What About Red Roof Inns?

Lots of blogospheric commentary about Energy Secretary Steven Chu telling his Nobel Prize-winning buddies in London that America’s roofs should be painted white to counter global warming. White roofs absorb less heat than dark roofs, just as concrete roads won’t be as hot as asphalt. As The Independent reports, Chu explained:

If that building is air-conditioned, it’s going to be a lot cooler, it can use 10 or 15 per cent less electricity. You also do something in that you change the albedo of the Earth – you make it more reflective. So the sunlight comes down and it actually goes back up – there is no greenhouse effect.

Makes intuitive sense. One of the reasons temperatures appear to have risen is urban areas, where measuring devices are placed, have become heat sinks because of pavement and buildings. It’s always five degrees warmer in D.C. than it is in Herndon.

And how do we get to this better, whiter future?  From the U.K. Times Online:

“I think with flat-type roofs you can’t even see, yes, I think you should regulate,” Professor Chu said.

Great, the federal government operating as a national condo association.

Do agents of the government never think about the real-world consequences of their good ideas? We like the prospect of paint manufacturers doing more business, but regulations equal dictates equal, “Oh, good afternoon. We’re from the Federal Office of Paint, Coating and Surface Monitoring.” We have to give those million of new government “volunteers” something to do.

James Lileks wrote about the dystopian potential at his blog today:

These things invariably lead to excitable public servants coming back – via jet, of course – from a really exciting convention where there was just a lot of positive energy about change, and then the officials commission a White Roof Study, which leads to someone commissioning a White Roof Commission, which leads to outreach, consciousness raising,  and a total of 145 white roofs in town –  and this leads to a newspaper story about the Growing Trend towards white roofs. A few city buildings are painted; the mayor is on hand for each. They look filthy after six months. One day in July passersby are treated to the site of city workers hosing down the roof in the middle of a drought.

The greatest danger we see? Ten, 20, 30 years down the road, some ambitious attorney general from a state like, oh, Rhode Island, will find a way to sue all the manufacturers who made the paint. Just because they had to have done something wrong.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Dave Bradley says:

    So, then in the winter we should repaint the roofs black. That way our heating bills will be a lot lower, because the black roofs will absorb the sun’s rays.

    Actually, I think painting roofs white will make matters worse, because we use more heat during the winter than A/C during the summer.

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