A Look at Green Roofs and Sustainability in Construction

Posted on: March 4, 2016 by in Services
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Plants used for sustainable green roofs.Sustainability has moved into our social conscience and what’s great about that is we’re beginning to realize that sustainability and taking care of our environment is an important part of our lives.

A lot of people ask, “Why is it important to consider sustainability in your Home and landscape designs?” And, the main reason that I think it’s really important to keep in mind is that we want to be able to contribute to a healthy environment and have a place that’s beautiful for our future generations.

Green roof technology is something that we’re testing here at NuLu roofers and what we’re looking at is, are green roofs feasible for this part of the country? Green roofs are really just vegetated roofs. A green roof on top of a house can actually reduce say cooling bills of that building because those plants are transpiring and they’re cooling. It’s an option that is worth looking into if you are considering replacing your roof. This applies to both commercial and residential roofsHowever, there are certain types of roof design that do not lend themselves to this type of roof. 

There’s also water benefits. By putting a green roof on top of a building and you get a large rainfall event, that green roof, if we get enough of them in a city environment, can actually hold back some of that stormwater and even pump some of it back up into the atmosphere and that’s useful in a place like Lexington or Louisville or even Cincinnati where we get these massive flood events.

We’ve installed the first extensive green roof in Lexington and that’s owned by Stratus properties, but it’s, to some extent, the Starbucks Coffeehouse overlooks this green roof, so they get the most benefit. So far that’s been a success. So I think that’s just the first of many to come here.

Sustainable Sites Initiative is about improving the health of landscapes, not for this generation, but for future generations. The ways that we can achieve this is by treading lightly on the land or by contributing to good, positive changes in the landscape. Anything from how to do a wildflower meadow to how to preserve a prairie; how to re-vegetate a roadside, how to green-up a roof, we’re finding there are answers to all those questions within our very own native flora.

For instance, if you’re planting with the locally regional plants, the landscape can still function, ecologically, aesthetically and recreationally without having continual inputs or continual waste products coming out of it. It’s sustainable, in terms of the long-term that it will do no harm.

When you go to a local nursery or a big chain nursery and see plants that you think are just beautiful and you don’t really understand their ecology or where they’re from, a lot of the time those plants are brought in from other parts of the country and they aren’t necessarily adapted to the conditions that we have here. For example, the plants in this part of the world know what it is to have three months of drought.

So, one of the advantages of using appropriate plants for your landscape, native species that are adapted to our region is you can reduce the amount of pesticides that you need to use. Pesticides can be problematic for a number of reasons. They get washed away by rain. They get carried off and unfortunately what we’re seeing with that is fertilizers and pesticides moving into our streams and into our wildlife. Many people are surprised when I tell them that here, in the Wildflower Center gardens, we rarely use fertilizers.

integrating solar panels with green roof designIn established beds, we don’t use fertilizers at all. The plants are just ready to bloom and do their thing whenever they’re ready. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center was founded by Mrs. Johnson and Helen Hayes. And, the purpose of the Wildflower Center is to give recognition to native plants.

We’re one of the few all-native plant botanical gardens in the country and there’s over 5000 species in the state of Kentucky, so you ought to be able to come here and find something that you like. Kentuckiana has a lot of wonderful plants. Here we have, for example, our native Mustang Grape. A lot of people use them to make preserves or wine. They’re really tasty. They have that real classic grape flavor.

Also, consider the  Agave from West Texas. It’s a wonderful texture against the feather grass and other plants in the garden. Very drought resistant. Of course, people really want to see Texas Bluebonnets, which are endemic to our state, which means that they only occur in Texas. And, the yellow flowers that we have here are one of our native Buttercup. They’re very fragrant. 

My personal favorites this time of year, of course, the flowering trees, the Red Bud and the Mexican Plum. You know, they’re beautiful. You just can’t beat them. I like formal gardens, so when I grow bluebonnets, I grow them in straight lines, just because I like order and formality in my garden.

Here we have our native Buffalo grass, which is a really good alternative to some of the more traditional lawn grasses that are very water requiring. If you want you can mow it throughout the year, some people like to leave it a little bit taller and have this nice flowing feeling to it when the wind blows through it, you see the ripples in the grass. And these are things that grow without extra fertilizers or extra water.

Generally speaking, water is becoming more and more of an expensive resource and it may be expensive because of the treatment that it goes through or simply because it’s hard to get. In lots of parts of the United States we don’t really have adequate water in any one place, it has to be shipped and, all those things together cost money.

Water is cheap now, but I don’t think it’s going be cheap forever. As it gets more scarce, it’s going to become more and more expensive. Water resources are very much under pressure right now with the increase in population and so much of that water is being put on landscapes and, particularly, on lawns. One of the ways to reduce the water requirements and also the amount of herbicide you might need is to use mulch. Here we have a recycled glass mulch and it’s been tumbled, so it’s not really sharp.And at night it’s beautiful. It’s sparkles in the moonlight.

Also, you may have access to runoff water, say from the roof, from rainwater harvesting or from air conditioning condensate. AC condensate is the water produced by buildings from the air conditioner units that normally goes in the storm drains. That’s wastewater and if you actually use it to put on your landscape, then that just becomes more productive. So, I’m standing here in front of our water cistern, which we call The Tower, it’s a very iconic part of the architecture here at the Wildflower Center and it’s actually a storage tank for water that we collect off of the roofs of surrounding buildings.

eco build housing and roof designGray water is another example. It’s water that comes out of sinks and bathtubs, but we’re now looking at systems to clean the water and, again, reuse it on the landscapes so we no longer have to use potable water or drinking water to irrigate our lawns. Everything from carpet manufacturers like Millican to irrigation technology, like Toro and Rainbird are all thinking about sustainability

and are producing products that make your designs and your landscapes, your buildings more sustainable.

You can use lumber instead of concrete. You can use lumber, which comes from nearby, so there’s lower transportation cost. Also, by looking at renewable energy, energy that can be created locally and used on site, millions of dollars can be saved. Austin has a great energy program. I think one of the best in the country where you can actually purchase renewable energy credits, which is awesome.

Now carbon dioxide which, as you know, is one of the greenhouse gasses, which is contributing to global warming, so if we can design urban landscapes and plan for them to be what we call carbon neutral, in other words, there’s no net release of carbon into the atmosphere. If we can design to do that, that’s a good thing, because right now, we certainly aren’t. We are committed to supplying the best green roofing service in the Kentuckiana region.

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