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Living Roofs

By Jennifer Bousselot Living roofs are just what they sound like – rooftops with vegetation. A more common name for living roofs is green roofs. No matter what you call them, most people instantly picture a high-tech, verdant city. Ironically, living roofs are not just futuristic but have a long history, even in Colorado. As we know from history books, sod houses used to dot the eastern plains and most of them had vegetation growing on top of the sod bricks used to make the structures. Living roofs are mentioned in ancient history, too, in the form of the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The benefits of living roofs include all of the benefits of open space and gardens alike (managing stormwater, mitigating urban heat islands, supplying pollinator resources, providing green space, etc.) except that they are elevated. Many scientists view living roofs as a way to replace the ecosystem services of land that is paved over when cities are built. In other words, living roofs are a way to reclaim some of that space for nature. While the concept of living roofs is intuitive to grasp, the design and installation of them are not as simple as they sound. ‘Recreating’ builtup green spaces like living roofs is challenging due to the upfront cost and weight loading on buildings. However, when designed specifically for new buildings, compared to retrofits on existing buildings, these factors become less of a challenge. Few in Colorado have the specialized training and experience required to create a successful living roof. However, I am lucky enough to have spent the last 15+ years studying and consulting on green roof systems in Colorado. As an assistant professor at Colorado State University in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture with the specialty of living roofs, I am often involved with these projects throughout the state. Also, as a technical advisor for the City of Denver’s Green Building Ordinance, I get a ‘front row seat’ for projects and policies related to living roofs in our metro area. The Foxridge Community Garden organization is interested in putting my expertise to use right here in our neighborhood. (Yes, we are Foxridge residents even though I work for CSU – I teach 100% online and have most of my research here in the Denver area). We hope to receive funding to install a living roof on a tool shed in the community garden area adjacent to the Foxridge Pool. We have already submitted one grant proposal on this concept. Please help us look for funding opportunities so we can make this vision a reality.

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