Are you looking to buy a house, renovate or do maintenance? If so, look up. The roof is one of the most critical elements to a home’s sustainability. It assists in temperature management and energy consumption. Some roofing options are greener than others, so knowing what sets them apart is important.
It’s not necessary to replace a roof just to make it eco-friendly — that produces unnecessary waste and perpetuates inherently unsustainable mindsets. However, if you have an eco-conscious wishlist for a home purchase, are repairing a fixer-upper or know it’s time to do a roof replacement, consider these ethical options.
Choosing Sustainable Priorities
No roofing material is 100% guilt-free and sustainable. Each has pros and cons, so choose what aligns with your priorities. These are categories you may consider when looking into each option because all of them matter in the grander eco-conscious picture:
- Life span
- Maintenance requirements
- Third-party certifications from the provider or installers
- Slope and positioning
- Material sourcing and extraction methods
- Recycled or reclaimed content
- Toxic paint or coating materials
Additionally, maintenance is critical for making any of these specifications matter. So, ensure you research the requirements for each material to keep it in the best condition. Otherwise, it may deteriorate and cause unnecessary waste and headaches.
Let’s look at the various roofing options and what makes each eco-friendly.
1. Solar Shingles
Most people think of solar panels when they think of eco-friendly rooftops. There are solar shingles to form solar roofs, too. This option uses smaller solar panels to compose the structure. They vary in output and life span compared to traditional panels, but they can still benefit you by helping you transition to renewable energy. These are eco-friendly because they produce clean energy.
You may also consider using solar panels, but ensure they are compatible with your rooftop material and slope. Not all roofs are ideal for rooftop positioning and may do better on the ground.
2. Metal Roofing
Metal encompasses many materials, including steel, tin and aluminum. Depending on what you choose, most metals are easily recyclable. It makes their end-of-life highly sustainable, given the extraction and manufacturing process is very resource-intensive.
During that lifetime, they provide many benefits to the home. They are incredibly durable because of their resistance to the elements, such as fire. Water and show run right off of them if sloped appropriately. It helps with other eco-friendly activities, such as rainwater harvesting.
They also require fewer replacements than other roofing options. Some require 20-year replacements, while metal roofs can last 50 or more years. Over those decades, you’ll enjoy lower electricity bills since metal roofs are energy efficient and reflect heat well.
3. Cool Roofing
Cool roofing is about choosing a light roof color. It doesn’t necessarily have to be white, but it might be the best option. The point is to reflect as much of the sun as possible to assist with energy management and the heat island effect. It helps environmentally minded homeowners control heating and air conditioning usage. The beauty of cool roofing is that it is an easy-to-implement choice on other eco-friendly materials.
You can have a cool roof made of several materials. They can be roof or wood shingles, so long as they prioritize cool colors. Cool roofing works best in warmer climates, making homes feel colder in frigid winters.
Another consideration is the paint or the way the roofing has its color. Focus on non-toxic, sustainable options from ethical retailers to avoid potential chemical runoff or endorsing unsustainable coatings.
4. Ethically Sourced Wood
What could be a better all-natural, biodegradable option than wood? Depending on your budget and location, you can choose colors and styles. Focus locally to minimize impact and review suppliers to see if they damage habitats. There are durable options in hard and softwoods, so it feels like you have a lot of choices.
Wood is a renewable resource, but not all companies source wood shake and shingles ethically. Be sure to find companies that are third-party certified. One is the Forest Stewardship Council, which audits companies on their lumber harvesting practices.
5. Reclaimed, Recycled and Salvaged Materials
These terms are a more generalized recommendation than a specific material, but reiterating it is vital. Reclaimed refers to materials that have more or less retained their original form, and companies reuse them for a similar purpose. Some agencies might take roofing from retrofits, repair them and use them for future projects. Recycled means materials from numerous sources, such as aluminum from a commercial recycler that sends melted-down metal to form roofs.
Finally, salvaged resources refer to using materials that would otherwise end up in landfills because they are byproducts. For example, manufacturers may create auto parts with countless pounds of metal waste. Roofers could take applicable materials to reuse. Reuse matters most for roofing materials like slate, rubber and cement, which aren’t inherently eco-friendly.
Looking for roofing materials with these qualifiers encourages a circular economy, which is one of the most impactful ways to be an environmental advocate. Stay on top of maintenance and look for environmental damage regularly to extend its life. These options are usually more affordable.
6. Biophilically Designed Roofing
Biophilic design focuses on integrating natural processes and the environment with architecture. It is what inspires green or living roofing. Though this is a more expensive option to implement and cultivate, it can be among the most rewarding, given the proper support and waterproofing systems. They have the potential to be 30–40°F cooler than traditional roofs, reducing the temperature of the environment around it.
Green roofs contain vegetation. It becomes even more eco-friendly if you grow food in your private garden. Greenery absorbs light for energy efficiency and is a natural carbon sink, reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The best unexpected benefit is it becomes usable real estate in your home. The roof now has more of a purpose than shielding you from the elements.
7. Terracotta Tiles
Terracotta or clay roof tiles are a better option than other naturally occurring materials because clay is plentiful. Though firing clay to shape it requires energy-intensive measures, creating tiles does not require additives. That means there are no unnecessary forever chemicals, paints, plastics or other sneaky elements that harm the planet.
It is ideal for warmer climates. Consider how frequently you see terracotta tiles on old Spanish homes or in the southern United States. The curvature directs heat to help the house stay cool.
Reclaimed clay is easy to find, making the choice even more straightforward. Reused clay does not impact its durability. Surprisingly, terracotta lasts for over 100 years.
Responsible Roof Choices for a Greener Planet
Many roofing materials have the potential to be eco-friendly in one way or another. Temperature management may be a higher concern than durability, especially if the material is infinitely recyclable.
Every aspect of your home can be friendlier to the planet if you know your options. Next time your roof is due for an improvement, consider a lower-impact material that helps you save on energy and money.