Green roofs are popping up all over the country, but we're not talking about green shingles. A green roof is an environmentally friendly, energy-efficient alternative to the traditional roof. In place of standard shingles or metal roofs, this roof uses plants, grasses and other landscaping to act as a drainage system and natural insulator.
A green roof can be a massive, park-like setting, or simply a roof that uses plants to reap some of those efficiency benefits. While the typical homeowner in Coweta County might not immediately be able to plant trees on the roof, Georgia does have green roofs — Atlanta's city hall installed a green roof back in 2003. Here are some other eye-popping examples from around North America:
- The Visitor Center's roof in Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California helps the building blend seamlessly into the landscape.
- This green roof at San Francisco's Civic Center enhances the beauty of the skyline.
- A country market in British Columbia is nearly unnoticeable, as its green roof and landscaping work right into the countryside.
- The green roof on the Mountain Equipment Co-op building in Toronto draws on a natural landscape. The company is also committed to natural sustainability in its products and in how the company uses water.
- Part of the Norfolk Botanical Garden, this green roof is located on the Public Programs Hut; it's designed to educate visitors about the garden's benefits.
- The roof of the Ogden Elementary School in Chicago encloses the outdoor athletic area with greenery, and makes the space a much more inviting area.
The benefits of going green
Designed the right way, green roofs:
- Last longer than standard roofs.
- Lower energy costs for the building because they act as natural insulators.
- Create an additional outdoor living space if the roof is flat.
- Deal with rain water, acting as a highly effective drainage system.
- Protect the building from the elements.
- Require very little maintenance.
- Improve air quality.
- Enhance the beauty of the space.
Green roofs fall into three categories: extensive, semi-intensive and intensive. Extensive roofs don't require as much strength in terms of load bearing, and are well-suited for tranforming an existing roof to a green roof. It's also an affordable option, ideal for low-growing plants that don't require much maintenance.
Intensive roofs, as the name suggests, require more work and are generally expensive, too. The roof must be able to handle lots of weight to accommodate elements like benches, sidewalks and ponds. Maintenance is extensive, with irrigation systems and fertilization programs a must.
For a moderate option, a semi-intensive roof is a marriage of intensive and extensive. It calls for more maintenance and load bearing than an extensive roof, and it costs more, too. However, its deeper soil system gives homeowners more options for planting various types of landscaping.
Green roofs have been around for awhile, but the concept is gaining momentum around the country. Keep your eyes toward the sky, and you might start to see more green up there.