All photos copyright Tim Ridley.
Carl Seville, a principal at SK Collaborative, has decades of experience in green building and construction, and he put them to use in building a new LEED home for himself and his wife. The Craftsman-style home in Decatur, Georgia, also ended up becoming the winner of the 2017 LEED Homes Award for Outstanding Single-Family Project.
Balancing building goals
Working with architect Thomas Hood, Seville navigated strict requirements from the local historic commission on square footage, accessory buildings, permeable pavement and tree canopy preservation, while also building a home to LEED Platinum standards. He chronicled the process of making renovations to a home in an area with both green building certification and historic commission requirements in his frank and humorous blog series, Green Building Curmudgeon.
The city of Decatur has a green building certification ordinance, and Seville selected LEED v4 from among the locally accepted options, in part to gain experience in the more rigorous new version of LEED before applying it to future client projects.
The house is in a neighborhood full of historic homes, many over a hundred years old. An unusual aspect of this project, among others Seville has worked on, is that although it is a very traditional house, "almost indistinguishable" from the homes around it, it is still high-performance. "The house filled a gap in a block of historic homes, and did it so well that most observers are not aware that it is a new house. I have even driven past it myself a few times even though I live there," says Seville.
Achieving Rainwater credits
The most challenging LEED credit to achieve, for Seville, was Rainwater Management, but he was ultimately able to achieve the maximum 3 points through the use of pervious paving materials, planted areas and impervious surfaces that were directed to on-site infiltration.
For example, the entire driveway is pervious concrete, and the parking pad in front of the carport is made up of loose-laid pervious pavers. Both areas were installed over a 9-inch layer of gravel, which was placed on top of a geotextile fabric to keep mud out of the gravel bed. The impervious areas directed to infiltration areas comprise half of the roof area of the house and the entire carport. Seville directed the downspouts from these areas to a large dry well in the backyard.
The total permeable area and impermeable area drained to infiltration features make up 86.64 percent of the entire site.
"I elected to use the pervious paving materials to achieve points toward certification and to meet the city lot coverage requirements," explains Seville. "The dry well for infiltration was not required for lot coverage; however, I elected to include this to avoid any excessive erosion or stormwater runoff from the roofs."
Setting up for good indoor air quality
As occupants, the Sevilles find that the interior is always comfortable, using minimal HVAC. The ductless HVAC "was a bit of a risk in a house this size," says Seville, "but the extremely tight building envelope and relatively open floor plan allowed me to condition the entire 2,646 square feet with no ductwork."
The structure retains heat well in cold weather and manages heat and humidity very well in hot weather. "In moderate weather, the house is often cooler than outside, so we often open the windows instead of turning on the heat in bridge seasons," says Seville. He experiences the house as being very quiet and having excellent indoor air quality, with minimal dust and dirt.
Carl Seville's number one piece of advice for someone seeking to build a home to LEED standards: "Start the design with sustainability and certification in mind. Don’t try to layer it on a completed design. If you think green from the start, it is not hard to build better, at little (if any) extra cost, and if truly effective, you can reduce costs while improving performance and sustainability."
Actions you take to improve the energy efficiency of your home save money and reduce your impact on the environment. In the United States, the average home uses 10,766 kilowatt hours per year, though this amount varies in areas of the country where it is particularly hot or cold.
You can greatly reduce this energy expenditure through many techniques both big and small. Exterior renovations, although daunting to some homeowners, can create a big impact on the energy efficiency of your home.
Your house will probably need several features repaired or redone about every decade. The next time you have a project to undertake, consider how these renovations can reduce your spending and your energy usage in the long run.
1. Fix or replace windows.
Replacing your windows creates a big impact on the energy efficiency in your home. Replacing single-pane windows with double-pane windows can save up to $340 per year in energy use, according to Energy Star. If you can’t afford to completely replace your windows, take the time to ensure they are sealed around all edges, and use inside features such as insulated curtains.
2. Consider your roof.
There are many options for creating a cool roof, green roof or other environmentally friendly roofing surface. Also, most homes lose a lot of heat through the roof, so take the time to inspect your insulation each year and see what shape it’s in or if you're using the right kind for your needs. Insulation helps keep the temperature in your home steady and combats seasonal heating and cooling cycles. It also acts to protect a roof from potentially costly damage, through its ability to prevent snow from melting and freezing on your roof in winter months.
