If you attend the 2010 International Roofing Expo in New Orleans, you certainly will see many companies that promote their products and systems to be “green.” The companies imply, not so subtly, that their “green” products and systems are going to benefit the environment, create jobs and earn rating points for your project. Without a doubt, going green is noble and attainable and I applaud the efforts of manufacturers to support the goals of sustainable design and construction of buildings.
With all the green claims, however, it’s easy to lose sight of why we install roof systems in the first place. Let’s not forget that roof systems are used to protect buildings from the environment. Roof systems are required by building codes to be resistant to fire, wind and impact. They require maintenance and must have slope and positive drainage. Are we installing green products and systems that potentially compromise the code compliance or weatherproofing and water-shedding capabilities of roof systems?
Maintaining a weathertight roof system is crucial for all steep- and low-slope roof systems. If you install a vegetative, photovoltaic or reflective roof system and it leaks or is difficult to maintain, have you installed a successful roof system? Clearly, the answer is no.
Stormwater management via a vegetative roof, energy production through a rooftop PV array and low solar absorption with a highly reflective roof system are secondary objectives of roof systems. Much of the push for environmentally friendly roof systems comes from outside the roofing industry. Unfortunately, mistaken perceptions or a lack of understanding of roof systems can result in inappropriate designs.
Certainly, the roofing industry needs to embrace and support the sustainability movement that currently prevails. However, we also need to constantly remind ourselves, as well as those outside the roofing industry, that a roof system is first and foremost intended to provide a weatherproof or water-shedding covering for a building.
Sustainability comes in many forms. A maintainable, leak-free roof system with a long service life is unquestionably the foundation for any environmentally friendly or sustainable roof system. Because energy usage is a primary component to sustainability, do not forget about insulation. A properly designed and installed insulation layer just may be the most energy-positive element of a roof system.
Weatherproofing and water-shedding capabilities and insulation are the primary functions of roof systems. Let’s not overlook the basics as we move into this exciting new era of sustainable roof system design.
If we assume the weatherproofing and water-shedding capabilities of roof systems will just happen on their own as we design, install and environmentally rate our roof systems, we will get lulled into complacency. This could lead to an increase in roof system failures and the roofing industry, which is something none of us want.