Green Roofing: Anything But Bland!

Photo: Arlington County/FlickrAs a country girl at heart, there's nothing I love more than seeing patches of green in the city, and that means I'm in love with the growing green roof trend -- which, incidentally, isn't all that new, because people have been using sod to roof their homes for thousands of years. What excites me even more than the rising interest in green roofs is how wonderfully creative so many of them are, illustrating that architects and engineers can roll with a trend and take it in amazing new directions, keeping green roofs innovative, fresh, and living.

Green roofing companies aren't just installing a roof with the goal of providing shelter to the structure below. They're also becoming active participants in the environment, and as such, they play an important role in shifting the way architecture interacts with the landscape. In San Francisco, the Academy of Sciences has a stunning green roof landscaped with native plants that also provides habitat to birds, for example. In addition to offering habitat, green roofs also help not only with building climate control but temperature regulation in the surrounding area: green oases like these stabilize temperatures and prevent buildup of extreme heat in the summer. Meanwhile, the root system helps to trap water in the winter, reducing flooding!

Architizer has a stunning photo array of 10 green roofs from around the world, showcasing different creative uses of the technology in homes, convention centers, and more. If those roofs don't inspire you, it's hard to say what will. They run the mill from neatly manicured lawns to wild tangles of native plants to orderly gardens, providing an outdoor space in an unexpected locale: while people in urban environments may be used to hitting the roof for some fresh air and a view, they're not accustomed to viewing it as a wild natural space.

So, what exactly are the benefits to a green roof, beyond the obvious environmental ones? For corporations and other businesses, of course, it can be a smart public relations move to demonstrate concern about the environment to members of the public. Companies trying to accomplish LEED status or to meet similar environmental design credentials may use a green roof as part of their overall mission, but...what about you?

Whether you're building a home or considering the daunting task of putting a green roof on an existing structure, you might be hesitating because of the relative newness of many technologies, concerns about maintenance, and other issues. Does the green roof really offer all that much to you, besides looking cool and making a great conversation piece?

Well, did we mention it looks cool? And that for people living in urban environments with limited planting space, it can be used for gardening? Aside from that, your green roof will reduce heating and cooling costs by reducing the load on the structure, acting as a nice snuggly plant blanket to keep internal temperatures more stable. Furthermore, it can control stormwater and runoff, and it will also trap airborne pollutants. Green roofs improve air quality and general quality of life for surrounding residents, which is a nice benefit.

Plus, you might get some financial support from your city to help you build a green roof, as many have environmental programs designed to help homeowners who want to go green.

Is it right for you? If you're working on a custom home, you an engineer a green roof right into the design. But if you want to retrofit, you need to consult an engineer, and you may need your Phoenix remodeling firm to make some adjustments to help your home bear the increased weight of a green roof. Be aware that increased watering and maintenance are necessary in the beginning while the roof gets established, but once it's in place, if you planted it with native plants, it should thrive without too much intervention on your part.

Should you want a bright green lawn, flashy flowers, or exotics, you'll need to sink some serious water, fertilizer, and other measures into your green roof -- and that's not very green.

Katie Marks writes for

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