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How to Make your Asphalt Shingle Roofing Green

by Matthew J. Goering

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Roofs rank near the top of the list when it comes to commonplace home improvements that can benefit big from going green. After all, your roof's exposure to heat, cold, and sunlight make it an excellent candidate for improving your home's overall energy efficiency. And since your roof is also your home's most important line of defense when it comes to protecting you and yours from the elements, it's easy to see why homeowners across the country are drawn to the quality workmanship and high expectations that green remodeling is known for.

Asphalt Shingle Roofing and Green Remodeling
Despite the fact that roofing looks good in green, homeowners ought to know that asphalt roofing shingles are not the greenest product around. They are a petroleum-based product, require a lot of energy to manufacture, have a relatively short lifespan, and account for a shockingly large percentage of the construction waste that is shipped to landfills every year. On the flip side, asphalt shingle roofing is probably the most cost-effective roofing solution on the market when it comes to materials and installation, cementing their status, for the time being, as a cornerstone of the roofing industry. The trick is making your asphalt shingle roofing installation as green as you possibly can by installing 40- or 50-year rated shingles.

Green Roofing with David Johnston
When it comes to making sure you new asphalt shingle roof is as green as they come, there's no better person to turn to than David Johnston, founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., author of the Nautilus Award winning book Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, and HomeAdvisor's most trusted adviser on all things green. Here's some of Johnston's advice on what you can do to green an asphalt shingle roof.

Energy Savings and Green Asphalt Roofing
Choosing a greener asphalt roof almost always translates into cheaper energy bills down the road. Here are a few things that Johnston suggests you do to get the most out of your new asphalt shingle roof in the energy savings department.

  • Install Light Colored Roofing—Light colored roofing reflects, rather than absorbs, heat from the sun. The result is a cooler home, and reduced cooling bills (especially if you have air conditioning ductwork in the attic). Light colored shingles also make for a longer lasting roof, thanks to the fact that a lighter roof will experience less contraction and expansion over its lifetime than a dark one.

  • Install Radiant Heat Barriers—Radiant heat barriers are a thin layer of metal insulation (usually tin foil with a paper backing or a metalized mylar sheeting), which can reduce radiant heat transfer into your attic by as much as 95 percent when installed to the underside of your roof. Radiant heat barriers are a great addition for any home, but they are especially effective for reducing air conditioning costs if your ductwork is located overhead.

  • Install Rainwater Catchment Systems—You can reduce your monthly water bills by installing cisterns or drums to catch valuable rainwater for landscaping use.

Health Considerations and Asphalt Roofing
Johnston is quick to point out that contrary to popular belief, green remodeling isn't all about improving energy efficiency. It's just as much about creating more comfortable, safer, and healthier homes. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that health is a priority during and after the time that your new roof is installed.

  • Avoid Roofing Adhesives—Most roofing adhesives contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas into the air and make their way into your home, eventually compromising indoor air quality. To avoid the potential negative health consequences (such as kidney and liver problems and issues with the respiratory and nervous systems), stick to mechanical fasteners like nails, nuts, bolts, and screws. And if you absolutely have to use an adhesive, use a water-based adhesive rather than a solvent-based one.

  • Hire a Quality Contractor—A poorly installed roof can leak into your attic, facilitating mold growth, which has been proven to be one of the most dangerous contributors to poor indoor air quality and health problems, period.

  • Build a Steep Sloped Roof—A roof with a steep pitch discourages standing water, leakage, and other water damage. That means less chance of moisture penetration and a reduced risk of water damage and mold growth.

  • Install good flashing at all valleys, dormers, or other roof penetrations. Most roofs leak around penetrations and where different slopes come together.

  • Provide Adequate Attic Ventilation—Proper attic ventilation is vital to a healthy, green roof. Ridge vents, soffit vents, and gable vents all help to keep air circulating in your attic. That equates to a cooler attic (and home) in the summer, and reduces the build up of condensation in the winter, which can result in water damage, rot, and mold growth.

Environmentally Friendly Asphalt Shingle Roofing
As mentioned before, the terms "environmentally friendly" and "asphalt shingles" don't show up in the same sentence very often. Nevertheless, here are some things that you and your contractor can do to make sure that your asphalt shingle roof is as green as they come.

  • Install Recycled Content Asphalt Roofing—Recycled content asphalt shingles contain recycled waste paper and/or use reclaimed material slag in their aggregate surfaces. Since discarded asphalt shingles are a major source of construction waste, anything you can to do to offset that, such as cutting down on the waste of raw materials on the manufacturing end, is a plus.

  • Energy Savings—Since energy savings equal reduced fossil fuel consumption, any energy savings you incur by adopting sound green remodeling practices with your asphalt roofing shingles is good for the environment, as well as your pocketbook.

  • Minimize Waste & Recycle Building Materials—Measure your roof and order roofing materials carefully to minimize the waste sent to landfills. Also, remember that 85 to 90 percent of construction waste is recyclable, either by reusing it or disposing of it at facilities that will recycle the materials.

  • Purchase Roofing with a Longer Life—Asphalt shingle roofing can last as little as 12 years before needing replacement. By purchasing shingles with a longer lifespan, 40 or 50 years, you'll reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills and probably save yourself money in the long run since you won't have to spring for a new roof every 10 to 20 years.

  • Consider Greener Roofing Alternatives—The focus of this guide is how you can green an asphalt shingle roofing project, but there are other roofing products on the market that are a better choice if green is a high priority for you. Clay, concrete, and slate tile, lead-free metal roofing, fiber-cement composite roofing, recycled content plastic/rubber shingles, and true "green" roofs (made from living plants), are all greener, though more expensive, alternatives.

Calculating the True Value of Going Green with Your Asphalt Shingle Roof
What's it going to cost you if you go green with your asphalt shingle roofing? Probably not a lot more than if you don't, to be honest. You may pay more for a radiant heat barrier, recycled content asphalt shingles, and higher quality, longer lasting roofing materials, but when you figure in energy savings and going longer between re-roofing projects, you're going to break even, if not save a little in the long run. That said, Johnston warns homeowners against getting caught up in "the payback trap" when the topic of going green comes up. The truth is that going green is worth a lot more than you can measure in dollars and cents. Green roofs are healthier, longer lasting, lower maintenance roofing solutions. Add to that the fact that embracing a green roof means you'll be passing a better, more environmentally responsible world onto your children and grandchildren, and it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green extends far above any bottom line.

If you think green is the right choice for you, be sure to talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the best, and greenest, roof you possibly can.