Jeff Steuben, executive director of the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC), recently joined the CoatingsPro Interview Series to share with us what cool roofs are, how these technologies may be effective, and new developments at CRRC and beyond. Other topics include the organization's roofing resources and virtual offerings. See below for a complete transcript.
For more information, contact: CRRC, (866) 465-2523, www.coolroofs.org
[This podcast was recorded in October 2020.]
Stephanie Chizik: Thanks so much for joining us today, Jeff.
Jeff Steuben: Thank you, Stephanie. Glad to be here.
SC: Why don’t you start by giving our listeners a brief introduction to yourself as well as to the council?
JS: Absolutely. Thanks for the introduction. My name is Jeff Steuben, and I am the executive director of the Cool Roof Rating Council. I actually joined the organization back in 2011. I actually started in a more technical role at that time, and then I took over as executive director in 2013. The CRRC — you read off our description on our website, and it can be a bit of a mouthful, so I like to boil it down to ratings, research, and education. Those are our three pillars, and we’re really interested in roofing. And more recently, which we’ll get into in this interview, we’re starting to look into walls as well. So we’re really looking at the whole building envelope.
SC: Which makes sense to me because there’s obviously a huge connection between the two of them when it comes to waterproofing, in particular. So the connection between the wall and the roof is probably a very touchy part of the building, so to speak.
JS: Yes. Another thing that’s similar in terms of roofs and walls that really stood out to me, when we think about residential homes, at least, is that a lot of the insulation is in the attic. So we’re looking at how much heat is coming in through the roof. But your walls, you don’t get quite as much of that solar energy hitting, but also you don’t have the same amount of insulation. You can actually have a fairly similar impact on the building, on the heat coming through the walls, as you do through the roofs. That said, obviously every building is different and climates are different, so there are a lot of caveats to that. But I always found that to be a very interesting thought experiment about how we think about roofs and walls.
SC: Yes, that is interesting. For people who aren’t so familiar with the term “cool roof,” could you give a brief explanation of what that looks like, what that means?
JS: Simply put, a cool roof is one that strongly reflects sunlight. The roof literally stays cooler and reduces the amount of heat that’s getting transmitted into the building. So if you imagine you’re wearing a white tee shirt or you’re wearing a black tee shirt on a hot, sunny day, if you’re wearing a white tee shirt you’re going to stay cooler because the black tee shirt is going to absorb all that energy and really get hot. A cool roof is like wearing a white tee shirt that helps keep the temperature down. That said, it’s very important to note that it’s not limited to white surfaces. That the easiest depiction that you can think of, but there’s a lot of different cool products that reflect infrared light — infrared heat, the part of the solar spectrum that we can’t see — but remaining the same in the physical light spectrum. So you might have standard red and a cool red, and they look the same, but the cool red is actually reflecting a lot more of the sun’s energy.
SC: Right. I’m glad you made that distinction because I think there have been a lot of recent updates to the technologies. It doesn’t have to be a white roof anymore. I’m sure that’s where it started. A lot of people use the example of all of the roofs in the Greek islands, for example. People use white for a reason. But we’ve had a lot of developments recently.
JS: Absolutely. You see pictures of Santorini in Greece, and that’s really evocative. That’s why I’m always coming right out and saying it’s not limited to white, because people think of that and they say, “I don’t want to put that on my building” or “I don’t want to put that on my house.” I have to be very clear that there’s a lot of other options. It gets into the science of the pigments that are being used and the chemicals, the composition of these different products and how they work at a chemical level.
SC: And the reflectance and what you were touching on before, those kinds of things. Especially with roof coatings. You could put all kinds of things within the coating itself that could help it to be reflective, I would think.
JS. Yes. You mentioned reflectance, so I wanted to mention that the way that the CRRC thinks about cool roofs is that we have two properties that we measure on our products. We have solar reflectance, which again is somewhat more self-explanatory. It’s how much of the energy is being reflected back off. But then we also have thermal emittance. Some amount of the sun’s energy is going to get absorbed into the roofing material. So how well that material re-emits that energy back into the environment is also important. What isn’t reflected and what isn’t emitted can turn into what is transmitted into the building below.
SC: Interesting. Which probably really matters when you’re talking about people inside, for example, or a manufacturing facility where the temperature really does matter on the inside of the building. I’m sure all that comes into play when you're doing the equations.
SC: I think that’s a good segue to the next topic, the urban heat island effect. I feel like what we were just talking about with the reflectance, that probably has a lot to do with that as well. Can you give a brief overview of what that means and how that works?
JS: Yes. Like you mentioned, that CRRC was founded in 1998. I think it’s interesting to see how even just the CRRC has been talking about the idea of cool roofs over the past 20 years has really evolved. Originally, there was this conversation of “this is something that you as a building owner can do to save energy, to reduce your energy bills.” That was the main argument that we were making.
