Roofs keep you protected from the elements and comfortable inside structures, but not all roofs provide the same protection. In hot areas of the country, roofs often absorb and retain heat. This turns an ordinary home or office into an unintentional solar oven, increasing cooling costs and raising the ambient temperature through the urban heat island effect.
If you live in one of the hot areas of the country, such as the South and Southwest (often called the Sunbelt), changing your roofing materials might help cool your home, lower your energy bills by 10 to 15%, and make your city or town a more pleasant place to live.
The map below shows all the U.S. climate zones. Zone 1, zone 2, and zone 3 mark the hot climate areas.
A cool roof is designed to reflect light and UV radiation from the sun (called solar reflectance) and release built-up solar heat through emissivity. They can lower energy bills by reflecting strong sunlight and allow older or less efficient air conditioners to cool larger spaces.
These roofs can also reduce the urban heat island effect and decrease the roof temperature (which can exceed 150°F on a hot day), extending the roof’s life.
Below you can see the best roofing materials for hot climates:
1. Modified Bitumen
Bitumen is not usually what comes to mind when people think of white or light-colored reflective roofs, but modern technology has turned this inexpensive tar into a cool roof for hot climates. Modified bitumen is no different than traditional bitumen; both are rolled sheets of asphalt applied to a roof with hot asphalt or cool adhesive; however, modified bitumen has an outer coating of light materials that reflect rather than absorb heat. It is used all over the country, particularly in commercial applications and on large buildings.
Pros: It is less expensive and easier to install than other roofing options.
Cons: It is often not as effective as other cool roof options. Adding a further rubber membrane or a layer of thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO), ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) can enhance effectivity.
Average Cost: Modified bitumen costs between $4 and $8 per square foot, roughly the same as traditional bitumen roofs.
2. Photovoltaic Shingles
One of the most effective ways to cool a roof while lowering energy bills is to install photovoltaic shingles. These shingles absorb the sun’s rays, turn them into energy for you to use, and even sell back to your area’s power grid. Modern advances to these shingles have made them much more attractive, both in appearance and efficacy, and made them an increasingly popular option in sunny areas of the country. Photovoltaic shingles are used across the Sunbelt and wherever it is sunny most days of the year.
Pros: Adding a home battery system can help save electricity from peak times and keep your energy bills low. The savings or money earned off electricity generation make it well worth the investment.
Cons: They are more expensive to install, generally requiring new roof decking or additional support.
Average Cost: The cost of upgrading your roof to photovoltaic shingles runs between $24,000 - $50,000 or roughly $12 - $25 per square foot.
3. Green Roof
A green roof is the most nature-friendly option for hot climates. Often described as lifting a park and putting a building underneath, this puts a green area of plants on your roof. These plants provide insulation, keep the heat out and cool in, and help with rainwater removal. They are the most effective way to combat the urban heat island effect, reducing city-wide temperatures by up to 5°F.
Pros: This is often cited as the best roofing solution for hot climates. Using local plants can help make a habitat for local wildlife and preserve your local ecosystem.
Cons: May require extra support or reinforcement for the roof as they are often significantly heavier than a traditional roof.
Average Cost: Green roofs run between $10 to $35 per sq.ft., depending on the type of green roof you choose and what kind of plant coverage you select.
4. Clay and Terracotta
The ancient solution to hot roofs, clay, and terracotta roofing tiles, have been used since ancient times to keep buildings cool in hot climates. Kiln-fired tiles are great at staying cool under direct sunlight and insulating cool homes against heat. Modern advances have allowed anti-UV reflective polymer glazes to be applied to enhance the reflective properties and make this ancient solution into a modern roofing system. These tiles are used across the Sunbelt, particularly in older houses or with some traditional architectural styles.
Pros: They have an attractive and traditional appearance. They are also durable, moisture, heat, and fire-resistant. Different glazes and coatings can be applied to get the maximum benefit for your particular roof design.
Cons: They can be more expensive to install and maintain than other cool roofing types.
Average Cost: Installation costs between $5 - $15 per sq.ft. for a clay tile roof, and between $15 to $20 per sq. ft. for a terracotta tile roof.
5. Concrete Tiles or Shingles
While most people might associate concrete tiles with gray, dense, heavy slabs, modern advances have made these some of the best solutions for hot climates. These tiles have advanced cementitious or elastomeric coatings, making them much more reflective and emissive.
Pros: These tiles are great for most areas of the Sunbelt, inexpensive, and highly effective, adding a roof mist cooling system can help enhance the effectiveness.
Cons: They could be subject to local or HOA restrictions.
Average Cost: Nationwide, the average cost for concrete roof tiles is $13 to $23 per sq.ft.
6. Enhanced Asphalt Shingles
Asphalt shingles are the most popular roofing material in the United States. These shingles are inexpensive, versatile, and come in various styles that fit almost any building.
Typically, they are made of dense, dark materials in dark colors that absorb vast amounts of solar heat. Enhanced asphalt shingles often have an exterior coat of lighter colors to reflect light or the addition of particles that are specifically designed to reflect UV radiation.
Pros: They’re inexpensive and available in as many styles.
Cons: They are not as effective or energy-efficient as other cool roofing types. However, a roof misting system and insulating underlayers can improve efficiency.
Average Cost: The average price asphalt shingles ranges from $3 to $15 per sq. ft. depending on the variety.
Best Roofs to Beat the Heat
A cool roof is the best option for any building in a hot area of the country. They lower energy costs, reduce strain on air conditioners, make indoor spaces more pleasant, and can help reduce the urban heat island effect. As a homeowner, you should choose the best roofing option for your home, and by exploring and comparing the different roofing options on Fixr.com, you can see which is the best value and the right investment for your home’s future.
Irena is an industry analyst at Fixr.com. She analyzes and looks for visual ways to simplify data. She researches and writes about home improvement. For this article she analyzed the best types of roofing material for hot climate areas of the U.S., and listed 6 top roof types for hot climates, their characteristics, and average costs.