Is Roofing Part of Your Energy Management Strategy? Part 1

With the continuing volatility of oil and gas prices, two things have become increasingly important to the owners and managers of buildings of all shapes, sizes and locations: energy management and cool roofing. And yet, the two are seldom discussed as related issues. If you ask a building owner or manager about their energy management strategies, chances are they’ll mention a variety of “high-tech” solutions for improving building automation, systems interoperability, and the energy efficiency of their lighting, office equipment, security systems, and the biggest electricity consumer of all – air conditioning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that $40 billion is spent annually to air condition commercial buildings, which is one-sixth of all electricity consumed in the United States.

Important as these high-tech solutions are, the enormous energy savings potential from smart “low-tech” roofing decisions are typically regarded as a traditional “building envelope” issue. But smart roofing decisions can reduce annual air conditioning consumption by 10 to 40 percent, depending on location, building design, climate, and other factors. This not only reduces air conditioning loads and utility bills, but can also allow facilities to downsize their air conditioning equipment considerably.

The Cool Roofing Trend

Roofing can contribute to energy efficiency in two ways – proper insulation, and reflective surfaces. Thermal roofing insulation became a major consideration during the oil embargoes of the 1970s. Proper insulation helps keep warm air in during the winter and out during the summer. Insulation needs vary from climate to climate, and most local building codes today mandate minimum roofing R-values – a material’s ability to resist heat flow.

A more recent trend has been the phenomenal growth of “cool roofing” – the use of white or light-colored roof surfaces that reflect solar energy and keep building relatively cooler in summer months. Although the overall market for commercial low-sloped (flat, or nearly flat) roofing has been stagnant in recent years, demand for cool roofing systems has continued to grow strongly. More than just a sensible, long-term, “green” building design solution, cool roofing is considered by many scientists, industry experts, and government officials to be an effective means of addressing critical national energy efficiency and environmental challenges.

In our next installment we will discuss: How Cool Roofing Works.

Positive Responses to Negative Statements About PVC: Part 3

Statement: “The movie Blue Vinyl gives real life examples that prove that PVCs are bad and people have been harmed by working or living around PVC factories.”

The facts: Early versions of the movie highlighted the case of a woman who claimed to have angiosarcoma of the liver (ASL), contracted after working seven days in 1978 in a PVC pipe factory. Her lawsuit, brought in 2000, was dismissed by Delaware Superior Court in 2004 after the court found there to be no basis for the charges. It seems she did not have ASL, but rather a disease that’s only known medical link is to certain birth control pills. The woman has since been edited out of later versions of the movie.

Another misleading episode in the movie concerns a class-action lawsuit brought against Italian vinyl industry officials. The case was thrown out even before the movie aired in 2002, but that fact was buried in a brief statement during the movie’s credits.

The production of the vinyl monomer (VCM) and the PVC products that use it are controlled by strict regulations issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in 1975. In 1977, a study of more than 15,000 workers in vinyl fabrication plants found no evidence of VCM-related effects in that group. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been unable to establish a link between living near a PVC plant and incidence of angiosarcoma. The actual risk to individuals living within five miles of a production facility is calculated at less than 0.1 case of cancer in the next 70 years. The risk of being struck by lightning on a clear day is higher (13.3 occurrences in 70 years).

In our next installment, we’ll look at this statement: “Phthalate plasticizers used to keep PVC membranes flexible are dangerous to human health.”

What Is PVC Anyway?

Unless you’re a scientist, engineer, or deal with a product that is made from PVC, you may have no idea what these initials stand for.

Well…it’s polyvinyl chloride, also known as vinyl. PVC is the most widely used plastic in the world. It can be rigid like pipe and window frames or flexible when used in blood bags, toys, or the Duro-Last membrane.

Vinyl comes primarily from two simple ingredients: fossil fuel and salt. In the United States, the fossil fuel used to produce vinyl is typically natural gas. Natural gas goes through a refining process to make ethylene. Rock salt goes through electrolysis to separate the chlorine element for use. The entire process occurs in a closed-loop system that is tightly controlled and monitored.


Ethylene and chlorine are combined to produce ethylene dichloride which is further processed into a gas called vinyl chloride monomer (VCM). Through polymerization, the VCM molecule forms chains to become a white powder (vinyl resin) which is the basis for compounding with additives such as plasticizers for flexibility, stabilizers for durability, or pigments for color. Chlorine (Number 17 on the Periodic Table of Elements) is one of the most abundant naturally occurring elements on earth. The chlorine component gives vinyl some of its natural fire resistance.

The vinyl film used to make the Duro-Last roofing membrane is laminated to a weft-inserted polyester scrim. The proprietary blend of components in the film combined with the scrim impart the characteristics that make the Duro-Last membrane the “World’s Best Roof”®.

