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Green Roofs Guide

green roof

The grass isn’t always greener in your front lawn.With the growing awareness of global warming Americans are becoming increasingly ecological, and breathing new life into the term eco-friendly. Environmentally conscious consumers are finding more creative ways to go green – and now they’ve found a way to raise green turf to new heights.

A green roof is much more than, well…green.A green or vegetated roof refers to a roof that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium that is planted over a water proof membrane.It often includes additional layers like root barriers, drainage, and irrigation systems…OK, it’s a lawn.That’s right, a lawn that can lower your energy bill, lower greenhouse gas emissions, reduce storm-water runoff, lower your stress level, and provide a habitat for surrounding wildlife.

green-roof-1We can give Germany credit for giving us more than just good beer and Beethoven.They also modernized green roofs, which have actually been around for centuries in Northern Scandinavia.Now, about 10% of all German roofs have been “greenified” and the trend has spread throughout Europe.Although vegetated roofs aren’t nearly as common in America as they are in Europe, it is becoming a more and more popular way for people to green their homes – literally.

Top Tips

·Choose the right roof - There are two main types of green roofs.Which you choose is dependent upon many factors such as the intended purpose of the roof, the type of building, your budget, etc.

green-roof-2·Intensive (garden-style) - Intensive roofs resemble gardens or parks.They are often used on flat roof-tops in large cities where park space is limited.Intensive roofs usually require about 6-24 inches of soil that is able to grow shrubs, small trees, lawns, even vegetable gardens.These garden-style rooftops may raise the bar when it comes to backyard barbeques and prove to be the lawn of the future.Consult a green roof specialist before considering installation of an intensive roof because they may require more sophisticated structural support and irrigation.

·Extensive (lawn-style) - Extensive roofs are the most common type of vegetated roof for a home because they require low to no-maintenance.An extensive green roof only requires a very thin layer of soil (1-6 inches), and can sustain many different types of grass.It is virtually self-sustaining and only requires weeding about once a year.There is usually no access to an extensive roof except for what is necessary for maintenance. That means no roof-top barbeques.Since extensive roofs support drought-resistant, shallow-rooted plants, and grass which generally grows no higher than a few inches (which means no mowing) they are ideal for homeowners looking for an easy way to save on energy consumption and make their homes more eco-friendly.

Other Considerations

·Cost – Green roofs can cost around $10 – $15/sq. ft. for extensive green roofs and anywhere between $25 – $100/sq. ft. for intensive roofs.Of course the price depends on the geographic location, type and intent of the roof, installer, etc.A park complete with trees, walkways, and vegetable gardens is going to cost quite a bit more than a simple grass lawn.Either choice, however, will prove to be an economical and ecological benefit in the long run.Below are a few areas where a green roof can save you money.

·Maintenance – The sun can break down roofing materials over time requiring costly replacement and rebuilding.It is recommended that a conventional asphalt roof receive maintenance every 2 years, which could total up to $1,300 for a 2,500/sq. ft. roof that is about 1-5 years old (older roofs would cost more).The vegetation on a green roof acts as a barrier protecting the roof from harsh solar rays and protecting your wallet from the expense of constantly replacing worn roofing materials.

·Heating – You can save energy in cooler months with green roofs because they provide excellent insulation and retain 18% more heat than conventional roofs.

·Cooling – The temperature of a conventional roof membrane on a 95º F day can rise up to 158° F.The temperature of a green roof on the same day is about 77° F.A cooler roof means lower cooling costs in the summer.

·Structure – Because of their weight, green roofs require more demanding structural standards than regular roofs.Depending on your house, roof, and the type of vegetation you plan to install, structural reinforcements may be needed.Choose a quality service provider who will inspect your home properly before installing a green roof.Check your local listings or visit the Green Pages at for a list of reputable green roof installers.

Ecological modern building Warsaw University in Poland by marcin-linfernum


…to you

·Grass, shrubbery, and flowers obviously make vegetated roofs more aesthetically pleasing; and if your home is a little bare when it comes to front yard space, a green roof is a great way to show off your gardening skills.

·Studies show that visual and physical contact with natural greenery provides both mental and physical health benefits such as:lower blood-pressure, lower heart rate, reduced stress or mental fatigue, assistance in quicker recovery from physical illness, and they provide long-term overall improvement in health.The health advantages of vegetated roofs are beginning to grow on many hospitals and health facilities, who are installing them for the benefit of recovering patients.For more information on studies regarding the health benefits of green surroundings visit

…to your wallet

·A 2006 study by the University of Michigan comparing expected costs of conventional and green roofs revealed that, on average, installing a green roof costs about $22.10/sq. ft. versus $15.95/sq. ft. for a conventional roof.In its life, however, the green roof saves over $200,000 with two-thirds of that comingfrom reduced energy needs.Taking into consideration the added savings, the average cost of this topnotch turf would be about $12.57/sq. ft. – meaning you could save $3.38/sq. ft. by choosing a green roof.

