Growth Of Rooftop Plants Defines ‘Green Building’

By Lee Howard

LEBANON, Conn. (AP) – Spread out in an isolated section of the 400-acre Pride’s Corner Farms, a low-key $1 million-a-year operation brings the concept of green” building to new heights – rooftops, to be specific.

Here on a rolling six acres, exposed to the elements inside low-slung plastic trays, sit drought- and weather-resistant plants such as sedum, chives, grasses and allium that are custom grown for green-roof projects around the country.

“They’re really tough, tough plants,” says Jim Costello, manager of the LiveRoof business at Pride’s Corner, which is both a grower and regional distributor for the product.

The vegetation has to be tough, because plants used atop roofs are exposed to high wind, bitter cold and searing sun during the course of a typical year.

Costello credits horticulturist David McKenzie, now a project leader for the Michigan-based LiveRoof company, with developing many of the fundamentals of green-roof installation, including the use of a modular system of trays employed at Pride’s Corner. It’s a green trend that got a major boost after a series of deaths in Chicago during a terrible heat wave in the 1990s that killed 750 people and led Mayor Richard M. Daley to search for ways to reduce what was then known as the “urban heat island effect,” caused by a concentration of too many surfaces that absorb heat, especially asphalt and cement.

But there’s more to the story of green roofs than keeping down the number of deaths tied to urban hot zones.

Green-roof systems also are touted for their ability to absorb water, reducing excessive runoff that can overwhelm city sewer and drainage systems, are said to improve air quality in cities and can double or even triple the life of a roof by protecting it from the elements.

But perhaps the most alluring element of a green roof is its ability to lower temperatures inside buildings by an average of 6 to 8 degrees, thereby cutting air-conditioning costs. The cost savings can amount to between 20 percent and 30 percent for many projects, according to some estimates, making green roofs viable for industrial and commercial uses, as well as in public buildings – especially those placed urban areas – but Pride’s Corner is starting to see some interest among private homeowners as well.

One of Pride’s Corner’s most recent installations was at Public School 41 in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where a 9,000-square-foot Green Roof Environmental Literacy Laboratory was completed just last month. The project – totaling $1.7 million, with the roof system alone costing about $450,000 installed – is expected to have a payback period of about six years, Costello says, because of lower air-conditioning costs.

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