Trollishness, I’ve found, is the bane of this green building blogging thing. Which shouldn’t be confused with negativity — having even a low-wattage megaphone more or less demands deployment against New Domino-ian offenses against decency (or, you know, just against New Domino itself). And not trollishness in the nasty-Facebook-comment variety, which is easy enough to avoid unless you’re a 13-year-old boy. I mean trollishness as an outlook — the kind of peevish, impatient, why-will-everyone-not-get-with-the-program mentality that is the number one gateway drug for ill-reasoned, hard-to-read posts. If you’re reading this blog, then you are probably already convinced that building green is a good idea in about a dozen different ways, and that green real estate is likely to 1) make NYC a better place to live and 2) make smart people a lot of money in the process. Theoretically, you’re a choir that would not be unreceptive to preaching. But that’s not the point, or at least it’s not the point that I’d like to make. But man, are white roofs ever a topic that it’s hard for me not to get trollish on.
The failure of green roofs to catch on in New York City is something I’ve written my bleeding heart out about in the past, but I get it — they’re expensive and heavy and maybe don’t work all that well. But the slowness with which white roofs — that is, roofs treated with reflective white paint — have caught on here and elsewhere is much harder to understand, and much harder to accept in that sort of people-being-people way. A green roof seems less transcendent when you’re footing the bill for it and worrying about it caving in your ceiling — reasonable enough. But when a day’s worth of work and a minimal cost outlay can deliver eye-popping savings and impressive results at both the macro and micro scale, it becomes harder to understand why white roofs haven’t caught on as quickly or as broadly as they obviously ought.
I mean, it is understandable, at a certain level. White roofs lack the design cache and LEED Brain pleasure principle hit of a more show-offy green measure — I happen to think they look pretty cool, but if you’re the sort of person who wants to show off something green on the roof of your home, the current trend is definitely more towards a goofy wind turbine or a kinda-sorta meaningful array of solar panels. And there’s also the troublesome matter of white roofs not being especially lucrative — this is good for homeowners and building management types and such, who can reduce the heat of their roofs by 50 or 60 degrees and cut heating bills by double-digit percentages with a couple of long-handled paint rollers, some reflective paint, and a few hours of work. But short of developing new and better and more reflective varieties of paint — some entrepreneur, somewhere, is doubtless on this case — the profit potential of white roofs has nothing on the high-margin luxury greenstuffs that currently makes money in the green building material market. Without the push of an industry behind it, sadly, action from the state — and thus action in general — is going to be slower. It’s gross and sad that this is the case, but if someone with money isn’t lobbying for a tax credit for painting a roof white, we’re not going to have one, regardless of how well white roofs work. And so it is that we currently don’t While Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu deserves credit for plugging white roofs at every turn, a little bit of government pump-priming would be a lot more meaningful. That also applies at the state and local level, as certainly seems to be the case with New York City’s agonizingly slow-rolled NYC Cool Roofs program.
“In New York, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s blessing, the Department of Buildings and other public and private groups have vowed to paint 1 million square feet of roof on city-sponsored community buildings,” the AP’s Sean O’Driscoll writes in the Washington Post. “Organizers have advertised on Craigslist for volunteers, promising that the painting is rewarding and fun… New York’s 1 million square feet of white roofs is a ‘very, very, very, conservative target,’ said [Berkeley National Laboratory fellow Hashem] Akbari, who advised the city on its NYC Cool Roofs project. ‘When you consider that a large box store or mall can have a roof of 200,000 square feet, the entire New York program is the equivalent of painting five of those stores,’ he said.”
Consider that Arizona — which, as terrifyingly, Thunderdome-caliber retrograde though it is, cannot afford to trifle with its heating bills — has made white roofs mandatory on all state buildings. Consider that New York City’s plan is to whitewash, citywide, a swath of rooftop roughly equivalent in size to the roof area of Paramus, NJ’s Garden State Plaza. And then you try not getting trollish.