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What are Green Roofs?

Green roofs usher in a presence of greenery in a thong of urban jungles.  Garden roofs where curling vines and flowers blossom and grow on asphalt, concrete, and steel have become more than a trend, but a must-have for apartment-livers in the big cities.  Green roofs make use of what would be wasted space, transforming traditional infrastructure into a small swath of paradise.

We all crave nature, even a dedicated city-dweller.  Despite our progress towards a future of towering concrete skyscrapers and digitalized lifestyles, human beings always come back to the simplicity of the outdoors.  It’s an inherent connection that we realized as far back as 1853, when the New York State Legislature conserved more than 750 acres of land in Manhattan Island, giving birth to Central Park, the first major landscaped public park in America.

A green roof system is essentially an extension of the roof in-place, consisting of a drainage system, filter cloth, and a water-proofed, root repellent layer that allows ground cover and plants to flourish.

Green Roof

Types of Green Roofs

There are two types of green roofs: intensive and extensive.

An intensive green roof is akin to a park, only situated to be atop a building structure.  On this type of a green roof, you’ll find shrubs, trees, flowers, and bushes among walkways and outdoor seating.  An intensive green roof can possess these numerous plant-types thanks to their immense structural support, layers of root protection, and drainage and irrigation systems.  Because of their demanding structure, intensive green roofs can require 80-150 pounds per square foot of load to a building structure.

An extensive green roof is less involved.  This type of rooftop green-space is light in comparison to their cousin, the extensive green roof, only weighs about 15-20 pounds per square foot of load to a building structure.  Typically, an extensive green roof will support sprawling native ground cover that requires relatively low upkeep.  These green roofs usually are dedicated spaces that promote environmental advantages, but aren’t meant to serve as functional rooftop gardens.

Green Roof

Benefits of a Green Roof

Why make your rooftop into a green roof?  There are more benefits to consider aside from sheer aesthetics.

Green roofs can:

  • Reduce stress by bringing a slice of nature to an urban area
  • Absorb storm water
  • Reduce the need for invasive drainage systems
  • Prevent water damage
  • Reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect, a phenomenon where condensed cities and developments absorb and trap heat
  • Produce cleaner air
  • Contribute to animal and insect ecosystems

Green Roof Initiative: Cost Versus Advantages

Despite the countless environmental advantages, energy efficiency, and protective benefits, homeowners tend to turn away from green roofs because of their initial cost.  A green roof needs the practiced hands of a professional designer, as it requires multiple layers, drainage systems, and leans on the structural support of the building.  The costs aren’t low for green roofs, usually starting at $8 per square foot—and that doesn’t include things like labor and other materials.

The initial costs are perhaps the only downside to a green roof.  However, there are many cities that offer incentive programs and grants for installing green roofs in an effort to promote an environmentally friendly city.  Take for example Chicago, a city that’s continually encouraging green-rooftop projects.  As more cities become involved in these green rooftops, the industry will grow, and the costs will eventually lower over time.

Long-term, however, the economic benefits of a green roof only grow, quickly making up for the initial start-up expenses.  Green roofs protect the roof membrane from outdoor elements like adverse weather, UV radiation, often doubling the roof’s lifespan in comparison to traditional roofs.

Additionally, green roofs work to keep the temperature cooler by minimizing heat gain thanks to the flourishing vegetation.  Not only will this save on your energy costs over time, but the temperature regulation will also extend the life of the roof.  The process is termed as evapotranspiration, the plant’s natural way of utilizing heat energy that subsequently cools the air as water evaporates from its leaves.

A green roof can promote cleaner air in this process, too, by removing impurities through air particles and producing oxygen.  For a dense city suffering from air pollution, this makes green roofs essential in combating unclean air and global climate change.

green roof material

Beyond a Return of Investment

With a green roof in place, building owners, property managers, and homeowners will see much more than simply a return of its investment on the initial costs.  Green roofs can make a significant impact on the cities they thrive in, working to reduce heat, pollution, and offer immense environmental and energy benefits in return.

In America, green roofs are misunderstood.  The industry behind their design and implementation is in its infancy still, but like the plants that cover these roofs themselves, they just need a little attention to grow.  If green roofs were to become the norm among infrastructures, homes, and in our concrete cities, we could perhaps bridge the damaging gap between aggressive human progress and the natural world that so often suffers beneath it.

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