paint everything white
July 11, 2011, 11:24 pm
Filed under: Cities, Energy, housing | Tags: ,

Did you notice, when you were in Paris last, how light and airy the streets feel?  If you’re like me, and only go once a decade or less, you can get an admittedly bad approximation on flickr.

Recently, an acquaintance insisted to me that new buildings in his predominantly red brick northeastern city must be red brick.  I’m sure if I had pressed him he would have championed replicating the century old models down to the bad space, bad materials, bad windows and so on.

By his strange logic, because house developers a century and more ago made row houses out of brick we – now firmly in the new century – must go on making buildings of brick.  What most people don’t know is that the builders of the day probably weren’t nearly as committed to the material as we are.  Many would have skim coated their facades with stucco as was the fashion but couldn’t afford to.  Soon the middle and lower class house clients came to see in the brick their middle class aspirations and status, and eventually, as with my acquaintance, to insist a house could be built no other way.

Following is an excerpt from an article by Bjorn Lomborg about the advantages of painting roofs in our cities white to lower temperatures and reduce energy use.  Painting or stuccoing facades would have the same temperature reducing effect.  As would replacing all of the fake shutters on dark red facades that soak in heat, with shutters that actually work and can be swung shut during the hottest parts of the day against the summer sun.

The brick wasn’t a aesthetic choice; it was driven by economics and compounded into a regrettable pattern.  We can have any color we want: white, yellow, blue; and the temperatures will come down and the city streets, as in Paris, may also lift our spirits.

Here is the excerpt by Lomborg:

Moreover, although it may seem almost comically straightforward, one of the best temperature-reducing approaches is very simple: paint things white. Cities have a lot of black asphalt and dark, heat-absorbing structures. By increasing reflection and shade, a great deal of heat build-up can be avoided. Paint most of a city and you could lower the temperature by 10°C.

These options are simple, obvious, and cost-effective. Consider Los Angeles. Re-roofing most of the city’s five million homes in lighter colors, painting a quarter of the roads and planting 11 million trees would have a one-time cost of about $1 billion. Each year after that, this would lower air conditioning costs by about $170 million and provide $360 million in smog-reduction benefits. And it would lower LA temperatures by about 3°C – or about the temperature increase envisioned for the rest of this century.

Furnace Cities, Bjorn Lomborg, Project Syndicate


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