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Is White Paint A Tool To Help Fight Climate Change?

Design Trends

We’ve spoken before about the convergence of climate and color, and as weather events continue to increase in devastation and magnitude, scientists, governments, and designers are looking for every tool possible to help mitigate the effects of climate change. Enter the color white, particularly white paint. Why? White paint has the ability to reflect the sun’s heat rather than absorb it as darker colors do, therefore keeping all things that are painted white, naturally cooler.

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Photo credit: MARNIE EPSTEIN-MERVIS


In fact, Inside Science and Fast Company reported on the relatively recent discovery of the world’s whitest white paint by a Purdue University professor, one made of barium sulfate, a compound which helps reflect 98% of sunlight, yet is also unfortunately carbon-intense to mine. While the full potential of this recent discovery may take time to realize, let’s take a look at the history and benefits associated with white paint in the built environment.

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How Do Buildings Contribute To Carbon Emissions?
Before we delve into how white paint can be a solution, it’s important to understand how buildings play a role in climate change. According to the BBC, the World Green Building Council reports that 28% of global carbon dioxide emissions are released when we light, heat, and cool buildings. This is because the majority of the energy we make for buildings stem from oil and gas, which when burned, give off carbon dioxide. Although CO2 is needed to keep the Earth’s atmosphere warm enough for life to thrive, the extensive burning of fossil fuels has created too many carbon emissions, warming the planet beyond a normal level in, what’s referred to, as a Greenhouse Effect.

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Cutting the overall rate of fossil fuel usage is crucial in the fight to climate change; the question remains, outside of cutting emissions across the board, what other techniques and choices are available? And that’s where paint comes in.

Why is White Paint Key To Combating Climate Change?
White is the most highly reflective color. When sunlight beams on a white-painted surface, it’s reflected back out to the atmosphere and into space, releasing heat that would otherwise be trapped on the planet’s surface. Ultimately, this keeps a white building - and its exterior perimeter - cooler than one of an alternative color. This is important, because the cooler a building stays, naturally, the less carbon dioxide is burned in order to artificially keep it cool with something like air conditioning.

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The idea of painting buildings white isn’t just important in traditionally hot or desert locations, it’s an important tool for cities to incorporate around the globe, as density too can aid rising temperatures. Historically, painting buildings white to reflect the sun's heat is, in fact, a trick used around the world for generations. Mediterranean climates marked by long, dry, hot summers, have a long tradition of painting their buildings bright white to reflect the hot sun. For example, look at the cliffside houses and churches that dot the isles of Greece, as well as similar structures in Morocco and Spain. A unifying theme among the historic architecture in these areas is an abundance of thick walls and light white exteriors.

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Photo credit: BETHANY NAUERT


What Are Dunn-Edwards’ Best White Paint Colors?
As we’ve discussed, painting homes and commercial buildings in white is an easy and effective way to help mitigate the effects of climate change by keeping spaces cooler than if they are painted other colors. Looking for some help choosing a white paint color? No problem. Dunn-Edwards’ color expert and stylist, Sara McLean, notes that warm white exteriors are trending for 2021 just like the white on this Eichler Palms property in Palm Springs, Calif. painted in Warm White (DEW380). Still other exteriors like those in more gray-toned whites like this home painted in Droplets (DEW381) can be just as advantageous. Besides white paint’s reflective qualities for exteriors, it also creates a timeless, fresh look outside and in.

If you’re looking to lower temps and reduce your carbon footprint, Dunn-Edwards offers white paint colors that designers swear by.