Pterodactyl on My Back

I’m trying to get the pterodactyl off my back.

You’ve heard of the butterfly effect … the pterodactyl is no less intertwined into every choice we make. With the Dakota Access Pipeline injustice, fear of fracking-related earthquake, and a general repulsion for war, I’m making a bigger effort to wash my hands of oil and its by-products.

Walking, biking, and public transit have always been my MO. I bought my house because I could walk or bus to nearly anywhere I needed to go. With my latest job and the need to get around Southern California quickly for meetings, I acquired an all-electric car. Three months of no gas fill-ups makes me ridiculously happy.

But what about the energy I’m using when I plug in? California is progressive, but still heavily reliant on fossil fuels for its energy supply. While Senate Bill 350 mandates 50% energy from renewable sources by 2030, we now get just over 10% of our power that way. Fortunately, I can do something directly as a homeowner. I signed a contract for PV panels to use the sun’s energy to recharge my car.

To install them, though, I needed a new roof.

“That roof will collapse your house in an earthquake,” my realtor told me when I first looked at the house. It had five layers of asphalt shingles oozing at the eaves like lasagne noodles. Replacing them with one new layer of asphalt would have been easy. But I wanted to hold out until I could afford metal … twice the cost but with so many benefits.

A metal roof is cooler than asphalt, will allow me to use rainwater in my garden without fear of contaminating my vegetables, will last 60-100 years as opposed to 15-20, and isn’t made of petroleum products. It was an easy decision.

“Asphalt shingle roofs are the most compatible with PVs,” said the American Solar Direct representative in my living room.

“But I want a cool roof,” I said, throwing out the term used in design for roofing that reduces the urban heat island effect.

“Asphalt is what our engineers recommend,” she answered. “They will have to approve metal first.”

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I’m getting solar panels to reduce my use of fossil fuels … and a metal roof will help keep my house and community cooler, reducing our use of energy in air conditioning, and I can safely harvest rainwater. It’s not just about the PVs, it’s about the whole interconnected system.”

“Oh! I thought you meant cool roof as in it looks cool,” she said. “Let’s call the engineer.”

We talked it through with the engineer, who approved the metal roof. And then I talked it through with two more people from the solar company, who called to question the metal roof. I got my roofer involved in the conversation with them, and he sent the details for a special clip they use to attach photovoltaic panels to standing seam metal roofs which actually makes it the easiest system to install them on.

So it’ll happen. My metal roof is scheduled to be installed in January, and the photovoltaics go in right after that.

In the meantime, I’m designing my rainwater harvesting system so I can catch and reuse rain to water my garden and maybe even bathe in. Metal roofs allow that.

The next hurdle? Most large rain tanks are made of plastic: another petroleum product.


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