Green Roofs for Free

Sourced from Habitat Magazine

Yes, there is such a thing as a free green roof. Though too few people are aware of it, New York City offers substantial grants to motivate building owners to install green roofs. Co-ops and condos could get up to 100 percent financing because the soil on the roof acts like a sponge and absorbs storm water. The city’s sewer system is antiquated and overmatched, and a sudden influx of storm runoff can cause backups that lead to the discharge of raw sewage and other pollutants directly into the city’s waterways. That’s reason enough for the city to finance water-absorbing green roofs on private buildings.

“The problem is that the applications for these grants are very complicated,” says Alan Burchell, principal of Urbanstrong, a Brooklyn-based company that specializes in green roofs and living walls. “Usually we will do the grant application for our clients to ensure success.” Funding for green roofs is determined by the size of the green roof area (GRA) and soil depth. Projects below the minimum criteria – 1.5 inches of soil depth and 3,500 square feet – are not eligible for grant funding.

“When a client is interested in a green roof, the first thing we do is a feasibility study to determine how much weight the roof can bear,” says Burchell. “Often certain areas can bear more weight than others, and we will plan for a combination of different plants and soil depths. Then we calculate the cost and put in the grant application.”

Sometimes the desire for a green roof doesn’t pan out. A 109-unit residential co-op in northern Manhattan was considering a roof replacement with a green roof on their three buildings and garage. When they did their feasibility study, though, they realized the wood-framed roofs could not handle the load. “The roof just wasn’t strong enough,” says property manager Justin Verret of Blue Woods Management Group. “We could cover the garage, but we would have had to build up the roof on the residential portion. [It] wouldn’t have qualified for any grants or incentives because we could not cover enough of the roof area.”

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