of longevity as well as being manufactured from recycles materials, you can see why composite shingles can be a good choice for those looking to install a green roof.

Metal roofs allow you to “go green” in many ways

With metal, the light color and reflectivity help reduce heat build-up in attics and higher floors. Metal roofs are also 100% recyclable and generally made from recycled content. Being made from recycled content and being recyclable after removal makes metal one of the greenest options available for your roof. This is as close to a “closed loop” situation as you can find in roofing. In addition to the recycling benefits, metal roofs have a higher SRI (Solar Reflective Index) than asphalt shingles. This can reduce energy usage in warmer climates like we have here in Atlanta. Metal roofs are also very durable. According to State Farm, a metal roof can last up to 70 years. That’s more than 3 times as long as some asphalt shingle roofs. Taking these factors into account, it is almost certain that metal roofing is the greenest option among traditional, residential roofing materials.

The ‘living roof’ – your greenest roof option

If cost is not a factor, and you are looking for the ultimate in energy savings and sustainability, consider a living roof. Although most homes are not built to sustain the weight of a living roof, it is by far the greenest option. Living roofs can serve several purposes for a building such as absorbing rainwater, creating a habitat for wildlife and providing insulation (not to mention the street cred you get as an environmentalist with a living roof).

With a living roof, most of the material on your roof is organic. This is just about as eco-friendly and renewable as you can get. To further this point, research has shown that although installing a living roof can be quite expensive, the cost to replace the roof is about 1/3 of the initial cost. Several factors contribute to this calculation, but the biggest factor is that most of the materials (dirt, plants, etc) are very easy and economical to acquire. Although the additional costs of installing a living roof are rarely recovered by energy savings or longevity, these types of roofs can be a great option for the most environmentally conscious homeowners.

Commercial Roofing – TPO

Another category to consider when going green is roof coatings, such as TPO. What exactly is TPO? It stands for thermoplastic olefin, and it is a type of roof coating. TPO is an energy-efficient membrane that is most often applied to commercial roofs – although they do have some residential applications, such as flat or low-slope roofs. There are a lot of roof coatings on the market these days, but TPO is getting a lot of attention for both its energy saving benefits and its more reasonable cost. TPO is UV-resistant and heat-resistant. It comes in a variety of colors — all of which carry energy-saving and reflective properties. It’s durable, and it’s energy efficient. Finally, with TPO, there is no tear-off. This means there is no need to dispose of vast amounts of used roofing material when the roof needs repaired or replaced.

Interested? You should also know that TPO is a relatively young piece of roofing technology, and manufacturers are constantly reformulating in an effort to get the material just right. Plus, intense heat and sun exposure — a given living in the South — can cause it to age weather faster than normal. So, there are some downsides to consider. The bottom line is, if you are looking for an opportunity to go green on your commercial buildings, TPO is a great option to consider.

Want to know more about going ‘green’ with your roof?

If you’re interested in talking through the pros and cons of a green roof, give us a call and schedule a free, no-obligation assessment. We will help you figure out the right balance of cost, benefit and environmental impact so you can make the right decision for your home.

If you enjoyed this article and want to learn more about roofing, please visit our Knowledge Center. There you will find an archive of our past articles that may save you lots of money on your next roof replacement or roof repair. If you have further questions or need your roof inspected for damage, please call us or request a call. We look forward to serving our neighbors!

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