Pittsburgh adopts a cool idea: save energy with paint

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It seems too simple to be true: paint a roof white, save on energy costs.

But cool roofs, as they're called, have already proved successful in other cities, and the city of Pittsburgh expects it to reduce energy costs as much as 15 percent on buildings that get the treatment.

The city officially kicked off its cool roofs program Wednesday at a Mount Washington fire station, which had been slated to be painted immediately after the news conference until weather interfered.

"It's another step in our efforts to make Pittsburgh a more green and sustainable city," Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said.

The program is being implemented through the city's community service initiative, servePGH, in partnership with the Department of Public Works and the Office of Sustainability and Energy Efficiency.

Volunteers are being sought to join Public Works in painting 10 roofs on city-owned buildings with eco-friendly white paint. That's around 50,000 square feet of roof space, which is anticipated to lower the city's carbon dioxide emissions by up to 50 tons. Those interested in volunteering should call 412-255-2280 or email servepgh@pittsburghpa.gov.

The special paint is reflective, meaning heat is deflected rather than absorbed by the roofs. It can reduce the internal building temperature by up to 20 percent, lowering its energy costs. The cooling effect can even spread to neighboring areas, said Lindsay Baxter, at project manager with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council who also worked on the project.

"Urban environments, asphalts and dark-colored roofs tend to trap heat," she said. "As we see more and more buildings adopting this technology, we're going to see less of this heat island effect occurring in our city."

The program was made possible with a $56,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies and $25,000 from the city's Green Trust Fund.

The mayor's appearance at the news conference was his first at a press event since late April, when he joined Pittsburgh Marathon officials to discuss race security. Since then, two of his police bodyguards and his secretary have testified before a federal grand jury, and documents related to work done on his home by a company linked to a city contractor have been turned over to federal investigators. Federal investigators have also subpoenaed the city for documents related to parking variances for valet operators and sought to speak to the mayor's ex-wife, Erin Lynn Feith.

Mr. Ravenstahl referred most questions about the investigation to his attorney, Chuck Porter, who did not return a phone call. But he said he has not spoken to the FBI since Feb. 20, when he said he learned details of the allegations against indicted former police Chief Nate Harper, nor has he been subpoenaed.

But despite the aura of an investigation hanging over his office, he said the federal investigation has not affected his ability to do his job.

"The fact that I've withdrawn from public view to some extent is a choice that I've made but in no way is it an indication of me not doing my job," he said.

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Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533 or on Twitter @MoriahBee.


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