Green Roofs, Walls Gain Momentum in South Carolina

When Michael Whitfield started Charleston-based Green Roof Outfitters in 2008, he was sailing in virtually unchartered waters in South Carolina and was among the vanguard in the Southeast.

And those seas were fairly rough.

“Nobody wanted to be the guinea pig,” says Whitfield, who actually changed his business model from being an installer to primarily providing green roof products. “In the first three years, I had zero projects here. In the last six months, we have either bid or installed on five.”

Among the local projects he has worked on is a green roof on the Rooftop Terrace of the SkyGarden Apartments, under construction now on Woolfe Street; a green wall inside the Half Mile North development; and a green roof atop The Refinery building at the 1600 Meeting Street development.

Whitfield is not the only one noticing a change in attitudes among architects, government officials and developers in the Palmetto State.

Green roofs and walls, especially in cities along the I-26 corridor, are starting to grow on government office buildings; high-end office, hotel and apartment structures; and schools and houses in recent years.

Green roof benefits

Also known as “living roofs,” green roofs are simply a vegetated covering for a roof. That covering has an array of benefits beyond aesthetics.

Green roofs reduce energy costs, especially during the heat of summer. They retain and detain storm water and increase the longevity of roofs by blocking ultraviolet rays and easing extreme surface temperatures. They also absorb pollutants.

The structures provide habitat for pollinators and birds and make space more suitable for humans.

Organizations pursuing prestigious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation can gain numerous credits through the use of green roofs.

Columbia’s pilot

As part of Columbia’s first effort to pursue a LEED silver certification on a municipal complex, Living Roofs Inc. of Asheville installed a green roof last month on a $15 million water distribution and wastewater management building.

Victoria Kramer, utilities communications manager, says it’s part of redeveloping a long-vacant auto dealership site that included the removal of more than two acres of asphalt for green space and installation of six rain gardens.

Meanwhile, the city isn’t the only major entity in Columbia with a green roof.

The University of South Carolina’s Darla Moore School of Business, which has a LEED Platinum certification, had one installed three years ago, also by Living Roofs of Asheville. The 28,400-square-foot green roof is accessible by faculty and students and includes plazas and walkways.

David Lund, communications director for the school, describes the green roof as “becoming more robust and attractive” with each passing year.

“Our plants are thriving on our roof. As all of the plants on our green roof are native to South Carolina, we expected our green roof and rooftop garden to be sustainable as part of our green building efforts,” says Lund.

Lund adds that the business school is the second building at the University of South Carolina, which has 10 LEED-certified buildings, to feature a green roof. The university’s first one was the West Quad residence hall that opened in 2005.

Lund adds, “It may not be surprising to see another green roof on campus in the future.”

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