New York City Roofs: Going…Going…Green!

Think what you will of the New York City Council, you’ve got to give them credit for one of their latest initiatives – a bill to require all new construction, buildings undergoing major renovations and those remodeling their roofs to install a green roof, solar or small wind turbines.

Addressing all of the above would be too lengthy in one take, so we’ll offer a snapshot of how green roofs benefit various groups – the city, property, general public, property owners and building tenants. As New York City’s only LEED-AP BD+C commercial real estate appraiser, I have long advocated installing green roofs from the strictly business point of view of increasing building value.

As an ardent environmentalist, I also champion green roofs and biophilic design for the many ecofriendly effects they deliver.

To build a green roof, there are codes, conditions and complexities that are challenging. Considerations include load capacity; percentage of garden vs. useable roof space; structural feasibility and capacity; waterproofing; types of plantings (extensive or intensive); modular or built-in; purpose (to use or view); climate such as access to full or partial sunlight. Then you can design, install, irrigate and otherwise maintain it. All this is to say: you’re going to need experts as in a structural engineer, architect, and professional landscaping company.

Understandably, affordability is a big factor. It’s a major capital expenditure that will provide excellent ROI, but short-term costs must be met. Those who oppose the new bill do so on the basis of cost: whether it can be done and, if it is, that installations will lead to higher tenant rents.

Councilman Rafael Espinal of Brooklyn, the bill’s lead sponsor, acknowledged in an interview with The New York Times that “green roofs are often considered a luxury and buildings that have them may be sold at a premium. But passing these bills would make green roofs the norm across the five boroughs, and in turn, make it more cost-efficient for anyone looking to buy or rent an apartment.”

Tracking back to the “what’s in it for me?” question with regard to greening rooftops, the city benefits by having cleaner air, water, lower carbon emissions and a healthier wildlife environment.

The general public benefits by the decrease in the number of people using city plazas, parks and streets who are, instead using private roof gardens.

Roof gardens also help to mitigate the Urban Heat Island Effect created by surfaces like dark roofs, concrete and asphalt and resulting in temperatures as much as 20 degrees hotter than areas less dense. Additionally, with green roofs acting as storm water management systems, fewer pollutants will flow into the city’s waterways.

The property benefits from extended roof life, reduced AC and heating costs, more fire retardant surfaces, lowered noise and better air quality.

Tenants benefit from a very desirable amenity being added to their place of work or residence that is private, well cared for, nearby for relaxation and entertainment, and adds to productivity.

For property owners – commercial building owners, as well as individual owners of co-op and condo units – a roof garden adds value. It is different in form, but not in concept, from any major capital improvement.

Which brings us full circle to cost. If the City Council bill passes, property owners will have to bite the bullet on budget. But, there is help available. Though the Property Tax Abatement for green roofs is currently dormant, the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) offers a green infrastructure grant program for private property owners in the city.

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PHOTO: This 55ksf extensive green roof was created by Brondie’s Treehouse, Inc. and serves multiple functions.


Steven_J._SchleiderBy Steven J. Schleider, MAI, LEED-AP BD + C President, Metropolitan Valuation Services