Housing Complex

Paint Your Roof White, Save $20 a Month

If Energy Secretary Steven Chu had his way, Americans would be painting their roofs white as often as homeowners in the Greek isles.

While speaking in London in late May, he extolled the virtues of white roofs as one of the easiest, simplest ways to lower energy costs.

“If that building is air-conditioned, it’s going to be a lot cooler, it can use 10 or 15 percent less electricity,” he said.

The sentiment was not lost on Bloomingdale resident John Henson.

He bought his Bryant Street brick town house in Bloomingdale in 2002. Five years ago, he painted his roof white.

“It’s sort of common sense when you think of the colors that reflect heat the best. Most of the homes in Florida have a white roof coating,” he says.

As far as the tangible benefits, Henson says it’s hard to detect changes on his energy bill because he doesn’t have central air-conditioning. But he can feel the difference in temperature, especially on the top level of his house.

So when he spotted an article mentioning Chu’s comments, he quickly sent a note out to the local Listserv encouraging his neighbors to follow his lead, noting: “You can take a TAX CREDIT in 2009 as part of the President’s stimulus initiative.”

The idea’s not a new one brought to us by the Obama administration. When Washington City Paper contacted the Department of Energy for more information, spokesperson Jen Stutsman forwarded a nine-year-old DOE Web page outlining white roof coatings.

But they’ve yet to catch on here. Henson says he knows of one other District resident with a white roof—a friend of his who put on a protective coating that just happened to be white. It wasn’t a statement, but he says his buddy is reaping lower A/C bills as a result.

“It turns out, it saved him $20 a month,” says Henson.

Image by Darrow Montgomery

  • schneebaum

    True but what about heating costs in winter? The oposiste must be true.

  • Mrs. D

    You have a point that there will be some loss of heat in the winter, and probably a slight increase in heating costs, but the effect will not be as great in the winter as the summer. Shorter winter daylight hours with weaker sunlight mean that the heat accumulated by a dark roof in the winter is not as substantial as that accumulated in the summer (think about the difference between getting into a car on a sunny winter day versus a sunny summer day). There should still be a net reduction in energy costs, especially given DC's propensity for very hot, sunny summers and relatively short, mild winters. Also, Chu has noted the effect that this could have on global warming directly, reflecting heat back into space and reducing things like the urban heat island phenomenon. Overall, the benefits outweigh the costs, and that becomes more true as one moves south.

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  • paint the whole house black?

    Hello: I live in Maine No need for cooling here at any time of the year.Unless you weigh the same as all the others. "Tater fed oxen is the size of Maine women. But not me :) If anyone could tell me how much solar heat could be gained by painting the sunny side of my house black I would like to hear. A 75 X 14 Mobile home sunny side is on the back where nobody can see it. So I could do black paint. Thanks to you with knowledge, LL

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