When to Consider a Mid-Reflectance TPO Color

By Thomas J Taylor PhD 12-26-2019
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Get the Advantages of Welded Seams and Energy Savings, with a Non-White Membrane

Imagine a roof design you are specifying, but the roof is adjacent to a taller building which could be offices or a hotel. You check the orientation and find that the mid-day sun will be reflected off the lower roof you're designing and provide the office or hotel occupants with a bright glare. Maybe you just don't like the aesthetics of having a white lower roof that's part of a larger complex. Do these concerns automatically rule out thermoplastic roof membranes such as TPO or PVC? Fortunately no, there are lower reflectance thermoplastic membranes that will still provide some improvements in energy efficiency versus a dark roof and the security of welded seams.

The following is an analysis of the impact on energy efficiency of selecting a gray or tan TPO membrane versus a dark membrane such as EPDM, and a highly reflective membrane such as white TPO. There can be code requirements that drive reflectivity choices and these are briefly discussed at the end of this blog.

Description of Building – The building used for this study was a single-story big-box type, less than 35 feet in height, with a roof area of 125,000 ft2 in a rectangular configuration of approximately 290 × 431 ft. The roof was assumed to be a new installation, i.e., new construction or a total roof replacement.

Roof Assembly – Three thermoplastic polyolefin membranes, TPO, were evaluated with three-year aged solar reflectance, emissivity, and solar reflectance index values shown below:

Typical three-year solar reflectance, emissivity, and solar reflectance index values for the TPO membranes evaluated.

Color Solar Reflectance Emissivity Solar Reflectance Index Designation
White 0.68 0.83 81 High Reflectance
Tan 0.59 0.84 69 Mid Reflectance
Gray 0.42 0.86 46 Lower Reflectance

These three-year values represent long-term roof performance and data for most membranes can be found in the Cool Roof Rating Council's directory of rated products.

An insulation thermal resistance of R-30 was used because this value is representative for most US locations per the 2015 International Energy Conservation Code. Therefore, the results and conclusions of this study would also be applicable to new construction and re-roofing of existing buildings.

Building Locations and Energy Costs – For this study, thirteen cities were considered and their energy costs are shown below. The gas and electric costs for commercial customers were obtained from the US Energy Information Administration and averaged over 2017:

City, State Electric Cost Gas Cost
$/kWh $/1,000 cu.ft. $/Therm
Miami, FL 0.1202 10.97 1.097
Jacksonville, FL 0.1202 10.97 1.097
Charlotte, NC 0.1107 8.92 0.892
Fort Worth, TX 0.1115 7.71 0.771
Fresno, CA 0.1939 8.76 0.876
Atlanta, GA 0.1253 8.78 0.878
Baltimore, MD 0.1442 10.27 1.027
Nashville, TN 0.1093 8.74 0.874
Newark, NJ 0.1596 9.14 0.914
Albany, NY 0.1876 6.87 0.687
Sacramento, CA 0.1939 8.76 0.876
Portland, OR 0.1097 8.74 0.874
Chicago, IL 0.1295 7.78 0.778

It was assumed that heating was by natural gas and all buildings were air-conditioned.

Electric demand charges were assumed to be $15 / kW, in line with a 2017 National Renewable Energy Labs survey.

Converting from a Dark to a Highly Reflective Roof

Comparing modeled energy costs for a white highly reflective roof membrane, such as GAF EverGuard TPO, versus those for a dark, absorptive membrane such as EPDM, the following annual savings are projected, for the 125,000 sq.ft. building.

Converting from a Dark to a Mid Reflectance Roof (e.g. Tan TPO)

Comparing modeled energy costs for a mid-reflectance roof membrane, such as GAF EverGuard Tan TPO, versus those for a dark membrane such as EPDM, the following savings are projected, for the 125,000 sq.ft. building.

Converting from a Dark to a Low Reflectance Roof (e.g. Gray TPO)

Comparing modeled energy costs for a mid-reflectance roof membrane, such as GAF EverGuard Gray TPO, versus those for a dark membrane such as EPDM, the following savings are projected, for the 125,000 sq.ft. building.

Conclusions

The results clearly show that energy savings are reduced for the lower reflectance membranes such as tan or gray versus white. However, savings are still projected to occur for the non-white (gray and tan) membranes versus an EPDM or similar dark colored roof.

  • While gray or tan TPO membranes don't provide the energy efficiency savings of a white highly reflective membrane, they are projected to be better than EPDM.
  • Choosing gray or tan TPO can provide a good aesthetic choice while also enabling a monolithic roof membrane as a result of the welded seams.

This means that for those who want the advantages of welded seams, but want reduced reflectivity, then membranes such as tan or gray can be used while still giving some improvement in energy efficiency.

Colored TPO and Energy Codes

There are national and local programs or policies related to cool roofing, each with their own unique criteria and definitions of cool roofing.

    • The Energy Star Roof Products Program was introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1999. It jump started the move towards more reflective roofs but has gradually been superseded by other initiatives. Existing certifications of ENERGY STAR roof products will remain valid until June 1, 2021. Certification Bodies will stop certifying new product submittals as of June 1, 2020,
    • Established in 1998 as a non-profit organization, the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC) is recognized by the California Energy Commission (CEC) as the sole entity responsible for labeling roofing products which are allowed in the California Energy Code Title 24. To be Title 24 compliance, the roofing material has to meet prescriptive requirements of 0.70 solar reflectance (SR), 0.75 emissivity, and be a CRRC-listed product.
  • Started in 2000, the US Green Building Council's Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) program is a whole-building design program which encourages an integrated design and construction process whereby points are awarded for the use of sustainable products or building practices. LEED has become the international standard for the design, construction and operation of high-performance structures. LEED version 4 is flexible in terms of being able to choose different strategies to achieve energy savings over the life of a building. Using roofing materials that have a 3-year aged SRI of 64, or if that data is not available, then an initial SRI of 82 for a minimum of 75% of the roof area of all new buildings within the project, or installation of a vegetated ("green") roof for at least 75% of the roof area of all new buildings within the project gains one point within LEED.

What to do if you don't want white, but you still want to be LEED compliant?

It could be that for aesthetic reasons you don't want to use a bright white membrane, but you want to meet the LEED standard for the roof. There are two GAF membranes that you could consider for such an application; GAF EverGuard EnergyTan™ and EnergyGray™. The 3 year CRRC data for these are shown below.

Membrane Solar Reflectance Emittance Solar Reflectance Index
GAF EverGuard EnergyGray™ TPO 0.66 0.89 80
GAF EverGuard EnergyTan™ TPO 0.67 0.90 82

These two membranes meet the requirements for "cool" roofing, but are slightly off-white and could offer aesthetic advantages.

Want to know more? The study shown here is based on a larger article published in Buildings which was peer-reviewed by independent experts.

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