White roofs, roads may equate to green

A recent pronouncement by the U.S. Department of Energy secretary that white rooftops and roads could diminish global warming has some locals reacting with disdain, while others say lighter colors to keep temperatures down make a whole lot of sense.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, said light colors for roofs and concrete-colored materials on roads, as opposed to blacktop, would be equivalent to “reducing the carbon emissions due to all the cars on the road for 11 years.”

The idea of going green by using white makes sense to some. For others it causes a special kind of internal warming.

“I’d buy into it if I had some scientific proof, but I am not going to listen to some dumb politician. I am an engineer; I need proof,” said Rob Griffin, president of the Home Builders Association of Northwestern Colorado. “I just don’t know the correlation between that (white roofs and roads) and global warming — even if there is global warming.”
Mesa County Commissioner Craig Meis called the global-warming mention “a great scare tactic.”

“They can have their opinion about white rooftops and white roads. I can have my opinion that they are smoking something,” he said.

Jen Stutsman, a spokeswoman for the Department of Energy, said the secretary was merely trying to start the conversation on global warming and get average Americans thinking about how they might help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“He was really laying out this notion of painting roofs white as one step locals can take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

Painting rooftops white is something the average Joe can accomplish on his own, and it definitely would make a difference, said painting expert Dan Schmunk.

“It keeps your house cooler in the summer,” said Schmunk, store manager at Sherwin Williams, 845 North Ave. “(Lighter colors) do reflect the UV sunlight back off. I don’t think of it as decreasing global warming; it is energy efficiency.”

He added there are products homeowners can brush on in their attics or on their ceilings to reflect heat back down into the living areas of homes for winter months.

Mesa County Road and Bridge Director Eric Bruton is of the mind that proper asphalt has just one color, black, for good reasons. Lane stripes, reflectors and the road itself can be seen much better if the road is black, he said.

But county road crews are trimming their environmental footprint.

For the first time, United Companies of Mesa County, 2273 River Road, is supplying the county with a warm-mix asphalt, as opposed to a hot mix, for paving.

The mix is about 120 degrees cooler than the hot mix and is easier to work with. Less fuel to heat the mix and less fuel needed to spread it means fewer emissions escaping into the atmosphere.

“The result of that is a fuel savings of 30 to 40 percent and less emissions of carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide,” said Kyle Altha, general manager of United Companies.

The city of Grand Junction recently rebuilt Colorado Avenue and Seventh Street with concrete. It plans to rebuild Main Street with concrete as well. The choice was borne out of economics, not the environment.

The cost of asphalt was escalating last year when the decision to go with the more affordable concrete was made. It has since proven to be the coolest choice the city could have made, said Kristin Winn, spokeswoman for the city’s public works department.

“One of the advantages is that concrete is cooler, so that was another selling point for downtown,” she said. “When you are trying to create a pedestrian area, it works well” as opposed to blacktop.

Even the Colorado Department of Transportation is getting into a more environmentally friendly mix.

“Actually, we are doing quite a bit of environmental mitigation efforts on asphalt and cement,” said Nancy Shanks, CDOT spokeswoman.

Working with the Colorado Asphalt Association, the state is adjusting the mix of asphalt so it needs less water and less heat, thereby reducing emissions and resulting in a 5 percent to 10 percent energy reduction.

CDOT is working to include recycled materials in its asphalt, too.

Recycled concrete and fly ash, a byproduct of coal burning, are being added to asphalt, and CDOT is researching the use of rubberized binders, Shanks said.


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