Materials greenroof

Published on December 27th, 2007 | by Philip Proefrock


Greener Roof Replacement Options

greenroofAt some point in the useful life of most houses, the roof needs to be replaced. An EPA report prepared in the late 1990s calculated that almost 4 million homes per year have their asphalt roofs replaced, leading to the generation of 6.4 million tons of asphalt roofing waste. (Table A-8) Because of this, roofing materials are one of the larger contributors to landfill construction debris. And most of the materials used in making shingles (the prevalent form of roofing used in North America) are not readily recycled into other useful forms, leading to a stream of materials filling up the landfills.

Roofs are subject to extremes of temperature, receiving the full exposure of the sun as well as suffering from the extremes of cold. No other part of the average home sees a wider cycle of temperatures. Precipitation and wind also provide a constant eroding force that wears at the roof and gradually contributes to breaking it down. Because of this exposure to the elements, roofs are typically elements that need to be replaced several times over the life of a building.

Are there greener options than a basic shingle replacement?

Shingle Roofs are still the most prevalent form of roofing in the United States. Either organic (which, in this context, doesn’t mean what you might otherwise think) or fiberglass shingles are mats of material with small mineral granules adhered to them. The granules are the weathering layer, but as they become detached over time, the body of the shingle becomes susceptible to water and ultraviolet damage, leading to leaks and other roofing problems. The hotter the climate, the shorter the typical lifespan of a shingle. Although manufacturers promise 20 and 30 year warranties on their materials, those are pro-rated by the length of time the shingles have been in place. And much of the cost of installation, repair, and replacement is in the labor, rather than the cost of the materials.

Vegetated Roofs are becoming increasingly popular in new construction, and many LEED certified buildings have used green roofs for the wide range of benefits they provide. Can I put a vegetated roof on my house? Unless you are really attached to the idea regardless of cost or obstacles, probably not. There are a few considerations that make it difficult to install a green roof on an existing building, whether it is a house or a commercial building. First of all, vegetated roofs are still rather expensive, which usually ends the discussion right away. Green roofs are also heavier than most other roofs, and structural reinforcement would typically be necessary in order to put the underlayment materials, growth media (the soil) and the plants all onto an existing roof. Furthermore, a vegetated roof can typically only be installed on a fairly low slope roof (though there are ways of adding structures that can hold a vegetated roof on a steeper slope, but those add further weight and cost) and most homes have steeper roofs. However, the aesthetics of a green roof are undoubtedly appealing, and the availability of materials for installing residential green roofs is becoming more common.

Metal Roofs are another option that can be considered. Metal roofs are far more durable than shingles. While a shingle roof may have a lifespan of up to 20-30 years, a metal roof should last at least twice as long. And even if the material for a metal roof costs three times as much as a shingle roof, by avoiding the cost of removing the old roof, buying new roof material, and installing the new roof when the shingle roof has worn out, the metal roof avoids that additional labor and material waste. Furthermore, at the end of its life, a metal roof can be usefully recycled. The biggest drawback to metal roofs is the relatively high embodied energy in refining and manufacturing metal, but the long life and recyclability of the material helps to balance that out.

Slate and Tile Roofs are very durable materials. Slate has been used for centuries, and slate roofs can, in some cases, last for many hundreds of years. Installation is expensive and labor intensive. Slate and tile are also heavy materials, an, as is the case with a vegetated roof, additional structural support may be needed in order to accommodate the weight. However, slate roofs are also some of the most durable, with buildings still standing with hundreds of years’ old slate roofs still on them. For most residential uses, the cost of such a roof (especially as a retrofit onto an existing home) is prohibitively expensive. The materials used to make these are fairly low impact: either slate, which is a natural stone that is split into thin pieces to be used for roofing, or clay tile, which uses an abundant material although it requires kiln firing in its manufacture. Both are relatively low embodied energy choices and are probably the most environmentally benign.

Wood Shake Roofs are popular in some parts of the country. The recent wildfires around San Diego demonstrate one of the main drawbacks to shake roofs – they are flammable. Wood roofs are most popular in areas that do not receive a lot of rain, but the constant exposure to the sun can lead to failure of these materials over time. Synthetic materials, which are much more flame resistant, are taking over in instances were wood shakes were once used.

