World’s First Modular Green Roof System
Green Roof Professionals around the globe often wonder or speculate how and when the commercial modern Green Roof industry really took off. There are many opinions and alternative facts out there but only a few really know that the hot spots with patents were in Basel Switzerland and in Stuttgart Germany for seamless or wall-to-wall Green Roof systems.
The World’s first modular (or tray) system has been developed in Stuttgart by Brecht and Hämmerle, mainly known as the Brecht System (if one doesn’t consider terracotta pots on roofs as a modular system).
The Brecht System was a basic polystyrene box with a three-layer Green Roof system. The system was available in extensive, semi- intensive and intensive planting depth. With this simple three-layer system the inventor combined many benefits in one box. All systems had a water reservoir for maximum water retention – more than any other Tray system currently on the market and more than any fabrics, foams or mineral wools, and the boxes contained standard nursery soil for a healthy fast growth and to lower costs.
There were different options for covering the less attractive boxes, with either wood or metal (aluminum). Today we call these frames around the boxes: Edging.
Based on the polystyrene, the boxes were very lightweight and easy to install. Actually, they fitted into each other to create different heights and different planting depths. I would describe them as a Modular –LEGO-like planting system.
Unfortunately, any polystyrene as a limited lifespan when exposed to UV or biological activity and so many of these roof gardens had problems after 5-10 years. Further, many of the plants rooted out of the boxes (drainage holes) and penetrated the waterproofing.
Around 1992 the last Brecht System was removed and replaced by wall-to-wall or seamless Green Roof systems. All of these Green Roofs are still existing - if the building still exists.
The Brecht Modular Green Roofs system had also other issues that are similar to the currently existing systems. However, nowadays the tray systems use metal, other plastics, and mainly with irrigation systems. This makes them last longer, but as often only delays the point of failure. The roots of plants and the biological activity on healthy Green Roofs are often underestimated as well as the functional lifespan of foams, polystyrene drainage mats, and mineral wool products.
Green Roofs and Fireworks
Practically all dry organic materials are combustible at relative low temperatures. Roof shingles or many waterproofing membranes on roofs are typically petroleum-based products (including Asphalt) and there is hardly any difference to dry organic materials. Some products are equipped with chemical fire retardants that could decrease the risk of spreading fire, unfortunately not the risk of leaks cause by heat and impact.
The living vegetation of fully functional and well-engineered green roofs contains moisture and most plants (especially succulent plants on large extensive green roofs) have a fraction of the energetic potential comparing to all other components used in a building. The green roof growing media (soil for the green roof plants) is a blend of different mineral components with an organic content of typically less that 15%. It is practically impossible to set this material on fire – even when the natural moisture content is not considered.
Fires or leaks on non-vegetated roofs caused by consumer or display fireworks could have been prevented if the building would have had a fully functional green roof without mono-culture vegetation, or if conventional roofs would be well-maintained (regular removing of organic debris from the roof and gutters).
Certainly a fire is the worst-case scenario; however in most cases smoldering firework parts (and cigarettes) are only causing leaks on unprotected roofs that are discovered much later and relate to costly repair. Roof warranties typically don't cover any sort of mechanical impact and they are -again- worthless. See blog post from 2014.
Any sort of fireworks damages or many other mechanical impacts are unknown on functional green roofs. Green roofs prevent leaks or even a fire and so it is the best payback is right there.
Nature is (literally) so cool.
Happy New Year!
Green Roof Maintenance During Holiday Season
Do it like Santa Clause!
During Holiday season, Santa Clause and his Reindeers simply enjoy their Green Roof. Certainly, every Green Roof requires project specific maintenance and when this is well organized, professional, and done by experienced people, there is no reason to be concerned. Something the Easter Bunny even knows while he eats the fresh lettuce on a roof top farm.
In the southern hemisphere, the year-end is during summer and all above applies as well.
The reason why this works around the globe: Plants cannot read a calendar. They are much more advanced and able to adjust to the current conditions in no time. They take every day as it comes and with a row of days they “know” in what direction they have to adjust and prepare.
If there is a problem on a Green Roof, it is typically caused by humans and their desperate conception of tidiness or hopeless desire to control nature. Whether they try doing by squeezing many plants in a tiny plastic box, using endless “engineered” layers, use materials that might serve a different purpose, or run an irrigation system whenever they see a weather application alarming them on their smart phones.
Sometime people like train plants to do what people want and create a dependency of the plants on humans. If you are such a control freak you might have a lot to do during the Holiday Season.
Green Roof Service LLC – Green Roof Technology does what the plants need and want. We understand the plants. Hence, our clients and we can lean back during the Holiday Season and enjoy this fabulous time with friends, family, and our pets – in house, outside, or on the Green Roof.
Solar Garden Roof team and
Jorg Breuning and GRT-Team
see also: Winter Maintenance for Green Roofs
Urban Planning in North America
Most American Cities like to have a diverse, sustainable, and thriving city of neighborhoods as the economic and cultural driver for the region.
