An Inconvenient Color: More Smog, Costing Millions

A simple color choice is costing us millions of dollars a year. It is estimated that over 60 percent of metropolitan areas are covered with heat absorbing black materials, and temperatures in cities average five degrees (Fahrenheit) hotter than in rural areas.

The science behind color reflectivity, or the energy crisis, may not be new, but we are finally fully understanding the impact of a color choice. With black shingles you get an incredible amount of heat absorption (On a 90 degree day a white roof will be 110 degrees and a black roof will be 190 degrees) which transfers to the temperature of the house, making it much more costly to cool.

These color choices could be costing us too much, and along with the list of other factors as to why you are choosing a particular color, energy use should be considered. But if you don’t find having a white roof aesthetically appealing, don’t worry, because researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the Environmental Energy Technologies Division are working on roof shingles that can be made in multiple colors, but still reflect enough light to save on energy costs. Since a lot of the sun’s energy comes in at the “near-infrared” side of the light spectrum, creating the reflective pigments needed won’t effect the color.

These advances have the potential of a “net energy savings in the U.S. of more than $750 million per year” plus a reduction in smog (higher temperatures facilitate the necessary chemical reactions needed for the formation of smog; lower overall temperatures would mean less smog).

Most homeowners don’t want white on their high-slope roofs, which are seen from the street. The market for home roofing materials is dominated by colorful shingles, tiles, metal products, and wood shake.

As a result of a research project funded by the California Energy Commission, homeowners will soon see a variety of new “cool-colored” roofing products.

Asphalt shingles account for half of the residential roofing market in the western states, according to industry sources. “Most commercially available roof shingles are optically dark,” says Akbari. “Their solar reflectances range from five to 25 percent, depending on color. Even the majority of nominally ‘white’ roof shingles are grayish and have a solar reflectance of about 25 percent, which is much lower than the 70 percent solar reflectance of white tiles or white metal panels. Since many homeowners prefer non-white roofs, we are working to develop cool colored roofing products.”
Cool Color Project

Interior Color

The same idea can be applied to the interior colors choices as well. Not only will lighter colors require fewer lights and less energy to achieve the proper lighting, but the color of walls can actually affect the perception of a rooms temperature.

Tests document that people estimate the temperature of a room with cool colors, such as blues and greens, to be 6-10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the actual temperature. Warm colors, such as reds and oranges, will result in a 6-10 degrees Fahrenheit warmer estimate.
Color Matters

Photos From carquestguy, jamesjordan, champagnechic, syncro, and architect_london

Author: evad
David Sommers has been loving color as COLOURlovers' Blog Editor-in-Chief for the past two years. When he's not neck deep in a rainbow he's loving other things with The Post Family (, a Chicago-based art blog, artist collective & gallery.