Is a Black Roof Better than a White Roof?

  • January 3, 2023
  • Joel
  • Minute Read

    A lot of questions surround the many roofing systems on the market today. For example, which is better, a white roof or a black roof? If you are in the market for a new roof, this information may give you some food for thought.

    As a commercial roofing contractor, specializing in flat roofs, RTN Roofing Systems bids on many new construction projects throughout the year. This provides us with a unique perspective in the types of roofing systems architects are pushing on behalf of building owners.

    It strikes me as odd that in this day and age of so many worried about climate change; i.e., global warming, that green design with roofing seems to be taking a back seat. No matter where you come down on this issue of climate change, the fact remains that more and more people are concerned with "going green."

    It is the same within the roofing industry as within most other industries - going green is the "in" thing. It is my contention, though, that the roofing industry - especially the architects that control much of the types of new construction systems - lags behind in fully understanding what they're encouraging.

    Maybe architects specify only what they know, what they're most comfortable with. But it puzzles me that the vast majority of roofing systems bid in the new construction arena are still black EPDM (rubber) roofs.

    It seems that in such a go-green environment that pushing black roofs instead of white ones would be discouraged. But most schools, retail buildings - many of them large chain stores, warehouses, office facilities, etc., are being specified with a black roofing system.

    Are black roofs really better than white ones? There are a lot of issues that go into deciding what roofing system is the best. That fact is, each has its own benefits and drawbacks. Whether a particular roofing system is right for you depends to a large extent on price points, building use, slope, local environment, and many other issues.

    But in this article, we will tackle this simple point: Is a black roof better than a white roof, espeically in cold-weather climates?

    The simple answer is no. Mic drop! Article over!

    But that might meet with much skepticism to many. After all, doesn't a black roof absorb heat during those cold months of winter? Doesn't a black roof reduce my energy needs during this time? In answering these questions, it is important to recognize that though benefits may exist with one type of roofing system over another, it may not necessarily outweigh the drawbacks. So in this evaluation consider this:

    • During the winter months the sun's rays are not direct.
    • The sun is lower on the horizon and so the energy that reaches a roof is indirect at best.
    • Furthermore, the days are much shorter.

    Of course, if living in a cold-weather climate like Colorado, it's safe to say that for much of the winter, the roof is white anyway because of snowfall. So the energy savings that many people hope to realize by having a black roof in the winter just isn't ever realized.

    Unfortunately, that is only half of the equation. What about a black roofs in the summer months?

    Using the same common sense as the above, we see that in the summer months, the sun's rays are not only much more direct, the days are significantly longer.

    Since a black roof absorbs and retains heat, the summer is the absolute worst time to have a black roof.

    This is one of the reasons why many black roofs are covered with other materials. For example, a black tar roof is often covered with gravel; a black (or gray) modified roof is either painted with a reflective paint or is embedded with tiny white granules.

    If you're going to spend good money on a roof, why choose one that requires additional materials that are necessary to protect it or are used to compensate for its black color? That's like painting a house and then planting excessive vegetation around it in order to prevent the sun from deteriorating the paint?

    Why not just choose a paint that doesn't deteriorate from the effects of the sun in the first place?

    None of this is to say that black roofs are inherently bad. We install them often; they are part of our arsenal of products. But when the option exists to compare black verses white, there are very significant energy cost concerns that should not be ignored.

    I've seen many occurrences where the energy savings of a white roof actually pay for the cost of the new roof by the time the warranty expires. I've never seen that with a black roof. Though local climate dictates much of that, the principle applies in most situations.

    Something else that I've learned over the years is that energy companies charge you in two basic ways.

    First, you are charged on your use. That seems pretty clear and understandable - you use it, you pay for it. The problem is that is not where it stops.

    The second charge is a peak usage charge. You are charged a premium based upon the highest level of energy consumption - on any given day - that you use during the year. That premium is like a surcharge on what the energy company deems 'above and beyond' the normal.

    Well, when do you think that peak usage is experienced? I'll give you a hint: it's not during the winter.

    You pay that premium every month until a new peak usage is reached or until a new billing cycle is reached, whichever comes first.

    Now put all of this together and the following axiom can be made: You save more by reducing your cooling costs in the summer (when the sun's energy is more direct and longer lasting) than by reducing your heating costs in the winter (when the sun's energy is less direct and shorter lasting).

    So, what does that mean? It means that a quality white roof is better for your pocketbook than a quality black roof, especially when you consider when peak usage charges are determined.

