Green Roofs: Ecological Roofing (Are White Roofs Green?)

green roof on houseAs you move forward with your commitment to live a greener lifestyle, thoughts often turn closer to home and things you can do not only inside your home, but also to the outside your home in order to make it a more sustainable and planet-friendly place to live. Your roof is one such area.

While your roof rarely gets attention until it reaches a point where replacement is necessary, it has the potential to be a true green space for your home. This article explores the many green possibilities you have when it comes to your roof.

What is a Green Roof?

The term “green roof” most often refers to roofs that are literally green because of the vegetation growing on them. They are roofs that have been covered with soil and then plants. For the longest time, these were believed to be the greenest roof choices.

New evidence, though, suggests that there is a greener option to consider – a white roof.

According to Popular Science, “White-painted roofs are three times more energy efficient than green roofs – rooftops that are planted over with grass or other greenery – at countering global warming.”

This certainly doesn’t mean that green roofs are bad for the environment. It actually depends on your ultimate goal. The reflective nature of white roofs is hard to deny, especially when it comes to combating global warming.

The bottom line is that the term “green” when it comes to roofs means different things to different people – and they could all be correct. Since not all roofs are eligible to be traditional “green roofs”, white roofs present a nice green alternative for homeowners interested in making the transition.

Benefits of Green Roofs

White roofs have a lot going for them in that they are easier to install (and less expensive) than roofs filled with plants. However, green plants offer a few unique benefits too, including a built-in system for managing stormwater as well as a better overall appearance.

The U.S. General Services Administration points out that plant-based green roofs “can reduce the flow of stormwater from a roof by up to 65 percent and delay the flow rate by up to three hours.” This greatly reduces the amount of damage done from runoff in a storm.

Plants on roofs, as TreeHugger notes, also serve to clean CO2 from the air. That’s one important something that shouldn’t be overlooked – particularly in urban areas where air quality may be poor.

Green homes that use vegetation on the roof have unique requirements that white roofs do not, according to Green America. For instance, the roof must be sloped no more than 30 degrees and must be in a sunny location where the roof isn’t shaded from the sun. Your roof must also be able to sustain the weight of the roof on top of other things, such as annual expected snowfall, or the weight water adds to the storm after a thunderstorm.

These aren’t the only benefits to keep in mind when it comes to green roofing. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that these roofs are excellent insulators, helping families reduce the costs of heating and cooling their homes, which is a gift that keeps on giving. In addition to reducing energy costs, these green roofs also reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants released when creating the heating and cooling costs.

Of course these aren’t even taking into account the relaxation and quality of life green roofs provide as additional green space in communities. There’s nothing quite like having additional green areas for relaxation, and escaping the hustle, bustle, and infinite concrete of life below the roofline.

History of Green Roofs

The idea of green roofs have been around for centuries in Scandinavian countries where sod roofs are quite common. In fact, they can be traced back as far as 3600 to 2500 B.C. in Scotland where these roofs were quite common.

The modern trend of green roofs began in Germany in the 1960s and has spread. While ten percent of all German roofs today are believed to be green roofs, and the practice is catching on the U.S., it remains unpopular throughout much of modern Europe.

Currently there are nearly 100,000,000 square feet of new green roofs constructed each year. While Germany has the highest number of green roofs under construction for the time being, awareness of these roofs and their potential impact on the environment is growing.

While the tradition may have been dormant for many years in certain parts of the world, renewed interest has us exploring the benefits all over again, and many consumers are finding value in the trade. In fact, new construction in Japan, according to, is required to provide 20 percent of the surface area on any projects with greater than 10,000 square feet of roof space with green spaces.

Home Grown Examples of Modern Green Roofs

Today, there are many examples of green roofs in the United States. In addition to countless private homes, there are also larger buildings and businesses that are making a conscious effort to go “green” with their roofs, including the following.

Ford Motor Company’s Rogue River Facility. The roof is 1.1 million square feet and has been covered with more than 10 acres of the groundcover, sedum, in order to cleanse and retain rainwater and moderate temperatures inside the building. This process cleans 20 billion gallons of rainwater a year and spared Ford the necessity of a $50 million treatment plant.

Chicago has truly embraced green roofs. Millennium Park is a 24.5 acre green roof built over the park garage. Additionally, City Hall in Chicago has a green roof too.

California is another place where you’ll find a wide range of green roofs, including YouTube headquarters in San Bruno and California Academy of Science in San Francisco.

The good news is that everyone who owns a home, corporate building, business plant, or apartment building can have the green roof they desire, even if their structure isn’t conducive to the literal green option. White roofs are available in almost every city in the U.S., making the option to do something greener for the planet when roofing your home easier than ever before. White may not be the new green, but it is a much greener choice than a black roof.

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