Green Roofs for a Green Future

Living roofs are roofs of buildings that are either partially or completely covered with plants and vegetation. Providing extra space for nature to flourish is always a good thing. But the benefits of green roofs aren’t just limited to added vegetation. Living roofs have multiple benefits to the buildings that house them. A clever way to bring nature into urban areas where most surfaces are dreary, gray, impervious concrete, green roofs provide more than their natural beauty to apartment and business buildings.

The Perks

On the largest scale, green roofs are wonderful for the environment. If your green grass lawn can attract its share of animals from the invertebrate to the mammal, then a city-block wide roof filled with more than just grass will play its fair share of host to wildlife. Not the bees! You could feasibly keep a hive and flowers for the bees to pollinate and enhance our ecosystem.

Green roofs affect water quality. Roofs, whether or not they are green, contaminate rainwater when it runs off the surface and back into the system. One complaint of concrete roofs is how much the runoff has to be processed to be potable (safe for food and drinking). Green roofs won’t give us naturally potable runoff, but it does leave us with water that can be recycled straight back into toilets or irrigating landscape.

But perhaps the best of the biggest qualities of green roofs is that – due to the fact that they’re covered in plants – they sequester carbon like a jury in a capital case. Back to the bright side, this is fantastic news, especially for urban areas where carbon output is exceedingly high. As far as ways to reduce our carbon footprint, green roofs handle the job like a champ. They should really be all over the place.

On a smaller more personal level, green roofs affect their individual buildings in about a million ways, too. The problem with rainwater on flat concrete roofs is how quickly it produces runoff. Green roofs – again, being plants and soil – absorb rainwater and release it slower over time. This reduces flooding, erosion, and the chances of raw sewage being mucked out and getting tangled up in our rivers.

This lush blanket of plant life absorbs sunlight and helps keep the cooling bills down. It blocks out sound and provides an extra layer of insulation. And if that weren’t enough, it’s just plain pretty to look at.

Let’s take it a step further and wipe out toxins by setting up a building-wide compost program for residential buildings, and a community based compost system to facilitate businesses. Food waste breaks down into fertilizer – and in some cases gas, as well – that gets funneled right back into the green roofs – and the gas back into resident’s kitchens – with more nutrients and no chemicals in the soil that then absorbs rainwater releasing it into our ecosystem at an easy pace. (Who’s going to tweet that to AOC???) It may be just an idea now, but one that’s conceivable with green roofs.

The Cost

It’s not as bad as you would think, actually. There are two main types of green roofs, extensive and intensive. Extensive roofs are low maintenance and cost around $10/sq ft. They don’t require irrigation and contain sedums and succulents, herbs, mosses and a few grasses. It can be cared for on a community level between residents or outsourced to a gardener. Intensive roofs are the opposite in every way from needing irrigation to cost coming in around $25/sq ft. However, you’re likely to see a return on the investment by way of energy bills. These gardens will most definitely need a professional gardener/landscaper with the potential to plant small trees, perennials, shrubs and a bourgey putting green.

Going back to that big picture, the maintenance and installation of the roofs will provide jobs while saving the environment. It’s also a known fact that reconnecting with nature can be good for your health from reducing blood pressure to improving your mental state with its serenity. In a jumbled city of pavement and 20 story buildings, finding a patch of grass is impossible. Safety will need to be considered and exercised, but what a gift for those confined to apartment living.

If you’ve got a flat, concrete roof on your building invest in the future and invest in a green roof.