3. Select insulated siding.
Insulated vinyl siding has a foam backing and keeps heat inside the home, as well as being low-maintenance, so you won't have to repaint your home every few years. Using other external materials, such as wood, brick or stone will mean you need to make sure your home's envelope is tight and well insulated to avoid heating and cooling inefficiency.
4. Install efficient exterior doors.
Air leakage around doors reduces your home’s energy efficiency and costs you money. Weatherstripping only stops a certain amount of the leakage. Choosing a good door is also important. One good way to make your doors more energy-efficient is to install doors with a high Energy Star rating.
Little changes make a big difference.
Even small changes save you money when it comes to creating a more energy-efficient home. Plant trees for shade in the summer, for example. Fix any cracked and peeling caulk. Do bigger outside projects as you can afford it, and remember that preventative maintenance is the key in the meantime.
Many of us are already well aware of the importance of "reduce, reuse, recycle," and act on that mantra as a part of our daily routine. In addition to traditional recycling, we've broadened our focus to upcycling and reuse, turning items that might have gone into the recycling bin into crafts, furniture or useful household containers.
As more people and businesses get responsible about sustainability, though, and municipalities in turn handle increased amounts of recycled content, they are asking consumers to become even more sophisticated about what they throw in the bin.
Keep the recycling stream flowing
If too many nonrecyclables are included in a given amount of recycled materials, for example, it can cause the entire load to be rejected from the recycling stream. This is especially true of processing facilities in China, due to recent policy changes.
One of the biggest culprits, especially for apartment communities, is the plastic bags that people use to contain recyclables before pitching them into the community receptacle. If you have to carry items in plastic, just empty them directly into the recycling bin and take your bags back to the store—many grocery stores accept returns of their plastic bags, and carry out their own recycling of this resource.
Don't make assumptions
It's also important to know about local requirements. Some cities have limitations on what kinds of glass or paper you can recycle, so be sure to check your town's website for guidelines.
Here are some resources to help you step up your recycling game:
- The Recycle Often Recycle Right campaign, run by Waste Management, offers homeowners resources on how and what to recycle, featuring visuals, mythbusters and bin signs. It also has downloadable posters and brochures that kids can take to school.
- More than 70 percent of electronics, including old cell phones or televisions, may be recyclable. Earth 911 has created a helpful search feature for you to look up places to recycle electronics, using your zip code.
- Curious what your state has done to promote recycling? MarthaStewart.com has a state-by-state recycling guide that offers an interesting statistic for each state and a link to its relevant webpage for recycling.
World Green Building Week, taking place September 24–30, is an annual event that motivates and empowers us all to deliver greener buildings. In 2018, we want everyone, everywhere to commit to making a change in the homes they build, lease or live in. Each of us can do something to make our home a greener, healthier and more energy-efficient place.
Buildings, including the homes we live in, account for around 40 percent of global energy consumption—over a third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Making a greener world starts at home, and it doesn’t have to cost the Earth.
The average global electricity consumption per household equals 2.6 metric tons of C02, or 6,384 miles driven by an average car. If we all reduced our consumption by 20 percent, that would deliver savings of just over half a metric ton of CO2 per household, or 1,277 miles of driving. Check out this handy calculator to work out your own carbon footprint.
We can’t change the world overnight, but we can all do our bit, however small you start. Looking for more information on how you can make your home greener and how having a more energy-efficient home can save you money as well? Visit the World Green Building Week website for data and resources.
Congratulations to our 2017 LEED Homes Award winners! Each award recipient this year takes LEED to a new level by showcasing innovative and efficient sustainable design. From drastic reductions in energy use to resilient designs engineered to withstand natural forces, these projects and developers prove just how impactful the green building movement can be.
Learn more about each winner in our infographic below.
