Cool Roofs

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I a new user to eQuest and need to model cool roofs. I see the user
specified roof properties, but I do not see how to add the SRI or emissivity
of the roof. Would appreciate some guidance.



Ed Garcia's picture
Joined: 2011-09-30
Reputation: 0

Hi Ed,

I would account for emissivity by specifying the absorptance property of
the surface in the detailed edit mode (spreadsheet view is fastest way
to edit multiple roof constructions). For the purposes of defining roof
constructions to figure out their thermal behavior*, Emissivity =

The solar reflective index (SRI) is another way of defining the same
thing, based on a different scale between some grade of white and black
paint rather than absolutes (zero-to-1.0). There are probably charts
out there that could translate SRI into absorptance/emissivity if you
have only the SRI to go off of...

Right-click in eQuest one of the cells for entering your construction
absorptance, and you'll be led to a DOE help file that has a handy
reference chart of absorptances of various exterior finishes.


* Since I know we're a group of learners, I figured you and others
might be interested to hear (correct?) my logic behind "emissivity =
absorptance" for modeling roof constructions in eQuest and other energy
modeling ventures...

First, let me relate my understanding of emissivity through glass:
Light energy hitting glass does one of three things - (A) reflect off
the surface, (B) transmit through the glass, (C) absorb into the glass
as heat energy. Absorbed light energy (option C) is simultaneously
radiated (aka "emitted" ala "emissivity) from both sides of the glass
(into and outside of your building). "Low-e" glass is glass that has a
low emissivity, and thus doesn't get really hot and heat up your
building via heat radiation as much in the summer when hit by daylight.

Where emissivity is a fraction of radiation emitted from a surface,
absorptance is a measure of the fraction of radiation absorbed. One is
energy out, the other is energy in.

To ground my explanation a bit, I googled up something from my
thermodynamics courses that had gone a bit fuzzy:

Kirchoff's law
"At thermal equilibrium, the emissivity
of a body (or surface) equals
its absorptivity ."

If we assume, for the purposes of thermal energy modeling, that within
each modeled hour the roof construction is in thermal equilibrium (not
in the process of heating up or cooling down), we can say "radiation in
= radiation out," and apply Mr. K's law above, concluding Emissivity =

The potential inaccuracy of this assumption lies in the reality of how a
"cold" roof, for example, in the morning hours will absorb more heat
into its construction than it emits, until it reaches a thermal
equilibrium point later in the day. In the evening hours, the reverse
will be true and the roof will radiate heat at a higher fraction than
its absorptivity.

That said, I am semi-confident that eQuest and other programs using a
"construction by layers" methodology will compensate for such an
inaccuracy by approximating the actual absorption/radiation effects of
thermal massing over time. If I'm wrong on that point, I will have to
lick my wounds and hope someone on this list can set me straight before
I drive this eQuest train into a wall!

In other words, I'd love to be corrected if it's in order =).
Otherwise, hope this helps!


From: equest-users-bounces at
[mailto:equest-users-bounces at] On Behalf Of Ed
Sent: Monday, September 21, 2009 9:44 AM
To: Subject: [Equest-users] Cool Roofs

I a new user to eQuest and need to model cool roofs. I see the user
specified roof properties, but I do not see how to add the SRI or
emissivity of the roof. Would appreciate some guidance.



Nick-Caton's picture
Joined: 2011-09-30
Reputation: 805


I am curious - and you might need to consider - whether absorbtance is
really the same thing as absorbtivity (and check my spelling using b instead
of p - not sure there, either). Similarly, are emission and emissivity
truly synonymous? I'm pretty sure that Mr. K's law refers to behavior in a
situation, whereas eQuest is asking for material properties.
Is anyone else clearer on this than I am?

Lars Fetzek, EI

Lars Fetzek's picture
Joined: 2011-09-30
Reputation: 0

I'm afraid Nick's explanation assumes that a cool roof exposed to sunlight behaves as a black body with infinite insulation underneath. Instead, most roofing materials have a thermal emissivity of something like 0.9, give-or-take 0.08, regardless of solar reflectivity which can range from 0.05 to 0.95.
In this case, the heat emitted is only long-wave infrared radiation rather than the full solar spectrum, so the emissivity value is the ratio of roof heat being emitted relative to a black body at the same temperature and is not really related to the broadband solar radiation. In fact, texture or surface roughness has a bigger effect on infrared emissivity than visible color - a polished black surface will usually have a lower thermal emissivity than a rough white surface, depending on the material. Yes, the absorbed solar radiation, regardless of wavelength, has to heat up the roof but the emissivity number describes a material characteristic that is not dependent on how the material got heated in the first place (like from the inside of the building).
The material that the SRI is based on has both solar reflectivity and thermal emissivity of around 0.9 (as I recall). Since thermal emissivity is similar for so many roofing materials, the SRI number is usually a reasonable estimate for reflectivity. When taking a ballpark guess at roof surface inputs during concept phase, I use an SRI number for reflectivity and 0.9 for emissivity.
Christopher Wark

Chris Wark's picture
Joined: 2011-09-30
Reputation: 0