Practical issues for using solar-reflective materials to mitigate urban heat islands

Solar-reflective or high-albedo, alternatives to traditionally absorptive urban surfaces such as rooftops and roadways can reduce cooling energy use and improve urban air quality at almost no cost. This paper presents information to support programs that mitigate urban heat islands with solar-reflective surfaces: estimates of the achievable increase in albedo for a variety of surfaces, issues related to the selection of materials and costs and benefits of using them. As an example, we present data for Sacramento, California. In Sacramento, we estimate that 20% of the 96 square mile area is dark roofing and 10% is dark pavement. Based on the change in albedo that is achievable for these surfaces, the overall albedo of Sacramento could be increased by 18%, a change that would produce significant energy savings and increase comfort within the city. Roofing market data indicate which roofing materials should be targeted for incentive programs. In 1995, asphalt shingle was used for over 65% of residential roofing area in the U.S. and 6% of commercial. Built-up roofing was used for about 5% of residential roofing and about 30% of commercial roofing. Single-ply membranes covered about 9% of the residential roofing area and over 30% of the commercial area. White, solar-reflective alternatives are presently available for these roofing materials but a low-first-cost, solar-reflective alternative to asphalt shingles is needed to capture the sloped-roof market. Since incoming solar radiation has a large non-visible component, solar-reflective materials can also be produced in a variety of colors.

Suggested citation or credit:

Sarah Bretz, Hashem Akbari, Arthur Rosenfeld, Practical issues for using solar-reflective materials to mitigate urban heat islands, Atmospheric Environment, Volume 32, Issue 1, January 1998, Pages 95-101, ISSN 1352-2310, 10.1016/S1352-2310(97)00182-9. (

Source: Atmospheric Environment

Publication Date: January 1998

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