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United States of America and Green Roofs

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Tuesday, June 14, 2016

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.

Green Roofs in North America?

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.    

Warehouse belts are heating American cities

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.

Green Roof Failures

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Do Green Roof Failures increase with Roofing Manufacturers?


 

 

In the last two days I visited four of my projects that are between 14 years and 1 year old.

Each of these Green Roof has an own interstesting history and with the exception of the “cozy” Green Roof, each of the extensive green roof host over 25 and 40 plant species in excellent health.

None of them was ever irrigated and the oldest was fertilized the last time 10 years ago. All of them require hardly any maintenance (2 hours per 5,000sf / year).  One Green Roof is maintained only once every 3 years.

 

For these amazing, inexpensive and resilient green roofs a special thank to all who participated!

 

In contrast:

I was on one roof that was installed and maintained by a roofing company with materials from a famous roofing manufacturer.   This roof is basically going down the drain because of incompetence, sloppy work, and inappropriate materials.

This roof came with a costly single source warranty that –as always – doesn’t cover anything of the green roof. The cost for this worthless application was around 25% higher than a fully functioning Green Roof from well trained gardeners.

 

This is one of many projects around the Nation where I am questioning myself whether roofing manufactures and roofing companies should work in the Green Roof field. As a matter of fact in last decade 90% of roofing manufacturers offered Green Roof Systems that consistently underperform or that are not maintained properly. Actually most of these manufactures changed their systems and approaches to Green Roofs more often than they changed the management of these multi-million Dollar corporations. 

While many of these manager focuses on how increase revenue and some of them how to fix the problems with Green Roofs their quality of the waterproofing and craftsmanship of their installations went down. Striving for more revenue is not a wrong thing in general but when this is done on the backbone of the Green Roof industry and our all prospect clients it is more than questionable.

As client you have to figure out whether it is more important to make unknown stockholder happy or yourself.

I don’t fall for roofing warranties and sales forces with nice brochure

This particular roof will be recovered by an extensive weekly maintenance program until the end of the year and a monthly maintenance program for the entire next year!  

The Best Green Roof System

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Saturday, August 01, 2015

The main purpose of an extensive Green Roof is stormwater retention and delaying stormwater runoff amongst many other added values.

Above: An Irrigated thin layered Green Roof System – without irrigation it would be dead.

In the last decade in North America, we've seen many Green Roofs where the intended plants never really flourished. I estimate that in the US at least 50% of the green roofs are not performing to their fullest potential. This can be observed by simply looking at the most obvious of indicators, the plants themselves, regardless if they were planted on purpose or somehow found the space to take root. 

Most of these less healthy extensive Green Roofs are thin-layered systems, pre-planted boxes (often called modular systems or hybrid systems), Green Roof Systems from roofing manufacturers with ineffective components, single source warranty-systems, or design intents without consideration for the needs of plants. Typically these systems much more costly (whether thin or thicker) and the mid to long term results are often far below systems that are assembled in place with common sense.

 

Thin-Layered system with irrigation - doesn't work and doesn't retain much water

We all know that the transition from being a common nursery-grown plant (including pre-planted boxes) to the extreme environment of a rooftop poses severe challenges. Green roof plant nurseries typically have "great" advice and recommend the installation of temporary or permanent irrigation systems. In some areas this might be helpful when operated correctly but in all cases this advice is defeating the purpose of an extensive Green Roof (water retention). In almost all cases any type of irrigation caused a spiral of failures and it is wrong to irrigate extensive Green Roofs in areas with limited water for the cause of just having a green roof (Green Washing). Most company sponsored experts don’t see the entire picture or they only see the short term profit and commission (“Mow-Blow-Go”).

If a problem occurs and since many Green Roof system developer lack the proper and specific green roof horticultural knowledge, they may not be able to identify problems by simply looking at the indicators (the plants). This could cause the problem to gain momentum. In addition, the false conclusion that technology (Google search, Apps, synthetic growth media or sophisticated soil moisture control devices) can fix the problem supports my theory of hardly experienced or misinformed green roof professionals. They rely heavily on technology to fix any issues and miss the big picture.

Nature has the ability to take care of itself, as long as the appropriate design, materials and plants are used in addition to being familiar with the immediate location and climate.

Thin layered, super lightweight systems or systems with “innovative” components are just by physics not meant to retain “more” stormwater for the plants or they retain too much water for specific plants. As a matter of fact the costs for retaining stormwater in thin layered systems are extremely high comparing to a standardized extensive Green Roof with a thickness of 4-6 inch (depending on location). Besides the initial costs the lack of water retention (don’t forget all studies are done by the companies!) won’t support any significant bio diversity plus the operational costs (because of the required irrigation) are tremendous over time. Typically these Green Roofs never pay back with they are not utilized for “Green Washing” purposes in advertising.  

