Credit: Illustration: Matt Wood

Recently, a prospective customer of American Custom Contractors, in Rockville, Md., wanted to know if the company would recycle the shingles torn from her roof rather than send them to the landfill. Co-owner Demetri Giakoumatis says that before the homeowner would sign the contract, she insisted on seeing a recycling company receipt as evidence that American Custom Contractors responsibly disposes of waste.

CONSUMER AWARENESS The number of customers aware of recycling and other earth-friendly options such as reflective shingles isn't large, but it is growing. Herbert Frank, president of Reliable Roofing and Gutters, in West Palm Beach, Fla., says that just a small percentage of current customers — less than 5% — ask about the green aspects of their roofing. “It is really just getting started,” he says.

Consumers who insist on such products may be relatively few, but manufacturers are betting their research dollars that that's just for the moment. Roofing product manufacturers introduced a whole spectrum of energy-saving and recyclable items at the International Roofing Expo, in Las Vegas last February, where every other booth, it seemed, eagerly touted eco-value. For the moment, most of these products are targeted to the commercial roofer, but many residential roofers, such as Joseph David Roofing, in Linden, N.J., do commercial roofing as well.

Recently, for example, a homeowner with a low-slope roof “stated definitely that she wanted nothing asphalt-related,” says partner Mark David. “So we're going in there with a TPO system.”

Frank says he uses “greener” products, such as white tiles that reflect back heat, “any time we can.” Anything that “saves the homeowner on some of their utility bills but that can also be promoted as a green product is a positive.”

GREENER FUTURE Bill Good, executive vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association, points out that roofing products today insulate better than their predecessors and/or reflect sunlight to reduce energy costs, and that more products are either made from recyclable materials or are designed to be recycled. But, he says, new products coming onto the market promise far greater environmental benefits, particularly those products that integrate photovoltaic technology into glass or roof coverings, especially shingles.

Last year, Allen Brothers, a residential and commercial roofing company in Rochester Hills, Mich., formed a subsidiary to market a kit consisting of 60 solar shingles and other parts that, once installed, can generate 1,860 watts of domestic electricity. The solar roof kit was voted best new product at the Las Vegas show. “If you are making a shingle that is a solar collector all by itself, then the game changes completely,” Good says.

—Jay Holtzman is a freelance writer based in Jamestown, R.I.