How Reflective Paint Brings Down Scorching City Temperatures

Communities fight urban heat islands with technologies shielding roofs and pavement

Melanie Paola Torres works on Cool Street equipment

Cities across the U.S. have found relief from this summer’s record-setting heat with the help of technologies that shield roofs, pavement and other surfaces from the sun’s scorching rays.

Some of these technologies have been around for more than a decade but are experiencing greater demand as global temperatures rise. Washington, D.C., for example, has built more than 3,200 green roofs covering 9 million square feet—up from about 300,000 square feet in 2006, according to federal and city officials.

Other technologies, such as super-reflective coatings for pavement, streets and windows, are just now becoming effective and affordable enough for widespread use.

The Los Angeles neighborhood of Pacoima, a densely packed location sandwiched between freeways and an industrial area, has created a partnership with GAF, a New Jersey-based roofing manufacturer, to paint a basketball court, local park and neighborhood streets with a reflective coating.

“There’s a lot of asphalt and lack of investment for tree canopies,” said Melanie Paola Torres, 24 years old, a community organizer with the group Pacoima Beautiful. “Given the fact that we are in an industrial zone, that contributes to the urban heat-island effect.”

The reflective coating has reduced air temperatures in the test area at 6 feet above ground by 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit during extreme heat days, and surface temperatures by 10 degrees, according to Jeff Terry, GAF’s vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability.

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