Create and Conserve: Smartly Designed Structures Will Always Do Both
Green building started to become the hottest topic in construction 10 to 15 years ago, and builders and architects in both the residential and commercial sectors began to focus their design and build strategies toward sustainability. Roofing contractors also felt this shift as their customers increasingly sought green solutions for this key part of the structure.
Sustainable building practices are much more commonplace nowadays, albeit to varying degrees, as building product advances have undoubtedly made them easier. But the sustainability conversation has become much more focused toward energy solutions recently. Part of the reason are building codes, which have become increasingly stringent in this arena. Adoption of cool roofs, photovoltaics systems, reflective roof coatings and other energy focused solutions have proliferated.
However, even as the industry and consumers have begun to integrate energy solutions in homes and commercial structures, technologies responsible for energy generation have seemingly been prioritized while energy-conservation solutions have often taken a secondary role. For example, the value of renewable energy-generating technology, such as solar power, is both widely understood and more readily leveraged. The installation of the technology on both new and existing buildings empowers and benefits both owners and tenants, powering structures and unlocking long-term energy savings. The Earth benefits are also obvious as renewable energy reduces demand for fossil fuel use for electricity, as well as the harmful disease-causing and climate warming pollution that results from it.
However, other technologies that harness energy in structures remain less understood, most particularly among consumers, and, in many cases, underutilized or not requested of contractors by customers as much. The hard truth, however, is that no matter how far we come in clean energy generation, it won’t mean much for owners and the planet in the long run without the capture of that energy. It cannot be over-emphasized that the creation and saving of energy must go hand-in-hand to really make a noteworthy difference. This all starts with the structures we build or retrofit now for the future.
Battery technology is one key way to save rooftop generated solar energy for use later on—such as in the case of a power outage—and this technology has seen some significant recent improvements. But we need to focus on the building enclosure and the base roof system. This is where we can leverage high-performance insulation materials to effectively seal the structure, preventing the loss of conditioned air and conserving the energy we utilize in our home and facilities.
It has been said that the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt hour is the kilowatt hour saved. In fact, the return on investment associated with energy conservation to the homeowner and commercial end-user is monumental, with up to 40% in energy reduction now achievable over the life of a properly sealed building. The financial benefits of energy conservation clearly line up with the environmental benefits and make a significant cost savings case for it.
Roofing contractors and stewards of our industry must better educate others on the importance of energy conservation in the buildings our generation creates. So many consumers are aware of the value of photovoltaic systems, but do they also understand the equal need for high-performance roofing systems and proper insulation as a means for conserving the energy generated by the solar power system? There is a huge disparity today in the average person’s knowledge and understanding—sometimes even within the industry—of how these two types of technologies synergistically work together to make a positive impact on the Earth and drive long-term energy savings in a structure. Many constituents, including business leaders, corporate real-estate executives, building owners, homeowners and investors, still lack this rounded knowledge about energy solutions in the built environment. The good news is that roofing contractors are in a unique position to help educate.
Policy makers should also be encouraged to focus more on incentives for energy-efficient roofing and buildings. To date, the U.S. has predominantly supported incentives for the generation of solar and other power sources. Again, these are highly important, but they do not provide a complete energy solution without energy-conservation counterpart technologies. Energy conservation should be further incentivized by our government as well.
And finally, no matter what our political climate, we in the roofing and construction industries must continue to push the needle forward in responsible, energy-efficient building practices. We have the power to shape the future of building and the health of our planet. Conservation is a complementary solution to energy generation and one that deserves an equal spotlight, as well as an emphasis in the comprehensive roofing solutions we provide our customers now and in the future.
About the Author
Doug Kramer is President of Icynene-Lapolla, the global manufacturer, supplier and leader in spray polyurethane foam. The company’s products, including the two applied in this restoration project, are recognized for optimizing energy efficiency and performance in the envelope. Doug Kramer may be reached at email@example.com.