In reality, these urban planners fall for nicely presented prestige projects that maybe have some green elements like bicycle storage, a solar panel, or living elements like a little green wall in the entrance area or roof terrace with some tomato plants. A little decoration of green is always trendy – whether it remains green or not. Important seems that the building is shiny, the investors and tenants have good names, and that it increases the prestige level of the city.
Urban planning in North America has hardly anything to do with long-term perspectives, environmental, people, or social aspects. “Urban” planning does not go further than maybe two or 3 blocks in a city. North America is a big continent with many tunnel-view urban planners, and since many of these planners have not much to do, they write daily blogs about “great ideas” of new ways for urban developments. It seems they write a lot and they do not do much.
In Europe, urban planning is almost on a helicopter- view basis, long-term with environmental and social aspects. Europe’s great urban planning doesn’t stop at the city or county line and it greatly reduces destructive urban sprawl. Being an urban planner in Europe is a tough job – they have no time to play on the internet posting great ideas. They just do it.
The picture below shows a neighborhood in Munich, Germany from google Earth. The development of this area started in 1994 and it is still going on. Developing an area like that over 20 years required a comprehensive urban planning long ago and with on single goal: minimize the environmental footprint.
1. The area is connected to a large park with sport arena, pools, gyms, and recreational facilities including beer gardens.
2. The community garden on the north allows people to grow their own flowers and vegetable.
3. Most roofs are covered with green roofs, some are used of recreation or growing flowers and food. Most buildings have balconies where plants grow up (extensive green walls).
4. Open space for socializing, playing games, walking dogs. Typically these areas are above underground parking garages.
5. Solar Garden Roof that combine solar with green roofs to max-out the environmental benefits.
6. Houses are entirely covered with PV.
All buildings have very easy access to a dense public transportation network and many office buildings can be reached within walking distance or by bicycle.
Does this ever happen in North America?
While in North America the average size of Green Roof is around 8,000sf this size would be considered a small size Green Roof in Germany. The average size in Germany is likely over 25,000 sf and the amount of Green Roofs build every year is probably 10 times higher.
Despite higher energy costs, the costs for the installation are lower in Germany because they build them in less than the half time, with fewer people, with hardly any middle men, without pre-planted plastic boxes and without consistently reinventing the wheel. They don’t try to sell warranties – they are actually installing Green Roofs. They also spend no or less time posting their projects on all social platforms and don’t need to say this is the biggest, nicest, most divers, highest or any other superlatives.
They just do it because they understood the environmental and social benefits of Green Roof mass production instead of trying to grow one carrot in a city for millions of people just to be on TV. Green Roofs in Germany are done for everybody vs. in North America it is often done for personal vanity.
16 years of North American Green Roof industry and still researching? When does North America think big?
Construction Going Up – Ecology Going Down?
From 2010 to 2015 warehouse new construction in the US tippled from around $5 Billion to $15 Billion with all the economic benefits. 15 Billion in new construction equals around 1000 new warehouses every year or approximately 250 million square feet rooftops plus the same amount of infrastructure provision. Annually, 500 Million square feet or 8800 football fields of lost nature by building new warehouses in the United States alone.
With some of the existing warehouses, this translates to a potential of at least 1 Billion of square feet of new extensive Green Roofs every year that could retain the volume of Lake Constance that is surrounded by three countries (Germany, Switzerland and Austria) or over the double volume of Lake Powell (UT/AZ)!
Assuming that these Green Roofs are done right, maintained by professionals and without artificial irrigation, the natural and controlled succession of these Green Roofs would allow a unique habitat for many endangered species over the upcoming years.
These green roofs can also reduce the re-roofing costs by multiple billion Dollars with a related relieve for landfills and a huge reduction in energy use.
Most important however is the climate effect.
Warehouse belts surround any large city in North America. These warehouse belts with endless impervious areas actually preheat the air that is conveyed into our cities by the wind. In the worst-case scenario, these large warehouses have reflective roofing membranes that might cool the building but also increase – due to reflection – the heat in the atmosphere substantially.
Warehouse belts around cities are like a forced air heating system in a building only on a much larger scale – Warehouse belts are a wasteful forced air heating system for entire cities
Fundamental sustainable thinking and large scale long-term research hardly exists in the US, so it is no wonder that experts are likely to miss the entire picture.
Currently in the US there are no significant requirements or ecological considerations in master plans that address this counterproductive climate habits towards our cities. Actually, it seems that warehouse belts grow faster than Green Roofs!
North American ecological organizations, LEED, or other industry associations are also missing the bigger picture. They often work locally – from one block to the next, they are focused on one or two rare plants, on a distinctive bee species, butterflies or other human pleasing critters as long as there is an instant payback in popularity. It seems worth more having a highly unsustainable fully irrigated Green Wall in the cafeteria, a nice green plaque on the wall, or growing some carrots on the roof to demonstrate social and sustainable responsibility. Most marketing efforts for green washing are beyond the costs of a simple highly efficient extensive Green Roof that helps the future generations.
The United States is a great country and North America is a large continent where thinking big was always wanted and welcome. Now it seems people are getting lost in their little plastic boxes, made in China with some nice flowers and a watering can next to it.
It is very romantic but also very embarrassing.