What is a "Green Roof"

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 05/08/2008 - 00:34.

What is a "Green Roof" and what does it look like?

At the house on Roxbury, the green roof is where the raccoons still live.

From Wikipedia, "A green roof is a roof of a building that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane." So far, we have a roof with an expanded, reinforced surface, beautiful access, and a waterproofing membrane. Soon, it will be covered with a growing medium and vegetation. The objective it primarily to use that to insulate the inside, from the outside, but we also like the idea of having another greenspace and place to grow things and play, in the city.

We've never built a green roof before, so this is an exploration. We welcome advice and will share our experiences as we grow knowledge, and whatever will survive up here. Please let us know if you are aware of any other small, residential green roofs in the area we may look to as models for designing this one, bringing 200 more square feet of vegetation and 200 less square feet of run-off atop the Independent Green Republic of East Cleveland.

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sprouting houses

Maybe Cleveland should pride itself for all of its Green roofs, and quit calling them foreclosed, condemned, abandoned.

Color me excited (for you.)

Did you put in the reinforcement and waterproofing membrane yourself? What do those consist of, and how difficult a job was it? Will you leave room for PV solar panels?

Learning to green a roof together...

Thanks, Jeff. This experience has been very rewarding, and the results are pretty amazing... we just finished installing the kitchen tile last night and it is way cool.

I've been working on this green roof with folks on REALNEO (debating roofing materials... we went with torch-down rubber... I don't know the brand but can find out... I have some scraps in my garage), and with my former neighbor in Ohio City, Tom Santiago, who operates Santiago Roofing.  None of us had done a green roof before, but the construction is not complex. An engineer friend took a look at the structure before we did anything and it is plenty strong to support all anticipated uses - the biggest weight load it will ever have is from good-old Cleveland blizzards.

Where the roof is located makes it very important. It is the only one story part of the house, and is frame and stucco, rather than brick, on three sides, with full north and west sun exposure all afternoon and evening, and the sun heat collects and reflects and radiates down and off this roof and straight into the back of the house at its most vulnerable point - a large three panel wood and stained glass window area on the two-story stairway, exposing the entire first and second floors to whatever elements may come through... including those brutal winter storms off the lake - this roof is a snow and rain collector, as well as furnace.

When we bought this board-up, this was the most damaged part of the house, while featuring what would become the coolest room of all - the library. The original construction and modifications were odd, but offered some interesting flexibility in designing the renovation - we were able to raise the inside ceiling height and add skylights and a ceiling fan without changing the exterior exposure. We also added some overhang of the roof to provide shade and protection from the elements to the wall and window areas below, which are all the most weather-beaten parts of the house! So the design adds shade and exposure protection, skylights for natural light and ventilation, and a ceiling fan, for circulation.

Planted, the green roof will provide super insulation in all seasons, and other energy-conservation benefits. We insulated the interior spaces of all parts of the project area we could reach, throughout the renovation, and the new roof material has an insulating effect, and is light colored and so reflective. Adding a layer of planting material will insulate further. The evaporation of moisture from the planted area should cool the air around that, and the soil should retain more coolness throughout the day than would a plain rubber roof. Depending on what is planted, that may provide shade and other cooling benefits as well (we have not decided what planting material and plantings we will use, so this is a timely subject for us).

As for how we built this...

There was a badly modified, deteriorated, leaking, multilayered flat roof over the library, connected to an even worse roof area over a worse enclosed back mudroom area, off the back door... they kept their dogs back there... really gross. I tore off the back mud room addition completely and put up temporary stairs - that still needs to be replaced... above the mud room there is a sweet little door - off the back stairs - that will be used to access the green roof... for now, we go through the stained glass window panel.

I tore off the old many layers of roof material on the flat library roof, including any weathered, deteriorated or water-damaged wood - and we removed the rotten ceiling beneath, and replaced all the framing with new material, with metal reinforcements... the substructure of the house is fine and sufficient to support the weight above. Then, new plywood decking - curbs and skylights - a layer of Tyvex - and the rubber roof is torched down in overlapping sections. running up the curbs and exterior walls of the house as far as needed - in our case, the roof is flashed 4-6" in all areas, depending on the constraints of the house construction. Then, we sheetrocked the interior ceiling and installed the ceiling fan - we'll be cleaning up the mess and finishing the rest of the room over the next few days.

We haven't done any exterior detail work since completing the roof itself, and need to add the planting matter and plants, so the rest of the project is to come, and I'll welcome more ideas and share the results as we see them.

