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<< News >>

Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard that simply painting your roof white can reduce household electricity bills by 40 percent. Is this something any of us can do?
—Susan Pierson, Sumter, SC

Some 90 percent of U.S. buildings have dark-colored roofs which, when exposed to full sun can increase in temperature by as much as 90 °F. A white roof typically increases temperatures only 10-25 °F above ambient air temperatures during the day. Pictured: The White Roof Project at work.

Photo © White Roof Project

Yes anyone can do it—and the benefits can be significant, especially for those in warmer climates who expend a lot of energy keeping cool. But most of the world’s roofs, including on some 90 percent of buildings in the U.S., are dark-colored.

Dark colored roofs absorb more heat from the sun’s rays than light colored ones, and as such get much hotter. A black roof exposed to full sun can increase in temperature by as much as 90 °F (50 °C), meaning the air conditioning inside has to work that much harder to compensate for the added heat load.

But a white or reflective roof typically increases temperatures only 10-25 °F (5–14 °C) above ambient air temperatures during the day. This translates into a savings of up to 15 percent on air conditioning energy use over a year for a typical one-story residence, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The upshot of this energy savings is not only cost savings for the consumer—annual energy bill savings of 20-40 percent aren’t uncommon for single story homes in America’s Sun Belt—but also reduced air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions generated in the production of electricity.

A white roof also helps keep buildings and houses without air conditioning cooler in the summer than they would otherwise be. And it also helps mitigate the “urban heat island effect” whereby a city can be 6-8 °F warmer than its surrounding areas on warm summer days.

The non-profit White Roof Project promotes the concept across the U.S. and last year painted some 30 buildings, helping hundreds of families lower their energy bills in the process.

“A white roof project is low cost, easy to implement, relieves stress on the power grid, cuts down on smog, and creates tangible change for individuals, our communities, and even globally,” reports the group, which is looking to expand its work across the country significantly in 2013 and expand internationally in 2014.

The White Roof Projects gives away instructions (via a free downloadable “DIY Packet”) to help do-it-yourselfers paint their own roofs white without hiring a painter or roofer. All it takes is a few painting supplies, a couple of cans of highly reflective elastomeric white paint, and a plan for how to cover all relevant surfaces properly and safely. Those who would rather hire someone to do the ladder climbing and paint application can hire any local painter or roofer.

While green roofs may be preferable from a strictly environmental perspective in that they contain plants that filter pollutants and reduce run-off, white roofs may indeed provide more overall environmental benefit for the cost of a couple of cans of special white paint. Indeed, painting the roof white might be the best energy efficiency improvement you can make to your building or house.

CONTACTS: White Roof Project; DOE Cool Roof Fact Sheet.

 
A NEW SET OF ANSWERS IS FEATURED EACH WEEK!

 

Dear EarthTalk: Why is it that airplane exhaust is so much worse for the environment than engine emissions on the ground?
—Winona Sharpe, New York, NY

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that CO2 emitted by jets can survive in the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years, and that its combination with other gas and particulate emissions could have double or four times the warming effect as CO2 emissions alone.

Photo © Hemera Collection

While air travel today accounts for just three percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants that come out of jet exhaust contribute disproportionately to increasing surface temperatures below because the warming effect is amplified in the upper atmosphere.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific intergovernmental body set up by the United Nations (UN) to provide comprehensive scientific assessments of the risk of human-induced climate change, reports that CO2 emitted by jets can survive in the atmosphere for upwards of 100 years, and that its combination with other gas and particulate emissions could have double or four times the warming effect as CO2 emissions alone.

Modern jet engines are not that different from automobile engines—both involve internal combustion and burn fossil fuels. But instead of gasoline or diesel, jet fuel is primarily kerosene, a common home heating fuel used around the world. Just like car engines, jets emit CO2, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides and soot.

Beyond their contributions to global warming, airplane emissions can also lead to the formation of acid rain and smog, as well as visibility impairment and crop damage down on the ground. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that aircraft engines contribute about one percent of total U.S. mobile source nitrogen oxide emissions and up to four percent around airports in some areas.

What worries environmentalists is the fact that the number of airline flights is on the rise and is expected to skyrocket by mid-century, meaning that if we don’t get a handle on airplane emissions, our other carbon footprint reduction efforts could be for naught. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reports that commercial flights grew nine percent from 2002 to 2010 and will rise another 34 percent by 2020.

Jet emissions standards are based on guidelines established under the U.S. Clean Air Act and are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). Current standards were created in 1996 and updated in 2006, but environmental leaders want even stricter limits on greenhouse gas and other emissions.

The IPCC recommends funding more research into aviation’s effects on climate to guide the development of aircraft and engine technology, promoting more efficient air traffic operations and expanding the use of regulatory and economic measures to encourage emissions reductions.

In regard to economic measures, the European Union (EU) is leading the way with new rules that assess fees on foreign airlines based on their CO2 emissions. The new system, which would require airlines using an airport in Europe to trade for or purchase permits corresponding to the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, was supposed to go into effect in 2013 but has been postponed due to intense opposition from foreign governments which consider it a barrier to trade. EU officials have threatened to put the plan into effect nonetheless if airlines or their governments can’t agree on new stricter emissions limitations.

CONTACTS: IPCC; FAA; ICAO.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

 

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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