There’s nothing quite like a big, lush and beautiful lawn. Is there any better feeling than walking barefoot through soft grass, or laying out a blanket on the lawn and feeling the sun on your face? The perks of traditional turf lawns, however, come with some serious costs—like fuel for mowers, fertilizers, pesticides and watering, just to name a few. And it’s more than just money out of your pocket. Standard grass lawns are extremely tough on the environment.
They need frequent mowing and maintenance, resulting in toxic emissions (e.g., 17 million gallons of gas is spilled annually while refueling mowers). And they’re total water guzzlers—most lawns require about 1.5 inches of water per week just to survive! The developing water shortage crisis in the U.S. has prompted many homeowners to turn to low-maintenance lawn alternatives. And there are plenty of options—everything from clover as an eco-friendly lawn alternative and managed meadows to ornamental grasses and flower beds, all sharing sustainability as a common denominator.
Minimizing your turf lawn—or replacing it altogether—can be a major undertaking. Getting rid of all the grass and planting a new ground covering, even in a small area, is not a small project. But we’re here to tell you that it will absolutely pay off. In fact, in some cases, you’ll see a return on investment before the growing season is even over! And no matter your lawn’s type, size or growing region, you’ll you have several different and unique lawn alternatives to choose from, each with their own set of perks. Without further ado, we present to you our 10 favorite low-maintenance lawn alternatives. Happy planting!
#1. Ornamental grasses
One of the best ways to reduce the area of your turf lawn: Transform part of the lawn into a gorgeous ornamental grass display. Ornamental grasses are drought-resistant and incredibly low-maintenance, thriving in nearly every type of soil with little to no fertilizers. They’re also naturally disease- and pest-resistant, so you can say goodbye to chemical pesticides.
- No mowing—Ornamental grasses are very different than traditional turf. They grow into distinctive shapes, like tufts and sprays or shimmering sweeps. And they hold their shape, staying upright and attractive even under snow cover.
- No spreading—This is one ground cover you won’t need to worry about keeping under control. Most ornamentals are clump grasses. This means their roots don’t put out rhizomes, the horizontal shoots that start new plants, depending instead on seeds for reproduction.
- No foot traffic—Ornamental grasses are the perfect choice for a visual display in an area of the lawn that receives zero foot traffic. They’re not at all like traditional turf grass, and walking over them will cause serious harm.
Moss is one of the easiest low-maintenance lawn alternatives around. Planting a moss bed couldn’t be simpler, and you won’t need to mow or water your moss bed, provided you choose an appropriate shady location. And who doesn’t love the thought of a huge, velvety-soft patch of moss?
- No mowing—Moss stays very low to the ground throughout its life, never growing taller than roughly one inch, depending on the type of moss. No mowing = no emissions from the mower (and more time for you to relax!).
- Resilience—Moss isn’t as hardy as traditional turf, but it can withstand occasional foot traffic.
- Drought-resistance—Little to no watering is required for moss beds, so you’ll save water and money on monthly utility bills.
- Variety—You can choose from dozens of different mosses, all with different textures, appearances and thicknesses. Combine several moss types together in one area to create some serious visual interest.
- Easy installation—Moss spreads quickly until it forms a solid surface, often in just one growing season. To create a moss bed, simply press moss plugs (small pieces of moss with complete roots) into your soil about six inches apart and keep them damp and cool. You’ll have ground cover before you know it.
- Shade-loving—This can be either a pro or a con, depending on your project, but moss doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight. Make sure you’re installing your moss bed in a cool, shady area where the moss sprouts will be safe from the sun’s damaging rays. It’s best for lower, cooler areas with limited foot traffic.
#3. Creeping Charlie
It may seem strange to recommend what’s commonly thought of as one of the most frustrating weeds around. True, Creeping Charlie spreads like crazy, presenting a total disaster if you don’t carefully choose your location. But this member of the mint family is actually a great option for thick, low-maintenance ground cover in partially shady areas.
- No mowing, fertilizing or watering—Creeping Charlie provides a truly hands-off alternative to persnickety turf grass. Seriously, you could plant your Creeping Charlie bed and never even look at it again, and it would probably thrive.
- Durability—One thing’s for sure—this lawn alternative can take a serious beating. It’s at least as hardy as traditional turf, so anyone with pets or children won’t need to worry about damage from frequent activity.