Irrigated extensive Green Roofs and/or thin layered, super lightweight systems (below 25 lbs/sf) will increase the nutrient pollution in runoff, require higher fertilization application, have hardly any tendency for self-healing, and may increase the pressure of unwanted plants and have a high risk for failure. Irrigated extensive Green Roofs are not environmentally friendly in most loactions!

Green roof designers and green roof professionals must understand that certain advertising, studies, White Papers or project references are all assembled by specific manufacturers and their goal is to make money – unfortunately on the back of a very advanced technology and on the back of their clients.

When we advise our clients they get the full picture because we have seem all solutions in the last 35 years, we have tested them and we are currently working millions of square feet where these systems require upgrades, reinstallation or massive repair (around 20 million in damage so far).

We also help our clients doing it as efficient as possible and to get their money back from prior failures through warranty claims and sophisticated lawsuits. This might help to standardize the function of Green Roofs and helps to get the black sheep out of the market. The building owner has a right that things are done right from the beginning.

Never irrigated in the last 10 years.

Mineral Wool on Green Roofs

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Sunday, September 21, 2014

 Green Roof Innovation

 Mineral Wool on Green Roofs

 Green Roof Technology Reveals Latest Study about Mineral Wool on Living

Since their first commercial production in 1871 (Georgmarienhütte, Germany), mineral wool found its way in many applications like thermal insulation and soundproofing. Mineral wool, mineral fibers are typically referred to synthetic materials like fiber glass, ceramic fibers and stone or rock wool.

Two main types of mineral wools are on the market – water repellent (Hydrophobic) and water adsorbent (Hydrophilic). For horticultural purposes, only the hydrophilic type is useful. Many patents were granted for simple Hydroponic systems or the germination of seeds with mineral wool in the early 80’s.

In modern green roof technology the first green roof systems came on the market around 1985 in Germany at a time as the German green roof industry gained tremendous momentum. As a lightweight solution with high water retention, mineral wool seemed an ideal material. The higher costs and the higher carbon footprint - comparing to lightweight aggregates – were argued with easier installation and higher water retention.

Extensive research over more than 5 years at the University of Geisenheim and on numerous buildings confirmed the high water retention properties. However, in the mid-run these tests also revealed that the performance and the health of the vegetation were far below conventional green roof systems with standardize green roof components. Mineral wool manufacturers and green roof system suppliers stepped away from the idea of using mineral wool as a growing component for green roofs.

“Today we can see a revival of mineral wools in the green roof industry,” says Jorg Breuning, CEO, Green Roof Service LLC,” in countries with hardly any green roof experience, mineral wool is getting rather popular with potentially fatal results in the mid and long-run.” 

Especially in the United States, the market is growing rapidly for mineral wools on green roofs, disregarding existing studies and without extensive long-term tests. It isn’t even proven whether certain fibers can cause health problems, leach out chemicals or whether these components can be recycled when the green roof doesn’t perform anymore.

In 2012, the lack of performance of mineral wool as a vegetation carrier resulted in a major green roof restoration at Amsterdam International Airport. 90,000 square foot of green roof – built with mineral wool - had been taken off and replaced by a standardized green roof system. At this point, this was the largest green roof restoration in the history of mineral wool on green roofs. Costs that could have been avoided.


Doing it right in the first place.

Green Roof Revolution in Sydney

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Monday, April 21, 2014

By: Samantha Yurek

On April 7th, 2014, the City of Sydney, Australia approved a Green Roofs and Walls Policy. The Policy will be carried out by the Strategic Planning and Urban Design Committee of Sydney. A three year plan, its main goal is to raise awareness of the importance of green space in urban areas as well as promote the implementation of potential green roofs and walls.


                                   Pinpointing Green Roofs in the City of Sydney

Sydney is already in the lead of the green revolution, with a total of 83 green roofs and walls throughout the city. In addition, 50-70 likely projects have been approved to construction and should be underway soon.The Green Roof Meadow at the Prince Alfred Park Pool is one of the largest in Sydney. Complete with 2,000 square meters of green space, including over 35,000 seasonal and native grasses.