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Blue Skies

  Hey Norm--you should get David George out for a drive-by.

Would love Bluer Skies

We have one rain barrel and want to add more - at this point, lots of our gutters aren't even up or connected so we are off the grid... the issue will more be retaining water. But we have lots of water management projects ahead...

We split our inside sewage plumbing to black and gray and still need to divert the gray to water parts of the yard - we trenched the yard and removed the toxic soil wherever we will grow food... are getting some truckloads of organic soil, mulch, etc. in the next few weeks (anyone want to recommend some sources), and want to use rain water to irrigate our food gardens. We are considering having a pond for water storage but need to investigate that further. This part of the project - the gardens - is one of the most important and also largely Evelyn's territory... we will grow lots and lots of healthy, organic food!

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Rosby's Resource Recovery

Hi Norm:

The green roofing project sounds like a lotta fun - would love to see it at some point.

In regards to top soil and mulch, I'd highly recommend Rosby Resource Recovery located in the heart of the Cuyahoga Valley, just east of Old Brooklyn.  Every Earth Day, they offer 1 cubic yard of mulch made from downed Cleveland trees, for free to all Cleveland residents.  I went about 10 days after EarthDay and was still able to fill up my trunk.  They also compost leaves and blend the result with a sandy loam -nice stuff!  In addition, as you may well know, they offer a large pick-your-own-berry farm,  a wide range of recyled construction materials, recycled hardscaping materials, and several fully stocked greenhouses with plants galore!  http://www.rosbys.com/  Well worth a family visit.

Great timing and recommendation on dirt

Thanks, John. Evelyn was just calling garden centers for prices when I saw your posting - she called Rosby and their price was 1/2 the best deal she had found so far... and less for delivery, with a larger truck (so we can get all we need in one versus 2 loads).

One other such vendor who gave us good service was the Rock Pile, for gravel... but I don't think they do soil... we're trying Rosby... will report back on our experience (we've had to deal with bad soil before... and remember the fill they put on Whiskey Island, with all the broken glass...).

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Raccoons (and worms you DON'T want)

Green roofs can be too attractive.


Not to be a "party pooper" but raccoons are. They favor the use of 'communal latrines' and choose high flat surfaces (=roof) if available.They are cute, clever, and quick to exploit their associations with people. Unfortunately, their feces carry a very serious health risk - raccoon roundworms. Especially for children who often put their hands into their mouths after handling or playing with things. The eggs are extremely persistent and remain long after the visible material is gone. 'See no evil' is no guarantee of safety.




Discouraging them can be difficult, so plannng for a green roof should take this into account. Because of other issues like rabies it is illegal to trap and transport them off site.


Green roofs are a great idea with many benefits - they're just too good to share with some of our four-legged friends.

Turf battles in East Cleveland

Nothing cute about raccoons to me... I think they ate my cat. They have been breaking into my house the whole time I've been renovating it and still get into the walls today... they have made plenty of messes, although not too much poop (more into finding catfood). We'll get them out eventually and then will keep them away as best we may.

Each night you hear them fighting all over our block - they come in from the cemetery and attack the trashcans and stop at known feeding stations, like 1894 Roxbury was. They fight. They mate. and they return home to the cemetery or perhaps Forest Hills park by sunrise... replaced by the feral cats.

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living with raccoons, skunks and oppossums

Here's an interesting and informative article about raccoons in your environs. The site also offers humane ways to protect your gardens.

I live in Cleveland Heights - skunk central. My neighbor said that they came to our house because we had compost. We did not stop composting, but when money allowed we did get a cover and lock holding bin. The neighbor is less concerned, and we did not see any skunks in our yards until... a skunk moved in under his porch back in February when we had a warm spell. I came home from a weekend away and expected that my dog (who had been home with my roommate) would stink with the skunk residuals, but no. The skunk had moved into the lovely skunk condo under the neighbors porch and has just recently left.

The other night, unable to sleep, I got up and came down to surf the web a bit. I do this in the breakfast room where I can also look out the windows. The neighbor on the other side of me has a motion sensor light on his garage, and it kept turning on and off. I finally got up when it turned on again and saw an oppossum. Why, I never! I thought oppossums were a southern mammal! But no sirree! He was right in my neighbor's driveway doing his nocturnal rounds. Now I know we have seen turkeys and deer and I even heard about coyotes at the Shaker Lakes Nature Center, but oppossums!?!

I do hope you one day have a hen house and I don't hope you have a fox in it. Ask those folks with the strawbale house in Cleveland Heights how they keep 'ahold to their's. I thought I saw a fox crossin' the road around Cedar Fairmount not long ago... surely it had just come from the doctor's hen house... OK, jes kiddin'.