    Of course, not all white roofing systems are created equal. In future other articles we discuss the various types of roofs and their pros and cons. But hopefully with this cursory review of some of the basic facts facing a black roof verses a white roof, you now have a little more knowledge by which to make an informed decision.

    With the economy still struggling to find its feet, most people are very well aware of the need to cut costs and reduce expenses. If you're looking to build a new facility or reroof an existing one, you no doubt realize the personal financial struggle that goes into who and what products to use.

    Often, whoever proposes the cheapest product wins. But does that necessarily mean that you win? There is a huge difference between less expensive and cheap.

    Though we can spend a lot of time detailing that statement, the point we now want to entertain is this: Even if you don't go with the "cheapest" product, are you still making the best decision in behalf of your financial investment? After all, roofing systems don't install themselves.

    Therefore, who you choose to install your new roof can be just as important of a decision - if not more so - than the specific product you choose.

    So what should you look for when it comes to choosing a roofing contractor? You may be tempted to choose the "cheapest" or "least expensive" company. On the surface, that seems reasonable. But ask yourself: Why are they cheaper?

    Some 'roofers' work out of the back of their pickups and have inadequate insurance coverage. Some 'roofers' cut costs by not providing the materials they say they will. Some 'roofers' give little attention to quality workmanship and are thus able to provide a roof with less labor costs.

    Of course, no one needs to tell you that an improperly installed roofing system can cost you a whole bunch more in the long run than using the right contractor in the first place.

    No 'roofer' is going to tell you that...

    • They don't have adequate insurance
    • They bait and switch materials to cut costs, or
    • They do not especially excel in the quality department

    So how can you determine whether you're dealing with an honest and quality-oriented roofing contractor? Is there a time when you should pay more to have one contractor do your work as opposed to another, less expensive one?

    The single best way to answer these questions is to actually take the time to meet with the contractor and/or their representatives. If a contractor - including the owner of the company - is willing to use their very valuable time to discuss your roofing needs with you, then you have a good basis to believe that they are truly concerned with providing you quality service. If they don't make time for you before you do business with them, then you have no basis to believe that they will be any different when you've under contract with them. By then it's too late.

    Will they take you to completed projects to show you their workmanship? If not, it makes you wonder what they're hiding. Granted, some building owners will not allow third-parties to go on their roof - usually for liability reasons. But efforts the roofing contractor puts forth to accommodate this request can do a lot in providing you insight into their desire for quality.

    Will they provide references? Not just previous customers - which are often the most important - but what about the manufacturer? Most roofing manufacturers' reputations are on the line when they do business with a particular roofing contractor. If a contractor is not concerned with quality or unable to provide it, that makes the roofing system manufacturer and their product look bad.

    It's true that they may have a policy that they cannot promote one authorized installer over another, but they certainly will not want to tell you to use a roofing contractor that they know installs their product in a less-than-quality way.

    So use this to your advantage. Once you determine a product that you want to use, contact the manufacturer and inquire about the reputation of the roofing contractor.

    They may not be able to tell you everything you want. But you can oftentimes get information that you put together with other pieces to arrive at a good consensus of the quality of that particular contractor.

    When you meet with the contractor, ask them what they think about your contacting the manufacturer. A contractor with a good reputation will encourage you to do that. If they don't, you might wonder what they're hiding.

    Customers, especially homeowners, can be very difficult to please. The fact is that some are impossible to please. But with that being said, you may inquire as to whether or not they are part of the Better Business Bureau (BBB). In fairness, some contractors are not associated with the BBB because of the expense involved to be a member. So just because a contractor is not associated with the BBB doesn't necessarily prove anything one way or another. It's just another piece of the information pie.

    The goal is to determine (1) if there are many complaints about their products or services, and (2) if there is any real evidence that they've done all they can to mitigate those complaints.

    So there are a lot of issues that are involved with choosing a roofing contractor. From the foregoing, it seems obvious that it would be in your best interest to pay a little more for a contractor that will protect your interests and solve your roofing problems than to pay a little less without such assurances.

    Do the legwork, do the research - it's your money. An honest and quality contractor will look at it that way too.

    RTN Roofing Systems prides itself on going the extra mile for our customers. We desire to build professional relationships, not just put on new roofs. We recognize that we may not always be the least expensive - though oftentimes we are. But we will put our customer service up against anyone.

    If you want just any roofing contractor, buyer beware. But if you want RTN Roofing Systems to be your roofing contractor, you can be assured that we will be honest and fair; we will do our best to go above and beyond to provide you with solutions to your roofing needs.

    So who will you choose?

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