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Does Anyone Know How To Build a “Green Roof”?

I just read a study by Generate Insight about people’s perceptions of the term “green.” There is a lot of good news in the study, but “green” is still perceived as a confusing goal that’s hard to achieve. Maybe that’s because it often is! For example, I am now in the process of trying to build a green roof on a chicken coop. I have a great builder (he built my eco house). But we’ve been down this road before. We are often the first people in our area to try something new. We built the first home solar photovoltaic system that our local power company had to connect to. It took them 3 months (during the sunniest time of the year) to inspect it because they had to read the manual first. Honestly, being a pioneer is challenging and sometimes frustrating. So the coop is out there right now awaiting a roof…and we are still confused.

There are tons of articles and books on how to build a green roof. Lots of websites dedicated to green roofing and people talking about green roofs—but when the rubber meets the…roof…it’s hard to do! There is no section in Home Depot yet that is labeled “Green Roofing.” We don’t want to use premade green roof tiles, which are more appropriate for large projects like city high-rises. We have fairly good illustrations that show what to do, but the actual materials are not specifically defined (or spec’d, as we like to say), and there are no tried-and-true, step-by-step instructions. It’s as if everyone wants to build green roofs, but no one really knows how.

And all the best pictures are from houses in Europe. When my daughter and I went to Iceland, we saw beautiful ancient houses with grassy roofs. I guess they didn’t go to Home Depot either. So maybe it’s not as hard as we think. There are a lot of things that seem really hard until you do them (making tomato sauce from scratch, for example). Then there are the things that don’t seem that hard but really are (like having kids!).

If any of you have any tips or solid resources for building a green roof from scratch (sans prefab tiles)—or have done it before and can tell us what to do, I’d really appreciate it! Thanks! You all are the greatest.

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16 Responses to Does Anyone Know How To Build a “Green Roof”?

  1. The Giving Garden May 6, 2009 at 7:11 am #

    Swarthmore College campus (outside of Media, PA) has a green roof on one of their dorms. I took a tour once and I’m sure they would be willing to offer information to anyone interested. I know that the main plant they used was Sedum ‘Angelina’. It’s low-growing, spreads and takes root anywhere. I was told that they just tossed it out on the roof which was covered in some type of soiless medium and the plant took root. I believe this as I have tried it in the garden. There are other low growing sedums that they used as well. Hope that helps some.

  2. pat May 6, 2009 at 10:39 am #

    here in the u.k. some of the tesco stores have “green roffs”ln fact of of the wharehouses has large bitd colany on it will try fing some particulars for you as l have a friend works for them

  3. yogaphiles.blogspot.com May 6, 2009 at 11:15 am #

    Thanks for bringing this one up… I’ve been looking into green roofs for a while and haven’t been able to find any info on how to tackle the task myself. I’ve only got a small area to do as well, so I’d rather do it myself than hire a contractor. Unfortunately, all the manuals I’ve found have been very confusing and seemed geared toward professionals. Let us know if you figure this one out!

  4. Vanessa May 6, 2009 at 11:25 am #

    These are the people to ask: http://www.hockertonhousingproject.org.uk/
    They have built some amazing homes without central heating and using grass and other techniques…

  5. Amanda May 6, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    They just installed a small green roof over at the Rodale Institute! April or Bill H. could probably give you a run down of how it went–the good, the bad and the ugly.

  6. Gwendolyn Bounds May 7, 2009 at 9:05 am #

    One of my colleagues wrote this story about green roofing at The Wall Street Journal. While it’s dedicated to larger scale projects, there’s a diagram at the end and some resources that might be of use throughout the piece:

    http://tinyurl.com/cmlcvt

    True about the difficulties of being a pioneer in this space. It took me more than a year to get through a green kitchen renovation simply because it was tough finding craftsman willing to work with the unfamiliar materials.

  7. Mark May 7, 2009 at 1:40 pm #

    I saw the green roof Amanda mentions at the Rodale Institute — it’s beautiful! The roof is planted with all varieties of Sedum and it came in rolls. Sedum can withstand dry spells. Take a look!

  8. dian May 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm #

    The new convention center in Vancouver, BC has a green roof

  9. Cwilson May 13, 2009 at 11:13 am #

    depends on what you define as green i.e. what parameters are you talking… Recycled materials, non toxic, reusable? is your green design for low emissions, low use of non reusable resources or materials that do not contribute to pollution in manufacturing>? There are so many different things to consider when you talk green. ..
    for instance. Palm oil greener than crude because it burns cleaner but the demand for palm oil is expanding deforestation of tropical rain forests. As little as 1% if it is defined as sustainable.
    Items you did not mention was how large the building and what are the needs. Ie your home was also a power source. If you are looking for thatched roofs, sod roofs or long lasting? A sod roof needs reinforced framing due to the weight of not only the soil and plant materials but also the water it retains. It needs water-proof backing as to not rot the support system. But they also can be really cute and versitile. But water, ie rainfall is a thing you need to consider also.

    For me I live as I could not afford the cost of solar (yet) and the return actually is cost prohibitive at this point, I chose a metal roof. my “green” reasons;
    It last twice as long as a standard roof. (less resource use)
    the metal- if it needs replaced is recyclable
    The metal roof is great as a source to catch water (less non organic particles in the catchments) for rain barrels, ( and hopefully to a pond one day)
    Did not require any reinforcement due to excess weight i.e. solar panels ( at least in the past) or a sod roof.
    It is fire retardant
    I also aligned my house to be passive solar.

    I am sure you will come up with the right answers for your situation. Again, it matters what you are doing and what your goals of green are. Good luck. There is a lot of great info out there, but you will need to sift and weigh your options.

  10. Paul Gardener May 13, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    I’ve had the same idea for a “green roof” over my urban chicken coop as well. I keep entertaining the question of why couldn’t the birds go up there too? Could I make a simple earthen room and for instance seed it with native grasses and maybe some strawberries and then just build them a little ladder to get up there?

    I don’t have any great links for you, but I do look forward to seeing what you come up with!

    Paul~
    http://apaetoday.blogspot.com

  11. roofing company June 12, 2009 at 5:14 am #

    Green roofing is such a great concept to do but it is a difficult task also.To make a green roof the foundation of the house and the installation of the basic roof must be planned very carefully and precisely.This comment is about the roofing company which deals in commercial roofing,residential roofing,roof installation,roof removal.roofing company

  12. Suzan July 27, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    Green roofs on a small scale are very different from those installed on institutional or commercial buildings. You are not going to be buying sedums in rolls for on top a chicken coop. You are going to buy them from a local greenhouse or get snippings from friends. You do need a special soil mix for the most part so that you are not adding too much weight to the structure. You can not have much organic matter in the mix. There fore you can’t have plants that require that to survive. And the plants on a roof have a much more difficult climate to live in than those on the ground. It is hotter, dryer, and windier up there. You need to have a root barrier and you need a drainage layer. You could incorporate some extra insulation as well.
    Even being an architect, I had my structural engineer OK the loading for the green roof I put on my house. I also needed steel brackets to brace the structure due to the slope I had to work with.
    There are a lot of factors to address. It is not ad difficult as it may seem. but you do need to know what you are doing to be successful … and not cause yourself problems.

  13. Suzan July 27, 2010 at 4:06 pm #

    Maria… If you want assistance with how to build a green roof for a small project… you can contact me at suzan@reflectedenergy.com.

  14. Simon Green September 19, 2011 at 4:09 am #

    Do you mean something similar to a green wall with plants growing out of the top of the roof, or something more like a roof made of sustainable materials like thatch or recycled tiles?

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    If you do not need a square cut, angle and extend the line
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