Are ‘green roofs’ the next eco-friendly initiative for Baltimore?
News Anchor- Mindy Basara
BALTIMORE — Like many regions of the country, the Baltimore area struggles with its share of environmental concerns, such as flooding and pollution in the watershed and air. Some say a solution is right above our heads.
“A green roof is a way to put natural growing systems up on roofs, and it’s about taking advantage of benefits that nature provides and using that wonderful, unused space of rooftops,” said Nancy Somerville, CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Somerville said green roofs, such as the one atop the ASLA building in Washington, D.C., have been common in Europe for decades, and the concept is growing here in the U.S.
The agricultural roofs are initially more expensive than traditional roofs but can save on heating and cooling costs over time. Proponents argue the greater upfront expense is worth it for the environmental benefits, especially in this region of the country where we’ve experienced devastating flooding.
“A green roof will hold storm water. What releases will be released slower, over a longer period of time that helps to mitigate any kind of flooding. It also provides the cleaning of the water — the plants and the soil are very important for that — and they cool it. So what you end up with (is) less water, cooler water and a cleaner watershed,” Somerville said.
Michael Furbish is the president and founder of Baltimore company Furbish, which develops and installs green roofs.
“The real driver to the industry is the storm water, but green roofs can be very effective at reducing the heat island effect, if we had enough of them to make a difference,” Furbish said.
To truly reap all the benefits of green roofs, you need a lot of them.
According to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Baltimore does not make the top 10 list for North American cities when it comes to green roof square footage. But Washington, D.C., is No. 1. Over the last few years, Washington, D.C., has made green roofs more affordable in the form of rebates and discounts on water utility fees.
“What they’re trying to do in Washington, D.C., is create enough economic incentive to make it attractive to do a green roof when not obligated by regulation,” Furbish said. “There is conversation about making that happen (in Baltimore City). It’s in negotiation right now.”
According to the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, there are no immediate plans to offer green roof incentives in Baltimore. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., a green roof can mean more green for real estate owners.
“We’ve seen in real estate values the same kind of increase in the property value if you’re able to look on a green roof as if you’re looking on a park,” Somerville said.
That does not surprise Furbish. He believes that not only can a green roof clean the water and the air, it can help to clear our minds.
“There are studies out there that show exposure to the natural environment can be beneficial to our sense of well-being,” he said.
A green roof can be residential, but right now, they are mostly commercial. They typically include a variety of drought-resistant plants.