The “green” movement has taken over our way of thinking.
From hybrid cars traveling the streets to reusable shopping bags being offered in grocery stores, we find these green initiatives everywhere we go. With the big push from various organizations and government legislation, this is a trend that we will hear about for years to come. Some of us have gotten used to hearing about the new revolution, but to the people who know how to make money by being green, it’s music to their ears.
To contribute to the cause, many cities are encouraging the installation of green roofs, an aesthetically appealing, more energy efficient and environmentally friendly alternative to tar, gravel ballast, shingles or tiles. Green rooftop contractors have been cashing in on this trend as the industry grows. But to really make the big bucks, some have been using new equipment that blows away traditional installation methods, literally.
By pairing up with pneumatic blower truck owners, contractors are saving time and money, and truck owners are expanding their services and increasing profit as well.
Trending Toward the Green
As with many trends, Europe has been the first to embrace green roofs and see a rapid increase in popularity. Thanks to government legislative and financial support, the industry is now very well established—and is still experiencing growth.
The trend has only recently gathered momentum in the United States. Industry leaders have begun doing more consumer education, a necessity in understanding the long-term benefits and looking beyond the initial cost. The benefits are showing, as The Christian Science Monitor reported that the amount of green rooftop space in the United States grew 80 percent from 2004 to 2005.
Chicago, IL, became one of the first to experiment with the technology. In 2000, Chicago’s City Hall exchanged its tar roof for a green one as a demonstration project for the city’s Urban Heat Island Initiative.
Through the initiative, scientists have helped monitor differences experienced through the change, and one major difference was confirmed early on. At 1:45 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2001, the ambient temperature was in the 90s. When rooftop temperatures were checked, scientists found there was at least a 50-degree difference between the new roof and a tar roof. Based on this, the city anticipated saving $3,600 per year on energy costs through an estimated annual reduction of 9,272 kilowatt hours and 7,372 therms of natural gas.
After calculating the success of this project, the city now requires new buildings receiving city financing to have green rooftops. It also offers grants to retrofit green roofs on existing buildings. Seattle, WA, followed suit, requiring 30 percent plant coverage on commercial developments in certain zones, and even more recently, New York City, NY, passed legislation offering a significant tax credit to buildings adding green roofs. If a building owner covers at least 50 percent of the structure with greenery, there will be a full year property tax credit up to $100,000.
Besides showing the support that’s spreading nationwide to install green roofs, these locations also illustrate that the market for green roofs isn’t just in warmer climates. Rather, the main U.S. growth has been focused around bigger cities that have been suffering from the Urban Heat Island Effect. Climates don’t dictate feasibility, only vegetation choice and possible irrigation options. As an example, Chicago chose drought-resistant plants to counter moisture loss through wind.
Moving From Arduous to Efficient
With the United States in its infancy of this growing trend, demand for green roof contractors, landscape architects and installers can be expected to grow as well. There are a number of players in the green rooftop business that anticipate job growth.
When considering the application, an engineer must first determine if a building’s structure can accommodate the weight of being retrofitted with a green roof. For new buildings, architects must work the concept into the plans. Contractors choose the material and vegetation based on the customer’s needs and location, and after installing the initial waterproofing and drainage layers, they prepare and apply growing media to the roof. Later, the contractor and landscapers may return to plant vegetation.
Of these jobs, the greatest advances have been made in the process of applying the growing media. The old method—and the one still employed by a number of contractors—involves using a crane to hoist material to the roof, where a crew of workers uses wheelbarrows to haul, dump and spread it, making it as even as possible to ready it for plantings. Some roof designs are complicated and oftentimes impossible with this method. Let’s say the project requires going up six stories, across the roof and then down two stories into a courtyard. A crane just won’t cut it, which leaves installers to haul the material up through an elevator and spread it by hand. By this stage of the building’s construction, transporting green roof materials through a nearly finished interior is not typically a welcome task and can actually damage the building. Even without the risk, the time involved makes the job especially prohibitive.
But there’s another way that’s can be faster and easier. Furthermore, it spreads material more evenly and can even handle the above courtyard scenario. Of course, this all means it costs less, too.