The famous Forest Hills Park turkey

Wild Turkey in Forest Hills Park East Cleveland

I came across the turkey in Forest Hills Park in 2006, and we should add to that posting some time... I saw a Coyote in my parents garage, at Shaker and Attleboro, Shaker Heights... that was at least 10 years ago.

It would be interesting to track such things on our web, and map them... wouldn't it be fun to know what was prowling your backyards at night.

There were lots of opossums at a place I rented in Pepper Pike, on Lander by Fairmount... they seem common out there. Also, bunnies... and huge mutant crows that ate the bunnies.

And we certainly have skunks all over the region... we smell them all the time in our back yard... haven't seen one though, in EC.

Now the coolest thing I've seen was a HUGE Red Tail Hawk, Evelyn believes, in my parents' back yard, a few months ago. It nailed a squirrel and ate it up right on their neighbors' patio. HUGE, I tell you.

And then there is the Blue Heron at the Shaker Lakes... very cool.

Regionalize nature! Don't kill it off at the suburbs... let it flourish where it finds a home, like East Cleveland. Coyotes can't be worse than the packs of wild dogs in Rockefeller Park!

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Brooklyn Heights

  John, let's hope that with the tide turning and homeowners looking for locally-grown products--the folks in Brooklyn Heights change their attitude towards the few agricultural operations still running in their green valleys, which include West Creek and the sadly buried for the most part, Spring Creek. 

Townsfolk (and I do mean townsfolk, as in Mayberry RFD) still want to eliminate Rosby's operation for housing and industrial development.  Mayor Mike and the whole little village is a throw-back to a better time.  I hope that they realize that they shouldn't spoil a good thing.

Poetry of life

I just finished reading The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, a fascinating read, which proves that you can learn more about life from animals. 

A good mother's day buy or anything recommended by poets.org.

So many comments to comment on ...

for Susan: some areas on NEO have many opossums, I grew up seeing one almost every night during the summer. We caught a baby in a trap set for a raccoon (they were destroying our vegetable garden and killing our ducks and guinea fowl). I kept it as a pet all summer then let it go. This past winter I saw a red fox run through my inlaws yard and across the Rapid tracks to Shaker Lakes.

eastside greenways

 As I drive my dog to the vet I drive past Tri-C Eastern Campus (Harvard and I-271) with its vast lawn and I imagined this (below) or even row crops being cultivated by the students there, something more interesting and beneficial than grass on that sunny hillside.

I noted the sign as I drove along Richmond to get to the Highway – it read “active deer”. At a meeting at the Corporate College, we were diverted from our topic by several wild turkeys outside the glass walls of the meeting room. The Google earth screen shot does not include cemeteries, but they are potential green wildlife corridors, too. At the Penfield House on the 07 Solstice, I spoke with Steve Caldwell of Shaker Lakes Nature Center. We were talking about deer at the Center because my friend, Martha lives next to the park and has deer in her yard frequently. He said the doe he had seen looked scrawny – her ribs were showing. Food for wildlife, I thought, could be offered in the golf courses and cemeteries.

If you look at Google Earth or a Google map and search for greenspace on the eastside of Cleveland, you'll note that there are strings of parks and cemeteries and golf courses stretching from Harvard and I-271 almost all the way to Dike 14. They branch off and enter other neighborhoods like the one you live in Norm and Evelyn (by way of Forest Hills Park and Lakeview Cemetery). How will we contend with providing food (not from garbage cans) for the wildlife that will certainly (if they have not already) move into these greenspaces?


The image above is from http://www.notacornfield.com/, well known at Kent CAED and CUDC. I envision many empty city lots with food growing or phytoremediation projects in progress (because so many Cleveland lots have lead hazards) – something besides bare dirt or rubble or grass. I have had conversations with folks at OSU Extension and a scientist who is consulting with CVI to figure out how we might make this a reality.

Here’s a plan from Detroit.  It's happening.  Here's what we can learn from Detroit.

Here in Cleveland, our urban dwellers care about greenspace. There are 170 community gardens in the city of Cleveland alone, even one on a parking lot. Imagine being able to feed the people of the region with more local food. Now there’s a national security issue. What happens if Eisenhower’s freeways are actually needed for military vehicles? Maybe we could have in place Endless orchards

Dreaming on a lovely Saturday morning… of an opportunity wildlife and human food corridor… What does it look like on the Westside? Where do the fingers of green reach in?

free wood chips