If I had a house or owned a building, I would green the roof. Why would I want to do such a crazy thing? Well it's actually a very logical thing to do if you want to:
- Save energy by keeping your home warm in winter and cool in summer
- Clean the air around your house
- Clean the rain water that runs off from the roof
- Keep out the noise of planes zooming overhead if you live near an airport
- Grow beautiful flowers and even food if you're not worried about attracting little creatures
[Image: Norfolk Botanical Garden]
So how does one go about greening a roof? It seems fairly easy if you're handy and follow these steps from Wired's How-to Wiki:
- Get a structural engineering report for the live load of the structure. A standard roof is built to take about ten to twenty pounds of pressure per square foot. A three-foot-square garden won't add a significant amount of weight; however, a twenty-foot-square garden, complete with wet soil and plants, can weigh thousands of pounds. After investing time and effort on a beautiful garden, the last thing you want is for it to come crashing down.
- Shore it up. Reinforcing your intended structure entails more than putting supports under the roof; likely, your structure will require lateral supports as well. Imagine holding a kite string: The wind exerts pressure not only on the kite itself, but your body. Any wind and rain will exert the same force on your rooftop plants.
- Lay down the liner. You may want to consult a roofer to install a commercial seamless roof. If you're building on top of an uninhabited structure, lay down a standard pond liner. The liner will keep the water from seeping into the building; it will also keep the plant roots from eating into the building structure.
- Set up the lattice. Skip this step if your roof is flat. Roofs with a slope will need a grid set up over the liner to keep the dirt from sliding off.
- Consult a look book. How much effort are you willing to invest? Obviously, more ornate plants are going to require more work than minimalist moss. Wildflowers and their seeds will attract birds and butterflies; scattered items like logs will attract small rodents (and give you a place to sit down). Grasses will need to be mowed occasionally, and moss, while low-maintenance, is...moss. Now might also be a good time to consult your engineering report and decide how heavy your plant load can be.
- Mix and lay down your potting soil. Depending on your choice of plant life, the soil will probably have to be custom-mixed. The separate components usually consist of mineral content, such as sand or dirt; organic matter, such as coconut husk or peat moss; and a water-hoarding material like SoilMoist. The organic matter will decompose, fertilizing your garden; SoilMoist absorbs water and releases it as the soil dries out.
- Plant your plants! Seedlings, or plugs, are slightly less frustrating than seeds.
I would also install solar panels if I had a house. In PopSci's EarthTalk column, a woman from Massachusetts asks what kind of panels she should get to heat the water in her home and maybe do more. Here's the gist of a very practical answer:
1. To generate electricity for your home that might also feed back to the grid, photovoltaics are the way to go
- What's involved: Panels, an inverter, electrical conduit piping, and AC/DC disconnect switches
- Pro: If the sun is shining, power will be generated for the home and the grid without CO2 and other nasty emissions
- Con: Price may be a barrier with a price tag in the tens of thousands of dollars
- Where to get it: At FindSolar.com or the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), you can find reputable installers
- What's involved: A solar collector for a basic hot water system
- Pros: Simpler and less expensive than photovoltaics, a reduced carbon footprint
- Con: Smaller savings in energy bills than photovoltaics, though over the long run the saving add up
- Where to get it: RealGoods Solar Living Sourcebook, a comprehensive guide to renewable energy that also sells related equipment
But wait, there's more! There's a bonus for switching to solar: Tax incentives. Find out if your state has incentives through the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE)
[Image: Rob Baxter, courtesy Flickr via PopSci]