Going green is good for your health.     Being green can mean growing an indigenous garden and eating organically grown food.      Being green also applies to using healthy, sustainable materials on and inside the building in which you live.  Sometimes being green means being more creative with building, remodeling, or even destroying a home.   This summer, some green creativity took place in our northern neighbor, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.   A man in the suburb of Greenfield, Wisconsin (no pun intended) with an old, unwanted building on his hands decided to go green in extricating himself from it.   Never mind a demolition crew.   He advertised to the public, inviting them to literally remove whatever items they wanted–right off the house.   From the top of the roof to the depths of the plumbing, materials were removed and recycled.   Truly a savings for the creative building owner and the lucky recipients of the materials.

How green is your home?   You might not think about how your home affects your physical and mental health, not to mention your pocketbook’s health, but it does.     Must you raze your house and start from scratch?    Not at all.     However, if you are building a new home, consider a green modular one, which are catching on around the country.   It is projected that green homes will make up 10% of new construction, according to a 2006 McGraw-Hill Construction Residential Green Building Smart Market Report.

For now, let’s assume you own a standalone home and want to make updates to become greener and healthier.   You also want to get the most of your investment dollar when you’re ready to sell.     Let’s go from top to bottom in the process and start with your roof.

Mayor Daley walks the talk of going green, what with the City Hall Building’s garden rooftop comprised of 20,000 mostly indigenous prairie plants of more than 100 species, including shrubs, vines and two trees.     Such a building has outer and inner beauty:     A beautiful rooftop garden is not only outwardly pleasing to the eye but also inwardly pleasingly to the body as it naturally keeps the inside temperature cooler.   That’s good news for the pocketbook, with resultant lower air conditioning costs.

The City of Chicago, following the tradition of City in a Garden, is also walking the talk of going green in building practices.   Commercial buildings are buying into the rooftop gardening concept, which not only employs plants but also light-colored materials and solar panels.   The roofs being replaced are frequently darker in color, often black tar roofs.    Such a dark-colored roof creates what’s known as the Urban Heat Island Effect.     Imagine a hot, humid Chicago summer day.     Think of how it might feel to walk through a hot asphalt parking lot. Then imagine going home to a yard where you sit under a canopy of shade trees or spending time under the shade of a weeping willow at a park.    Darker-colored surfaces absorb and radiate heat and are capable of raising the temperature 6 to 10 degrees.    Such a difference in temperature and environment illustrates the Urban Heat Island Effect.    Garden-roofed buildings as our City Hall counteract that effect.   Think of it as natural air conditioning-inside and outside.

Imagine a commercial building with dark roofing materials.     Now imagine a cluster of these buildings.   They will not only raise the air temperature but will also create more smog.   Each time a structure replaces its tar roof or dark-colored roof, Chicago’s air quality improves, with a reduction in ground-level ozone, which is a component of smog.   This is an ozone that you might not hear about as much, but it’s surely as hazardous to your health.   Imagine having asthma amidst ground-level ozone on a really hot day, and it’s a frightful expense to your health and well-being.   Even more frightful, ground ozone has the potential to cause serious lung disease.

Now is the time to improve our air quality with greener roofing practices.   You can start on your own home and make a difference.     Even with modest efforts, you’ll make a difference.   Imagine the difference in your environment if everyone altered their existing roofing.   Imagine that new homes were constructed with the installation of high-tech solar panels and other green roofing practices.   The difference to our air quality would be significant and would make Chicago an even more attractive urban destination.

The simplest, least expensive, and easiest to maintain rooftop garden consists of placing plant containers/potted plants on the roof.       The pros of a container garden–it reflects the sun and provides shade.   Its drawbacks–it does not insulate as well and is not terribly effective at reducing rainwater runoff.     In a “green roof system,” your garden becomes your roof.   Such a roof employs a layered format, where the garden areas are separate from the hard roof.   With this system, you will have better drainage, but will also spend more time, with higher up-front installation costs.

Are you a low-maintenance type homeowner who appreciates aesthetics but maybe hasn’t the time or the interest in taking care of a garden rooftop or green roof system?   Perhaps you are you the high-maintenance type homeowner.   You have a strong interest in gardening and pour your energy into your gardening as a hobby in which you peacefully lose yourself.   Wherever you might fall on the continuum, the questions of maintenance and level of interest in gardening are important ones.   They will factor into your decision of how green you want to be.   In the case of the green roof system, attention, low-maintenance homeowner–the extensive green roof would be for you.   Such a roof is lighter weight, has shallower growing material, heartier plants, and requires little maintenance.    So, more time to put your feet up and relax.   For the high-maintenance garden lover, an intensive green roof would be a perfect match for your gardening ardor.   Think of a ground-level garden, but on your roof.   Intensive green roofs require more attention and maintenance.   Growing material used tends to be deeper, and the types of plants used are more fragile, needing more of your TLC.   Expect more pruning and watering with these delicate plants, with ultimately more time being spent.

Now that you know about some roof garden options, think it over.   Watch for my next blog, where I will walk you through the steps of constructing your own rooftop garden.

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