Cool roofs rule in Sactown

Energy savings through the roof

SN&R buys a building, wants to make it green and pays Sena: Eco-Warrior Princess to write a weekly column about it.

What’s a cool roof? Oh, honey, that’s like asking who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb. But I’ll tell you anyways.

Ulysses S. Grant was a Union general in the American Civil War and later became the 18th president of our fine country. He led vital military campaigns during the war, including the famed siege of Vicksburg and other fights that eventually led to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender. Grant’s Tomb sits near the Hudson River in Manhattan and is the largest mausoleum in North America.

Oh wait a minute, that’s not what you asked.

Don’t mock me. Sometimes I’m easily confused. And you know what? You would be too if you had to write about SN&R’s green renovation of a building on Del Paso Boulevard week after week, only to receive these weird, vindictive e-mails from readers who probably sit around in their underwear all day and take sick pleasure in tearing you to shreds! I have feelings too, you know.

But you were wondering about cool roofs. As the name implies, these roofs reflect the sun’s radiant energy before it penetrates a building’s interior, thereby reducing temperatures both inside and outside.

Sacramento has unbearably hot summers. Am I right or am I right? Personally, I enjoy the extreme heat. Growing up here, I spent many summer afternoons running through my backyard sprinklers in ruffled one-piece bathing suits to cool off, because none of my poor neighborhood friends lived in houses with swimming pools. Even in high school, when I started hanging out with Land Park kids, I was out of luck. But because this weather causes heat stroke among elderly people and leads to massive amounts of energy wasted on air conditioning, I guess I’m supposed to hate the heat. So fine, I do. Happy now?

Let’s not make our summer weather worse with the urban heat island effect, which occurs when a built environment absorbs and retains sunlight, increasing surrounding temperatures 2 to 10 degrees more than adjacent rural areas. Cool roofs reduce this effect, thereby decreasing the demand for electric power and resulting air pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions. One-sixth of all the energy consumed in the United States is used to cool buildings. Energy savings created by cool roofs are greatest in areas with long, sunny, hot summers. Well, hello there!

Cool roofs with high solar reflectance and thermal emittance are available in light shades, or as shingles or special coatings. Upfront costs for a cool roof might be slightly more than the price of a dark roof, but the eco-friendly option’s durability and energy savings make this a better bargain in the long run. Both SMUD and PG&E offer rebates for residential projects.

SN&R learned about cool roofs from Kris Castro of Dinyari Incorporated. Castro, a feisty, intelligent woman, is all about green building and is undergoing training to become a LEED-accredited professional. We’ll use a cool roof for our new office building. For a split second, SN&R considered a green roof but realized this option was too expensive (green roofs typically cost $10 to $20 per square foot) and would require significant structural improvements to our building.

While green roofs are sometimes called “living roofs,” in reference to vegetation coverage installed above the “membrane” of a building, I find this creepy and refuse to use the term. These babies are all over Europe, and can be found in Toronto, Phoenix, Manhattan and Austin, Texas. The city of Chicago has more than 200 green roofs, including one on top of a McDonald’s. How crazy is that, man!

The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is close to completing a major green roof project, which includes 1.7 million native plants covering 2.5 acres, making it the city’s largest patch of native vegetation. The self-propagating plants require minimal water, resist sand spray from the ocean, tolerate winds and will be home to birds, endangered butterflies and other wildlife. The vegetation is planted in 50,000 interlocking biodegradable trays made from tree sap and coconut husks.

Needless to say, SN&R’s cool roof won’t be as sweet as this museum’s green roof. Nor will it be as awesome as a dead man’s massive mausoleum, but in the wise words of President Ulysses S. Grant, “I know only two tunes: One of them is ‘Yankee Doodle,’ and the other isn’t.”

The weird, vindictive letter-writing campaign may now commence.