Foreign Policy Blogs

White Roofs

I’ve said all along that US Energy Secretary Steven Chu is a smart guy.  He’s got a Nobel Prize in Physics to prove it.   (That’s why I say he’s too smart to be taken in by the ongoing boondoggle that is nuclear power.)

Here he is talking about a new study from DOE on white roofs.  Keep it simple, stupid – the smart engineer’s credo.

  • Windy City Kid

    Bill – There is a ceramic powder (same ceramic material used to protect NASA space shuttle during re-entry) that can be mixed with white paint to provide an R-20 insulation value as a coating at an additional cost to a gallon of paint of roughly $10.00 per gallon. One gallon of paint covers 350 square feet which breaks down the additional cost to 2.857 cents per square foot for the added R-20 insulation.

    In contrast one of my local schools spent $90,000.00 putting in a 2800 square foot garden roof made of grass which breaks out to $32.00 per square foot. What a waste of money. Unfortunately nobody weighed the financial cost nor did they seek less expensive alternatives. The grass roof is a showpiece under the banner of “education” and “green awareness” now and it requires constant watering which wastes more community resources and money.

    There is smart green and there is stupid green. It looks like Chu is trying to promote smart green, but I’m afraid he will be drown out by the stupid green driven by politically driven gifting (paid by taxpayers) and/or by the meme that all that is green is good regardless of cost as is the case with educators in my community.

    Best Regards

    • Kid – As always, you have a penetrating and useful contribution. Without my running the numbers – and I have no reason to doubt yours – you might consider other factors with roof gardens. My kid’s school is moving ahead with a roof garden and there is educational value in that. Also, we are in an urban environment and the roof garden is going to be used to grows herbs and vegetables for the cafeteria for use in healthier lunches. Nutrition, not incidentally, is one of the educational components of this. This is not unlike Michelle Obama’s garden at the White House. Roof gardens can also have value in an urban environment in catching rain and mitigating the onslaught of stormwater. In NYC, we have combined sewers and the stormwater and sewage mix in a heavy rain and can’t all be treated at the wastewater plants so that the ambient water receives this untreated mix directly. So, reducing the inputs of stormater has value. Green roofs and setbacks can also have value in the context of biophilic design. Roof space can also, of course, include microrenewable power sources, and have skylights for diffuse lighting installations to radically reduce the need for electric light fixtures.

      As you know, Chicago has been one of the epicenters of the green roof movement. The City probably has all sorts of numbers regarding how useful vs. how costly these setups are.

      But, if all you are seeking is cooling at a cost-effective price, then your point regarding “smart green” is perfectly valid.


Bill Hewitt
Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change