‘Cool Roofs’ Requirement Fails to Pass Muster

City council voted Wednesday to reduce permit fees for residents wishing to install solar reflective roofing (“cool roofs”), unanimously deciding against a proposed ordinance that would have required the technology on new roofs in the City of Malibu.

So-called cool roof technology is designed to “reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat than a standard roof,” according to a report prepared by city staff. “Cool roofs can reduce a roof’s surface temperature by several degrees, resulting in a reduction of heat transferred into the building below.”

Instead of enacting the requirement, council voted to give an incentive — in the words of Mayor Pro Tem Skylar Peak: “A nice little green carrot with a Benjamin on it, and they can use that carrot if they want.”

The idea was originally brought forward by City Council Member Laura Rosenthal in November 2016 as a green initiative modeled on a similar program in the City of Los Angeles. The motion to direct staff to write the ordinance passed unanimously in November, but since then the makeup of the council has changed — and more research has been done, throwing the effectiveness of the technology into question.

“Sometimes solutions are inappropriate for our geographic region,” David Brotman, former planning commissioner, said in comments before council on Wednesday. “Cool roofs are least efficient in our [climate] zone.”

Brotman described research he had undertaken. His findings: Malibu tends to have low rates of air conditioning use in the summer and low rates of heating use in the winter. In other words, cool roofs may be unnecessary in the summer (since energy is not being used to cool buildings) and have adverse effects in the winter (when the sun warms homes sufficiently).

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“While your hearts are in the right place, I urge you not to adopt this ordinance,” Brotman continued. “I know that we all are concerned about energy, but make sure you understand the technical aspect of what you’re doing. It’s not required here. It will not have the effect you think it will.”

Council considered the argument.

“I think it’s been perceived that it’s been a lot warmer here,” Peak said. “I don’t think it’s as hot here as it is in LA or over the hill.” Peak also said he was not comfortable with reflective roofs changing views for “every one staring down” on Malibu from the Santa Monica Mountains.

City staff said they had done research on the technology before bringing the ordinance forward and felt it would be effective for Malibu; however, they provided the caveat that their temperature research included the entirety of the 90265 zip code — including hotter areas in the hills outside Malibu city limits.

“For the 90265 zip code — which we all know extends beyond our city limit — the number of cooling degree days is much much larger than the number of heating degree days,” Malibu Environmental Sustainability Manager Andrew Sheldon explained. “Across the whole city, we are likely to save energy overall.”

While Peak and Rosenthal seemed inclined to, in Peak’s words, “Push the envelope” when it came to environmental standards, in the end, council decided to take a less drastic step — “significantly” reducing permitting fees for those who wish to install cool roof technology on their homes. Fees, Environmental Sustainability Director Craig George, described, vary for re-roofing permits but hover around a couple hundred dollars. He added that around 100 re-roofing permits are issued per year in the city.

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