Trying to decide on an energy-efficient roof

The new roof of a remodeled house needs to be energy-efficient as well as budget-friendly. What's the best choice?

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    The roof of 100-year-old Sheep Dog Hollow will be completely replaced since the shingles have deteriorated.
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Like pretty much everything else in at Sheepdog Hollow, the 100-year-old farmhouse we’re renovating, the roof needs to be replaced.

With decisions now made about what type of windows and front door we're going to install, it was time to look upward.

And since our goal is to renovate this house as greenly, but also as economically as possible, I began checking out the different roofing options.

My first inclination was to go for a metal roof. My grandparent’s 19th-century farmhouse in Virginia has one – it’s the original as far as I know. (The farm and home, by the way, are named Lone Jack, because the property was reportedly won in a card game with a lone jack.)

The metal roof currently on Monticello, the elegant country home built by Thomas Jefferson in the 18th century, is also tin, restored to look and behave just like the one the great intellect and statesman had installed toward the end of his life.

Since ensuring that things last for generations is part of the goal of green building, I was ready to put in a standing seam metal roof, if only for the romance of it.

Fortunately, it turns out, the vast majority of roofing materials that qualify for the Energy Star rating [PDF] – which can help earn you a $1,500 federal tax credit – also are metal.

The reason, according to the Energy Star website, is their ability to reflect the sun and keep unwanted heat from entering the house:

Americans spend about $40 billion annually to air condition buildings — one-sixth of all electricity generated in this country.
Why choose ENERGY STAR reflective roofing for your building?
ENERGY STAR qualified roof products reflect more of the sun's rays. This can lower roof surface temperature by up to 100F, decreasing the amount of heat transferred into a building.
ENERGY STAR qualified roof products can help reduce the amount of air conditioning needed in buildings, and can reduce peak cooling demand by 10–15 percent.

The website also has a handy calculator to help estimate how much money installing an energy-efficient roof can save.

I was sold, but then I ran smack into Martin’s considerations. He didn't want a metal roof. “They’re ugly,” he said, “plain and simple.”

“I like plain and simple,” I said, hoping he’d forget the Doric columns I’d insisted on for the side porch.

“No, a house like Sheep Dog deserves a cedar roof. It will look beautiful,” he said.

Since I had won the debate about a new front door – with his grudging agreement, we opted for an energy-efficient fiberglass door with foam insulation – I decided the check out cedar shingles and their green qualifications.

It was clear that none of them win any Energy Star points, so I had to look for other sustainable attributes in cedar. Obviously, they’re wood, from a tree, which can be regrown. But I’d also heard they were far more expensive than regular shingles. I was leery about them.

So, I decided that while researching them, I’d also check out other green roofing options. I’d heard that they’re now making roof tiles from recycled tires, among other things. I was ready to learn more when our Internet connection went down.

Next: What the roofing research revealed.

Editor’s note: Alexandra Marks blogs twice a week about her green and budget-friendly restoration of a 1902 farmhouse in Connecticut. See a photo gallery of the early days of the project by clicking here. You can read all she’s written about the project so far by clicking here and then looking for Sheep Dog Hollow under Topics on the right side of the page.

You’ll find numerous articles about the environment at the Monitor’s main environment page. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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