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How are Metal Roofs Sustainable? Let’s Count the Ways 

In the United States, the construction industry accounts for nearly one third of: total energy consumed, greenhouse gases emitted, raw materials used, and waste created. Acknowledging the profound impact of building, many architecture firms have pledged their commitment to more sustainable practices—adhering to LEED certification, the Living Building Challenge, the 2030 Challenge, and many more. 

Within these programs, more importance is being given to material selection as a means to reduce construction’s environmental impact. Many of metal roofing’s sustainability benefits come directly from the qualities it has as a material. For instance, metal panels can interlock without needing a penetrating fastener by using standing seams, which can easily support solar panels. In this way, metal’s ability to be formed to interlock can help reduce the embodied energy of a building over the course of its lifespan.  

But solar panel compatibility is far from the only sustainable benefit of choosing a metal roof. Starting before they are installed until after they are replaced, metal roofs offer several ecological benefits. 

Before installation

Metal roofing panels are made from 30 – 60 percent recycled content. This lowers the energy needed to create the coils and panels, reduces greenhouse emissions, and diverts waste from landfills. The recycled content of metal roofs can be used toward LEED credits focused on recycled materials, including Materials and Resources (MR) Credit 4.1 for Recycled Content. 

In addition to recycled content, metal roofs can be painted in a variety of colors prior to installation, the majority of which are cool roof rated. Cool roofs are highly reflective and efficiently re-emit any heat they absorb. For example, some of Drexel Metals’ offerings can reflect and re-emit solar radiation by up to 90 percent. Trapping less heat and cooling down quickly, these roofs are a vital part of energy-efficient and sustainable building practices.

During installation 

When it comes to installation, metal roofs are, on average, 50 – 75 percent lighter than other roofing systems. Not only does this sideline structural issues that could require costly workarounds, it also translates to a lower carbon footprint by requiring less fuel and emissions to ship. Lightweight metal coils and sheets are also able to be efficiently packed and safely shipped with fewer truckloads, further reducing the energy needed to move them from manufacturing plant to jobsite. This method of shipping also reduces the chances of damaged product, which means even fewer shipments. 

When the materials arrive onsite, contractors can use portable roll-forming machines to increase productivity and sustainability. This process reduces lead time and produces less waste for a build that supports lean construction practices without sacrificing quality.  

The sustainability of a lightweight material that can be fabricated onsite is further aided by Drexel’s cross-country reach. With manufacturing facilities from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., Drexel can provide efficient shipping and fabrication support to help any project achieve its green building goals. 

After installation 

Metal roofs can also last 50 – 70 years, depending on the material and location. Their lifespan is more than double that of other roofing materials. Needing to replace their roof less often, building professionals and homeowners not only save money but also reduce the amount of building materials needed to ensure a safe and habitable space. This translates to less energy consumed to make, distribute and install a roof, as well as fewer greenhouse emissions and waste overall. 

When a roof has reached the end of its service life, it is fully recyclable to create a sustainable circular economy. Further, building professionals and homeowners can also potentially receive scrap credit from an installer when they choose to recycle their old roofing systems. 

Now what?

As the construction industry pushes for more sustainable building practices across the board, it is important to identify all the ways buildings can be made more ecologically conscious. Metal roofs are just one part of the sustainability puzzle. They can lower energy consumption with recycled content and cool roof ratings. They can reduce carbon emissions by streamlining shipping and fabrication processes. They can even decrease the amount of scrap in landfills with their long lifespan and total recyclability. With such benefits, metal roofs beg the question, “What other ways can we make construction more sustainable?”