Cooling Down Heat Islands in Your Neighborhood Cuts Energy Costs

This coming weekend, my fellow students and I will be on the National Mall in Washington, DC to exhibit our award-winning P3 (People, Prosperity, and the Planet) project—developing white, reflective roof coatings.

Our research aims to develop new materials for building surfaces that have low solar gain—surfaces that do not absorb much of the sun’s energy. The ultimate goal is to understand how to develop common building materials that exhibit low solar gain characteristics.

The roof coatings we’ve been developing are designed to reflect visible and infrared radiation, cutting down on heat gain, which in turn would cut energy costs and mitigate the “heat island effect” that makes urban areas significantly hotter than nearby rural areas.

Heat islands pose an increasing risk to the environment and contribute to higher energy costs in urban centers, especially during peak demand times.

It is especially important that city planners and municipalities understand how the balance between built surfaces and vegetation can achieve a lower heat “footprint.” Then, they can use zoning laws, which have the power to affect building practices across the country, to prevent the heat island effect. I’d like to see zoning laws updated to account for energy and environmental factors—such as heat islands—rather than for form and appearance. My team’s research could help inform such innovative zoning laws.

Our work with roof coatings and the Drexel Smart House aims to provide information and potential strategies for mitigating heat islands through alternative roofing systems such as cool roofs and green roofs,  (which have the added benefit of reducing storm water runoff, too).

About the author: Eric Eisele is a graduate student studying Materials Science and Engineering at Drexel University, and is a member of a P3 Phase II research team developing cool roof coatings. Eric and his team will be at the National Sustainable Design Expo and P3 Award Competition in Washington, DC on April 24-25.

Editors Note: Come see this and other innovative designs for a sustainable future at the 6th Annual National Sustainable Design Expo on the National Mall, April 24 -25.
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