But now, the idea of urban heat island is a much more prominent issue that people are trying to deal with. The urban heat island effect is a phenomenon where urban environments end up getting hotter than the surrounding environments — suburbs or rural areas — basically because of that concentration of buildings and roofs. So you’ve got dark pavements, you’ve got concrete buildings. Those absorb heat during the day, and then because of all that absorbed heat, the environment can’t cool down back to a baseline temperature overnight. It ends up being a couple of degrees, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but you have this cumulative effect of additional heat.
And there’s a lot of implications from that. We talked about energy use. If it’s hotter, your air-conditioner’s going to run more, so there’s more energy use. There’s more costs associated with that. But also you have air quality issues. Higher temperatures means that there’s faster reactions for smog formation. You have greater concerns around heat-related illness, people even dying from heat waves. There’s a lot of issues that come together around the urban heat island effect.
SC: It sounds like, from your standpoint, something that can help to mitigate that — I’m sure lots of things are needed to have a well-rounded solution — but one of those things could be the use of cool roofs in the urban environments. Is that correct.
JS: Yes, absolutely. Like you said, there’s a lot of strategies that go into this, a lot of mitigation. I will let somebody else talk about things like planting trees. That’s part of the solution, but our focus is on roofs and cool roofing. I think there’s a huge opportunity in urban environments to help mitigate that urban heat island effect from using cool roofing products. You have a lot of low-slope buildings. It’s a great place to put in a highly reflective roof product, whether that’s a coating or something else, to help raise the overall reflectance, the overall albedo of the urban environment. So the more of those buildings you can coat with a reflective surface, the more you're going to help combat the urban heat island effect.
SC: You just touched on this, and I won’t make you talk to it specifically, but I would also imagine part of the discussion would also be about green roofs, meaning vegetative roofs, as a part of the solution as well.
JS: Yes, absolutely. I like vegetative roofs. From our perspective, they definitely have a role — there’s a lot of benefits from green roofs. You have water quality and being able to filter some of those pollutants. The CRRC has focused on conventional roofing products and saying, “This is something that most people are going to choose a roofing product.” The decision to install a vegetative roof is much more involved. You have to think about the load bearing, the weight of your building and all these other things. I certainly think that there are a time and a place for vegetative roofs, and we just said we’re going to let somebody else deal with those and we’re going to focus on cool roofs, focus on the standard process of installing a roof.
SC: That makes sense. Have you noticed any changes in the industry as far as — you mentioned changes within CRRC — since your time being there or before about how the industry’s been evolving? From my point of view, over the years I’ve seen a lot of the large coating manufacturers, for example, are buying up the smaller roof coating manufacturers. Any new technologies or trends that you're seeing happening over the course of your tenure there?
JS: Yes. You mentioned the mergers and acquisitions. That’s definitely an ongoing factor. I think the biggest change that I’ve seen, and more external to that, is just more regulation, more stringent building codes. Basically, more and more cities and other jurisdictions are looking for ways to reduce energy consumption, combat urban heat. So they are adopting new building codes that are setting requirements for roofing products. Unless global warming goes away, which seems unlikely at this point, I don’t see this trend reversing. We’re going to see more and more of these entities adopting building codes saying, “This is a way that we can help our community. This is a way we can effect change by a small decision to add in requirements for roofing products.”
SC: I would even say for people who are more hesitant to let the climate changes lead decisions, to your point earlier, these changes can also have great financial implications and health implications. They have huge impacts. It’s not just one note. There’s lots of different areas that can be impacted as well by these types of changes.
JS: Yes, that’s very true. I always talk about a sort of hierarchy of impact. You can take it from global warming, this huge scale. But then you can zoom in and say, “This has an effect on our city, from the urban heat island effect.” Then you can zoom in even more and say, “This has an effect on our specific building.” You have the air-conditioning, you have these other factors. Then you can zoom in even more and say, “This has an effect on a personal level, so that if people are getting sick or dying even from heat, this one solution can really span all of these different impacts, from the personal all the way to the global.”
SC: That’s a good way of putting it. Almost like one of those scenes from a movie, where they do the big zoom out or the zoom in. It’s the same idea, that you can keep affecting different levels of people. Is there anything that you’re seeing — you mentioned that codes may be coming out. I always think initially of California. You guys are on the West Coast, so that probably affects you quicker than it might affect some of us farther away. Any other changes that you're seeing coming down the pike as far as where the roofing industry might be going or the cool roofing industry in particular?
JS: We’re located in Oregon, and we definitely keep a close eye on what’s going on in California. That actually speaks to something that’s important to roofing contractors, which is it’s different to keep up with what are these changes to building codes. Understanding which products are compliant and which ones aren’t. Because there’s not really a standardized process. There’s not a national building code. A particular city or a particular state might adopt a new policy, so there ends up being this patchwork of different requirements.
A contractor should always check with their local building department to understand what the requirements are and how to meet that. But that comes back to the CRRC, which is we don’t publish a list of compliant or non-compliant products. We rate all roofing products, and we publish those values on our directory, so that anyone, a contractor or even a building inspector can go to our website and look up a product. They can say, “I’m looking for this particular need,” whether it’s for Georgia or Texas or California or anywhere else, you can say, “In this environment, this is the standard that I’m trying to meet” and be able to find those products. So it’s not limited to just the products that are following California’s building code. It’s really all the products that we have, and then you can make that decision of what’s right for you.
