Green Roofs: Gardens in the Sky

A modern house with a green roof.

The green movement has taken off and with it, green roofs. A green roof is literally green. It means you cover the surface of the roof with soil and plants, creating a natural, growing material. They take advantage of rooftops, one of the most underutilized spaces in architecture, and use them to create eco-friendly works of organic art.

Building a Green Roof

As you might expect, creating a green roof on your home or shed requires equal parts know-how in architecture and gardening. Obviously, the first important factor to consider is the shape of your roof. If your roof is not flat or is too difficult to access, then a green roof might not be a very practical option. Past that, you’ll have to consider more complicated factors like the overall aesthetic of the house. Do you want frilly vines that spill down the side of your house, or do you prefer grasses and flowering plants? Some DIYers might prefer to turn their green roofs into gardens for homegrown fruits and herbs.

You should also check with a structural engineer before you start buying materials. Green roofs are simple enough that you can do all the work yourself, but you’ll need a thumbs up from a professional before you can be certain that the roof can support the added weight.

Helping the Environment

The greatest and most obvious advantage of green roofs is that they help out Mother Nature. Your plants will improve air quality, suck up harmful carbon dioxide, and promote an eco-friendly lifestyle. Considering that green is the new black, your environmentally-conscious roof will never go out of style.

Cutting Down on Heating and Cooling Bills

Of course, the environment won’t be the only thing to benefit from your green roof—your bank account will also be rather appreciative. The soil for the plants adds an extra layer of insulation, which means that your house will naturally stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Green plants also reflect more sunlight back out into space, which means that your green roof contributes to a cooler neighborhood.

Collecting Rain and Snow

Snow accumulated on a roof

Green roofs are excellent at collecting precipitation. That’s good in the summer because the plants will readily soak up rainwater and reduce runoff. It can be slightly dangerous in winter, however, because the snow will accumulate on a flat roof and add more weight.

Reducing Your Expenses

Prices will vary, naturally, but you can expect a price tag somewhere in the ballpark of $5 to $10 per square foot if you do it yourself. Materials and tools will cost a fair bit when everything’s said and done, but theoretically your green roof will pay itself off in the long run. It’s also worth mentioning that a green roof could have a notable impact on the value of a property, especially in neighborhoods that are more open to green lifestyles.

Doing Your Maintenance

You know what happens to your lawn when you let it go for a while without mowing it. A green roof can suffer from the same problems. Unlike conventional roofs, which don’t typically need much maintenance, green roofs require regular care to ensure that the plants are healthy and not overgrown. You should also talk with your local nursery regarding proper care for all the of plants on your roof, especially if you've used it to garden.

Expecting New Neighbors

bird on an eave

Odds are good that your green roof will attract a few new miniscule neighbors. Worms, bugs, birds, squirrels, and all other manner of animals might adore your new investment. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends largely on how much you like animals. Either way, you should be aware that your roof could become the new hip place to be for birds and other species.