City rooftops get ‘cool’ makeover

Eight months after former Vice President Al Gore and Mayor Michael Bloomberg rolled up their sleeves and ushered in the NYC Cool Roofs pilot program, a collective of public and private organizations, non-profits and property owners celebrated the citywide launch of the energy-saving effort.

On Tuesday, May 11, champions of the program fittingly returned to Long Island City – a neighborhood heavily impacted by the so-called “urban heat island” effect – to push the program toward its stated goal of “cooling” 1 million square feet of city rooftop.

The basis of the initiative is the installation of reflective white coatings on the tops of buildings to reduce cooling costs, energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. The effort focuses on urban areas that, in keeping with the “heat island” phenomenon, boast warmer surface temperatures and therefore less energy efficiency than surrounding suburban and rural municipalities.

New York City is actually five to seven degrees warmer than surrounding areas, Bloomberg noted when he first launched the Cool Roofs initiative late last year. And surface temperatures in Long Island City, with its industrial roofs, roadways and relative lack of greenery, occasionally climb to between five and ten degrees hotter than the citywide average.

The initiative, led by the Community Environmental Center, began in September 2009 when NYC Service volunteers painted 100,000 square feet of rooftops in Long Island City over a two-week period.

“It’s such a simple concept – anyone who has ever gotten dressed in the summer knows it – light-colored surfaces absorb less heat than darker surfaces do,” Bloomberg said when he first announced Cool Roofs, part of his PlaNYC sustainability initiative, which aims to reduce city greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent over the next 20 years.

As part of the recent citywide kick-off, city Department of Buildings (DOB) employees and NYC Service volunteers gathered on LaGuardia Community College’s Long Island City rooftop and “cooled” more than 46,000 square feet.

Additionally, the Department of Citywide Administrative Services is working with the DOB and other city agencies to convert more than 240,000 square feet of rooftops on city-owned buildings this year.

Con Edison has also agreed to coat 156,000 square feet of traditional dark roofing on its city buildings and the New York City Housing Authority has targeted 100,000 square feet of its rooftops for a “cool” makeover.

DOB commissioner Robert LiMandri called the initiative “a simple and innovative way to cut energy costs today and improve the quality of life for generations of New Yorkers to come.”