Chelsea Public Schools Install White Roofs To Reduce Heat

When high school students in the Chelsea Public School system return to class in the fall, their school building takes on a white roof.

Chelsea is one of the most popular cities in Massachusetts, and the new roof is part of an effort to reduce the “urban heat island effect” — when urban areas are hotter than surrounding communities due to dense housing, lots of pavement and few trees. Climate researchers say urban heat islands, like much of Chelsea, will suffer from extreme heat, such as climate change pushes temperatures higher and makes heat waves longer and more frequent.

While dark-colored roofs absorb heat, white roofs reflect it, keeping both the building and its surroundings a bit cooler. This spring the workers have finished installing a white roof about the complex containing the city’s two public high schools.

“We’re going to spend less on electricity,” said Almi Abeyta, Superintendent of Chelsea Public Schools. “We’re going to lower the temperature so that the buildings, say on a hot day, take less time to cool down.”

Abeyta said the city’s primary school complex is the next step for a white roof. The City, in partnership with Boston University and the Community Organization Green Carrots, already measures current temperatures in the building to assess the effectiveness of the current roof and its effect on energy efficiency.

Ben Cares, a Chelsea city planner in the housing and community development department, said the white roofs are important, but they are not a ‘silver bullet’. City officials are also investigating other heat mitigation effortsincluding planting more trees and replacing asphalt with lighter colored materials. In July, Chelsea ran an online lottery to give low-income residents free air conditioning.

Extreme heat is the leading cause of weather-related deaths nationwide for the past 30 years, according to the National Weather Service.

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