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Brush on a newly-formulated paint and feel good about helping to save the environment.

SUN rays that reach Earth are absorbed or reflected, depending on the surface they fall on.

Bright surfaces, like fresh snow on a ski field, will reflect most of the sunlight back into space. A dark surface will absorb the rays, which will raise the temperature of that surface and heat up surrounding areas, too.

In much the same way, a city built of concrete and asphalt will generally be warmer than its outskirts due to the heat reflected, absorbed, and retained by all those materials.

This phenomenon of increased urban temperatures, called the urban heat island effect, is mainly caused by modification of the landscape through urban development and heat generated by high energy usage.

An increase in surrounding temperature results in increased greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, and more energy needed to cool homes and offices. It also affects the health and welfare of residents as urban heat islands can exacerbate heat waves.

A hypothetical “cool communities” programme in Los Angeles projected that urban temperatures could be reduced by 3°C by planting 10 million trees, replacing five million roofs with reflective material, and painting 25% of its roads at an estimated cost of US$1bil (RM3.5bil) for all three measures.

It has also been said that the world would be a cooler place to live in if all our houses and buildings were painted white.

But a whitewashed world might not appeal to everyone, so Norwegian-owned paint company Jotun has come up with an alternative to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

It has developed Jotun Jotashield Extreme, a paint that reflects heat twice as effectively as ordinary paints, and that offers added ultra-violet (UV) ray protection.

“In this special formulation designed for the harsh tropical climate, we incorporate heat reflective pigments with a pure acrylic binder that can withstand UV rays and provide enhanced durability. We also included a non-toxic biocide to prevent growth of algae and fungus,” says Saw Soek Im, Jotun (M) Sdn Bhd Asia Pacific regional laboratory manager.

“The heat-reflective properties ensure that less heat is absorbed by the walls, thus resulting in lower surface temperatures, lower indoor temperatures, and lower cooling costs.”

Peder Bohlin, the company’s managing director and South-East Asia regional director who was in Kuala Lumpur recently, says Jotun is committed to bringing new concepts and products to the Malaysian market,

“To be successful, we need to be different. We examine what the consumer wants and combine that with what is technically possible, based on our laboratory research and development,” he says.

Jotashield Extreme, available in 120 colours, was developed over five years during which it was subjected to intensive simulation tests, such as accelerated weathering and wet scrub resistance.

“We decided to introduce it in Malaysia because the temperature and humidity here is high. Combine that with high rainfall and pollution and you’ve got the perfect example of a harsh tropical climate,” says Bohlin.

Malaysian Institute of Architects president Lee Chor Wah says that although the Green Building Index – Malaysia’s certification scheme for sustainable buildings – was introduced less than a year ago, feedback has been promising.

“Developers of residential areas want their houses green-rated because it sets them apart from the non-green ones.

“Developers of shopping centres and office buildings also want a green rating because they are under pressure from multi-national companies that only want to lease green-rated buildings, in line with their corporate responsibility agenda.”

Awareness of the green movement is spreading fast and many people are doing little things like using energy-saving appliances and composting. But it is not feasible for everyone to invest in green-rated houses overnight, Lee adds.

“My personal view is that using a heat-reflective paint is an easy way to contribute to the green cause and be part of the movement. It cools down the interior of your house and you save energy.

“There is also the feel-good factor that you’re doing something to help save the environment. If you cannot paint the whole house, just paint the western wall first (as that wall would receive the most sun and heat the interior up at night),” he suggests.

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