- Comfort—Plentiful rounded leaves and little blooms provide a thick, cushiony ground cover that’s perfect for casual strolls or those outdoor afternoon naps. And the lovely minty smell is definitely a bonus.
- Spreads easily—Most of the time, the quick-spreading factor is ideal, since more growth means more ground cover. But Creeping Charlie takes this to a whole new level. There’s a reason it’s called “Creeping!” Make sure to plant Creeping Charlie in a contained spot, with a wide, impermeable border.
#4. Sweet Woodruff
Sweet Woodruff is an edible herb, said to taste something like vanilla, and it gives off a lovely fresh scent. Historically, Woodruff was used as an air freshener. It requires very little maintenance, and its star-shaped twists of leaves and delicate white flowers can add interesting texture to any sustainable landscape.
- Weed-resistant—Forget the pesticides and weed killers; Sweet Woodruff is naturally weed-resistant, forming a dense canopy of leaves and flowers that stops new weeds in their tracks.
- No mowing—Sweet Woodruff only grows to a certain height (about two inches).
- No watering—Unless you live in a particularly dry region, you’ll rarely (if ever) need to water your patch of Sweet Woodruff.
- Shade-loving—Again, this can be either a pro or a con, depending on your project. Sweet Woodruff doesn’t do so well in direct sunlight, so make sure to choose a shady, cool area. It’s best for spicing up shady areas, like narrow passageways, where mowing and maintenance is not ideal.
#5. Red creeping thyme
Red creeping thyme transforms any lawn area into a breathtaking scene—especially in the early summer, when bright reddish blooms appear. This thyme is something of an evergreen, turning a deep bronze in the winter months. Thyme forms a dense mat that can withstand moderate foot traffic, so it’s a solid choice for nearly any lawn project. Its lack of required maintenance, combined with its gorgeous appearance, has made thyme a huge favorite for low-maintenance lawn alternatives.
- Drought-tolerant—Thyme can handle very limited amounts of water, so it’s ideal for dry regions or for homeowners with water conservation in mind.
- No mowing—Thyme forms a solid mat of foliage, with no need for mowing or trimming.
- Expensive—Thyme can be one of the more expensive lawn alternatives. To cut back on costs, choose a small area for your thyme bed. You can always plant more next year!
- Demanding installation—Another downside of thyme: It’s not easy to get it into the ground! You will need to kill off the grass in the area you plan to plant your thyme, which can be a slow and labor-intensive process.
#6. Red clover
The benefits of clover are many—most notably, it’s extremely affordable and a natural soil fertilizer. In fact, clover is often planted by gardeners as a soil conditioner. Its nitrogen-fixing properties provide a constant trickle of fertilizer to surrounding grasses, so planting a patch of clover means your lawn as a whole will be healthier and greener. Red clover does best in poor soil, so it’s the perfect choice for yards with below-average soil quality.
- No watering, mowing or fertilizers—Red clover needs little to no watering, and mowing can be done at your discretion. You also won’t need to fertilize your clover lawn, since it’s a natural soil conditioner.
- Inexpensive—If you’ve got a total low-maintenance transformation in mind, you will definitely want to consider planting clover. It costs a mere $4 to cover nearly 4,000 square feet, so it’s ideal for large patches of lawn.
- Spreads quickly—Red clover’s quick-spreading ability is another reason why it’s perfect for large areas.
- Fragility—Red clover is easily torn up, so it’s not ideal for high-use areas of your lawn. Make sure you choose a spot where children and pets won’t be playing.
#7. Flower and shrub beds
Flower and shrub beds aren’t an ideal choice for a grassy lawn replacement, but they’re a perfect way to add visual interest to your yard while reducing the size of your traditional turf lawn. Choose native perennials, which require less attention and fertilizer, to maximize the low-maintenance factor. And we recommend keeping it simple—you can create big visual impact with just a few different varieties, and you won’t get caught up trying to keep track of the individual needs of many different plants.
- Beauty—Other ground cover options simply can’t compete with the visual interest of flower and shrub beds. Choose colorful flowers to add a bright pop of color to your yard, or a selection of taller shrubs to add height to an otherwise low-to-the-ground lawn.
