Finding Gold in the Details
Chemistry is key as Valspar, the global paint and coatings manufacturer, works out solutions to energy efficiency at a molecular level
On a rural road outside of Sacramento, drivers often glide to a halt on the shoulder in an attempt to comprehend the home of Ilhan and Kamer Eser. Like an iridescent reptile basking in the California sun, the skin of the house reflects an earthy rainbow of color that seems to change from one vantage point to another. Sometimes motorists drive back and forth in front of it for several minutes, their heads hanging out the window with jaws dropped to the ground. It may seem like a mirage in the brown and dusty hills, but the effect is the result of Valspar’s mica-based Kameleon coating, which the Eser’s chose for their metal clad home.
As a result of the mica embedded in it, the Dusty Rose Kameleon coating chosen by the Eser’s changes from green to yellow to silver to bronze to dark brown, depending on the time of the day and the angle from which you’re looking. The colors brighten and darken with the rising and setting of the sun each day in a fitting ode to a home that is deeply in tune with the natural world. Valspar also made the paint that is applied to the home’s metal roof—the Surrey Beige color from their Fluropon line—a 70% PVDF (Polyvinylidene Fluoride) resin-basedcoating with phenomenal durability properties as well as solar reflectivity, which aids in the home’s energy efficiency.
Though the exterior is stunning, the people driving by have no idea about another stunning aspect of the house: it is a net zero structure. With more than 200 years in the paint and coatings business, Valspar has an impressive portfolio of products to meet the needs of environmentally conscious clients, such as the Eser’s.
“Ten or fifteen years ago I was one of those pinheads that laughed when people talked about sustainability and net zero—I didn’t believe in those things,” says Eser, a mechanical engineer who has been in the construction trade for 35 years. “But once I moved to California, and became part of Kingspan Group, I evolved and eventually came to the point where I decided to build my own net zero house.”
Eser is the CEO of the Morin Corporation, a manufacturer of roll-formed metal wall and roof panels, which became part of the Kingspan Group in 2008. Kingspan, a global leader in manufacturing insulated roof and wall panels, “is all about sustainability and energy efficiency,” says Eser. “It is a big part of their mandate.” Valspar provides the coatings for nearly every Kingspan product, a long-standing relationship which combines two key players in the building industry that are equally committed to the goal of net positive structures: Valspar’s reflective coatings on Kingspan’s insulated panels is a one-two punch for driving down heating and cooling costs.
“Valspar is like an old friend, so it’s no surprise that I used them for my house,” says Eser, “but what is surprising is the choice of Kameleon coating. It was a gutsy move as we were getting some scepticism from friends and neighbors about having a metal house, let alone a house that changes color. But choosing the coating was much more than the color, it was due in part to the technology that they’ve developed recently.”
This is What Sustainability Looks Like
The Eser’s net zero home has an 18 kilowatt solar array on the roof provided by Kingspan’s energy group and a geothermal heating and cooling system supplied by Hydron Module that features an 800 feet long loop, 10 feet under the ground. This system eliminates the need for a furnace or HVAC by using the stable temperatures underneath the ground. No fossil fuels are burned in the house and the grid-intertied photovoltaic system produces about twice as much power as the family consumes. An automated MechoSystems solar shade system supplied by Allweather Aluminum is installed on the ample 2-inch thick double paned glazing with U value as low as 0.30 —whenever the sun hits the glass, the shades automatically roll down. To perfect the interior climate, a custom high-velocity blowing system was installed to eliminate hot and cool spots that result from stagnant air. Instead of the standard 3 or 4 vents per room, the Eser’s have about 25 blowers in each room that are positioned for optimal homogenous air distribution, making the home comfortable 365 days a year, using only the geothermal system.
“It’s all married,” says Eser. “You can’t have one of these components without the other and expect to achieve a net zero house. Our mission statement at Kingspan is ‘envelope first for energy efficiency.’ This house is the house of the future and eventually, all the new houses will be built with the same technology.”
In California’s Central Valley where 100-plus degree days are common in the summer, keeping the hot air out was a key to the design and the part where Valspar’s coatings and Kingspan’s insulated metal panels come into play. The Eser’s chose the Surrey Beige color because it has a high solar reflective value —known in the industry as the solar reflective index (SRI) rating— among Valspar coating products. Traditional dark-colored roofing materials can reach 185 degrees in summer, transferring an enormous heat load to the house, but highly reflective roofing surfaces can knock 50 to 60 degrees off the temperature, which can mean up to a 40% reduction in energy use. The science behind this is complex, but the bottom line is that highly reflective paint is the first line of defense against heat absorption for a net zero house.
