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NYC paints the city white in effort to reduce energy waste, lower cooling bills

Posted: 10:17 AM, Aug 23, 2018
Updated: 2018-08-23 15:19:10Z

New York City is painting the town…white! 

But the paint isn’t for aesthetics. The city is coating rooftops in order to reduce the internal temperature of a building by 30 percent.

"Painting a rooftop reflects the sun's radiant energy on the building,” explains Gregg Bishop, commissioner with NYC Small Business Services.

Bishop says this reduces air conditioning costs.

The initiative is called Cool Roofs. Officials say the initiative is helping to reduce the impact New York has on the climate, while lowering energy costs.

"Here in the city, we're facing temperatures that can be up to 22 degrees hotter than surrounding rural and suburban areas," says Jainey Bavishi, with the Mayor’s Office of Recovery and Resiliency.

Since the program launched, they've covered 9 million square feet of rooftops.

A similar initiative launched recently in Los Angeles, where they're testing reflective streets. The trend is growing. Academic research shows reflective surfaces do make a difference.

"What some of my own work has found out is that cool roofs are actually very effective at decreasing, for example, summertime temperatures, on the order of 1 to 3 degrees which is quite significant," explains Dr. Matei Georgescu, with the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

While there are definitely benefits to making surfaces like this rooftop reflective, researchers say there may be some downsides as well.

"If you deploy highly reflective roofs, you're now assuming high reflectivity during the entire winter,” says Dr. Georgescu. “In other words, you're making things a lot colder than normally they would have been.”

Dr. Georgescu studies reflective surfaces and says it could mean higher heating costs in the winter.

"We don't wanna give back 50 percent of these benefits during the winter."

He says a possible solution might be reflective covers that would be removable during cold months.

The city says any higher heating bills in the winter have been negligible. For now, officials have no plans to cool down the Cool Roofs program.