Trying to Have an Environmentally Friendly Roof Ain’t Easy – OR Cheap

An Interview with Trish Holder by Trish Holder

Asphalt ShinglesWeird as this may seem, today I’m going to interview myself about my choice of roofing materials for the Greenspiration Home.   Why?  Well, besides the fact that interviews are generally more interesting and fun to read, I don’t think I can do the subject justice unless I speak from two perspectives. You see, I was actually quite conflicted over my decision to use…..gulp….asphalt shingles.  And I guess I still feel a little conflicted, even though I don’t regret my choice.

So, Trish Holder, the journalist (TH-J) is going to interview Trish Holder, homeowner (TH-H).

Just be glad they’re both sober….

TH-J: So Trish, you own a LEED registered, highly celebrated green home and you have an asphalt roof.  What’s up with that?

TH-H: Look, I wanted to have a more environmentally friendly roof, but by the time we got around to choosing shingles, we were pretty much tapped out on other energy efficiency upgrades.

TH-J: Such as?

TH-H: Mainly the geothermal heat pump and the sprayed foam insulation.  Those were big-ticket upgrades.

TH-J: But seriously – asphalt??  I mean we all know that it’s petroleum-based, it’s energy intensive to produce, and according to the National Association of Home Builders, asphalt roofs account for about 1.36 billion pounds of waste in landfills every year!

TH-H: Damn.

TH-J: So what gives?  Are you telling me, Miz Green, that you couldn’t find a more environmental option than asphalt shingles?

TH-H: Okay, first of all, don’t call me Miz Green.  Second, of course I could find a more environmental option; I just couldn’t afford it.  The installed cost of some of the alternative roofing materials we looked at were about 3 times the installed cost of asphalt shingles.

TH-J: That’s seems like a lot.

TH-H: I was shocked.  But that’s what I found in North Carolina when I was roof shopping in 2008.

TH-J: What about a metal roof?  Those can look really cool and metal lasts a long time.  Plus it’s totally recyclable.

TH-H: I agree and they look great.  However, if I put a metal roof on my very traditional looking home, in my very traditional looking neighborhood, I would have been known as Miz Metal Roof.  And my home would have been known as the Metal Roof Home instead of the Greenspiration Home.  I might as well have painted my home orange.

TH-J: But don’t they have metal roofs that look like shingles?

TH-H: Yes, but the ones we looked at looked really fake and silly.

TH-J: What else did you consider?

TH-H: We seriously looked at concrete tiles and also shingles made from recycled rubber tires that look just like slate.  Either of these would have looked fine on our home and in our neighborhood, but the installed cost was just too much.

TH-J: So you sold out.

TH-H: Oh – eat my organic cotton shorts!

Look, we did a lot of things with this home.  Geothermal… low-e windows…dual flush toilets… You name it, we did it.  But every homeowner has to make compromises when it comes to building a home.  Yes we wanted to make environmentally friendly choices, but we also had budget, aesthetics, and, dare I say, resale value to consider.

TH-J: Did you at least choose a light colored roof for better reflectivity and energy efficiency?

TH-H Actually, we chose the lightest colored roof we could that looked okay with our beige colored NORTH CAROLINA made brick.

TH-J: So where were these brownish-tan shingles made?  China?

TH-H: Actually they were made very close by.  We specifically had our distributor show us shingles that were made in North Carolina – so at least we minimized our transport emissions and we stayed loyal to the local economy.

TH-J: Are asphalt shingles recyclable?

TH-H: Yes.  And shingle recycling has increased a lot over the past decade.  The petroleum content in recycled asphalt shingles actually makes them more valuable.  So if there is a recycling program that exists in your area, it can actually be quite profitable to use recycled asphalt.

TH-J: How much asphalt shingle material actually gets recycled?

TH-H: About one-third.

TH-J: How do you know?

TH-H: Well I don’t know, but William Turley, executive director of the Construction Materials Recycling Association, estimates one third.  And I believe him.

TH-J: Why not recycle all asphalt shingles if it is profitable?

TH-H: The problem is that there are a limited number of recycling programs throughout the US and it varies state by state.  Here in NC we do better than average.  We actually have about 5 different asphalt shingle recycling facilities located throughout the state.  Right now, however, they don’t accept used shingles torn from homes, only the stuff that comes from manufacturers.  But there are several other states that do recycle tear-offs, including South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas.  My guess is with the increase in recycling that has taken place that eventually here in North Carolina we will be recycling used shingles by the time I have to replace my own roof.

TH-J: And what might be made of your cast off shingles?

TH-H: Most likely asphalt pavement.

TH-J: Oh- that’s environmental.

TH-H: We’re not going to stop building or repairing roads.  Do you own a car?

TH-J: I’m asking the questions here.

TH-H: Whatever.  The point is, we made the best choice we felt like we could under the circumstances.  I am glad I used a local product and I do feel confident that it can and will be recycled when the time comes.

TH-J: Mind if I check back with you in about 20 years when that roof is up for replacement.

TH-H: I hope you will.

Note:  If you’d like to know if your state has recycling programs for asphalt shingles go to

10 Responses »

  1. Trish, well done! Your blog post is spot-on about the dilemma that many people face when purchasing environmentally friendly products for their homes. (Most of us have to live within our budgets). Until some products/materials come down in price, research of what is available within the local markets is what is needed to making informed purchasing decisions.

  2. In deciding to go with a (presumably very expensive) geo-exchange heat pump did you perform a cost comparison of the economics of spending this money instead on increased insulation in your home?

    • David,

      I did not have the resources to do a reliable cost comparison. And having read so much about the shortcomings of energy modeling I’m not sure I would have been convinced of the outcome. However, my gut feeling is the increased insulation, micro-caulking etc. would have given the best bang for the buck. And if I had it to do over again, I might very well have opted for the insulation and a standard heat pump. However, the tax credits for the geothermal make them almost competitive with the highest seer units, according to my (current) geothermal contractor. I’m sure his is a biased opinion, but he wasn’t selling me anything, we were just conversing. And I trust him (yes — I occasionally trust a contractor!)

      There are a couple of other things to consider. The geothermal system will most likely last longer than a standard heat pump, and by the time we sell, depending on energy cost, it really might give a boost to my property value.

  3. I appreciated the way you really got into Trish’s head on this interview.

  4. Trish,
    Like you, when I built my home in 2008, I also had a budget that meant I had to make choices. I chose to have ICF construction, and a tankless water heater, along with low-E glass, etc. I would have liked to have the geothermal system, but could not justify it after the ICF. However, now I am considering installing solar hot water. The cost savings may justify the price in the next 3 years.

  5. Trish –

    Great article with a fantastic interviewee who really shared how she felt about the angst and expense of this choice. It is something we recently had to face in re-roofing our own home but, like you, our choices were very limited based on location, aesthetics, resale, durability, and the HUGE cost difference.

    Thanks for picking your brain and giving us another well done article to make us think about making better choices for our state, the environment and, ultimately, the legacy we pass on to later generations.

  6. Trish, I know exactly what you mean. We found a beautiful fake-slate rubber with deep insulation–but the $50,000 pricetag was a whole lot more than we were willing to pay. And I didn’t like the idea of putting a metal roof on a house built in 1743. We ended up with an energy-star certified light-colored asphalt shingle, as you did, at a cost of about $8000, installed–plus the very annoying $4000 we had to pay to get our two sets of solar panels off the roof and back on again–OUCH!

    The weird thing is we get the tax credit, but probably would have saved more energy wiht a darker roof, because our issue is heating, not a/c.


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