Paint the Town... White? How a White Roof Makes a Building More Energy Efficient

Published on Sep 15, 2011


It's not a new idea, making Manhattan rental apartment buildings--or, really, any kind of building at all--more energy efficient and economical simply by painting the roof white. More than two years ago it was reported in the New York Times and elsewhere that the simple act of changing the color of roof from black to white can immediately reduce annual air conditioning costs by 20%. Twenty percent!

And in place like New York City, where, according to Borough President Scott Stringer, roofs make up a whopping twelve percent of all surfaces citywide, those savings quickly add up to a serious amount of money, and a serious amount of relief for the overall environment. It can also have an effect on the overall temperature in the city, due to reducing the "heat island" effect.

Prior to air conditioning, roofs in the south (and other warm climates world-wide) were commonly white, or other light colors, to reflect the sunlight rather than absorb it. And while it's true in northern climates that a white roof increases heating costs in the winter, in areas as far north as NYC, the benefits of reduced energy costs in the summer outweigh increases in heating costs during the winter months.


But even if the idea's been around for a bit, sometimes it just takes some organizing to put it into action... which is exactly what happened at the end August in the East Village, when the folks at FABnyc, The White Roof Project, and NYC [hearts] CoolRoofs teamed up with Con Edison and Stringer's office and painted an entire block's worth of Manhattan rental apartment roofs with a white reflective coating that reflects 90% of sunlight.

It took one day, and a whole lot of volunteers. But The White Roof Project is by no means finished. On September 25th the group plans on putting a second coat of white reflective paint on the more than 40,000 square feet of roofs, all low-income and non-profit housing units. AND they could use your help.


To find out more about the initiative, and how you can sign up to volunteer, check out the White Roof Project website, here. As they point out, it's not just these individual Manhattan rental apartment buildings that benefit.

If the reduction in energy costs is really as great as they predict, landlords and developers of New York City rental apartments all over town are bound to follow suit with the white roof trend, reducing the overall temperature, and reducing the carbon footprint, of our collective home.

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