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Rooftop Sustainability

Rooftop Sustainability

As climate change debate continues to rage in America, activists are left wondering how Europe has been able to convince people to adopt sustainability. Going green has long been the trend of both European governments and their people, but earlier this year France made environmentally friendly buildings mandatory. In March, the French government passed a law requiring all new commercial buildings to be equipped with either rooftop vegetation or solar panels. While France is not the first place this has been done, the city of Toronto passed a similar ordinance in 2009, it is the first country to enact such a requirement. Although the law falls short of the mandates requested by French environmental activists, it is a major step towards to elevating France’s sustainable economics to levels more on par with the likes of Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.

Now I know what you’re thinking; how do rooftop plants help reduce energy consumption and promote sustainable economics? A fair question. While the benefits of solar panels are more widely known, most people have never even heard of the “green roof” concept.  However, green roofs offer tremendous benefits from reducing energy consumption.

Green roofing is a form of natural insulation and limits the amount of heat flow in and out of a building. According to a recent study by Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, green roofs can reduce heat entering and exiting buildings by up to 60% – with a 5-7% margin of error. Green roofs also help to greatly reduce, what the EPA refers to as, the “urban heat island”. Urban heat islands are the result of roads and buildings becoming impermeable and trapping in excess heat – an effect that can warm cities by 5 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and up to 22 degrees at night. Additionally, roof-top flora can help to reduce urban pollution by retaining excess storm water and reducing smog pollution. Green roofs have the ability to limit storm water runoff by between 50% and 90%  and can provide a natural filter for harmful pollution.

While implementing green roofs is initially more expensive than traditional roofing, a study by University of Michigan researches shows that they are actually more cost effective. In fact, the study shows that green roofs are between 25%-29% more cost-efficient over a 40 year period. And this does not even factor in the estimated 30-110 million dollars that a city the size of Chicago could save annually in pollution mitigation costs by merely “greening” about 10 percent of their rooftops.

Although I’m sure American politicians are nowhere near ready to decree a law requiring something like green roofing having the full backing of a G7 nation is huge for the future of green roofing, and environmentalism as a whole. As we continue to search for answers to combat pollution and climate change, green roofing could be part of the solution. While I don’t foresee us adopting France’s mandate anytime soon, it is possible to install your own green roof. If you want to learn how to get your roof top green going check out http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/how to/step/0,,20473692_20924213,0

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