In our next blog posting, we will discuss more of the characteristics of PVC and how it is unfairly labeled “environmentally-harmful” by many environmentalists.

Positive Responses to Negative Statements About PVC: Part 2

Negative Statement: “Chlorine is harmful to humans and should be banned. Therefore, PVC products should be banned since they are made using chlorine.”

The use of chlorine to purify drinking water has done more to improve the health of the human race than any other technological change in history. Seventy-five percent of life-saving medicines are based on chlorine chemistry. Chlorine is one of the components of vinyl that helps make it fire resistant. At number 17 on the Periodic Table of Elements, chlorine is one of the most abundant elements on the planet. It is not possible to eliminate an element such as chlorine that occurs naturally and so abundantly. And why would one want to eliminate something that has done so much to further the human race?

Patrick Moore, a co-founder of Greenpeace, left the organization after 15 years because the environmental movement had abandoned science and logic in favor of emotion and sensationalism. Greenpeace calls vinyl the ‘poison plastic,” but Moore states that because of vinyl’s ease of maintenance and its ability to incorporate anti-microbial properties it is critical in fighting germs in hospitals.

Belief in junk science can lead to unintended consequences. In late 2000, Washington, D.C. switched from disinfecting drinking water with chlorine to disinfecting with chloramines, a combination of chlorine and ammonia. Suddenly, lead levels began to rise. It was determined that the ammonia made the water more corrosive, which increased the amount of lead leaching from the pipes into the water.

Another example of negative consequences caused by junk science: Peru eliminated chlorine from its drinking water in the early 1990’s. An outbreak of cholera (1 million cases resulting in 10,000 deaths) was exacerbated by this move and Peruvian officials have since returned to using chlorine for disinfection.

PVC manufacturing in the United States is tightly controlled and very safe. Once chlorine is processed into vinyl, it is chemically locked into the product more tightly than it is in salt, and no chlorine is emitted from the finished product. This is true for roofing systems and other building components that use PVC.

Next Month’s Negative Statement: “The movie Blue Vinyl gives real life examples that prove that PVCs are bad and people have been harmed by working or living around PVC factories.”

The True Price Of High Performance

Oxymoron, n: a combination of contradictory words (such as sustainability costs more)

Contrary to popular wisdom, when it comes to the building and construction industry, profitability and sustainability go hand-in-hand. In fact, if a new building component doesn’t contribute to business profitability, it is not sustainable.

Sustainability, or high performance design, is often equated with “green design.” However, high performance design is about making financially smart building choices, not just being “green.” Consumers typically will not pay for something that is green unless there’s a financial benefit as well. Sustainability is good business sense first – green comes with it.

High performance building projects address issues related to the design, construction, maintenance, rehabilitation and eventual demolition of a building with an emphasis throughout the building’s lifecycle on using resources efficiently and preserving the global environment.

The profitability of high performance design must be considered for the entire life-cycle of a building, not simply the initial cost of construction. Typically, a roofing system with a low initial cost is a teaser that fails to consider all of the costs associated with the roof over its useful life. A long-lasting, high-performance system delivers a lower cost of ownership spread out over a longer period of time, requiring fewer repeated expenses related to maintenance, repair, and replacement. Plus, benefits such as energy savings can reduce life-cycle costs even further.

Recently, a contractor called to say that he was going to change his approach to selling roofing after a building owner said that the Duro-Last roof was the least expensive roof he had ever bought. It seems that the building owner was a banker who calculated that the Duro-Last roof was costing him 30% less per year in maintenance, repairs and frequent replacements than the modified bitumen roofs that he had always used before.

A smart investment because it costs less over its life span, a high performance roofing system is the ideal choice for sustainable facilities.

What Attributes Of A Duro-Last® Roof Can Help With LEED® Ratings?

The U.S. Green Building Council has developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Rating System to help in the design and construction of buildings that have minimum negative impact on occupants and the environment. LEED provides standards for choosing products based on environmental attributes. LEED does not certify materials or products.

So what are the attributes of a Duro-Last roof that can help with soon-to-be enacted changes to LEED-NC ratings?



