Whether you're renovating your existing home or building from the ground up, your choice of roofing material is an important factor in construction. If you've decided upon shingles as opposed to tiles or metal, choose the environmentally-friendly option that suits your climate. If you are removing old shingles to make room for composites, solars, fiber cement or shake, check with your local solid waste authority to find out what recycling options exist, or sell or donate intact tiles and shingles for salvage.
One eco-friendly roof option is solar shingles. These photovoltaic cells are the size and shape of regular roofing shingles, but they collect the sun's energy for use as electricity. In some cases, homeowners may be able to sell surplus energy to the electric company. The number of solar shingles it would take to power your entire house depends upon the size of your house and your typical energy usage, but even installing a few can help out. It is not necessary to replace your entire roof -- integrate these cells into your existing roof. (See References 3)
Recycled Composite Shingles
Synthetic shingles made from recycled materials, such as plastic and old tires are another eco-friendly option. These shingles can be made to look like cedar shake, slate or asphalt shingles, but are much lighter and better for the environment. Synthetic composites don't require flame retardants or algae-inhibitors, and some are even hail- and mold-resistant. There are no standardized manufacturing guidelines for these shingles, so it is unknown whether they might fade or wear over time. Be sure to ask your local building authority if building codes allow the installation of synthetic shingles. Some materials may not be tested for water quality issues. (See References 1 and References 2, page 7)
Fiber cement shingles mimic the look of more traditional roofing materials; look for products made from locally sourced cement and fiber, or recycled paper pulp. The finished product has the weight of a tile, but the look of a shingle. Some builders have questioned the performance of fiber cement shingles in locations with severe temperature fluctuations, so check with your local building authority before you buy. (See References 2, page 7)
Wood is not the best option for your roof, environmentally speaking, because it requires the felling of trees and may require frequent replacement of individual shingles in damp areas. Wood is, however, a renewable resource. Some historic areas require wood shingles to maintain the authenticity of the home, so look for locally sourced wood certified sustainable by the Forest Stewardship Council -- you'll see the FSC stamp on the packaging. Although rare, wood shingles that are left untreated still resist rot if they're made from naturally rot-resistant wood, such as cedar and cypress, so choose untreated shingles if you can find them. (See References 2, page 7)
Angela Brady has been writing since 1997. Currently transitioning to a research career in oncolytic virology, she has won awards for her work related to genomics, proteomics, and biotechnology. She is also an authority on sustainable design, having studied, practiced and written extensively on the subject.