South Charlotte

Green roof sprouts up in the suburbs

If you frequent Barclay Downs Drive in SouthPark, you've driven past the classical ranch-style house at the Sayre Road intersection. A circular drive intersects a manicured lawn, and thin white columns rest under a flat porch.

About a month ago, passersby started tapping their brakes when they noticed the brick home's newest exterior feature: a roof green with vegetation.

Rebecca Fant and her husband, John Alday, have lived on the corner lot for eight years. Alday is a mechanical engineer who often works on LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) projects. Fant is a LEED-accredited architect.

So when the couple found out the house's existing porch roof was leaking and rotting, the decision to go green was an easy one.

"It was definitely a design and environmental statement," said Fant, 50.

In lieu of shingles, green roofs consist of special vegetation laid on top of the roof structure. LiveRoof, the company that supplied Fant's vegetation, recommends using sedum, or succulent, plants because they're tolerant of droughts and cold weather, and store water in their leaves.

Green roofs have many financial and environmental benefits.

The vegetation membrane decreases storm runoff by absorbing water. The water that makes it through the membrane still drains through gutters but is cleaner.

The roof also holds in heat in the winter and absorbs sunlight in the summer, reducing up to 30 percent of a home's cooling costs, said Janie Schepker, the North Carolina area manager for LiveRoof.

Schepker said a green roof like Fant's can go about two weeks without water, if it's 80 degrees or below. If there's no rain and the temperature goes above 80 degrees, the plants need to be watered once a week.

LiveRoof grows the succulents in one-foot-by-one-foot plastic modules in a nursery until they're nearly full-grown. The modules fit side by side, and the plant grows about an inch above the module, so the plastic stays hidden once assembled on the roof.

The vegetations work best on flat roofs or ones without a steep slope. And because it acts as a buffer from the elements, a green roof can extend the life of the roof by two to three times.

"Instead of 15 to 20 years, it's going to be 40 to 60 years," said Schepker. "That's going to be a huge financial savings."

Green roofs help businesses get points toward LEED designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, which evaluates a building's energy efficiency.

Local landscape architect Ted Cleary, who specializes in modernistic designs, said the green-roof movement started in Europe decades ago and has been taking root in the U.S. for about the last 10 years.

Chicago's local government has made a big push toward green roofs, and now more than 500 buildings in the city have one (completed or underway), which amounts to about 7 million square feet.

Schepker said they're popular in Virginia and Maryland, also. In Montgomery County, Maryland, all new school buildings must have them.

Architecturally conservative, Charlotte has been slower to adopt the design trend, Cleary said.

"It's not as 'out there' in other areas of the world," said Cleary. But "I see that kind of hipness building here."

Uptown Charlotte's Imaginon, Carolinas Medical Center, the new Duke Energy Tower and the U.S. Treasury building have adopted the trend, and on the eve of Earth Day last year, the Ritz-Carlton unveiled a green roof that includes two beehives and raised beds with tomatoes, herbs and lavender.

The new Autobell moving into the SouthPark area at the corner of Tyvola and Fairview roads will also have a green roof.

Schepker has worked on green roofs for a handful of homes in South Carolina, but the trend in Charlotte has mostly stayed commercial.

Cleary, who does mostly residential work, hasn't yet had the opportunity to do a green roof, though he's pushing for them in a few of his current projects.

Like Fant, he's drawn to green roofs for their aesthetics.

There are two kinds of green roofs: Intensive roofs are thicker and can support a heavier and wider variety of plants.

Extensive ones have only a light layer of vegetation and require little maintenance.

Both require more rooftop support than most typical home structures in order to accommodate the additional weight.

That's why you see the green roofs in new construction, Schepker said.

Green roofs don't have to be prohibitively expensive, especially if homeowners only cover a portion of the total roof area.

Fant says their roof modules cost about $17 a square foot.

Including installation it was about $25 per square foot - about $2,400 for the whole system.

Fant and Alday's green roof sits over the porch, so it won't decrease their energy costs, but it's "a little teaser for what we're trying to do inside the house, as we renovate and improve the energy efficiency and other environmental features," Fant said.

Says Cleary: "It's all about the environmental aspects and it's all about a cool new trend and style."