About Ellen Thorp

As associate executive director of the Bethesda, Md.-based EPDM Roofing Association, Ellen Thorp does advocacy work for ERA related to codes, standards and state regulations.

USGBC and other Code-, Regulation- and Guideline-setting Bodies Are Increasingly Working with Industry

Earlier this year, the USGBC announced a 16-month extension to register products under LEED 2009, prior to the implementation of LEED v4 on Oct. 31, 2016. The action set off speculation, both off and online, about what caused USGBC to act with some calling for a more in-depth explanation for the delay. But the real reason, most likely, was simply stated in USGBC’s own press release: In a survey taken at GreenBuild in late October, 61 percent of respondents—almost two-thirds of those polled—said they are “not ready” or “unsure” if they were ready to pursue LEED v4 and required additional time to prepare. USGBC said it was also getting the same message from the international community.

The response to the USGBC action tended to fall into two camps: those who said the council was caving to the pressure of industry and those who said USGBC was taking a reasonable action after having put forward a complicated, unworkable and unneeded ratings system. Based on my extensive work with code-setting and regulatory bodies, I see a third option emerging, one that bodes well for the environment and the building sector.

During the past year, as part of my job as associate executive director of the EPDM Roofing Association (ERA), I have attended and testified at more than 20 hearings held by a broad range of groups, including the IGCC, SCAQMD (the South Coast Air Quality Management District, overseeing much of Southern California) and ASHRAE. Frequently, I have been accompanied by representatives of our member companies, Firestone, Carlisle and Johns Manville. And often I have been joined by members of industry groups, such as the American High-Performance Buildings Coalition.

Collectively, we have offered our findings on a range of issues that are critical to our industry, such as the importance of climate in the choice of roofing color and the need to preserve the builder’s choice when deciding on reflectivity options and the unique qualities of ballasted roofing that should be considered in any code-setting activities. Our testimony is based on meticulous research, as well as on empirical evidence and firsthand knowledge gained from years of experience in the building industry. Increasingly, we find that we are listened to and that our interaction with code-setting and regulatory bodies is a mutually beneficial exchange of ideas, rather than an adversarial give-and-take.

For instance, we worked closely with the Ozone Transport Commission in its efforts to achieve federally mandated clean air standards in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. Initially, we pointed out that their proposed regulations would have mandated the use of low-VOC products that were in development but not yet available in the marketplace. And we also demonstrated that the roofing industry would need ample time to train roofing contractors in the use of these new products. We worked with regulators, state by state, and developed a mutually agreed upon seasonal approach. While the process is still ongoing, many state regulators expressed their gratitude for the advice we offered and the expertise we brought to the table.

I am certainly not privy to the inner workings of the USGBC. But their extension of the deadline for the implementation of LEED v4 seems to be part of a trend: The groups who are drawing up codes, regulations, and ratings systems are increasingly working with the building industry and the end results are based on good science and good sense.

The Cool-roof Bandwagon: Is It Headed To Your City?

Spring is here, and summer is on the horizon. But for millions of Americans, it will take more than a few days of sunshine to thaw the memories of the winter of 2013-14. The National Weather Service is still compiling the statistics to let us know just how bad the winter really was. In the meantime, most of us have a more immediate way to measure the impact of the polar vortex on our lives: One look at our heating bills and we know that this past winter deserves its reputation as one of the most brutal on record.

On the West Coast, as 2014 dawned, very different climate issues were front and center. The city of Los Angeles was being praised for its mandate requiring all new and renovated domestic housing to install “cool”, or reflective, roofing. The L.A. City Council passed the requirement as one of its last acts of 2013, and the new ordinance became part of California’s Title 24, which already required “cool” roofs in new and remodeled commercial construction.

THE NEWS media hailed Los Angeles as the “first major city to require cool roofs”, implying other urban areas will inevitably follow its lead. However, the winter of 2013-14 did a good job of reminding us that the climatic conditions of Southern California are dramatically different from the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the U.S. This simple fact needs to be underscored as the bandwagon to require cool roofs travels somewhat erratically to major Eastern cities.

Last June, the mayor of Pittsburgh initiated a lukewarm cool roofs program by calling for volunteers to help paint the roofs of 10 city buildings white. Two-thirds of the Pittsburgh effort—$56,000—was funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies, a project of former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The tagline of Bloomberg Philanthropies is “Good Intentions, Great Results.” I applaud the mayor’s good intentions in supporting projects that are designed to save energy. As for achieving “great results” by painting the roofs of 10 Pittsburgh buildings white? Don’t bet your next heating bill on it.

While Bloomberg was mayor of New York, the city launched the “NYC °Cool-Roofs” initiative, encouraging building owners to cool their rooftops by applying a reflective white coating as part of the city’s overall plan to reduce greenhouse- gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.

In Baltimore, the talk about cool roofs was fueled by a report issued last October by the Abell Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to enhancing quality of life in Baltimore and Maryland. The report, which is primarily an overview of previously published research, recommended increased use of cool roofs in Baltimore.

While these cities institute varied programs to support cool roofs, several major facts are ignored:

    ▪▪ Energy costs are closely related to climate. A solution that works in a warm and temperate climate to curb energy costs will not necessarily work in a colder climate.
    ▪▪ It’s vitally important to consider the source of information about cool roofing. Unbiased, up-to-date scientific studies can provide the data you need to make an independent judgment. Likewise, the manufacturers of roofing membranes have a vested interest in ensuring their products are used correctly and have in-depth knowledge of how roofing systems will perform in a wide variety of conditions.
    ▪▪ Choosing and installing a roof that will contain energy costs is a complex business. It requires understanding the interaction between building design, climate, insulation and all the other factors that impact the efficiency of a roofing system. A one-size-fits-all approach will only delay the discovery of workable, cost-effective, energy-efficient solutions.

IN FACT, a study conducted by Arizona State University published this past winter in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences underscores the pitfalls of disregarding climate differences in roofing decisions. “What works over one geographical area may not be optimal for another,” says sustainability scientist Matei Georgescu, who led the research.

Although the headlines are touting Los Angeles’ cool roof requirements, I’d like to see headlines that read, “Energy Savings Achieved by Roofs Designed to meet Midwest and Northeast Climate Challenges”. Before anyone thinks about driving that cool-roofing bandwagon from Los Angeles to New York, you might want to equip it with snow tires.