Can rooftops be the forefront of sustainable changes?
It’s an undeniable fact now: global warming is happening and it is happening FAST. As world leaders finally agree on the empirical evidence and are figuring out how to stop global warming, the sustainable industry is booming. A myriad of Earth-saving alternatives are popping up – from removing the carbon out of the atmosphere by increasing plankton populations or replacing all lights with LED bulbs – and all have good intentions. But what if the answer has been above us all along?
I’m talking about our homes of course. The place where we spend at least a third of our day at is also the place that is responsible for about a third of greenhouse gas emissions. Homes use lots of energy to heat or cool to our preferred liking as well as power all of our electronics even while not being used. But homes can also contribute to climate change just by what’s on top – their roofs. In a process called albedo, the earth reflects rays from the sun back into the solar system to help maintain a normal global temperature (Christopherson 74). The problem occurs when primarily dark surfaces, like roofs or asphalt, are in an area because they absorb heat and barely reflect any back to space. This helps increase the global warming effect. Even just switching your roof from a darker color to lighter helps reflect up to 30% more light and keeps your home cooler.
But going around and painting every roof bright white isn’t going to cut it when the global stakes are so high. There is a growing movement to use roof surfaces with solar panels or gardens to help reflect more light off but to take advantage of other benefits, whether it’s producing your own energy or vegetable garden. Often overlooked, roofs are becoming a forefront spot in sustainable changes. Solar panels have the benefit of living off of the grid, producing your own energy and sometimes even selling energy back to the electric company in the summertime. Rooftop gardens increase the reflecting power but also uses the up close and personal level to get more sunshine and rain for better gardens. It’s no wonder why people are taking this into their own hands and retrofitting their own homes or businesses to include these sustainable upgrades
However, it’s not just individuals that are taking notice of this – cities across the globe are now introducing legislature that is requiring all new buildings to have either solar panels or rooftop gardens designed in them. Both Sebastapol and Lancaster in California have laws that entail that construction of new single family homes must offset 75% of its potential energy use or 2 watts of power per square foot (Green). Toronto requires that all new buildings, homes or businesses, must have at least 20% covered with vegetation and many other cities, like Tokyo and Copenhagen, have followed suit (Lawson). Paris is currently debating a similar law with the option of solar panels or a rooftop garden – whichever suits the design better. All of these cities follow the same logic: it’s easier to design and build sustainably in the beginning rather than try to change older buildings. In a Bloomberg Business article, they claim it is up to 20% cheaper to install during construction – a huge savings considering solar panels are still fairly expensive at up to $15,000 (Doom). They list that it’s already becoming a mainstream addition that most homeowners want to include regardless of city laws.
If you own your home, you can look into options for including a green space or solar panels on your roof. Nearly every state government includes tax breaks to help make it an affordable and smart option. For others where that’s not a feasible alternative, they can support businesses that have made these sustainable changes or push their local government to enact a similar law with new construction. One roof at a time, we can paint our cityscape green.
Christopherson, Robert. Elemental Geosystems. N.p.: Pearson College Div, 2015. Print.
This is my textbook for GEO210 or Geography of the Natural Environment and I used the chapter on Atmospheric Energy and Global Temperatures. The textbook ranges on every Earth related subject from the atmosphere, water, geology, ecosytems, etc. Christopherson has written a plethora of geography books and, at the end, plugs in his own personal ways that he reduces his carbon footprint. This gave me the thorough understanding of how important albedo is and how it’s connected to global warming. He talks about the urban heat index towards the end of the chapter which I connected to the green roofs.
Doom, Justin. “Solar Panel Is Next Granite Countertop for Homebuilders.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 11 Sept. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
This was the perfect addition I need for my paper even though it’s a bit out of date. It showed the financial side of solar panels for residents without being bogged down in kilowatt data. It confirmed that it’s more fiscally responsible to build solar panels into your new home rather than add them on later. It means a more accessible way for homeowners to become sustainable. Doom compares it to how long-lasting granite countertops used to be a “luxury” expense but is now standard because of the longevity.
Green, Miranda. “California Towns Pass Law Requiring New Buildings to Have Solar Panels.” The Daily Beast. Newsweek/Daily Beast, 10 May 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
A great brief article about California cities mandating new construction to include solar panels and the guidelines about it. My earliest research questions were based off of this article on whether sustainable laws should be mandated.
Lawson, Tom. “On Rooftops of Paris, Expect Green Roofs and Solar Panels.” Yes! Magazine, 19 Aug. 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
This is the article that I read last summer that got me initially interested in the subject of rooftop gardens and compulsory changes. It talks about the proposed law in Paris to mandate some sort of green roof and other cities that have led the way. It also compares mandatory laws to tax breaks – like what’s common in America – and which one is more effective. It shows that there can be flexibility with “forced” sustainability.