One study shows how white roofs (or, if not white, ones with high reflective properties) may help reduce energy costs and lower temperatures in urban areas. In conjunction with trees, they may help reduce 20% of national energy use in air conditioning and save over $10 billion dollars per year.
Residential area benefit as well for the very same reason; cooler homes thanks to white roofs means less money spent on air conditioning.
The idea of painting your roof white works on a physical concept called “black body radiation”, which is the inherent characteristic of black, non-shiny objects to absorb and radiate more heat. Conversely, lighter-colored, shiny objects reflect heat inherently. It’s exactly why you feel hotter when you wear a black shirt on a sunny day, so in that sense, everyone who’s ever been too hot because they wore the wrong color has done a study on white roofs.
The object of white roofs is not, however, to reduce energy costs, but to reduce the speed of global climate change. For that purpose, more official studies have been done, as well. The National Center for Atmospheric Research has found that white roofs can reduce urban heat. However, they may in fact cool the insides of buildings, which would be great on hot days, but counterproductive to energy conservation when it is cold.
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