UCLA Law Report Says Cool Roofing Material Could Reduce Air Pollution, Energy Costs in L.A.

Lauri Gavel
Executive Director of Communications
UCLA School of Law
(310) 206-2611

LOS ANGELES, CA, October 26, 2011 -- Los Angeles's hot summers make the city vulnerable to severe air pollution and the public health consequences that result from it, as well as to energy blackouts, heat waves and other ills. A new report by UCLA School of Law's Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment recommends the widespread use of cool roofing material to reduce air pollution and energy costs in Los Angeles and to combat climate change.

"Bright roofs, big city: Keeping L.A. cool through an aggressive cool-roof program," the Emmett Center's second Anthony Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Brief, makes a case for speeding the adoption of cool roofs in the city and proposes law and policy strategies for achieving this goal.  

Traditional roofing materials are typically dark in color and absorb heat, unnecessarily warming the buildings and neighborhoods they cover. Cool roofs take advantage of roofing surfaces that reflect rather than absorb the sun's energy, which helps keep buildings cooler and saves owners money that otherwise would have been spent on energy to cool the buildings. 

"Los Angeles residents could save up to $30 million a year if the city significantly improved its adoption of cool roofs on new and existing buildings," said the report's author, Cara Horowitz, the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation Executive Director of the Emmett Center. "This estimate is conservative, based on saved energy costs alone. It does not factor in additional sources of savings, such as avoided health care costs from reduced rates of asthma and fewer heat-related injuries and deaths." 

According to "Bright roofs, big city," when aggregated across a city, the benefits of cool roofs are even greater. Cool roofs help to reduce urban temperatures and to improve air quality and public health. Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory recently emphasized that cool roofs are good for the planet too. By acting as mini-reflectors, they help to cool the Earth by reducing the amount of heat in the atmosphere, counteracting the effects of climate change pollution. 

"A switch to cool roofs in Los Angeles would provide a climate change benefit, cooling the atmosphere enough to offset the warming caused by nearly 40 million metric tons of emitted CO2, in some scenarios. This is equivalent to about 80 percent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions in a year, or the amount emitted by about 7 million cars on the road for a year," Horowitz said. "It would be as if Los Angeles got nearly a year's free pass from emitting climate pollution." 

Cool roofs make particular sense in Los Angeles, given the city's mild winters, and would help the city reduce its energy costs, its peak energy demands and its reliance on coal-fired energy sources. The report proposes a set of policy changes to help achieve these goals, from incentive payments from the Department of Water and Power for rooftop conversions to a city ordinance that mandates the use of cool roofing material on new and replacement roof projects.

The Anthony Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Briefs are published by the UCLA School of Law and the Emmett Center on Climate Change and the Environment in conjunction with researchers from a wide range of academic disciplines and the broader environmental law community. They are made possible though a generous donation by Anthony "Tony" Pritzker, managing partner and co-founder of The Pritzker Group. The papers provide expert analysis to further public dialogue on issues impacting the environment.

UCLA School of Law, founded in 1949, is the youngest major law school in the nation and has established a tradition of innovation in its approach to teaching, research and scholarship. With approximately 100 faculty and 1,100 students, the school pioneered clinical teaching, is a leader in interdisciplinary research and training, and is at the forefront of efforts to link research to its effects on society and the legal profession.