Facilities

The Impact of Roof Color on Schools' Energy Efficiency

The most energy-efficient roof is always one that is geographically appropriate, durable, and well installed. Roof color can have a significant impact — positive or negative — on a school building’s overall energy consumption. In order to select the most energy-efficient roof color for a particular project, it is important to consider the building’s location and use. Schools are different than many other buildings, because they are typically closed during the summer months. Therefore, for school projects, it is important to select the roof color that will be most energy-efficient during the months that classes are in session.

In cities where it is necessary for schools to air condition their buildings for the majority of the nine-month school year, reflective roofs such as TPO, PVC, white EPDM and ballasted systems are ideal because they reflect sunlight and help keep buildings cool, thus reducing air conditioning use and energy consumption. Further north, where the majority of the school year occurs during the heating season, dark-colored roofs like black EPDM are more energy-efficient because they absorb heat, which allows insulation to work more effectively to keep the building warm.

Selecting the right roof color is an easy way to decrease a school’s energy consumption. Conversely, choosing the wrong roof color can be a costly mistake: One study found that in northern climates during the heating season, the thermal heat loss associated with a white membrane is 30 percent higher than that of black EPDM. Because a roof is a long-term investment, choosing the right color can help reduce a school’s energy consumption and increase its sustainability for decades. Tools like the U.S. Department of Energy’s Roof Savings Calculator, which can be found at rsc.ornl.gov, can help schools determine the most energy-efficient roof color for their building.

This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Craig A. Tyler, AIA, CSI, CDT, LEED AP BD+C, is an architect and specification developer with Carlisle Construction Materials.

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