Life-cycle considerations are what is at issue here. Most Americans don’t expect to be in a home for so long that a more expensive roof would pay for itself, so they opt for the less expensive shingle roof. Homebuyers don’t see the additional value of a longer lifespan roof and may be afraid of higher maintenance costs for having such a roof. While it would be likely that similar levels of repair work would be more expensive on other types of roofs than on shingle roofs, the fact that those repairs are much less common doesn’t necessarily register.

Looking at not just the initial installation cost, but rather the whole life cost (how much it costs divided by how many years of useful life it can be expected to provide) can help in evaluating the life-cycle cost of different choices. The cost of the materials and labor, as well as the impact of the production of those materials all contributes to the overall impact of a new roof. Weighing those factors and taking into account regionally appropriate design will lead to finding the greener roof replacement options for you.

Links: US EPA Report (PDF)


Metal Roofing Questions


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PRESIDENTIAL VISIT; MAPLE GROVE; Bush spreads word on Medicare benefit; He focuses on drug plan in face of protests.(NEWS)

Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) June 18, 2005 | Schmickle, Sharon Byline: Sharon Schmickle; Staff Writer If you’re the son or daughter of a senior citizen or active in a church or club with retirees, President Bush is looking for you to help promote Medicare’s new prescription drug benefit. this web site maple grove community center

“It’s going to take a lot of folks working a lot of hours to get the word out,” Bush said at the Maple Grove Community Center on Friday, his first stop on what he called a nationwide campaign to sell the program to seniors this year. “I’ve come to Minnesota to begin a massive education process.” While focusing on seniors’ needs for a range of Medicare benefits, Bush made no mention during his 40-minute appearance of his controversial plans to revamp Social Security. And there was no chance for some 400 retirees and health care workers in the invitation-only audience to ask about it.

Outside the community center, though, scores of demonstrators greeted Bush’s motorcade with placards bearing slogans such as “Hands off my Social Security.” Recent polls have found that two in three Americans oppose Bush’s plan to allow younger workers to create private investment accounts within Social Security. He has not proposed to change benefits for current retirees.

Groups elsewhere in the Twin Cities on Friday signaled that debate on Medicare and Social Security will follow Bush as he stumps across the nation trying to focus attention on the drug benefit that he signed into law in 2003.

Chanting “Keep Bush away from our retirement pay,” about 200 demonstrators rallied at the state Capitol rotunda as the president arrived in Minnesota. They linked Social Security to Medicare, saying Bush’s plan would weaken both programs. Some expressed suspicion that Bush was using Medicare to divert attention from the Social Security controversy. Jim Johnson, 48, of Eagan, said he was drawn to the state Capitol rally to counter what he called the “smoke and mirrors” of Bush’s appearance in Maple Grove.

Other critics are taking issue with Medicare changes that Bush touted during his reelection campaign as one of his top domestic policy achievements. The American Medical Association launched radio ads this week, beginning in Texas, featuring an announcer who warns that a scheduled 26 percent cut in Medicare payments for physicians’ services will force doctors to limit the numbers of patients they can serve.

Rep. Martin Sabo, a Minnesota Democrat, complained Friday that Bush should have addressed looming Medicare funding shortfalls. “The long-term solvency of Medicare is the issue we should be working on, not just prescription drug benefits,” Sabo said in a statement.

Without directly addressing critics, Bush assured the crowd at the Maple Grove Community Center: “This isn’t political talk.” Those eligible for Medicare can voluntarily enroll in prescription drug coverage, he said, and save an average $1,300 a year after it takes effect in January. Analysts say enrollees with low incomes and high drug bills stand to benefit the most from the plan, which offers subsidies based on a sliding income scale.

“It’s a good deal for anyone, but it’s really good for low-income seniors,” Bush said.

Some federal health officials worry that many who are eligible may not know about the plan or may be intimidated by the complex schedule of premiums and benefits. Another barrier to enrollment, Bush said, is the sweeping change the plan offers.

“I understand a lot of people who have retired aren’t really interested in change at all,” Bush said. “And it takes awhile to get this to sink in.” Harold Lyman, 69, of North Oaks, said he was somewhat amused sitting in the audience and listening to the president’s comments on the difficulties retirees face with change.