ENERGY STAR® labeled product with a Solar Reflectance Index equal to or greater than 78 (Duro-Last is 110) Sustainable Sites Credits 7.2
Exceeds ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007 Energy & Atmosphere Credit 1
Extend the lifecycle of an existing structure, reduce the load on air conditioning units, and reduce a buildings impact on the environment. Materials & Resources Credits 1.1 & 1.2
Custom prefabrication eliminates waste at the jobsite, scrap and trim are 100% recyclable, with four manufacturing facilities requiring less than 500 miles of shipping. Materials & Resources Credits 2.1 – 2.2, 4.1 – 4.2, 5.1 – 5.2
Two-way vent system keeps negative air pressures and condensation in check, high reflectivity keeps building cooler. Indoor Environmental Quality Credits 2 and 7.1

All in all, Duro-Last Cool Zone® can help with obtaining 13 – 31 points toward the minimum LEED certification of 40 – 49 points.

Positive Responses to Negative Statements About PVC: Part 1

Recently there have been renewed criticisms of vinyl building products by some activists who have traditionally taken an anti-PVC stand. In this post and others to follow we’ll address some of these negative statements with facts about the use of vinyl building materials.

Statement: “The USGBC report concluded that PVCs are bad.”

The facts: This statement is a reaction to The US Green Building Council’s Technical and Scientific Advisory Committee‘s (TSAC) February 2007 report: Assessment of the Technical Basis for a PVC-Related Materials Credit for PVC.

In reality, the TSAC PVC Task Group reaffirmed their conclusions from the earlier draft report that PVC should not be considered for a negative credit in the LEED rating system. According to USGBC’s president, “TSAC’s report identified critical gaps in our understanding of how materials impact our health and environment.” TSAC’s conclusions on PVC’s environmental impact state that awarding a LEED credit for avoiding PVC’s would be a “blunt instrument” that could “steer decision makers toward using materials that are worse on most environmental impacts.”

The report was not intended to determine which alternative is “best” in any application, only whether PVC is consistently among the worst alternatives. Only four categories of products were reviewed in the study: siding, pipe, resilient flooring, and window frames. To generalize any findings and apply them to all vinyl products would be a misrepresentation of the information. Human health analysis focused on what may happen if end-of-life PVC burns accidentally in landfills or backyard. But it did not consider the same potential with other materials compared in the analysis. By its own admission, the report states that “Health impacts from exposure to dioxin emissions from accidental landfill fires and barrel burning of PVC and other materials are highly uncertain for a variety of reasons.”

The upshot: When considered over their entire lifespan, products made of PVC are no worse and may be better than alternatives that have not been tested.

In our next installment, we’ll look at this statement: PVC products are made using chlorine and chlorine is bad. Environmentalists are right to want to eliminate chlorine from the face of the earth.

The PVC Advantage

PVC roofing membranes are superior roofing materials for many reasons:

Vinyl is inherently flame resistant

  • Most vinyl membranes will not support a flame when the fire source is removed.
  • High flame resistance can make it easier for PVC roofing systems to attain Class-A fire ratings than for other roofing systems.
  • Combustion, especially incomplete combustion, is a source of many environmental toxins (backyard refuse burning and residential wood burning are two major sources).
  • A roof membrane that doesn’t burn is less likely than a flammable roofing material to emit potentially harmful substances.

PVC membranes are flexible

  • Most PVC membranes are very flexible and can be easily customized to accommodate rooftop variances.
  • Some vinyl roofing systems are custom-made (prefabricated) to fit each building. Customization can reduce the potential for scrap and waste at the job site.

Vinyl membranes are lighter in weight than other roofing systems

  • Vinyl roof membranes typically add very little weight to an existing structure.
  • In a re-roof situation, a PVC roof can often go directly over the existing system. This avoids costly tear-offs, meaning no asphalts, felts or other old roof materials go into landfills.

PVC membranes are heat-weldable

  • PVC membranes can be heat-welded, which produces the strongest and most reliable seams. Reducing the potential for leaks to occur also reduces the possibility for interior dampness and subsequent mold to develop.
  • Some vinyl membranes use two-way venting, which allows the roofing system to “breathe” and can reduce the potential for trapped moisture.

Vinyl roofs can be highly reflective

  • Some vinyl roofs are highly reflective, keeping buildings cooler, reducing energy demand, and helping mitigate urban heat island effects. Cooler cities reduce dependence on limited natural resources.

PVC is highly-resistant to most chemicals

  • Most PVC membranes will provide long-term service in the harsh environments experienced on rooftops.
  • Many vinyl roofs are still functioning after more than 30 years of service. A longer-lasting roof means less frequent roof replacements over the life of a building. A building lasting 100 years may go through 8-10 “Type-X” roofs, but only 3-4 vinyl roofs.

Vinyl is easily recycled

  • During the production of some PVC roofing systems, there is virtually no waste because fabrication scrap is reground and re-used in the roofing system or other building components.
  • Unlike many other roofing materials, vinyl membranes can be recycled at the end of their lives on the rooftop.

When selecting a roofing system, remember that PVC membranes are your best choice.