The Role of Roofs in Sustainable Design: A Primer

Sustainable design needs three key details. One, it must be made out of readily available materials that don’t cost the earth to produce. Two, those materials must have a second life through a recycling program. Three, the design itself must be enduring and require minimal maintenance and repairs. 

Roofs in Sustainable Design
Roofs in Sustainable Design

What this means is that, by definition, the most sustainable home is one that uses innovative shapes and designs to harness the power of nature to improve quality of life without high energy costs. Envelope designs and latticework in exterior walls that push wind through are some examples of sustainable, enduring design. 

When it comes to enduring designs that fit the bill, roofs play a critical role. The pitch, design, and shape can impact things like lifespan and second life (in terms of materials). 

  • Types of Roof Shapes and Their Impact

For most homes, pitched roofs are still the most sustainable option. If snow and heavy rainfall are common, the last thing you want is a roof that collects water or snow. Heavy snow that can’t fall off the roof regularly can actually cause collapse. This doesn’t mean that flat roofs don’t have their purpose. In warmer climates, flat roofs (with a slight pitch towards the gutter) can actually become green roofs that promote biodiversity, are great for minimizing water runoff, and can also help keep homes cooler. 

  • Repairability 

When it comes to designing a sustainable roof, repairability is a key consideration. That’s why shingles are preferred over flat sheets. With shingles, Roof Repair Services can not only be more effective, but they can also be more cost-effective. This is due to material use. If a single asphalt shingle falls off or is chipped during a hailstorm, it can be swapped out with little fuss and, in turn, increase the roof’s overall lifespan. 

  • Recyclability 

All materials used today should have second, third, and so on lives. Asphalt can be recycled back into roads, metal roofing options like aluminum can be recycled endlessly, and so on. Concrete is one of the least sustainable options when you put them next to each other. 


This second-life consideration is a key element to circularity and should be included as part of the design process for as many housing materials as possible. 

  • Lifespan 

Short-lived materials should not be used, regardless of how recyclable they are. A key part of sustainability is accessibility, so if homeowners need to replace their short-lived roof, more often, this ends up putting the cost and burden on the owner, not on the designer. Asphalt shingles, when cared for, can last up to three decades. Metal shingles, on the other hand, can last up to 80. Careful consideration of the overall cost and lifespan is a must when it comes to designing enduring homes that help the environment, not detract from it. 

  • Pairing Landscaping for Further Protection 


While large trees do need to be carefully maintained so that branches and leaves don’t pile up on the roof, they can also be a key partner in sustainable design. The shade from trees can significantly cut down on heat in a home while also protecting the roof itself from UV damage. Combined, this means longer lifespans and less running costs, meaning a smart roof and landscaping design can help minimize the home’s initial carbon footprint and its running costs.