- Location versatility—Tired of struggling to mow those sloped or otherwise difficult-to-mow areas of your lawn? Plant flowers or shrubs in small spaces or in terraced beds on steep inclines to solve the problem for good.
- Maintenance—Adding flower or shrub beds ups the maintenance factor of your yard because it minimizes the size of your traditional turf lawn—meaning less mowing and less lawn watering. Keep in mind that many flower varieties do require careful watering, and some shrubs may require occasional trimming. Choose hardy, resilient perennials to keep the maintenance factor to a minimum.
Chamomile isn’t just low-maintenance and eco-friendly—it’s beautiful and delightfully scented, releasing an apple-like aroma with every step. Chamomile spreads quickly and can grow in direct sun or partial shade, making it an ideal candidate for nearly any lawn size or type.
- Little to no mowing—Let your chamomile run wild, or mow occasionally to keep the herb in check.
- Location versatility—Chamomile will grow on even the steepest slopes and in hard-to-manage areas. It’s an easy solution for areas where traditional turf is not at all ideal.
- Soil-enriching—Chamomile is a great source of nitrogen, providing a steady supply of fertilizer to itself and surrounding plants.
- Drought-resistant—No need for watering this hardy herb! Chamomile can survive even the toughest dry spells, so it’s perfect for dry and arid regions.
- Toxicity—Some varieties of chamomile are toxic to animals, so make sure to choose safe varieties if you have dogs.
- Sun-loving— Chamomile will thrive in direct or partial sun, but you’ll most likely only see partial coverage if you plant your chamomile in a shady spot.
Snow-in-summer earns its unique name from the dazzling array of white blooms that blanket the plants in spring and summer months. But it’s not just the flowers that give this plant a delightful appearance—the silvery-grey leaves and foliage are equally delightful. Its size and shape resembles that of ornamental grasses, so it’s not ideal for large-scale lawn replacements. But for adding visual interest and boosting eco-friendliness, this gorgeous perennial is an excellent choice.
- Resilience—Snow-in-summer withstands difficult conditions that other plants can’t survive, like full sun and poor-quality soil. Regardless of lawn type or location, this perennial will likely thrive.
- Quick-spreading—Though not as quick-spreading as some of the other options we’ve mentioned, snow-in-summer typically covers upwards of 12 inches of ground each year. Planting even a small patch can mean some serious ground cover within a few years.
- Drought-resistant—New blooms should be watered to ensure proper growth, but once the plant is established, you’ll virtually never need to water it.
- No foot traffic—Snow-in-summer’s beauty comes with a price: It’s fragile and easily damaged by foot traffic. Make sure to choose a location with limited activity.
#10. Dutch clover
You’ve probably spotted patches of Dutch clover, with its intricate white flowers, in meadows and fields. But this type of clover actually makes for an outstanding total lawn alternative. It’s thick and comfortable, highly drought-resistant and very durable—so it’s perfect for more heavily used areas of your lawn.
- Durability—Dutch clover is one of the toughest lawn alternatives on our list, easily withstanding normal foot traffic.
- Drought-resistant—This plant’s deep roots make it incredibly resistant to water shortages, so you won’t need to worry about watering it.
- Little to no mowing—You can mow Dutch clover whenever you would like, but its slow growth as compared to traditional turf means that you’ll rarely—if ever—have to get out the mower.
- Naturally pest-resistant—Common turf-destroying pests won’t bother with Dutch clover, as it contains naturally insect-repelling compounds. Translation: No pesticides or chemicals needed to keep this lawn in check!
- A grazing favorite—While Dutch clover is excellent at keeping away unwanted insects, it does have a reputation for attracting deer. This may actually be a good thing, if you’d like to see more wildlife activity on your property—but over time, you may notice your clover lawn getting a little patchy from the frequent grazing.
- Easily spreads—The only problem with Dutch clover’s quick-spreading ability is if you have other plants nearby. Over the course of a few years, Dutch clover will likely grow over any other plants they come into contact with, killing them off in the process. To protect the rest of your property’s flora, make sure you install impermeable borders around the intended Dutch clover space.
