Climate change is one of the greatest dangers currently facing the planet. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that without urgent action, global temperatures may rise by over 2°C, causing such wide-ranging consequences as raising sea levels and affecting the quantity and quality of water resources, putting pressure on biological diversity by displacing various species, increasing ocean acidification, and producing more extreme weather patterns.
Without mitigation by governments and individuals, some of these effects may well be irreversible and catastrophic. So, with governments locked in political wrangles as to the best ways to proceed, how can you do your part as a homeowner to help out in the fight against climate change, while saving a bit of money in the process?
On the Home Front
There are many ways that homeowners can take responsibility for their own contribution to climate change. These efforts range from turning off lights when they are not in use and installing solar panels to cut down on electricity consumption, to high-end home insulation to prevent energy loss. Insulation is most often thought of as important in the winter season – particularly for the cold, harsh winters east of the Rockies – but it’s crucial in summer too to slow the flow of heat into the building and stop your air conditioning from being overtaxed, in itself reducing your energy use.
Many of these solutions, despite government subsidies to promote energy efficiency, are fairly expensive. However, there is one possibility that won’t be overly costly and that will produce a visible impact on your carbon footprint and your electricity bills: increasing the albedo of your roofing and sidings.
A Reflection on Albedo
The term albedo is defined as the proportion of the incident light or radiation that is reflected by a surface. It derives from the science of astronomy, where astronomers use it as a measure of the amount of light reflected back from a planet or moon. But albedo is also a useful term right here on Earth, as it’s applicable to man made materials as well as natural ones. For example, the ice caps have very high albedo and reflect a lot of light, whereas the dark slates on your roof probably don’t.
The problem is that low-albedo materials contribute to climate change by absorbing more light than high-albedo materials, which cause them to warm up and increase the earth’s average temperature. This is what causes the ‘urban heat island’ effect, where densely populated urban areas can have temperatures that are significantly warmer than the surrounding area. What’s more, low-albedo materials in your house will cause the exact problems that both insulation and air conditioning are trying to fix: increasing the amount of heat that flows into the building.
Dark Roofs, Dark Times
If you travel to southern European countries or places like Bermuda, you will see, unlike in more northern climes and in traditional North American architecture, that many of the buildings are more or less uniformly painted white. The long, hot summers and mild winters in these areas led to the adoption of highly reflective coatings for houses, reducing the amount of incident light, and therefore heat, that is absorbed. In Bermuda, the roofs are designed to catch water, of which there is no fresh supply apart from rain. Humans have had experience with white buildings – and reflective pavements – for thousands of years, and recently the adoption of this idea both for reducing energy use and for fighting climate change is coming to the fore.
Even if high-albedo roofs were an “urban-only” thing, it would make a significant difference in energy use during summers. These days, many roofing companies and contractors offer high-albedo siding and roofing for little to no extra cost above that of lower albedo materials. So next time you’re looking for some green technology that won’t break the bank, think about the colour of your siding before you show the colour of your money!
Icebergs breaking off glaciers at Cape York, Greenland – Wikimedia Creative Commons
A satellite composite image of Antarctica – Wikimedia Public Domain
Bermuda white roof – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Guest Author Bio
Steffen is a bilingual (German/English) content writer at 9thCO who likes to speak his mind. He enjoys sharing his thoughts—and there are many—online through blogging and social media. To inspire readers to share their own opinions is one of his ambitions.