The second line of defense has to do with the material the coating is applied to and how quickly it’s able to release the heat that it absorbs, a property geo-engineers refer to as thermal emissivity. Metal, as it turns out, has excellent thermal emissivity—in other words, it cools off quickly. “When the sun goes down a metal panel will cool down much more quickly to the ambient temperature than an asphalt shingle,” says Channing Beaudry, the technical manager of Valspar’s coil and extrusion division. Beaudry compares traditional roofing to a ceramic coffee mug: “it is designed to hold the heat in, so hours and hours after the sun goes down your air conditioner is still running to cool down the attic.”
The third line of defense on the Eser’s home is the insulation, much of which is integrated with the metal roof and wall panels. The 6-inch roof panels have an R-value of 42, almost twice the level required by California’s strict energy efficiency laws, which is R-24. The 4-inch insulated panels used for the siding have an R-value of 36. There are additional layers of insulation on the interior of the walls and roof, which Eser estimates bump up the R-values to 40 and 50, respectively.
Eser and his wife are empty-nesters now that their three girls have grown up and gone off to college. They’re at that place in their lives where they can afford to follow a dream. They designed the house together without the help of an architect and Eser acted as the general contractor, which was a new experience for him even after decades in the building industry. The family composts all their kitchen scraps and recycles them into compost for use in their vegetable garden. All the wastewater from the home is cleaned by an engineered septic system that converts waste to water suitable for irrigation. Just one small bag of trash leaves their house for the landfill each month; everything else is recycled. Other features of the home include it being designed as a “smart house” meaning all the utilities are controlled by a smart phone and LED technology is used for the lighting throughout the estate, which utilizes only a fraction of energy compared to conventional lighting.
Their lifestyle may sound extreme to some, but Eser sees his efforts at net zero living as a gift. “I’ve had a good life,” he says. “I felt like I wanted to pay back to the earth in one form or another.”
The quest for positive energy in the built environment is complicated, to say the least. It takes committed citizens and pro-active politicians, but it ultimately takes visionary businesses to deliver the goods. Large companies like Valspar have a crucial role to play—with such a deep reach within the coatings industry, its initiatives reverberate far beyond its own corporate walls. Jeff Alexander, vice president of sales in the coil and extrusion division says Valspar’s intentions in this regard are crystal clear: “our goal is to be the industry leader when it comes to sustainability, not just in North America but on a global basis.”
It might sound like a bold statement for a company that exclusively makes paint and coatings, but because Valspar’s products are found on a staggering percentage of interior and exterior surfaces throughout the world—from residential roofs and appliances to heavy machinery and high rises—their choices matter.
One of Valspar’s most notable innovations has been the development of coatings that maintain excellent solar reflectivity ratings in a wide range of colors. Most designers understand the basic concept that light colors reflect heat better than dark colors, but the reality is that not every client wants a light-colored roof. Always looking to marry sustainability with the marketplace, the company set out to test and select pigments in a range of colors with excellent solar reflectivity rating. The results have been extremely exciting for the metal roofing industry.
“Virtually any color can be formulated with these solar reflective pigments with any of our technologies,” Alexander says. In other words, there is not a separate line of solar reflective coatings—all Valspar products for roofing applications are now available with their proprietary formulation for solar reflectivity. Alexander says “there are minimum reflectivity levels set forth by Energy Star, and we’re able to hit those minimums with almost any color.”
Solar reflective coatings are one way Valspar is addressing energy efficiency, but that is by no means the only way in which the company is addressing human and environmental health. Historically, the paint and coatings industry has relied on a range of substances that are not environmentally friendly to create durable, high performance finishes, but that era is quickly ending. Valspar formulates numerous low- and no-VOC products, and has recently developed a number of BPA-free and hexavalent chromium-free materials, in addition to a line of finishes based on bio-renewable and recycled materials.
A number of years ago Greg Hayes, Valspar’s technical director for R&D, was curious about the possibilities of using vegetable oil as an alternative to petroleum-based ingredients in some of Valspar’s products. He knew of the success of the bio-diesel industry and wondered if the paint and coatings industry could make use of the same waste product. “Oils used by the food processing industry go into a waste stream that eventually finds its way to the cattle and pet food industries,” Hayes says. “We decided to tap into that waste stream and find a way to make polymers for coatings.”
