Increasing the albedo of urban surfaces has received attention as a strategy to mitigate urban heat islands. Here, the effects of globally installing white roofs are assessed using an urban canyon model coupled to a global climate model. Averaged over all urban areas, the annual mean heat island decreased by 33%. Urban daily maximum temperature decreased by 0.6°C and daily minimum temperature by 0.3°C. Spatial variability in the heat island response is caused by changes in absorbed solar radiation and specification of roof thermal admittance. At high latitudes in winter, the increase in roof albedo is less effective at reducing the heat island due to low incoming solar radiation, the high albedo of snow intercepted by roofs, and an increase in space heating that compensates for reduced solar heating. Global space heating increased more than air conditioning decreased, suggesting that end-use energy costs must be considered in evaluating the benefits of white roofs.