…to the earth

·Green roofs are able to make much better use of rainwater than conventional roofs.A green roof can capture precipitation and influence it in 3 ways:

1)Taken up by the plants

2)Absorbed into pore spaces

3)Stored and retained by the drainage system of the roof

If the water is not absorbed by the vegetation, it is stored in other layers of the roof, and can be released back into the atmosphere rather than simply running off into a drainage system. Basically, green roofs reduce the amount of water that is wasted when it ends up in drainage systems.

·Lowering air-conditioning demand decreases the associated air pollution and greenhouse emissions.The vegetation can also remove air pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions through dry deposition and carbon sequestration and storage.According to one website, a square foot of vegetation absorbs about 0.33 ounces of air pollution per year, so a mere 1,500 sq./ft. vegetated roof could absorb over 40pounds of air pollution each year and almost2,000 pounds in its lifetime.The impact of green roofs on large commercial buildings is obviously even greater.

Getting Started

green-roof-1·The first step to installing a green roof is contacting a roofing specialist or architect to ensure your roof is sufficiently structurally sound.Use this link to guide you in selecting the proper professional:“What to Ask Your Contractor” .

Further Reading

Planting Green Roofs and Living Wallsby Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury

Related Articles

Environmentally Friendly Roofs

The New Solar Roof

Install of a Super Therm White Roof



23 Responses to “Green Roofs Guide”

  1. Michael Ryan Little Says:

    wow, I never heard about this before. I think it’s very interesting to learn how we could really make a difference for our environment. The article was very educational and inspiring


  2. Carrie Says:

    they look like little green cake houses :D

  3. Wallace Says:

    OOO…that second picture is surreal! Is that real or a drawing? That is crazy! A green roof looks cool.

  4. ilvn8r Says:

    I wish I could have a green roof! These are beautiful.

  5. ALEXA Says:


  6. jazza Says:

    To answer your question, Wallace, yes – it is real!!! Green roofs are being incorporated into modern architecture, sometimes becoming the inspiration for the whole building design. Examples include the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, ACROS Fukuoka and the California Academy of Sciences. I think they are amazing, and if they became widespread they could do a great deal to help with global warming and help reduce the effect of ‘urban heat islands’. They are so so so beautiful.

  7. Molly H. Says:

    So would this mean that you have to mow your roof? Wouldn’t that be dangerous?

  8. Tara Mackinrow Says:

    No way. These are amazing! I’ve never seen them where I live but I wish I did! It seems like they would require a TON of extra structural support or the roof would cave in.

  9. Leslie T. Says:

    These are really beautiful. I’ve seen those fancy buildings with the parks on them and stuff but I never thought of someone actually doing that on their house.

  10. anna j Says:


  11. ofelia Says:

    i would build a green roof and then live on it. so cute!

  12. Pricillia Nichols Says:

    Is there a way to find out who wrote this article? I love the writing style and attention to detail that came with it! It made me read about green roofs all the way through! lol

  13. Mickey K. Says:

    Very nice! Looks very stylish!

  14. Brennen Says:

    Are green roofs really that cheap?

  15. Lisa Paten Says:

    I don’t know if I would like a house that looks like it was overtaken by moss. But I do think that more big commercial buildings should put green roofs on them.

  16. Ulla V. Says:

    That first picture is neat!

  17. SP Says:

    I grew up in Alaska, where green roofs are common. It is a very old technique that dates back centuries.

    No, it does not need mowing. Simply plant appropriate plants that only grow to the desired height.

    I want one!

  18. Vicky Says:

    I live in sunny southern California and I’m wondering, with the sparse rainfall we have here, wouldn’t the roof require considerably more water than it would in other areas?

    I LOVE the look, and the insulation properties are GREAT, but is it really feasible in an area like SoCal, which already has problems with available water supplies?

  19. Steph B Says:

    I actually looked very hard at this possibility. I had a carport built this summer and had it built to the specifications for a live roof. I even educated the building inspectors about this as I needed special planning permission for this project!
    My contractor also got a lesson, but after all the rest of the homework i.e. finding THE supplier for New England and doing the math, it just turned out impossible for me to go through with it. The roof alone would have cost approx $3400 for a small one car cover and this is 10% of my salary-not a wise expense.
    I would love to have not taken the dirty asphalt route as I am rather extreme in my eco-friendliness, but the other options for roofing were also less than ideal. I’m still grieving…
    I hope that the market will soon give us more choices and a more feasible way to access them financially, as all the determination in the world is not enough to make a more sustainable future.

  20. Megan Says:

    Good article.. green roofs in Australia can help us fight bushfires and reduce risk of fire.
    thanks for the article.
    Megan free info on web page

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