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Kimberly Powell

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If green roofs were mandatory in cities would there be less development and building?

William McDonough knows the benefits that come from designing and implementing green roofs. McDonough has helped design living roofs for big companies such as Nike and Ford Motors. But many companies and homeowners overlook the benefits of green roofs. One benefit of green roofs is that they keep the internal temperature of a building steady throughout the year. The National Research Council of Canada found that having a green roof reduced the daily energy demand for air conditioning in the summer by 75%. Toronto is the first North American city to pass a law mandating green rooftops for all new residential, commercial and industrial developments. Any new construction with floor space of more than 2,000 square meters must devote between 20 and 60 percent of its roof to vegetation. But with green roofs comes an unwanted financial upfront cost. Will developers decide that the benefits outweigh the costs for installing green roofs?

If green roofs were mandatory in cities would there be less development and building?

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  • May 23 2012: I am also in favor of green roofs, and think that adding green roofing requirements to existing building codes for all new buildings would be a great idea in most places. I do not believe that the additional costs will be very large relative to the cost of the entire building, and would not slow growth very much at all. These codes could also create new jobs for roof design and maintenance. Taking it a step further, if existing buildings were required to retro-fit with green roofing, this could create a huge boom in employment as developed areas seek to make changes. I like the idea mentioned earlier of tax incentives for buildings that utilize green roofing as an alternative or intermediate model.
    There are places where this would just not be practical however, including areas with high winds, extreme temperatures, and lack of rain. I am not aware of any down sides of green roofing, and am very interested to hear more critiques because it seems like a sure fire great idea to me in most places.
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      May 23 2012: I like that you injected "employment" into the conversation. This kind of work is exactly the kind of employment we need. I like to use the word "productive" for this kind of work, even though that may sound counter-intuitive. To my mind, only activities that aid in the continued habitability of planet Earth should be deemed "productive." All other types of employment are either neutral or counter-productive. If we integrate grey-water systems with green roofing, then this kind of employment is doubly productive (moreso than virtually any other kind of employment). This should be the kind of make-work that can get us out of this economic malaise. That said, we could up the ante even further by putting these roofs over underground buildings, and using all of the other smart/green building technologies (see Mike Robinson's comment below).

      I did want to say a bit about building codes, and law in general (again, see discussion below). The building code in California is montrous and therefore impossible to properly enforce (and therefore only about 80% followed). I really think most codes could be dramatically simplified so that they would be better followed (psychotic corporations will fight this idea tooth-and-nail). For example, all of California's Title 24 Part 6 could be replaced by something like this: "There will be no further gas or propane hookups except at commercial kitchens, and only a single 20 Amp electtrical supply per residence or 10,000 sqft of enclosed floor area." That puts our priorities about where they need to be, and is extremely simple to interpret and enforce. A similarly simple set of rules could be promulgated for water (which is not covered by Title 24 Part 6).
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        May 23 2012: I agree that conversations about about methods of dealing with global climate change and over-consumption of earth resources must include recognition of economic impacts and benefits. Though costs of building roofs with vegetation may initially by higher, most people contracting architects and construction companies would likely be willing to pay these costs in order to reduce the long term expenses of maintaining building temperature and air quality. My stepfather is an architect and he has found that more and more partners demand that at least some part of their building plans including "greening" methods to reduce building impact. This also stems from the desire to advertise new buildings as being earth-friendly. Because of the interest of contractors in having efficient self sustaining buildings that can be advertised with the green label, I doubt that requirements of green roofs would likely not reduce development and building.

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