Sustainability Starts on Top To Save the Bottom (Line)

Dave Homerding, Marketing Manager for WeatherSure Systems, Inc. One of the unfortunate consequences of the economic downturn has been to slow the momentum of the “green  buildings" movement. Back in the “old days,” say 2008, it seemed like everything revolved around sustainability, green buildings, LEED certification and energy efficiency. Then, budgets were slashed, staffs cut, projects put “on hold”, and making do with less became the “new normal.” (Does everyone hate that term the way I do?). The reality is that all the things that made the green movement so appealing back then are still important today, and will be even more important going forward. As marketing manager at WeatherSure, my focus is on the building envelope, the roof and walls, so I’ll skip green cleaning solutions and going paperless, etc, and concentrate on the exterior building systems. 

In my everyday duties, I speak with building owners and managers who tell me quite often that they don’t need any roofing or waterproofing services because they “don’t have any leaks” – by which they mean, no water is dripping into the building. A roof that is “not leaking” may have extensive areas of wet, sodden insulation, or even installed before adequate roof insulation was commonly used, and the building manager is accustomed to the status quo – the energy bills haven’t gone up that much; the HVAC units are up there humming away; maybe in the winter there’s a little draft but a space heater under the desk solves that problem, right? With energy prices on the increase, and trending higher in the long term, maybe it’s time to reconsider whether “not leaking” is really “OK.” The commercial roofing industry is leading the way toward sustainability and “green technology,” not with new miracle products that “don’t leak,” but using tried and true materials in new and innovative ways to create spaces that are more comfortable and use energy more efficiently. Just like trading in the Coupe DeVille for a Prius might mean a certain upfront cost, it’s easy to see how the efficiency of the new technology leads to long-term savings.  
 
There’s a multitude of things that can be done to “green” your building envelope, I’ll touch on a couple of the “big” ones to start the thought process.
 
Energy Star white roof systems: 

Most of this discussion will revolve around products and systems that can be incorporated when replacing a roof, and that’s certainly a great time to consider a white roof system, but some existing black roofs are viable candidates for a white coating system. Coating an existing roof can be an option as long as the existing system is still in good shape, and the coating helps protect the roof from further degradation- and rooftop temperatures can be 50 to 70 degrees cooler on a white surface than a black roof. Since most HVAC units have extreme drop offs in efficiency when the ambient temperature is above 88 degrees, even coating only the area immediately surrounding the rooftop units can pay big dividends in energy savings. 
 
High R- Value Roof Systems: 
 
High R-Value roof systems save money day 24/7, 365 days a year. One issue I had with the “old” LEED system was that you could get more LEED points by installing a bicycle rack than by upgrading insulation during roof  replacement – now corrected in the newer guidelines. Now, when up to 19 LEED points can be gained by adding  insulation during a reroof, and will also provide energy savings going forward, and the owner can take advantage of Federal Tax incentives ($1 per square foot), High R-Value roofs become an economical option. At WeatherSure, we have software that can help the owner determine the level of insulation enhancement that “fits best” – data, including the location of the building, type of HVAC system and cost of the insulation, is factored in to provide information on the anticipated payback period. 
 
White roofs and high R-Value insulation are simple, proven ways to save energy, and they are just the beginning. Garden roofs, daylighting, and using the rooftop to produce electricity are other ways to “go green.” 
 
The commercial roofing industry in 2011 is at the forefront of the “Green Movement,” using existing, proven technologies in new and innovative ways to save energy/money, create more sustainable and comfortable buildings, and, in no small way, contribute to making a difference for everyone.