It took about three years to go from concept to commercial reality, but Valspar now has a number of patents based around used waste oil, as well as virgin vegetable oil. It’s primarily used as a backer for the paint that is applied to the giant coils of sheet metal that are turned into roof panels.
Even the way that Valspar coating is applied to the metal used for wall and roofing panels has been enhanced for better environmental performance. Coil coating—where the paint is rolled onto the metal in a factory setting rather than sprayed on—is a pretty energy efficient technique to begin with and has a very low VOC component. Alexander says that they’ve also developed a technology that allows coatings to be cured at a lower temperature. “That means less heat is required in the applicator’s ovens, which leads to lower energy use.”
In the coil coating process for metal paneling, the VOC gases that are released actually go back into the system and, using a device called a thermal oxidizer, become fuel for the curing process. “It’s like an incinerator,” Alexander says.
The Business Case
“It’s all driven by the heat island effect,” Rick Afton, Valspar’s global technical director for coil and extrusion who has been with the company for 38 years, on the company’s emphasis on cool roofing products. He’s referring to the widely documented phenomenon in which cities—where rooftops, asphalt, and other hard surfaces dominate over trees and vegetation—are substantially warmer than the surrounding countryside. In some instances, the urban heat island effect has increased local temperatures up to 12 degrees above the norm. It makes city life less ‘livable’ and it makes air conditioners work that much harder, compounding the stress that urban areas place on the global ecosystem.
“There’s been a lot of research done by government labs demonstrate the energy savings achieved with reflective metal roofing,” Afton says. Valspar used to offer its reflective coating as an option to clients that requested it, but over the last eight years it’s become the norm because of the financial benefits and tax credits available for end users. “There is a great business case that comes with technology that heats when it’s supposed to and cools when it’s supposed to,” says Afton.
The statistics around roofing materials, energy efficiency, and economics are staggering. For starters, at least 20% of the land surface of most urban areas is covered by roofing, according to the EPA’s Urban Heat Island Pilot Project. In Chicago, for example, the roof cover is 25% of the land area—that’s a lot of real estate to work with. Traditional roofing materials absorb 85 to 95% of the sun’s heat energy, meaning that there is a lot of potential for improvement. In contrast, the “coolest” roofing materials, such as those on Eser’s net zero house – metal paneling clad with Valspar’s SR Fluropon 70% PVDF coating, which combine a highly reflective surface with a fast-cooling metal substrate, absorb less than 30% of solar heat energy and achieve a thermal emittance of up to 90%.
Potential energy savings average $20 to $30 per year per 1,000 square feet of roof space, though in hot climates like southern California, the savings can be twice as high. In all, Valspar estimates that the nationwide implementation of cool roofs could realize an annual savings of $1 billion.
The Importance of Partnerships
When it comes to cool roofing, Valspar may only supply the coating, but the company is making an outsized effort to move the industry forward. This means spearheading research efforts and collaborating across the spectrum of industry participants, from manufacturers like Kingspan to government agencies like Energy Star to third parties like the USGBC and the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). “We’re actively present on the leading technical committees that provide guidance for test methods and best practices for cool roofing products,” Hayes says.
In other words, “we put our money where our mouth is,” Alexander echoes.
Valspar maintains several testing facilities around the world, but also works with the Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC), the Oak Ridges National Laboratory in Tennessee, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. “We make sure we always have answers when they ask questions,” says Marlene Garrow, the leader of the company’s testing unit for the coil and extrusion division. “We like to stay involved to ensure we remain at the forefront of developing innovative coating technologies.”
With all the new paint and coating products in the Valspar pipeline, Garrow says there is an urgency at the moment to know how well the products will age. For example, Cool Roof Rating Council (CRRC) standards include a requirement for the reflectivity rating after 3 years exposure, based on the fact that poor quality paint can degrade quickly in the elements and lose the properties it was designed for. CRRC and the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab designed an accelerated aging test to speed up the process and Valspar was able to test its coatings by using panels supplied by a customer. “Nobody wants to wait three years to get the results so we are thankful for the efforts put forth by the CRRC and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and making tests like these available to our team,” Garrow says.
Business success in an emerging field like cool roofing rests on collaboration with multiple stakeholders, but it is also fuelled by healthy competition. Lawmakers continuously raise the bar for the energy efficiency of buildings, while more and more clients expect coatings to be free of hazardous materials, yet capable of the same performance as past formulations, if not better. Every new version of LEED and the Living Building Challenge, an advanced sustainability certification program, offers a new level of transparency to aspire to. There is tremendous pressure in the industry to innovate. Indeed, it is the only way to remain competitive.
