Up on the roof: adapting to climate change

24th March 2022


Gary Walpole explains how roofs could hold the solution to climate change adaptation

What do you picture when you think of a roof? Probably a pitched roof with tiles, a felted flat roof, or even a metal warehouse roof. A roof is probably the last thing you would imagine when considering climate change adaptation – but recent research from the University of Southampton and the National Federation of Roofing Contractors makes the case that the way we build, maintain and retrofit our roofs may actually help the UK to mitigate some of the impacts of climate change on the built environment.

A changing climate

The research, Future (P)roof – Building resilience of roofing technologies in a changing climate, was based on the most recent UK climate change modelling, UKCP18, published in July 2021. This forecasts that the UK is expected to have not only warmer and wetter winters, but also higher temperatures in other seasons, including more heatwaves and higher summer irradiance due to clearer and drier skies.

There is expected to be an increase in predicted peak rainfall (90th percentile) in a 24-hour period – so more high-intensity rainfall events. Future (P)roof took this modelling and applied it to a range of built forms in 15 cities across the UK. It identified that the major risks to the built environment from climate change would be overheating and flooding.

Overheating is already a problem in the UK during the summer, and is only set to intensify. In Islington, London, temperatures are expected to rise by 3.3°C by the 2080s, and its daily maximum temperature is expected to increase from 22.2°C to 27.9°C during the same period. Loft conversions are particularly exposed, and this could be an issue for southern UK cities as early as 2030.

In addition, river, groundwater and surface flooding due to extreme weather events are regarded as medium risks today by the government’s Independent Assessment of UK Climate Risk in terms of building damage and productivity loss.

Roofing technology

Future (P)roof explained how roofing technology could mitigate both risks. Overheating may be addressed by using ‘cool roof’ technology, designed to reflect more sunlight and absorb less heat. This can be achieved using highly reflective paint, tiles or waterproof coverings.

Green and blue roof technology could be used in conjunction to tackle flooding and overheating. Green roofs cover a conventional roof with a waterproof layer, a growing medium and vegetation. As well as reducing climate change impacts on the building itself, green roofs help mitigate the impact on the surrounding environment by reducing the urban heat island effect. They also act as an important source of biodiversity in urban areas, as well as a social amenity if they are accessible.

Blue roofs are sustainable urban drainage systems that attenuate and manage stormwater over a 24-hour period, rather than allowing it to rapidly flow down to ground level. They offer greater environmental performance when designed beneath a green roof, which acts as a ‘sponge’ for rainwater.

In terms of energy resilience, the typical pitched roof can be retrofitted to include built-in solar PV, generating electricity for the property, as well as enhanced roof insulation, which reduces heat demand (in a typical home, 25% of heat is lost through the roof). Commercial roofs are also an ideal location for solar, and research has shown that rooftop solar installed at scale in a city such as Southampton could provide 25% of that city’s electricity demand.

Breaking down barriers

The case for using our roofs to adapt to climate change is clear, so why are we not urgently retrofitting them at scale? Unfortunately, many barriers remain – from planning policy and a lack of green skills in the industry, to financial barriers among households and businesses. Future (P)roof makes recommendations to industry, local and central government on how to break down these barriers.

Next time you look up, think about the potential our roofscape holds to reduce the impact of climate change and build a more sustainable energy system. We need to make it a reality.

Gary Walpole is a safety, health and environmental officer at the National Federation of Roofing Contractors.

Image credit | iStock

Subscribe

Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.


Transform articles

How much is too much?

While there is no silver bullet for tackling climate change and social injustice, there is one controversial solution: the abolition of the super-rich. Chris Seekings explains more

4th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

Regulatory gaps between the EU and UK are beginning to appear, warns Neil Howe in this edition’s environmental legislation round-up

4th April 2024

Read more

Five of the latest books on the environment and sustainability

3rd April 2024

Read more

Ben Goodwin reflects on policy, practice and advocacy over the past year

2nd April 2024

Read more

In 2020, IEMA and the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) jointly wrote and published A User Guide to Climate-Related Financial Disclosures. This has now been updated to include three key developments in the field.

2nd April 2024

Read more

Hello and welcome to another edition of Transform. I hope that you’ve had a good and productive few months so far.

28th March 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close