                            The Green Roof Meadow at the Prince Alfred Park Pool

The city is also home to One Central Park residential towers, featuring the world's tallest vertical garden at 33 stories. These gardens consist of 190 native Australian plants as well as 160 exotic species. Although it may not be the tallest for long - Shri Lanka is now in the running with plans to build a 46 story residential building, with multiple vertical gardens, proposed to be completed by the end of 2016.


                                        One Central Park Towers in Sydney

Lucy Sharman, Sydney's Green Roofs and Walls Senior Project Officer explains, "With higher-density living and a growing population, we need to accommodate people in a healthy way and use urban space as wisely as possible." And it seems that advocating for a greener city is working. "We receive more than one development application each week for a green roof or wall," says Sharman.


                                            One Central Park Towers in Sydney

The Green Roofs and Walls Policy isn't their only attempt to create a cleaner and healthier environment. The city has been working on many movements, such as 202020. Working towards 20% more green spaces in urban places by the year 2020. 

If you're interested in, you may check out the whole Green Roofs and Walls Policy here.

An Upstream Battle for Green Roofs?

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

By: Jörg Breuning

Every now and then we find studies comparing green roofs verses white roofs. It seems like and up-stream battle for the green roof industry against the big profits that are being made in the roofing industry with reflective water proofing membranes. All manufacturers of roofing material know that a reflective membrane will sell easier and with a higher profit than a traditional black tar roof. It is cheaper in production, and with the right crew, easier to install as well. In addition, because of the environmental benefit (discovered by LEED), the pricing can be more expensive.

Covering this membrane with a green roof should increase the profits - so we think. In reality, it isn't the case because the lack of horticultural understanding and human's natural fear of nature make it a high risk factor or even a potential lawsuit. Stockholders and risk managers for large roofing manufacturers offer green amenities (because this is good for their image), but never pressure these offers. Unfortunately, for roofing companies, protecting the revenue and profits is of higher priority over the environment and real sustainable practices.

It is no secret that selected manufactures support Universities in order to preform research on reflective membranes verses green roofs. These manufacturers tell the researchers precisely what to say and do so their reputation thrives. Since research jobs are not plenty full and Universities have the same economic pressure as roofing manufacturers, the results of this research may be questionable.

In an older selective or reductionist study at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the so-called scientist went a step further. Writing a paper, clearly motivated by manufacturers, they described their data as somewhat sparse - does that mean worthless?

We still try to understand the words that are used in this study:

"Somewhat" = to a moderate extent or by a moderate amount

"Sparse" = thinly dispersed or scattered

We at Green Roof Service LLC/Green Roof Technology don't need simplyfied research that says "maybe yes" and "maybe no" in one sentence without considerations of the entire picture. Many people in the green roof industry don't have a scientific backing, but it is a great gift that they have common sense and understand that bringing back nature to where it previously resided is way better than covering the earth under a white burial shroud.  

The bear in the stream catching the battling salmon can't extinguish the species - as long as the water is clean. If the water is polluted because of the lack of nature in our built up Cities, there won't be any salmon left and the bear will shortly become extinct as well. Responsible research and researchers can help keep our waterways and neighborhoods clean - or address a topic holisitc.

See also our blog post: 

White Roofs are Better than Green Roofs!

http://www.greenrooftechnology.com/green-roof-blog/white-roofs-are-better-than-green-roofs

 

The Green Edge: How Commercial Property Investment in Green Infrastructure Creates Value

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Saturday, January 25, 2014

By: Samantha Yurek

According to the EPA, green infrastructure is simply the title given to an approach using environmentally friendly techniques to manage stormwater. This can include multiple efforts such as green roofs, permeable pavement, rain gardens or even planting more trees. It is well known that green infrastructure aids in decreasing stormwater issues, and ultimately creating a healthier environment and more livable neighborhoods. 

This past December, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a study on how investing in green infrastructure creates value for commercial properties. The environmental benefits have been obvious, but how can green infrastructure help YOU out??

 

Picture: First Blue Roof and Green Roof combination in the US

The NRDC explains that "Commercial properties with well-designed green infrastructure can reap the rewards of higher rents and property values, increased retail sales, energy savings, local financial incentives (such as tax credits, rebates, and stormwater fee credits), reduced life-cycle and maintenance costs, reduced flooding damage, reduced water bills, reduced crime, and improved health and job satisfaction for office employees."

If interested in reading the full article you may visit the NRDC official website.

Teaching Sustainable Design

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Saturday, January 25, 2014

DPC Continuing Education, Inc has recently released their 2014 Future Green Trends Workshop schedule. These workshops focus mainly on rainwater design, green energy, green roofs and green materials.

Next up will be at the Holiday Inn in Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey. Held on Wednesday February 19th.   