With their hands-on approach to research and coalition building, Valspar excels at commercializing new and better products, but Afton says the mandate for sustainability is also great for business. “It all comes back to the business case—the fact that these things are popping up means that there is a tremendous demand to achieve human health and environmental goals. It’s a nonstop opportunity for innovation.”
The Science of Solar Reflective Pigments
When the sun’s rays beat down on a sprawling metropolis, there is more going on than meets the eye—quite literally, says Channing Beaudry, the technical manager of Valspar’s coil and extrusion division. First of all, only 43% of solar energy is visible light, the wavelengths that allow people to see during the daytime. Five percent is in the UV spectrum, which is what causes sunburns. Beaudry is concerned with the other 52%—infrared light—the part that warms our skin, but can make a city unbearable on a hot summer day.
“When we design solar reflective coatings, what we’re trying to do is change the way the pigments interact with light, particularly infrared light, which is what builds heat,” Beaudry says.
To do this, Valspar looks at two related approaches. The first is to make their coatings highly reflective in the infrared spectrum, so the light is reflected back into the atmosphere and will not be absorbed into the building structure. This is easy with light-colored pigments, but the reflective ratings go down with darker colors.
The second approach is to use coating that is actually transparent to infrared rays, so the light will go through the product and hit the metal beneath it—“the metal is quite reflective so it bounces back,” says Beaudry. Designing pigments that allow infrared rays to pass through is what allows Valspar to achieve darker colors that still result in a high reflectivity rating.
The Case for Metal
Metal has long been seen as a utilitarian siding for industrial applications, but it is gaining traction for residential exteriors thanks to the work of Valspar and its industry partners such as the Kingspan Group and intrepid homeowners like Ilhan and Kamer Eser. Eser’s net zero home features metal roofing and metal siding, both of which were given a warm, contemporary look with Valspar’s Fluropon coatings and are inspiring other home builders to follow suit. Even the framing of the home is metal. There are good reasons for expanding the use of metal in residential construction, in terms of the environment and the bottom line.
“Metal as a building material is inherently environmentally friendly,” says Beaudry, the technical manager of Valspar’s coil and extrusion division. “It is the most recycled building material in the world.” High recycled content is a big part of what drew Eser to metal as the basis for his net zero home, as well as its thermal emissivity, or its ability to shed heat. A metal home cools down very quickly once the sun goes down, compared to a home that features exterior building materials such as vinyl siding and an asphalt roof. Homes utilizing metal building materials within the exterior design such as wall panels and roof panels last much longer than homes using more traditional building materials, for instance, wood, stucco, brick, and asphalt. When it is time to rebuild, there is peace of mind in knowing the majority of the home will end up at a recycling facility rather than a landfill. In the US, 80% of metal is recycled.
“People talk about wood being bio-renewable, but you can’t really recycle wood,” says Beaudry, certainly not into a high-end product. “With metal, you can drink out of an aluminum can and two years from now that can might be a wing on an airplane.”
Greg Hayes, Valspar’s technical director for R&D, points out other, often overlooked virtue of metal as a roofing material: its damage resistance compared to traditional shingle roofing. “For example, if you live in a coastal area, metal roofing has shown itself to be more resilient to high winds and hurricane damage, as well as hail….so you find a preference for it in those climates.” This translates to lower insurance costs, which, when added to the savings on energy bills and from not having to replace the roof as often, make a compelling economic proposition.
Plus, metal roofs coated with a reflective paint, like Valspar’s industry leading solar reflective coatings, earn a credit toward LEED certification in the heat island category. If the metal with a high recycled content is used, a second credit is earned.
FACTS AND FIGURES
- traditional dark-colored roofing materials can reach 185 degrees in summer
- highly reflective roofing surfaces can knock 50 to 60 degrees off the temperature and reduce energy use for cooling by up to 40 percent
- at least 20 percent of the land surface of most urban areas is covered by roofing
- traditional roofing materials absorb 85 to 95 percent of the sun’s heat energy
- cool roofing materials, which combine a highly reflective surface with a fast-cooling metal substrate, absorb less than 30 percent of solar heat energy and achieve a thermal emittance of up to 90 percent
- potential energy savings from installing a cool roof average $20 to $50 per year per 1000 square feet of roof space, depending on the climate
- Valspar estimates that the nationwide implementation of cool roofs could realize an annual savings of $1 billion.
By Brian Barth