How Stupid Is Our Obsession With Asphalt Roofs?

Last week’s Freakenomics Radio episode called us all out for our obsession with lawns. Lawns are beautiful, and functional – for playing and as carbon sinks – but the pursuit of the perfect lawn is both resource and labour-intensive. I fully agree with the idea of “repurposing” or “returning” our yards into productive gardens.

I had thought about the waste, in my mind anyways, that a lawn creates many times before hearing the aforementioned podcast. In fact, I had identified two primary sinks of resources, labour and opportunity on most properties – the lawn and the roof.

A few months ago, I helped my brother-in-law replace the roof on his shed. That experience opened my eyes to how ridiculous asphalt roofs are. The typical lifespan of an asphalt roof is 15 years. That means every 15 years a homeowner tears apart a face of their home and completely replaces it. What!? Why!? We don’t build the walls of our homes only to last 15 years! To make matters even worse, asphalt tiles are not made of recycled material, nor are they recyclable at the end of their lifespan.

Luckily, asphalt is not the only commercially available roofing material. Wood, slate, clay,  concrete and metal are also widely available options. The best of these, in my opinion, is aluminum. Aluminum roofing systems have a lifetime warranty due to their inability to rust or degrade. They are primarily fabricated with recycled material and are fully recyclable at the end of their lifespan. Installing an aluminum roof will also lower your energy bills – aluminum has a high emissivity value, more simply, it deflects the sun’s heat away from your home.

Unsurprisingly, the only real reason people choose asphalt roofs is capital cost; some may argue aesthetics, particularly colour variety, but that is secondary. Asphalt roofs cost  approximately $5 per square foot installed whereas aluminum roofs cost approximately $10 per square foot installed. However, the energy savings that come with aluminum roofs offset the premium paid up-front.

On May 10, Tesla added another alternative roofing material to the fold – the Solar Roof. I am sad that a Solar Roof needed to be brought to market. Governments should be able to provide clean and reliable electricity through the grid. My province of Ontario is doing an exceptional job and as a result, I expect the market for the Solar Roof in Ontario to be almost non-existent. However, in most parts of the world, the Solar Roof is an ideal option for people wanting to guarantee clean and reliable electricity. The only hurdle is the price – approximately $30 per square foot installed. In order to offset the high capital cost, governments have been offering incentives in the form of tax credits. Despite these tax credits, the Solar Roof remains out of financial reach for most homeowners. However, if similar incentives were more widely applied to other alternative roofing materials like aluminum, we would likely see the end of the stupidity of asphalt roofs.