Solar panels have been around long enough in residential use for us to wonder how long they’ve been around. While they’ve been gaining popularity among homeowners since the early 2000s, the use of solar energy in panels was first discovered in 1839 by Edmund Becquerel, a French Scientist. Another useful, roof-based green energy alternative that’s been around for centuries (and utilized by Europeans long before us) is Green Roofs.

Green roofs are roofs on which plants or vegetation can grow. Researched and used as far back as the 1940s in Germany, these roofs are becoming more and more popular as we look for more and more ways to reduce our carbon footprint. But what’s all the hype about and is it worth installing yourself?

The Concept

It’s simple. You grow a garden on your roof. Sweet! Let’s throw some dirt up there and get to work! NO! Stop! Don’t! It’s simple in concept, you plant a garden of sorts on your roof and it helps lower energy costs in your home and improves the environment. But the process is complex and depends on many different factors from location and climate to what you ultimately want from your roof as well as what you’re structurally capable of housing. Green Roofs are not limited to succulents and sedum. You could be super fancy and throw some water fixtures up there while you’re at it. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s get back to basics.

Green roofs foster vegetation. They are comprised of a waterproofing layer (a membrane), root barriers (so plants don’t root into your roof), drainage and irrigation systems, and a growing medium for your plants. These roofs are no more susceptible to leaks than ordinary roofs. In fact, some studies are showing a better resilience to leaks with green roofs than their boring counterparts because of the added layer of protection from the plants themselves. All roofs are equipped with a membrane to prevent leaks. Green roofs are no exception.

Irrigation of the plants… doesn’t that mean there will be more water usage? How does that help the environment? Initially, yes, there is more water being used while your green roofs roots and grows. But after some time, the ecosystem you’ve fostered becomes self-sustaining with its irrigation. Like a child. In the beginning, they need you for everything. But once they turn 18 they’re off on their own. Only, green roofs don’t take 18 years to become self-sufficient. You can also bypass this step by opting for a pregrown plant mat. Most green roofs won’t even need additional water once they’re established as they are now fully immersed as part of the ecosystem running on a type of closed-circuit system.

The Benefits

This is the good stuff. Green roofs are excellent insulators which means a reduction in heat and air escaping your home, which means less energy is used to heat and cool your home. Which ultimately means more money in the bank. A living roof will also sequester carbon and convert it to oxygen. It encourages biodiversity for insects, including the ever important Bee. These roofs also control stormwater runoff and improve the quality of water since it’s being filtered through soil and not concrete and other building materials. Not to mention the natural beauty you’re adding to the world.

The Breakdown

Is it a good choice for your home, though? Well, like previously mentioned, green roofs depend on a lot of factors. Do you want access to the garden? Do you want something drought-proof and low maintenance or more space to grow blooming flowers and small trees? What’s the climate like in your area? Is this a new building or old? If you’re building your home from scratch you can include in the design plans for a green roof that will be made specifically for the type of roof you want. Commercial use or multi-family type buildings are great for green roofs. If you’re in an older home, consult any certified green roof expert to assess your home and determine if it can bear the weight of and what type of green roof it can accommodate. Who knows? Part of your roof can be solar, the other living. Either way, this is an investment worth checking out if you’re interested in reducing your carbon footprint and making your home as green as possible.