- Sustainable Landscaping Using the SITES Framework
- Xeriscaping 101
- Sustainable Landscaping: Establishing a Managed Meadow
This article was originally published by BrightLeaf Homes as "The Health Benefits of a Certified-Green Custom Home" on May 15, 2018, and is partially reproduced with permission. View the full article.
The home is where the heart is, so it's best to make sure your home is healthy. How so? Green construction, or energy-efficient home building, is more than just being environmentally conscious and eco-friendly. The materials, technology and practices used to build green is also healthier for your mind, your body and your family.
Building better homes means improving quality of life
With better products, such as low-emission materials, a radon mitigation system, sealed combustion appliances, the Indoor airPLUS program and an improved scientific approach to building, certified green homes can have a positive impact on your family's health. Improved heating, ventilation, insulation and air sealing also contribute to reducing risks and symptoms of respiratory disease, asthma, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, stress and infectious disease, and more. Check out the infographic below to see just how your new build home works to keep you and your family healthy.
A healthy indoor environment free from VOCs, formaldehyde, mold and other pollutants not only makes your home more pleasant to be in, it can also help prevent asthma or other respiratory illnesses. Here are four ways to stay on top of indoor air quality (IAQ):
1. Test for potential issues.
If you're experiencing respiratory symptoms and are not sure what the source of the issue might be, take a look at the list of questions published by the American Lung Association. This might help you pinpoint the problem.
You probably already know that smoking is the number one cause of lung cancer. But did you know that radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas, is number two? It can be found anywhere, and like carbon monoxide, can't be seen or smelled. The U.S. EPA shares links to sources for radon test kits and information on its website.
With mold, if you suspect you may have problems, you can also test for its presence in your home without incurring much expense. If mold is already visible, skip to step two and take action to rid your home of this health hazard. Depending on the severity and type of the problem, such as whether it's just moisture in your HVAC system or you have major flood damage, the solutions may be different, so consult a professional or refer to the EPA's mold guide for homeowners.
2. Be green in your home improvement practices.
One of the best ways to ensure good IAQ is to be careful in how you take care of your home. Using green or even DIY cleaning supplies, minimizing use of sealants and purchasing furniture with low risk of off-gassing can help you keep the air you breathe healthy.
3. Use adequate ventilation.
Keep windows open when using products that have strong fumes—and point floor fans toward the windows to push fumes outdoors even more. In fact, open your windows more often in general, and let the fresh air circulate in your home.
Make sure your ducts are cleaned as needed, to avoid buildup of mold, pollen and fungus. Lessen the need for full professional duct cleaning by doing routine maintenance like replacing air filters and ensuring that joints are sealed.
4. Bring the outdoors into your home.
Building a green wall, setting out plants or growing herbs in your home creates more oxygen, filters out pollutants and may even boost your mood. Making design choices that respond to our biophilia—the human inclination to seek connection with nature—can be as simple as adding some literal green to your living room with a plant or two.
- Choose a low-maintenance house plant.
- See how you can build a living wall.
- Listen to a USGBC podcast on biophilia.
Want to learn more? Read our in-depth article on improving IAQ, from simple to more complex strategies.
Learn about LEED credits related to IAQ.
Home builders and developers, we want to show off the amazing work you did in 2017! If you used LEED in a spectacular way in 2017, consider nominating your work for the LEED Homes Awards.
The LEED Homes Awards recognize architects, developers, home builders and projects that have demonstrated leadership in the residential building marketplace.
Project categories include:
- Outstanding Single Family Project
- Outstanding Single Family Developer
- Outstanding Affordable Project
- Outstanding Affordable Developer
- Outstanding Multi-Family Project
- Outstanding Multi-Family Developer
- Project of the Year/Outstanding Innovative Project
The awards also recognize the LEED Homes Power Builders,which USGBC developed to honor an elite group of developers and builders who have exhibited an outstanding commitment to LEED and the green building movement within the residential sector.
In order to be considered as a Power Builder, developers and builders must have certified 90 percent of their homes/unit count built in 2017. Homes at any LEED certification level—Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum—are eligible for consideration.
To be eligible for an award, the project needs to have been certified between January 1 and Dec. 31, 2017.
