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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Potential benefits of cool walls on residential and commercial buildings across California and the United States: Conserving energy, saving money, and reducing emission of greenhouse gases and air pollutants


Solar-reflective “cool” walls reduce absorption of sunlight by the building envelope, which may decrease cooling load in warm weather and increase heating load in cool weather. Changes to annual heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) energy use depend on climate, wall construction, wall orientation, building geometry, HVAC efficiency, and operating schedule. Changes to annual energy cost and energy-related emissions further vary with local energy prices and emission factors. We used EnergyPlus to perform over 100,000 whole-building energy simulations, spanning 10 different building categories, three building vintages, 16 California climate zones, and 15 United States (U.S.) climate zones. Cool walls yielded annual source energy, energy cost, and emission savings in all California climate zones and in warm U.S. (ASHRAE) climate zones. In California, annual whole-building HVAC energy cost savings were 4.0–27% in single-family homes, 0.5–3.8% in medium office buildings, and 0.0–8.5% in stand-alone retail stores. In warm U.S. climates—zones 1A (Miami, FL) through 4B (Albuquerque, NM)—annual HVAC energy cost savings were 1.8–8.3% in single-family homes, 0.3–4.6% in medium office buildings, and 0.5–11% in stand-alone retail stores. California and U.S. fractional source energy and emission savings were comparable to fractional energy cost savings. Per unit surface area modified, cool-wall savings often exceeded cool-roof savings because building codes typically prescribe much less wall insulation than roof insulation.

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