European-inspired green roofs take root in the U.S.

(©2015 USA TODAY, All Rights Reserved. Originally published Saturday, April 25, 2015. Link to full article at page bottom.)

Al Johnson's Swedish Restaurant & Butik in Sister Bay, Wis., is known for the goats on its roof. It was founded in 1949; in 1973, the late Johnson expanded into a new building and ordered a traditional sod-roofed building from Norway. "The walls were constructed, numbered, disassembled, and shipped to us," said son Lars Johnson.

Green roofs have a long tradition in Europe, and the idea is now taking firm hold in the United States. Not only is it a truly green-from-the-top idea, but it keeps buildings "a little warmer in the winter months and a little cooler in the winter months," Johnson said. It also holds rainwater to limit runoff into Lake Michigan.

The U.S. Green Building Council introduced LEED certification parameters for commercial buildings in 2000, and that's when the green roof revival began. Green roofs on office buildings, apartment complexes, and shopping centers provide insulation and storm water management. The roof of the new Facebook building in Menlo Park, Calif., about 70-feet up in the air, offers nine acres of greenery. And, as at Al Johnson's, newer green roofs are being designed for the enjoyment of tenants and the broader community.

"We've got a much better sense of the costs and the benefits of green roof technology," said Steven W. Peck, president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities in Toronto. "As the industry has matured, the costs of putting in a lightweight roof have fallen."

That lower cost is offset by real savings. The U.S. General Services Administration has studied green roofs for their economic benefits and currently maintains more than 2 million square feet of them on government buildings. The biggest advantage is that storm water runoff is reduced by up to 65 percent, according to the GSA, as well as significant annual energy savings. Less quantifiable, but important, benefits include increasing biodiversity, absorbing noise, reducing overall urban heat levels and air pollution, and providing space for recreation and growing edible crops. Green roofs last an average of 50 years, much longer than traditional roofs.

A typical early LEED green roof was a plain mat of sedum or local grass species designed for function. There was often no public access, as the purpose was strictly environmental. In short order, building occupants began inquiring about visits, architects started adding access, and landscape designers incorporated aesthetics and function. Now, green roofs may be used as parks, cafes, and bocce courts.

Whole Foods Market is growing produce on the roof of its Lynnfield, Mass., store that is sold to customers downstairs. Patients, families, and staff at Martha's Vineyard Hospital in Martha's Vineyard, Mass., enjoy a garden of healing plants — with a view of the ocean — on the roof. The benefits go far beyond the environmental.

Jared Markham, GreenGrid program manager for Weston Solutions in Glastonbury, Conn., which designed the roof, also did one on the Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot in New York City, which is not accessible to area residents, but which they can see from their apartments. "The community really wanted it," Markham said.

Girl With Goat

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