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640px-Toronto_City_Hall_Podium_green_roof_by_LiveRoof,_July_2010

image: GreenRoofGardener

Putting solar panels or gardens on rooftops has multiple benefits for people and the earth.  Here are some examples.

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I am sure you’ve used Google Maps or Google Earth before. When you look at the aerial earth view, what do you see? Rooftops. Bare rooftops reflecting the sun. They are red, black, silver, white, thatched, tile, flat, pitched, and everything a roof can be. They are on buildings as small as garages and as large as shopping centers. Entire cities seem to only be rooftops when you look at them that way.

That’s a lot of wasted space. A few ambitious gardeners and farmers have created rooftop gardens, and earth-oriented architects incorporate green roofs into their designs. But the percentage is small.

Land is finite. As the world’s population keeps growing, we need to find ways to use every inch of available space. That does not mean cutting down forests for housing or cattle ranches. It means finding low-impact and sustainable ways to take care of earthlings now and in the future.

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Green roofs

France has the right idea – mandating new roofs on commercial buildings to include plants and/or solar panels!

Aside from feeding people, green roofs create wildlife habitat, even for the smallest critters in the soil. The old saying Build it and they will come comes to mind. Greenery also reduces the heat island effect of urban areas, lowering temperatures and thereby reduces energy needs for cooling. They act as insulation in winter to lower heating costs, too.

Flat bare roofs let water run off, which creates flooding, which in turn carries trash and oil from the roads into our waterways. If roofs and concrete are replaced with soil and lush growth, water will be absorbed and used by the plants, slowing down run-off and reducing flooding. The water that does drain from the soil will be cleaner, as the soil acts as a filter.

Solar energy

I am a huge solar advocate. I installed solar hot water on my house eight years ago. My gas bill is about $15 in the summer, when I am not heating and definitely not cooking very much. The system paid for itself after six years, so my hot water is now (almost) free!

solar panel rooftop Sydney Australia

Solar panels in Sydney, Australia.

Solar PV is coming down in price to where anyone can afford it. It has a faster return than it used to, so there is almost no reason to not install it. If Germany, a considerably cloudy country, can power itself with solar, almost any other locale can, too. Lack of sun is no excuse.

Setting a precedent

I hope France sets a precedent with this new law. It is beneficial for everyone.

Green roofs save natural resources by helping with heating and cooling needs, and solar panels utilize a large and ever present natural resource (the sun!) to provide energy. To top a roof with either or both of these items should be mandated around the world, and not just on new commercial buildings. It needs to be added to building codes for commercial and residential construction, including renovation and remodeling. Tax and utility incentives also need to be included.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to open Google Earth and see nothing but greenery and solar panels? I think so.

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Nan Fischer

Nan Fischer has been living and building green for over 35 years. Nan’s emphasis on the BuildDirect blog is about how to make your dollar stretch further, while also moving toward a more sustainable lifestyle, as well as upcoming and existing technology to help us live in an ecologically-friendly way. Nan also authors posts on the website of her seed business, sweetly seeds.