“Heck, when I retired I loved the freedom of that change,” Lyman said. “Actually, I think people at any age tend to have a little trouble with change.” About half of the tickets for Friday’s event were distributed by Fairview Health Services and the city of Maple Grove to retirees, city residents and professionals who work with Medicare. go to site maple grove community center

Many other tickets were awarded by congressional offices in Minnesota. Roger and Fern Lindemeier, of Norwood Young America, said they are active supporters of Rep. John Kline, a Republican, and they got their tickets from his office. Others said tickets came from the offices of Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Jim Ramstad, both Republicans.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty rode in Bush’s limousine as it traveled between the event and the military facility where Air Force One landed, but he did not participate in the program and he declined to say what he discussed with the president.

On stage with Bush in Maple Grove were representatives of the types of groups he hopes will help steer seniors toward the new Medicare program. They included Kristine Orluck of Brooklyn Park, the senior coordinator at the Maple Grove Community Center; Dorothy Bourgeois of Maple Grove, who has volunteered to help spread word of the new benefit to other retirees; Steven Preston of Duluth, who owns seven pharmacies, and Tamera Shumaker of Maple Grove, who helps her mother complete Medicare paperwork.

Sons and daughters should take primary responsibility for informing their parents of the new benefit, Bush said repeatedly.

“A healthy society is one in which people assume responsibility, and there’s no greater responsibility than loving your mom or dad,” he said. “And the best way to love a mom or a dad is to learn about this drug benefit in Medicare and help them apply for it.

He also appealed to religious and civic groups. “If you are a member of a faith-based or community-based program, and you’re interested in serving your community, find out how best you can explain what’s going on to seniors,” Bush said.

“This country can do a lot of amazing things when people put their mind to it. This is a call. By responding to the call, you’re going to help make somebody’s life a lot better.” Staff writers Pat Doyle and Warren Wolfe contributed to this report. Sharon Schmickle is at For more information about the medicare drug benefit, go to

Schmickle, Sharon

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About the Author

Philip Proefrock is an architect and photographer in southeast Michigan. He is also a LEED Acredited Professional. His professional involvement with green building includes working as project architect for the award-winning Malletts Creek Branch Library for the Ann Arbor District Library, which received the 2005 AIA Michigan Sustainable Design Award, and which was the first completed commercial vegetated roof (green roof) in the state of Michigan. He is an active member of Green Drinks Michigan/o2 Network. In addition to being lead writer for Green Building Elements, he is also a contributing writer for and for spurious nelogism (personal LiveJournal) Green Options articles StumbleUpon profile

12 Responses to Greener Roof Replacement Options

  1. Billy Congo says:

    I found a couple of couple of alternatives that I feel should be mentioned:

    1 – Vegetable roofs. It’s similar to the vegetated roof, but it’s better because it’s nutritious. Also, the alpacas love being up there.

    2 – Tinfoil roofs. Send that global warming back where it came from. Also helps stop the radio transmissions from going straight into my head.


  2. Billy Congo says:

    I found a couple of couple of alternatives that I feel should be mentioned:

    1 – Vegetable roofs. It’s similar to the vegetated roof, but it’s better because it’s nutritious. Also, the alpacas love being up there.

    2 – Tinfoil roofs. Send that global warming back where it came from. Also helps stop the radio transmissions from going straight into my head.


  3. Ron Pugmire says:

    Phillip – your link to the EPA report (PDF) is broken.

    ED – Thanks for pointing that out. It’s fixed now.

  4. Ron Pugmire says:

    Phillip – your link to the EPA report (PDF) is broken.

    ED – Thanks for pointing that out. It’s fixed now.

  5. Philip,

    Nice article. Another category to add would be non-ferrous interlocking metal tiles, purported to have the longest lifespan of any roof system. My favorite manufacturer uses 85% recycled metal content.

  6. Philip,

    Nice article. Another category to add would be non-ferrous interlocking metal tiles, purported to have the longest lifespan of any roof system. My favorite manufacturer uses 85% recycled metal content.

  7. klaus says:

    Does anyone have info on ShingleLife? How good is it?

  8. klaus says:

    Does anyone have info on ShingleLife? How good is it?

  9. I desired to we appreciate you this excellent read!!

  10. Pingback: Quick Roofing - Blog

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