Nominations will be accepted until May 18, 2018. Any questions with this form please email Matt Libby.
One of the most important decisions when building a green home is choosing a roof type. Because the energy efficiency of a home often comes down to heating and cooling, it is of utmost importance that a green home has the right roof to provide insulation rather than letting valuable hot or cold air escape. In addition, a roof that requires frequent maintenance and replacing will contribute negatively to the environment by adding waste to landfills.
Heat-reflecting recycled metal roofing, recycled roof tiles, and other green roof products are all great options for energy-efficient and earth-friendly roofing. But what if your roofing choice could be all that and more? Living green roofs are not just eco-friendly and energy-saving—they come with a huge abundance of benefits that other roof options simply can’t compete with. And unlike other roof options, planting a living green roof is something you can DIY-install on your own!
What is a living green roof?
The General Services Administration (GSA) has designed and maintained green roofs for decades, currently maintaining at least 24 green roofs in 13 cities around the country. Green roofs are defined by the GSA as vegetated roofs consisting of “a waterproofing membrane, growing medium (soil) and vegetation (plants) overlying a traditional roof.”
This roof system provides numerous eco-green perks. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) lists both public and private benefits to green roof installations: Public benefits of green roofs include neighborhood aesthetic appeal, better air quality, helping landfill diversion and added stormwater management, while private benefits include energy efficiency, natural fire resistance and durability.
Benefits to planting a living green roof
Properly installed green roofs more than double the number of years typically needed before a roof must be replaced when compared to traditionally installed roofs. A conservative analysis by the GSA puts the average life expectancy of a living roof at about 40 years, as compared to an average expectancy of 17 for a conventional roof. GRHC adds that a green roof protects waterproofing membranes from temperature fluctuations and UV radiation, extending the life of the membrane.
A study published by the National Research Council of Canada showed that in the summer months, a green roof will reduce cool air loss by 70–90 percent, greatly reducing the demand for air conditioning. The GSA found similar efficiency figures, stating that green roofs can act as an insulating layer and reduce heat flux (transfer of heat through a building’s roof) by up to 72 percent. Using the Green Roof Energy Calculator, co-developed by GRHC with the University of Toronto and Portland State University, you can compare the yearly energy performance of your home as is to your home’s potential performance with a green roof installation.
Improved air quality
The plants living on green roofs, especially leafy plants and flowers, can capture air pollution and filter toxic gases from the air. The energy efficiency factor of green roofs also reduces demand for power, thereby decreasing the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere.
Peck & Co’s analysis of green roof benefits showed that green living roofs have superb noise insulation, especially for low frequencies. Green roofs can reduce outside sound penetration by 40–60 decibels. Sounds like peace and quiet!
Property value increase
Increased efficiency means increase home value. In addition, green roofs are a marker of the popular green building movement. For this reason, a living roof can help with home sales, lease-outs and lower tenant turnover.
On a green roof, rainwater is retained in order to sustain the plants rather than flowing to storm sewers. Living roofs can retain 70–90 percent of precipitation in the summer and 24–40 percent in the winter. To put that into perspective, a green roof with anywhere from 2–8 inches of growth can hold 4–6 inches of water.
According to Green Roof Technology, installing a green roof can add as many as 15 LEED credits to your home, adding resale value in the future.
A green roof means added biodiversity, aesthetic appeal and more green space for relaxing, stress relief and even gardening.
DIY planting a green roof
Emmanuel from EcoHome.net shows the process he used to DIY install a living green roof at Edelweiss, the Eco-Home Demonstration home. As Emmanuel states, homes in both rural and urban areas can benefit from a living roof.
Emmanuel’s is a great example of the perfect roof for a DIY green-roof install—a low-pitched roof for safe walking without safety equipment. The roof features a stone perimeter, which acts as an expansion joint for when the soil freezes in winter.
Watch the video:
For more on DIY green roofs, check out the DIY Green Roof Guide.
For non-DIY green roof options, check out some featured green roof products:
- LiveRoof Patented Green Roof System
- Eco-Roofs Green Roof Systems
- GreenGrid Modular Pre-Vegetated Green Roof System