For years, Jose Hernandez tried everything to keep his home cool. He was using four window units on full blast and still couldn’t keep the house at a comfortable temperature. His electricity bill totaled $400 to $600 for his small, 1,000-sq. ft. home. On top of that, his roof was starting to leak.

Like most homes in the Northmoor neighborhood, his was constructed without insulation in the late ’30s or early ’40s. He tried numerous times to apply for aid to install insulation but was told he didn’t qualify. As a 70-year-old disabled veteran, he lives on a fixed income and couldn’t afford to replace his roof yet, but he was putting aside small amounts of money every month to save up.

Representatives from Councilman Roberto Treviño’s (D1) office told him that he qualified for the San Antonio Under 1 Roof pilot program early this summer.

“When I qualified, they fixed the roof. Whatever boards were rotten, they replaced them,” Hernandez said.

He won’t know the full effect on his electricity bill until a few months from now, but he and his wife can already feel the difference in the temperature. The new, white shingles absorb far less heat than darker ones and work to reflect heat away from the roof.

“We know that the house is cooler than it used to be. We feel it when we come in,” he said. Of the four air conditioning units he was running, he has already gotten rid of one.

Down the street from Hernandez’s home, 72-year-old David Allen White is also a disabled veteran. In his case, air conditioning wasn’t the problem. He was dealing with a persistent leak problem with his roof.

David Allen White stands in front of his white roofed house. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
David Allen White stands in front of his white roofed house. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

“I had it fixed a couple of times,” White said. “(The repairman) found some loose shingles and replaced them. Then it developed a leak again.”

White was told by the same repairman that the problem wouldn’t be fixed until the elevation of the roof was raised. He quoted $10,000 for the job.

“The roof was too flat and he wanted to make it higher.” he said. “I said ‘I don’t have $10,000.’ I talked to this other guy who came out and said he could fix the problem for $35.”

White paid him and it worked for a while. Then the leak came back.

After taking advantage of the Under 1 Roof program, he hasn’t seen any leaks, despite the recent rain.

The Under 1 Roof program in District 1 has replaced 11 roofs so far for disadvantaged homeowners in the Central Los Angeles Heights, Northmoor, and Edison neighborhoods. This includes people over the age of 65, veterans, those making less than the median household income, and people with disabilities.

The program not only fixes problems with home temperatures and water leaks, Treviño told the Rivard Report, it also helps solve larger problems.

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1) speaks about the $1.2 million City of San Antonio investment spent on expanding the Howard W. Peak Greenway Trails System. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1).  File photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

“The fact of the matter is we have a growing, aging population. With that we have an aging housing stock as well,” he said. “So you combine the two, and you have a combination of people who have lived in their homes for quite a long time and are having trouble with the maintenance. Once a roof leaks, that accelerates the decay of a home.”

This program will keep people in their homes, he said, while extending the lifespan of the home by 20-25 years.

To combat leaks and decay the roofs are constructed using Eco Chief Solarhide, a radiant barrier underlayment, and white reflective shingles that register at .65 on the Solar Reflectance Index. So far, there have been no leaks reported since most of the roofs were installed in June of this year.

To fund the initiative, Treviño converted $200,000 available from another program. The average cost to replace a roof is $13,000. Costs will decrease over time as the program expands and private sector partners join the program, he said. Exploratory talks have begun to include the Under 1 Roof initiative in CPS Energy’s energy efficiency rebate program.

During 2017 City Budget talks on Tuesday, Treviño will propose expanding the program into other districts to the City Council. It’s estimated that the cost of a citywide rollout would be at least $500,000. He said that will be a small price to pay to combat the urban “heat island” effect.

The white shingles better reflect the sunlight and prevent heat from radiating into the house. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.
The white shingles better reflect the sunlight and prevent heat from radiating into the house. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.

“The hottest part of our city is the center, specifically downtown,” he said. “We can prove that by building smarter and using better methodologies, we can actually lower the temperature of the city. By lowering the temperature, we can bring more people downtown.”

Installing white roofs isn’t a new idea, but it is new for residential structures.

“If you look at most commercial buildings, they have white roofs,” he explained. “They also have the benefit of design professionals giving them that advice.”

Treviño hopes the program will showcase the positive effect that a passive, time-tested technology like a white roof can have.

Working with the City’s Department of Planning and Community Development, the program’s recipients will have their houses monitored for one year by researchers at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Their findings in utility bill data, attic temperature, and overall home temperatures will be released as an impact study on the long-term effects of the new roofs.  Treviño says that by expanding the program, the researchers will have a larger sample size to measure its effectiveness.

The program can also help with the city’s growing emissions problem.

“We talk about air quality in terms of emissions, but the other half of that is the heat. The emissions get baked in the heat generated by a city. You can look at a heat island map to see that.” Treviño said the Under 1 Roof program is just one part of a multi-faceted solution.

The name evokes the community spirit needed to solve some of the city’s energy problems, he said. “The name ‘San Antonio Under 1 Roof’ is basically saying that we’re all in this together. This is about all of us.”

Interested District 1 residents can apply for the program or find out more by calling (210) 207-6459.

Image courtesy of the City of San Antonio.
Image courtesy of the City of San Antonio.

Top Image: The Hernandez family was one of 10 homeowners selected to be part of the Under1Roof pilot program.  Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone. 

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James McCandless

Former intern James McCandless is a recent St. Mary's University graduate. He has worked with the San Antonio Current and Texas Public Radio.