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Roofs Should Balance Environmental Concerns and Practical Risks

Posted by Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley

Mar 10, 2014 11:02:00 AM


When builders raise the roof these days, they choose from many more options than just 20 years ago.

Formerly, they selected among unsustainable, impact-resistant asphalt tiles, wood shake roofs vulnerable to fires, and energy intensive tile roofs. Now, however, they have the ability to choose sustainability and durability—all at the same time.

Practical building weighs both green responsibility and risk. Just as some extremely durable roofing materials aren't eco-friendly, some "eco-roofs" present impractical risk. Risk matters, both to the buyer and to his or her home insurance provider. Premiums are based in large part on the amount of risk posed by a home. The roof is one of the key components—wind and hail damage, usually to roofs, is the most common home insurance claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

That's why, when searching for green building solutions for a client, you should focus on impact-resistant roofing materials with a UL 2218 class 3 or 4. They'll provide durability for the house while fulfilling your environmental responsibility.  

Here are some roofs that are eco-friendly, some that are durable, and some that provide a mix of both. For the best success, try to pick a material that blends both top qualities.


  •          Living roofs: The living roof industry grew by 24% from 2011 to 2012, according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. The plants in living roofs help with insulation, and they can utilize rainwater and prevent chemical runoff. Living roofs, however, also can present problems. Like gardens, they require constant work. They also introduce the possibility of large pools of water forming on the roof. This is not an ideal situation for a residence because it could lead to extensive water damage. Questions also linger about how well living roofs stand up to sustained strong winds.
  •          Composite wood roofs: Recycled composite wood roofs typically can provide an attractive, eco-friendly option, but these roofs require maintenance to reduce rot and insect damage. Composite wood roofs also can increase the risk of fire damage, and they cannot withstand certain impacts.
  •          Tile: Terracotta tiles last a long time and resist troubles such as rot or insect damage. These tiles don't require much maintenance, but they're fragile and vulnerable to impact. Tile roofing also involves a significant amount of weight, so builders must reinforce the structure of the home to support it. Making these tiles takes a significant amount of energy, making them less eco-friendly. 
  •          Slate: Slate is one of the most durable roofing materials. It's tough, impervious to rot and insect damage, and doesn't require maintenance. The drawbacks? Slate requires a lot of energy to mine, it's heavy, and therefore labor intensive and expensive; builders have to reinforce the structure of the home to support it.
  •          Metal: Metal roofing can contain recycled materials (typically around 60-65%) and can be recycled. It can last 50 years or longer and requires very little maintenance. Metal roofs also are extremely effective for insulation and absorb 34% less heat than asphalt shingles, according to the Florida Solar Energy Center.

Long-lasting and durable

Best of both worlds

  • Metal: Metal roofs (made from both steel and aluminum) can be extremely durable and impact-resistant when it comes to hail, wind, and other types of damage. They're also good for snowy climates because snow can slide off the roof instead of forming heavy layers. If your clients don't like the look of a raised-seam metal roof, aluminum shingles can be formed to look like other roofing materials. Metal roofing typically can cost more upfront, but it is both green and durable.
  • Concrete tile: Concrete tile and shingles can now resemble terracotta, slate, shake wood, or other roofing materials.  Concrete, however, can contain recycled materials and can better insulate residences and conserve energy. Concrete also is strong and doesn't present the same weight issues as slate and tile. (Boral Madera tiles installed on the VISION House Tucson are shown in the photo above.)

When it comes to building green-friendly housing, you have many aspects to consider, including roofing material. Sustainable roofing can provide homeowners with savings on their utility bills, maintenance costs, and home insurance premiums.

Remember that houses, as buildings constantly in use and that house items of incredible value, must be durable, secure, and safe from weather perils. When building, remember to weigh innovation with risk. If you do, you can create houses that not only help the environment but also benefit the people who inhabit them.

Want more green roof information? Visit the Green Builder magazine Roofing Section

Carrie Van Brunt-Wiley is originally from New York and has a background in journalism. She has been the community manager of the HomeownersInsurance.com family of sites since 2007.

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