Energy Solutions’ local face

Local designer combines environmentalism, art and community in her building solutions

Michelle van Tijen on a roof.

Michelle van Tijen on a roof.

Photo By dominick porras

Michelle van Tijen’s interest in green building was a long evolution beginning abstractly and somewhat unfortunately during childhood.

By the time van Tijen was 7 years old, she had experienced three major disasters in the span of four years. The Oakland-native lived through the ’89 San Francisco earthquake and two years later, a massive fire tore through the East Bay hills, forcing her family to evacuate to a houseboat. In 1992, her parents put their daughter on a plane to Miami, just in time for Hurricane Andrew. Experiencing these natural disasters firsthand made van Tijen sensitive to environmental happenings.

Van Tijen, 23, carried this awareness with her through the years, and it expanded during college where, at UC Davis, she majored in design and became a member of the California Student Sustainability Coalition. A Sacramento resident as of two months ago, van Tijen now works remotely for Energy Solutions, an Oakland-based environmental consulting firm, which operates the Cool Roof Rating Council.

The council is an independent nonprofit that provides the measured solar-reflectance and thermal-emittance values of cool-roofing products in its online directory. Cool roofs reflect and emit the sun’s heat back to the sky, thereby reducing a building’s air-conditioning load and the surrounding heat island effect. These roofs are available in all types of materials, including coatings, factory-coated metal, shingles and tiles.

The council’s online directory acts as an important tool for roofers, code officials, engineers, architects, contractors and building owners. More than 1,000 products are listed in the database; the council doesn’t rely on manufacturer’s data, offering its own third-party testing and rating system. California’s Title 24 building-standards code requires that any cool roof implemented must be rated by the council. The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED and Green Building Initiative’s Green Globes programs both award credit for using a cool roof.

The council recently celebrated its 10th anniversary in Las Vegas, appropriately at a roofing convention. Van Tijen has worked with the council for the past year, primarily focused on keeping updated on changing codes, programs and rebates for cool roofing and helping produce a quarterly newsletter. And the glamorous part of her job is answering the council’s “Cool Line,” a hot line for people with questions about cool roofs. She receives about 15 calls a day from people all over the world—Mexico, Canada, Switzerland, India—and plenty from right here in Sacramento and nearby Davis.

Her general advice to homeowners: Know your climate zone, research the cool-roof option that best suits your building, and go to the council’s Web site, where you can type in product information, which searches by minimum requirements (in California, this would be Title 24) and ranks the results. She also recommends using the Department of Energy’s cool-roof calculator to estimate cost savings from a non-dark roof.

Answering a hot line about cool roofs may not seem like the most fascinating work, but van Tijen enjoys it, especially because her job keeps her actively involved in green building. Back in high school, she attended a 6-month urban-design program in New York City and later in college participated in an eco-charrette, critiquing plans for a LEED-platinum building on campus. As she pursued her major, her personal and professional ideologies took shape.

“I had a hard time not thinking about the environmental impacts on the built environment that our projects would have,” van Tijen said. “As I got more involved with the California Student Sustainability Coalition and green building on campus, my focus on design became less about rendering and colors and more focused on greening strategies and ideas.”

Van Tijen remembers back to when, after college, she worked for a kitchen and bathroom interior-design firm serving high-end clients in the South Bay. When she recognized the company’s complete lack of concern for the eco-impact of its designs, she quit. Now, at Energy Solutions, she’s elbow-deep in cool-roof programs and assisting with the company’s green renovation of an office building in downtown Oakland.

“I love being able to combine environmentalism, art and community,” she said. “Green building is all my interests in one.”