And following February will be March 12th, at the Hilton Garden Inn, located in Troy, NY.  

Our very own Jörg Breuning has been a guest speaker in the past during these workshops and will be appearing again. Workshops dates to be announced. 

For an extended schedule or more information, you may visit the official DPC website

White Roofs are Better than Green Roofs!

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Friday, January 24, 2014

By Jörg Breuning

According a study from prestigious researches at LawrenceBerkeley National Laboratory, One Cyclotron Road, Berkeley, CA 94720, United States and School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, reflective roofs have a higher value for building owners than Green Roofs.

Julian Sproula, Man Pun Wanb, Benjamin H. Mandela and Arthur H. Rosenfeld developed a study that clearly explains the monetary benefits of reflective roofs v.s. Green Roofs v.s. traditional roofs. In their reductionist research, the outcome for green roofs is not good.  In a press release they stated:” The researchers acknowledge that their data are somewhat sparse but contend that their analysis is valuable in that it is the first to compare the economic costs and energy savings benefits of all three roof types.” It isn’t the first time – I have seen many worthless studies before…  

I am anchored in the Green Roof Industry since 1980, I roll my eyes and shake my head about counterproductive statements and studies like that. In the yellow pages they would have found somebody who could have told them differently and how to spend the generous money from the industry (other than green roof industry) much better – actually in building a Green Roof. Even when building a Green Roof doesn’t help the building owner (according their study) it would have helped the environment.

Bringing back nature into a location where nature was before is simply the best you can do!

My advice: Don’t start covering your Green Roofs or entire nature with a white piece of plastic – just don’t believe every written word on the internet or commercial reductionist research – Use your gut feeling and think out of the box!

This blog post represents the opinion of Jörg Breuning. If you have another opinion please feel free to contact me.  

Here is a link to the Study.


Cool Roofs Might Increase Air Pollution

Green Team at Green Roof Technology, - Monday, November 25, 2013

Cool Roofs Might Increase Air Pollution

Picture: welt.de

Approximately 35 years ago I learned in horticultural chemistry class how plants utilize the energy of sunlight.  This process is called Photosynthesis and is an everyday example of Photochemistry, a sub-discipline of chemistry or the study of chemical reactions that proceed with the adsorption of light by atoms or molecules.

Other examples of Photochemistry are the degradation of plastics and the formation of Vitamin D with Sunlight.

  Skin aging: caused by 80% of the Sunlight

Over the last half century, it has been well studied that heat and sunlight have a tremendous effect on air quality.  Both, and independent from each other, heat and sunlight can transform the atoms and molecules in the air around us into other chemical combinations that are often harmful for human health.  The same photochemical transfer occurs also with most other particles and substances in the air and increases the chemical cocktail in the air we breathe substantially.

In a recent study of the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) it was confirmed that at night – without the energy of sunlight – nitrate radicals naturally help cleanse the atmosphere.  Acting as a “janitor” of the night sky, the nitrate radical scrubs away air pollutants such as volatile organic compounds that would otherwise form smog and ozone.  The cleansing compound only works nightshifts, however, since sunlight destroys the light-sensitive molecule.  The study suspects that the street lights in cities reduce this cleansing effect.

It doesn’t take much to understand that Cool Roofs or Reflective Roofs multiply the light energy in the air, reducing not only light-sensitive molecules but also converting most other atoms, molecules and particles in the air into potentially more harmful chemical combinations.

This can be proven by many simple observations:

  • Photovoltaic (PV) elements increase their output with higher light intensity because of the energy in the light (more photons from sunlight increase the electromagnetic interaction).
  • The human skin reacts on intense sunlight with a photochemical reaction (often ending in skin cancer).
  • Sunlight changes the composition of most natural of man-made materials – typically degradation.
  • Plants change their appearance when exposed to excessive light – often they die.
  • Plants “suffocate” when exposed to sunlight 24/7.

Sunburn on plant leaf.

Nowadays numerous studies (typically sponsored my manufacturers) focus only on the surface temperature making everybody believe that cool roof, or so called reflective roofs, are environmentally friendly because of the lower surface temperature.  Isn't it worth to look at the bigger picture of what happens when reflecting sunlight off of roof tops – i.e. polluting the air with additional sunlight?  I am not suspecting that they were paid to ignore this dramatic effect but it shows to me that the responsibility of researchers is in some cases is questionable.  My countryman Albert Einstein would have said: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

"Cool Roofs" or  "Fool Roofs"?

Installation of reflective roofs requires additional protection for workers.


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