More than just a pretty roof: Ecoroofs save cash
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
Shawn Sullivan's only complaint with ecoroofs is that the pitch to get businesses to install them is sometimes all wrong.
Sullivan, a development manager for Winkler Development Corporation, has managed three ecoroofs projects for his company. And though he appreciates their aesthetic values, the eye-popping awe of rooftop gardening has eclipsed other, practical uses of the ecoroof, Sullivan says.
His point? Rooftop plants can save money, especially for businesses with large commercial buildings, because they can double the life of a roof and reduce energy and maintenance costs.
Sullivan has been busy proving the theory. On the 7,200-square-foot top of the 1200 Building apartment complex at 1200 S.W. 12th Ave., Sullivan recently led a project that covered a new, conventional roof – built for $170,000 – with a $37,591 ecoroof intended to increase the roof’s lifespan from 20 to 40 years.
Including soft costs like design, the ecoroof was added for $5 a square foot, the same amount he received in a grant from a city program. The "Grey to Green" program offers cash incentives for ecoroofs as a means of reducing costs to the city’s stormwater utility. The result for any ecoroof project is essentially two roofs for the price of one, Sullivan said.
"When you take these roofs and turn it into show, there's a tendency to beef up the medium and then you’re into structural upgrades," said Sullivan, which adds significant expense.
Sullivan has learned, however, that ecoroofs can be built for much less than the top tier prices that hover at $25 a square foot.
On top of the 1200 Building, drought-tolerant sedums are planted in light-weight, dry soil above a waterproof membrane. A simple leak detection system underneath pinpoints leaks to prevent problems. With little irrigation required and only annual weeding, Sullivan said the ecoroof is far more affordable than fixing cracks in a conventional roof and then replacing it in 20, rather than 40 years.
"This isn’t about butterflies, it’s about lifecycle costing," he said, adding that he would like to see less emphasis on the ecological benefits of ecoroofs and more talk about their practical uses.
Containing precipitation is chief among the ecological perks of ecoroofs, but improving air quality, holding carbon, providing wildlife habitat, filtering pollution and reducing urban heat are also noted.
More practical uses, however, appear to be gaining traction with Portland businesses and institutions, where 22 projects totaling 2.8 acres have been approved for city grants since 2008. The program's goal is to fund 43 acres for $6.5 million by 2013, diverting 17.6 million gallons of precipitation from the city storm water utility to save roughly $9 million in upgrades and maintenance. It has awarded $1.3 million to help install 98 ecoroofs around Portland in two years, totaling 6.12 acres between business, institutions and residences.
Participating businesses have included apartment buildings like the 1200 Building, as well as mixed-use developments like newly constructed Tabor Commons at Southeast 57th Avenue and Division Street, hospitality operations like the Hawthorne Hostel at 3031 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd., and restaurant ¿Por Que No? at 3524 N. Mississippi St.
At its long-time distribution site at 1510 S.E. Water Ave., Portland General Electric Co. is among the latest wave of businesses plotting ecoroofs aimed partly at practicality. The utility is currently planning a 19,000-square-foot ecoroof in sight of the Hawthorne Bridge, with construction set for spring 2011.
Spokeswoman Elaina Medina said the location is an ideal place to showcase ecoroofs. The utility is also interested in energy efficiency results, she said.
"From an energy-conservation perspective, they certainly help with insulation in the building and also, if you shade the air intakes, it cools the air as it comes in," Medina said, reducing energy costs in the building's heating and cooling system.
PGE’s low-cost design will rely on simple sedum and slow-growing ground cover. The roof will require little irrigation and maintenance over its life and will be built at about $5 to $7 a square foot after soft costs, roughly the amount of a $200,000 grant from the city.
At Portland State University, Sarah Renkens, manager of the transportation and parking department, said a city grant made it possible to install an 1,100-square-foot ecoroof on a bike parking facility at 12th Avenue and Montgomery Street, reducing the university's costs from $12.32 a square foot to $7.32.
The program also helped an ecoroof pencil out at The Ramona Apartments at 1525 N.W. 14th Ave. The more than 30,000-square-foot ecoroof is still under construction, but owner Ed McNamara of Turtle Island Development LLC, said he first considered the idea to help manage stormwater.
"Fifteen years ago when people first talked to me about it I thought an ecoroof was crazy. My whole goal was to get water off the roof," he said.
Now he realizes that "the benefit of the ecoroof is it will actually use some of the water."
He also looks forward to reducing demands on the building’s cooling system, and doubling the life of the roof. He said the ecoroof helps him avoid sun exposure and frequent repair work, the two factors he said are most likely to cause a roof failure.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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