Choose the Right Eco-Friendly Roofing Material for Your Old House

By The Old House Web

When your old house is looking or acting a bit peaked--deteriorated roofing shingles covered by moss, water dripping on the kitchen floor--it's time for a new roof.

To be environmentally conscious, you have a number of decisions to make. You will need to weigh factors like:

  • The resources used in making the material
  • How much of the material is recycled or renewable
  • How much energy is consumed in manufacturing the roofing
  • The energy costs of transportation
  • The lifetime of the roof
  • The roof's recyclability at the end of its lifetime

And if you are a do-it-yourselfer, you want to pick a material that you can handle. In addition, take color and cost into consideration.


Urban areas tend to have a preponderance of heat-absorbing asphalt, so ENERGY STAR encourages light-colored roofs to reflect the sun's energy. A light-colored roof will also help keep your house cool if you live in a non-urban area that requires more cooling than heating. In a colder climate, a dark roof will absorb heat and reduce your heating bills. Insulation is the most important factor in your heating-and-cooling concerns, but roof color will help.


Asphalt shingle is the cheapest roofing material, but because it's an oil-based product that does not recycle well, it's scum on the green list. Most materials that are considered good for the environment are also more expensive. In addition, many of these materials are relatively new and do not yet have a proven track record.


That said, just what materials of a green nature are available?


That old standby, cedar shake roofing, can be a green product. Cedar shakes are renewable; if they are split from stumps left after logging operations, they don't require cutting down more trees. You should look for cedar shakes certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), verifying that they are a product of sustainable forestry. The downside to cedar shakes is that even a good roof will last only 20 to 25 years. Also, because few woods burn as well as cedar, many fire codes require that they be treated with toxic fire retardants.


Metal roofs are now made with a variety of looks, even mimicking shakes. Metal roofing is long lasting but may be expensive. A metal roof is iffy on the eco-friendly scale--some metal roofs contain mostly recycled content, but some don't. Also, energy use in manufacturing and transportation energy costs can be high. Metal roofs may be heavy, so you would have to investigate to see if your structure would need reinforcement.


Produced from plastics and recycled products, composites are made to look like shakes, tiles, or slate. They are lightweight, so they don't require structural reinforcement. You can often put composite roofing down over the existing roof. However, composite roofs may be expensive.

So which type of roofing materials should you choose? Check out the options in your area, and get opinions from several roofing professionals. For more information, you can also consult with local environmental groups concerning green roofing.

Umbra on Eco-Friendly Roofs • http://www.grist.org/http://www.grist.org/article/umbra-roofs/ • Grist

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