Life in Bermuda may seem exotic and glamorous to outsiders, but the Caribbean Community member faces significant challenges – including a chronic lack of fresh water. To counteract the dearth of springs, rivers, and lakes, local residents designed the island’s iconic white stepped roofs, which slow rainfall so that it may be stored.
While Bermuda’s stepped roofs were originally built out of necessity, they are now officially a part of Bermuda law, which states that every new home must include eight gallons of rain barrel storage per square foot of roof space. The roofs that sit atop houses, which are akin to those in British villages but with more festive pastel paint jobs, are built out of limestone to withstand hurricane force winds. Their white color reflects UV light from the sun, which helps to purify the rainwater runoff and keep the homes cool.
As Bermuda’s population has expanded and its reputation as a vacation destination has grown, the island of 60,000 has had to expand upon its low-tech roof system to provide fresh water. “When you can’t spread out, you start building up but think of a house where the roof area and the tank area is designed to satisfy a single family – if you build up and put in another family, you double the consumption,” said Stuart Hayward, an environmental expert from Bermuda. Tourists, many of whom desire to play a few rounds on water-intensive golf courses, do not possess the same water preservation ethos as those who were born and raised on the island, which has raised Bermuda’s water consumption.
The island has integrated desalinization plants, of which there are six, throughout the island. In total, these plants generate over 3,500,000 gallons of fresh purified water each day. However, admiration for the white stepped roofs remains. “What’s good about it is individual responsibility plus collective oversight plus a dependence on social and cultural values,” said Henrietta Moore of the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London. “In terms of its advantages, it’s low-cost, has been developed over several hundred years so it’s been crafted and tailored to local circumstances,” said Roger Calow, head of the water policy program at the Overseas Development Institute. “It fits the climate, it works.”
While Bermuda’s stepped roof method does not work everywhere, it may serve as a model for similar environments and as an inspiration for communities everywhere as they attempt to build water resilience in an increasingly unpredictable world.