Business Articles - Specialty and Trade

Going Green with Wood Shake and Composite Roofing

Roofing ranks near the top of the list when it comes to commonplace home improvements that can benefit big from going green. After all, your roof's exposure to heat, cold, and sunlight make it an excellent focal point for improving your home's overall energy efficiency. And since your roof is also your home's most important line of defense when it comes to protecting you and yours from the elements, it's easy to see why homeowners across the country are drawn to the quality workmanship and high expectations that green remodeling is known for.

Wood Shake, Composite Roofing, and Green Roofing Solutions
If you're thinking of going green, wood shake and composite roofing materials are an excellent place to start. Wood shake can be less than perfect when it comes to greening your project if you don't know where to turn, but there are things you can do to make sure your wood shake roofing installation is an environmentally friendly one. And if you're ready to take an even larger step toward greening your roof installation or replacement, then composite roofing alternatives, such as fiber-cement composite roofing, recycled content plastic and rubber shingles, and even concrete tile roofing (manufactured to mimic wood shake), are even better. Read on to discover what you can do to go green in the roofing department.

Green Roofing with David Johnston
When it comes to making sure your roof is as green as they come, there's no better place to turn to than David Johnston, founder of the green consulting firm What's Working, Inc., author of the Nautilus Award winning book Green Remodeling: Changing the World One Room at a Time, and HomeAdvisor's most trusted adviser on all things green. Here is some of Johnston's tested advice on what you can do to green a wood shake or composite material roof.

Following the Green: Increased Energy Savings
Choosing a greener roof almost always translates into cheaper energy bills down the road. Here are a few things you can do to the get the most out of your new wood shake or composite shingle roof in the energy savings department.

  • Install Light Colored Roofing—Light colored roofing reflects, rather than absorbs, heat from the sun. The result is a cooler home and reduced cooling bills (especially if you have air conditioning ductwork in the attic). It also makes for a longer lasting roof, thanks to the fact that a lighter roof will experience less contraction and expansion over its lifetime than a dark one.
  • Install Radiant Heat Barriers—Radiant heat barriers are a thin layer of metal insulation (usually tin foil with a paper backing or a metalized mylar sheeting), which can reduce radiant heat transfer into your attic by as much as 95 percent when installed to the underside of your roof.
  • Install Rainwater Catch Systems—You can reduce your water bills by installing cisterns or drums to catch valuable roof runoff for landscaping use. Only use this watering for non-edible plants outside unless you are set up for catching potable (drinkable) water.

Health Considerations and Wood Shake and Composite Roofing
Johnston is quick to point out that green remodeling isn't all about improving energy efficiency. It's just as much about creating more comfortable, safer, and healthier homes, as well. Here are a few simple steps you can take to ensure that health and quality are priorities during and after the time that your new roof is installed.

  • Avoid Roofing Adhesives—Most roofing adhesives contain high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that can off-gas into the air and make their way into your home, eventually compromising indoor air quality. To avoid the potential negative health consequences (such as kidney and liver problems, and issues with the respiratory and nervous systems), stick to mechanical fasteners like nails, nuts, bolts, and screws. If you absolutely have to use a roofing adhesive, use a water-based adhesive rather than a solvent based one.
  • Hire a Quality Contractor—A poorly installed roof can leak moisture into your attic, facilitating growth of one of the most unhealthy and tough to remedy by-products in the roofing industry: toxic mold. Hiring an experienced roofer in the first place is your best defense against this worst-case scenario.
  • Build a Steep Sloped Roof—A roof with a steep pitch discourages standing water, leakage, and other water damage. That means less chance of moisture penetration, and a reduced risk of water damage and mold growth.
  • Provide Adequate Attic Ventilation—Proper attic ventilation is vital to a healthy, green roof. Ridge vents, soffit vents, and gable vents all help to keep air circulating, resulting in a cooler attic (and home) in the summer, and reducing condensation build-up in the winter, which can result in water damage, rot, and mold growth.
  • Use Low- or No-VOC Sealers—If you are installing wood shake roofing, ask that your contractor use a low- or no-VOC wood treatment to protect your new roofing from the elements. In general, avoid solvent based treatments if you can, as they can off-gas harmful VOCs for months after being applied— though keep in mind that even low-VOC and water-based wood finishes are still likely to contain solvents, biocides, and other harmful chemicals.

Green Roofing from an Environmental Perspective
At the heart of any green roofing project is environmental stewardship. Whether you're installing a wood shake roof, or opting for even greener pastures with a composite roofing material, here are some things that you and your contractor can do to make sure that your new roof is as green as they come.

  • Install Only Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certified Roofing—If you're installing wood shake, be sure to purchase FSC-certified shake shingles so you know that the wood you're using has been harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.
  • Install Fiber-cement Composite Roofing or Concrete Roofing Tiles—Fiber-cement roofing is made of a mix of cement, sand, clay, and wood fibers. It's durable, virtually fireproof and insect proof, usually comes with a 50-year warranty on materials, and can be made to mimic wood shake roofing to a "T". Ditto on all that for concrete roofing tiles, though concrete is more susceptible to damage from impacts, like hail, than fiber-cement. Check the UL rating for your climate.
  • Install Recycled-content Plastic or Rubber Shingles—Industrial rubber, used tires, and recycled plastic are all being incorporated into new, greener lines of plastic and rubber roofing shingles. While untested in the long term, most of these products have a 50-year warranty and come with the added benefit of being nearly indestructible and sound-absorbant once installed. Like fiber-cement, many of these shingles are made to resemble wood shake shingles, as well.
  • Minimize Waste and Recycle Materials—Measure your roof and order roofing materials carefully to minimize waste. Also, remember that 85 to 90 percent of construction waste is recyclable, either by reusing it or disposing of it at facilities that will recycle the materials.

Calculating the True Value of Going Green with Your Roof
What's it going to cost you if you go green with your wood shake or composite shingle roofing? Probably not a lot more than if you don't, to be honest. Wood shake roofing is not known as a cheap alternative, so it will be hard to drive the price up much by installing a radiant heat barrier, or choosing a low-VOC wood treatment. Be sure the wood shakes have a fire resistant treatment. And if you opt for fiber-cement roofing or recycled content plastic or rubber shingles, any higher initial costs will be offset by those 50-year warranties, saving you money in the long run over replacing your roofing every 15 to 20 years. That said, lend an ear to Johnston when he warns against getting caught up in "the payback trap" of green remodeling. The truth is that going green is worth a lot more than you can measure in dollars and cents. Green roofs are healthier, longer lasting, lower maintenance roofing solutions. And when you figure in that adopting a green roofing philosophy means you're doing everything you can to pass a better, more environmentally responsible world onto your children and grandchildren, it's easy to see what Johnston means when he says that the true value of going green cannot be found on a price tag.

If you think green is the right choice for you, be sure to talk to your contractor about adopting a green building philosophy, find a contractor who specializes in green building and remodeling, or seek out the services of a green consulting firm to help you plan and design the best, and greenest, roof you possibly can.

David Johnston
We are proud to partner with David Johnston, internationally recognized green building expert, to provide our homeowners and service professionals with the information necessary to "green" their projects.
• To learn more about David Johnston, click here.
• To learn more about Green Certification training, click here.

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