SC: That’s a great idea. From the contractors that we talk to in CoatingsPro, a lot of them are not just based in one state, for example. They’re in a tri-state area, and I would imagine, as you cross those state lines — or even in California, as you cross the county lines — all of those could change. It’s more a matter of you’re giving them the information and the tools, and then they can use it how they need to.
JS: Yes. That’s been our goal over the last 20 years, is to be a nonbiased information source. We provide education, we provide these ratings, but we stay away from lobbying and advocacy. We are saying we are the neutral party here that’s publishing data to help inform decisions by everybody else.
SC: You mentioned education. I’m assuming you have, like the rest of us, pivoted a bit for 2020 and at least started moving some of those things online. Do you want to give us an overview of what virtual resources you guys have in addition to that directory?
JS: Yes. Our website really is our main resource: www.coolroofs.org. We’ve got a lot of different information on there, a lot of good resources. It spans from information for a homeowner who might not have thought about their roof until all of a sudden they needed to replace it, all the way up to roofing professionals, contractors, manufacturer, people who are very steeped in the roofing world. So we have a lot of resources for a lot of different audiences. I mentioned the directory. That’s really the highlight for me. If you go to our website, we have right now about 3100 different roofing products on it. You can go, you can sort by company, manufacturer. You can sort by properties that you’re looking for. You can look at just the shingles or just coatings, just single-ply membranes. So you can take all this information and look at any subset that you’re looking for. I think our website is the main location for a lot of this information.
SC: Great. You also mentioned at the beginning the new updates with the wall — I don't know if it was a standard. Can you touch base on that too?
JS: Yes. This is really the biggest thing that we’re working on right now, is the development of a rating program for exterior wall products. Based on research from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, shows that these solar reflective walls can be an effective strategy at reducing building energy use. We’re taking that idea and saying, “We’re going to replicate what we’ve done with this roof product rating program to develop something similar for walls.” This time, we have the benefit of the past 20 years of experience running our program to kick-start this one.
We are anticipating that we will launch that in early 2022. This was something that was approved pretty recently, just in September of 2020, by our board of directors. We are putting together a committee. We have resources, we have drafts. There’s a lot of work that goes into forming the actual program. But we’re hoping to work on that over the next year or so and be able to launch in early 2022.
SC: How does the wall reflectivity work, then? I’m thinking about it from a — I live in a condo building in a city. I’m thinking if my neighbor’s building has a reflective material on it, is that going to be affecting my building? How does that all work? Do you know about the science of that at all?
JS: That’s a good question. The short answer is there’s a lot of questions like that, sort of understanding the impacts around reflective walls and understand how this all works. There are interactions between buildings. Our goal is to have that energy reflected off the wall and bounce back into space, back into the environment and not just reflected into your window, thereby heating up your apartment. I think there’s definitely some education that needs to go into explaining these concepts, and that’s something that we’re going to be working on. We actually have an education committee that is formed to work on developing educational material to help communicate these points.
SC: I can see it being really helpful and kind of to your earlier point of how a cool roof is one solution, which is great. So is a vegetative roof. Nothing can ever be a one size fits all, so having all of the background, I think that will be great to have information to share with people on your website. It sounds like your doing a lot of work over there for resources for people. Is there anything else at CRRC that’s going on new that you want to share with our listeners? That’s a big one.
JS: Yes, we have a big project that we’re working on over the next year with this development of the wall program. More immediately, we actually are working on doing some revamps to our existing website. Our current website is coming up on a decade old now, so we have some ideas of ways to make it easier to find information, easier to navigate.
In particular, the thing that I’m really excited about is rebuilding our online directory to make it easy to use from a mobile platform. So if you're on a jobsite, you're on your cell phone, you can go to our directory, you can check a product to see if it’s compliant. You can compare a couple products. In a couple seconds, you can be able to do that on your phone. So that’s something that I’m really excited about, making this a tool for people out in the field and not just people sitting at their desk.
SC: That makes total sense, especially for the contractors who are listening. I’m sure they appreciate that since they’re very rarely behind a desk. It’s probably very useful to be able to see it on the go.
SC: Anything else that you can think of that you want to share in general about the industry, where it’s headed, where it’s coming [from] — to those contractor listeners about industry changes, what have you? We’ve covered a lot already.
JS: Just to build off of what we were just saying about making this resource for contractors to check on products when they’re out in the field, just a pitch to your listeners that contractors can become members of the CRRC. We are always looking to have more folks from the contracting community to join and help us understand what their needs are, help us tailor our resources. If you want to go to www.coolroofs.org, you can look at what it takes to become a member, and we’d be really excited to get some more contractors involved in our organization.
SC: Well, I think that’s probably a great place for us to stop.