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Green Roofs & Living Walls: A How to Guide

written by: Carla Michelle•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 7/21/2009

If you have been contemplating making your roof and/or walls green, read this basic how-to guide to learn what considerations need to be made before you begin. This guide will briefly touch on structural modifications that need to be made before implementing green roofs or walls.

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    Benefits to Green Roofs

    No matter what your living situation is, you can make your surrounding more green. You may recycle, use CFCs and compost but have thought that actually growing plants on your roof is too much work. However, anybody can do this by making a few changes. See if you're a canidate by reading the requirements and how to get started.

    By building and maintaining healthy green roofs and walls you not only are adding to the aesthetic appeal of your house, you are also reducing the amount of energy your house uses. A green roof helps to keep air from escaping: keeping it cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Green roofs and walls provide a layer of insulation and protection for your home that is as beautiful as it is helpful.

    How to Do It Yourself:

    house of vines blary54 

    Before purchasing any materials for your green roof or walls, you need to determine whether or not your home is structurally capable of holding up the additional weight of dirt, gravel, water and plants. Unfortunately, you cannot simply dump a lot of dirt on your roof, smooth it out and add some plants. Irrigation and draining measures need to be taken into account.

    There are a few different ways you can go about finding out if your house is capable of supporting a green roof and walls. You can hire a house inspector, in most cases they can let you know if your house is able to support any extra weight. Another option is to contact a green roof and wall specialist, they can let you know what options are available depending upon your structure, budget and desires. The final option is to assume that your house cannot support any extra weight and build a casing around your house solely to support the green roof and walls.

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    Maintenance

    Green roof The next thing to take into account is how much maintenance you are willing to do and are capable of. One of the greatest things about green roofs and walls is you can put as much or as little work into maintaining them as you want. If you choose low maintenance, planting local flora and fauna is your best choice because it is already used to the local climate, amount of sunlight and precipitation. If you would like to have a roof or walls that you can maintain you can easily plant a vegetable, herb or flower garden.

    There are two main types of green walls to choose from: vines or planted. Vines are the easiest to maintain considering you choose vines that are a good match for your area. By talking to local green specialists or your local nursery you can easily find out what vines are your best options. You will want to know if the plants you choose will need a trellis to cling to as they grow upward or if they attach themselves to the walls. Another thing to consider is perennial vining plants will take some time to mature and work their way up your walls. In the meantime you may want to consider annual vines that grow quickly but have to be replaced yearly until the perennials take hold.

    If you choose a planted wall there are several ways to go about achieving it. One option is to build a framework of squares that can support a potted plant in each square. A structure like this will need to be anchored to the wall that it is covering. A similar structure is built much like a bookshelf with the “shelves” angled upward at a 45 degree angle, providing long shelves to use as flower boxes.

    One more option for a green wall includes combining the vines and planted styles. With a structurally sound trellis one could easily space out the potted plants to allow room for the vines to grow up in between and around the pots.

    Whether you choose a green roof and walls that are physically attached to your house or part of a structural casing you will gain the benefits of reduced energy costs, beautiful greenery surrounding your home as well as the satisfaction of knowing that you are doing something to help the environment around you.

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    Sources:

    Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls by Nigel Dunnett and Noel Kingsbury, Timber Press 2005.

    Picture: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pnwra/460698511/