Green roofs are among the newest sustainability assets for commercial and residential buildings. And, unlike other green assets like energy savings systems, recycling and gray water usage, green roofs are visible, beautiful, useable and valuable to both tenants and building owners alike.

In a city that is mostly glass and steel corridors and gray concrete streets, with the exception of parks, from pocket to Central, greenery is at a premium.

For the most part, the city’s roofs are still tar and asphalt. But changing those roofs into environmental sound solutions – and green sanctuaries – is gaining momentum. It’s a complex and expensive process that also requires ongoing maintenance, so progress has been slow, but the benefits are numerous and compelling, not the least of which is turning an ugly, underused part of a building’s real estate into an asset.

A quick look at the benefits include mitigation of the Urban Heat Island Effect. New York City is a vast summertime heat island with far-reaching negative impact on energy, water and health. Green roofs act as building insulators, reducing energy usage and the extent and cost of air conditioning and heat as well as air pollution and greenhouse gasses.

Then there’s stormwater management, no small issue in New York City. Green roofs help control runoff with vegetation absorbing water that, as runoff, contains a high amount of pollution and contaminants.

Green roofs can extend roof life, reduce AC and heating costs, serve as a stormwater management tool and fire retardant, reduce noise, contribute to air quality and greatly enhance a property’s marketability by providing viewable or useable garden and recreational space.

You’ll need a professional engineer and registered architect to do a structural analysis to determine if your roof can sustain vegetation or needs reinforcement; an architect/landscape designer and/or green roof specialist to design and install the system; and a big budget. Tax abatements and green infrastructure grant programs help make green roofs more feasible.

Some prominent buildings in NYC that have installed green roofs include the Empire State Building; Javits Center; Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Parks Department’s Five Borough Administrative Building on Randalls Island; Zeckendorf Towers on the east side of Union Square; the rooftop farm at the Brooklyn Navy Yard; and the New School’s LEED-Gold student center.

The largest green roof in New York City is in midtown Manhattan atop the U.S. Postal Service’s Morgan Processing and Distribution Center.

The funkiest – and award-winning – green roof includes plastic rocks, artificial boxwoods, clear crushed glass and recycled rubber mulch. It’s on top of the Museum of Modern Art and, although visible, you can’t get there from here as it’s inaccessible.

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