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It's Not Easy Being Green.... Or Is It? - Part 2

Living Green

Previously, we took a look at “Going Green vs. Sustainability”, answering the question of what each phrase means. This article will delve into how each phrase relates to roofing and the various options each provides for those looking for Green Roofing solutions.

You were asked to consider the following questions:

  • What does “going green” mean to you?
  • Is your goal to be “Green” or is it to be “Sustainable”?

As outlined before, these are two different things, and it’s no exception when it comes to your roof. So, “Green Roofing” vs. “Sustainable Roofing” – what does it mean and what are your options?

“Green Roofing” can refer to a number of different things, but typically refers to any energy-efficient roof system. But, it can also refer to a Living Roof, or living vegetative roof cover – yes, plants on your roof.

Now, on the other side of the coin is the “Sustainable Roof”. This can refer to several different concepts, from material re-use to recycled materials, bio-based materials to building integrated solar membranes. Also, one of the best, and easiest, practices for sustainable roofing is to maintain your current roof to extend its life cycle.

WRC Gives Back Project

Synthetic Slate Steep-Slope Application

And here is where your answer to the “Green vs Sustainable” question is important. How committed to the “Green” lifestyle are you? How far do you want to delve into the “Sustainable” question?

If you’re all in, then there are additional questions you need to answer:

  1. What type of roof covering are you looking at?
  2. What is the expected life for your new roof system?
  3. How was it mined? Produced? Transported?
  4. What sort of pollution was created from the production of the material, and what impact has that had on the environment?
  5. Where does it go once it has exhausted its serviceable life?

For those with Residential applications considering Green Roofing options, most new asphalt shingles are produced with a Lifetime Shingle warranty, which means the product is expected to perform as long as the original owner – or 2nd owner in some cases – owns the property. There are also new synthetic (slate and cedar) options available which carry Lifetime Warranties as well. Additionally, metal roof coverings are experiencing a rise in use for steep-slope applications.

WRONG - Saplings and weeds growing around the roof edge.

INCORRECT – Saplings and weeds growing on the roof

Perhaps one of the best Green Roofing solutions is the Living Roof System, which can be a viable option for Residential applications provided the infrastructure will support the System and backup irrigation systems are available.

Some things to note with regards to Living Roof Systems: not just any plants will do, and not every structure can support or sustain a Living Roof System.

The individual requirements of your specific green roof design have to be taken into consideration when planning for this type of roof system. What is your climate and what are your typical weather conditions? How much weight can your infrastructure support? Do you have alternate water solutions available should you choose a Living Roof System?

The variety of plants and soil depth used in Living Roof Systems are generally chosen specifically for your climate zone and specific building conditions. For example, Chicago weather can go from snow on Monday to mid-80s by Thursday, with rapid temperature changes, long winters and harsh summers being a staple of life in Chicago. Roofs in Arizona, however, have to be able to withstand prolonged heat, infrequent rains and an abundance of sun. Two different zones, two different climates, two different sets of plants to consider for your roof covering.

RIGHT - Hand-selected mix of succulents, grasses and perennials chosen to withstand Chicago weather

CORRECT – Hand-selected mix of succulents, grasses and perennials chosen to withstand Chicago weather

Further, with a Living Vegetative Roof System, the weight of the dirt (although less than top soil, still more than standard roof coverings and underlayment) and plants needs to be considered, as well as the weight of the accumulated water necessary to keep your Living Roof alive. A green roof is, after all, a living, breathing system that needs to be maintained.

Now, for those Commercial Building Owners looking for Green Roofing solutions, you also have several options to consider. Among these are reflective roof systems to reflect the heat from the sun, for example white single-ply roofing or modified bituminous systems topped with reflective coatings, or a sprayed polyurethane roof or metal roofing, to name a few.

Living Roof Systems can be a wonderful option for Commercial Green Roofing applications as well. These facilities are typically able to support the weight of a Living Roof System, and because they are largely Flat Roofs, they provide an ideal foundation for Living Roof Systems.

Now, when considering “Sustainability” with regards to your roof, you must research the impact on the environment your chosen roof system will have. If your commitment to “Sustainability” is strong, then this has to be a factor in your decision making process. Look at the method of production and the distance the material had to travel from natural element to production facility, then the distance from production facility to your doorstep. How much energy was expended getting the product to you? How much pollution, aka exhaust, was generated as a result? How much waste was generated? Locally sourced materials, or those made within an XX mile radius (you have to determine what your personal threshold is), would be the only contenders for your “Sustainable Roof” options.

If your goal is to minimize – not eliminate – the effect your chosen roof system will have on the environment, then perhaps recycling is something to consider. Did you know that there are companies out there that recycle shingles and turn them into roads? Yes, roads! Other uses are as new roofing products or road maintenance products, and recycled shingles have even been used to produce energy.

GAF EverGuard Freedom TPO Commercial Application

GAF EverGuard Freedom TPO Commercial Application

Another concern should be budget. Although both Green Roofing and Sustainable Roofing Systems are Energy-Efficient and will likely save you money in the end, the initial costs of a Green Roof can be discouraging.

If you are still considering a Green Roofing solution for your property, the best thing for you to do is the following:

  • Do your research. Find out what types of Green Roofing or Sustainable Roofing options are available, and discover the pros and cons of each. The internet is a great resource for that.
  • Find a contractor you trust who is familiar with the different types of Green and Sustainable Roofing options available. They can evaluate your building and your specific needs and recommend the best roof system for your budget and property. They may also be able to show you an estimate of total projected savings from the various options.
  • Decide on a time-frame for your green conversion, and stick to it. Changing to a wholly “Green” lifestyle takes time, and will require you to be somewhat flexible. And be realistic. You may already be greener than you think.
  • Execute your plan, but be ready to make changes along the way. Constantly evaluating your project and its effects will enable you to realistically see your savings.

So while it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all these green options, remember one thing: we all have to start somewhere. You know the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”? The same can be said about “Going Green” – it doesn’t happen overnight. Many small steps add up to big changes. But, if we all do our part, we may just be able to pass on a “greener” world to future generations, and after all, and isn’t that one of the greatest gifts we can give?


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