Going Green with Metal Roofing

by Matthew J. Goering

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Roofing ranks 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.

Green Metal Roofing
If you go into it with a green mindset, metal roofing is clearly one of the greenest roofing products on the market. Why? You can purchase metal roofs made from recycled materials; a metal roof is recyclable again when you tear it off; and on top of that, metal roofs are long lasting, durable, and energy-efficient, as well. They don't come without a few potential pitfalls, however, which is why we've put together this guide on green metal roofing to help you make your new metal roof installation as green as possible.

Green Roofing with David Johnston
There's nobody better to walk you through the ins and outs of making sure your metal roof installation is as green as they come 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 point man on all things green. Here is some of Johnston's advice on what you can do to turn your metal roof into a green metal roof.

Energy Efficiency and Green Metal Roofing
Choosing a greener metal roof almost always translates into cheaper energy bills down the road. Here's what you can expect from your new metal roof in the energy savings department, and a few things you can do to increase your energy savings even more.

  • Metal Roofing is Cool Roofing—Metal roofing is known as a "cool" roofing material because it transmits far less heat from the sun down into your attic than other materials such as asphalt shingle roofing. Mostly that's because metal roofs are thinner and can't retain as much heat, though the color you choose to paint your roof can also make a difference.

  • Install Light Colored Roofing—With metal, a galvanized finish or white painted roof is ideal. 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.

  • 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.

  • Install Rainwater Catch Systems—Because metal roofs channel water so efficiently, and they don't have toxic components like asphalt shingles, they are the perfect roofing material for a rainwater catch system. By installing cisterns or drums to catch valuable rainwater and runoff for landscaping use, you can save money on the monthly water bill.

Health Considerations and Green Metal 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.

  • Only Purchase Lead-Free Metal Roofing—Be sure that your metal roofing is lead-free in both the metal alloy and your roof's coating. Even small amounts of lead can lead to mental and physical impairment in fetuses and small children, decreased coordination and mental abilities in adults, and kidney damage, blood damage, and even increased blood pressure. Avoid it at all costs!

  • Hire a Quality Contractor—A poorly installed roof can leak moisture into your attic, which can lead to water damage, rot, and mold growth; the last of which has been proven to contribute to a number of serious health issues. Be sure you hire a roofer who know the ins and outs of working with metal roofs (avoiding the cross contact of different alloys, and adopting roofing profiles with hidden screws and clips, for example) to help ensure you won't get any nasty surprises a few years down the road.

  • Build a Steep Sloped Roof—A metal roof with a steep pitch discourages standing water, leakage, ice dams, and heavy snow buildup. That means less chance of moisture penetration and roofing failure, and a reduced risk of water damage and mold growth.

  • 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, which results in a cooler attic and home in the summer and reduced condensation build-up in the attic in the winter, which can result in water damage, rot, and mold growth.

Green Metal Roofing and the Environment
Of course, at the heart of any green metal roofing is environmental stewardship. While metal roofing is as environmentally friendly as roofing materials come, here are some suggestions from Johnston to help you make sure you've left no stones unturned.

  • Purchase Recycled Content Metal Roofing—Metal roofing can be made from aluminum, copper, or steel, and can be purchased with recycled material contents as high as 100 percent. That means less waste gets sent to the landfills, and less energy is wasted during production. From an environmental standpoint, the more recycled content, the merrier.

  • Minimize Waste & Recycle Materials—Measure your roof and order roofing materials carefully to minimize waste. 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. Finally, if you're replacing an older metal roof with a new one, keep in mind that none of your old roofing material should go to the landfill.

  • Energy Efficiency—All those energy savings that metal roofing will provide you over the years is good for the environment, too. High energy efficiency means reduced fossil fuel consumption, which is becoming more and more important as fuel supplies dwindle and the detrimental effects of global warming continue to come to light.

Calculating the True Value of Going Green with Your New Metal Roof
What's it going to cost you if you go green with your metal roofing? Probably not any more than if you don't, to be honest. You may pay a fraction more for recycled content metal roofing and the added energy efficiency of a radiant heat barrier, but when you factor in energy savings over time and the higher quality installation that goes hand-in-hand with green building philosophies, you'll probably make money by choosing green in the end. That said, Johnston is quick to warn homeowners against getting caught up in "the payback trap" of green remodeling. While it's true that a green metal roof might save you a few bucks on your utilities in the long term, going green is worth a lot more than a person can measure in dollars and cents. Green roofs are healthier, longer lasting, lower maintenance roofing solutions. And when you figure in the fact that you'll be making a commitment to passing a better world onto your children and grandchildren, it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green is far higher than any cost estimate can indicate.

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.