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The Green Roof Forum

Green roofs can provide many benefits, including improved views, attracting wildlife, decreasing rainwater run-off during storms and increasing energy efficiency. Whilst large-scale projects should be entrusted to specialised firms, smaller scale domestic projects, such as garage roofs and sheds, are relatively simple as long as they follow certain principles. This guide aims to outline some of the principles, directing and assisting you on how to build a simple, light-weight DIY green roof.

1 Before Starting: There are two important questions to ask before starting: What is the angle of the roof? Over 30 and it is not recommended you build a green roof without specialist advice. Under 2 or over 20 and there may be some design considerations required.

Can the structure take the extra weight of the green roof? Simple light-weight green roofs weigh between 60150 kg/m2 (13.0-30.0 lb/sq.ft) Any calculations you make must also take into account the weight of water that will be held in the soil of the roof and any snow loading. If the roof wont be able to take the extra weight, you may be able to reinforce it relatively simply. Consult an architect or structural engineer if you are unsure at this stage.

2 Design Considerations:
Containment frame Grid to prevent slippage

A containment frame should be constructed around the perimeter of the roof to hold the green roof materials. It is important that edge detailing does not damage the waterproofing, and allows unimpeded drainage off the roof surface. (Wooden frames will need to be rot resistant) When the roof is over 20 you will need to ensure that erosion doesnt occur, and that the plant layer does not slip or slump through its own weight. This can be prevented through the use of wood or metal loose-laid on top of the rootproof membrane in a chequerboard array (see left)

Drainage outlets

3 Waterproof Layer/Root-proof Membrane: Typical sheds will already have an asphalt or bitumen felt layer for waterproofing. Green Roofs require an additional layer of waterproof material, and this needs to be root-proof. You could use heavy-duty pond liner, e.g. 1mm EDPM. Only a single sheet is needed, and it can be fixed with a strong mastic sealant. Be extra careful with the detailing at the seams it is essential that roots and water can not find a way through. It is a good idea to cover this layer with a protective mat (old carpet works well) to help support the materials placed above. Tip: Mark outlets/penetrations before installing so they can be easily located and cut out.

Layers of a green roof: A green roof typically consists of 5 layers: 1) the waterproof / root-proof membrane, 2) the drainage layer, 3) the filter layer, 4) the substrate, and 5) the planting. However, this is only a guideline, and depending on circumstances some of these layers may not be required.

Substrate Filter Drainage Root-proof membrane


4 Drainage Layer/Drainage: A key environmental benefit of green roofs is that they absorb rainwater and reduce runoff. Any excess water not absorbed by the substrate or used by plants must be drained off. The drainage layers role is to do just this. Without this, if the moisture content in the substrate remains too high, then there could be a danger of root problems (e.g. root rot) due to the activities of plant pathogens. A drainage layer is essential for roofs at an angle of 10 or less. Roofs that are steeper may not need one because they will drain naturally with gravity. The drainage layer can be made from a plastic manufactured green roof drainage layer, or from course material like gravel, pumice or expanded shale. Remember to include this when making weight calculations. Ideally, use a natural drainage layer plastics make poor habitats for invertebrates. Drainage outlets are essential. Where a containment frame has been installed, outlets should be cut into it to allow water to flow from the drainage layer into the roofs guttering (see bottom left). Drainage is very important near these outlets and it is vital that they are kept free of substrate and vegetation. To avoid this problem, a layer of pebbles should be laid around them or an inspection chamber installed. Pebbles can be used to deter vegetation form establishing at the roof edge. The filter sheet is taken up under the pebbles and secured under the edge trim to prevent silt build-up in the drainage layer.

5 Filter Layer: The filter later separates the drainage and substrate layer. Its primary role is to hold soil in place and prevent soil from clogging up the drainage layer below. It is particularly necessary to install a filter layer when the substrate/soil is very fine. On roofs at an angle of over 10 it is not recommended to use a filter layer on the entire roof as it will act as a slip layer. Instead, it should be installed around the roof perimeters / outlets. The filter layer is usually made from a lightweight polyester geotextile. This is inexpensive, non-woven, landscape fabric, which you can find at most home improvement stores.

Small Upstand to pebbles hold materials on f Drainage outlets


6 Substrate: The depth of the substrate depends upon the type of planting that you desire. The substrate depth will need to be between 20 100mm for most DIY roofs Natural soils are particularly heavy when wet, so the substrate needs to be light-weight and have an adequate nutrient supply as well as balanced water-air relation. Do not use a highly organic substrate such as peat because as the organic content decomposes shrinkage will occur (peat also isnt environmentally friendly). Ideally, if mixing your own, a rough estimate is approximately 75-80% inorganic to 20-25% organic compost. Remember weight requirements will be higher the greater the topsoil, and weeds are always more possible with ordinary garden soil. The non-organic element can be a mix of crushed brick, expanded clay, or other granular material. (this makes the soil lighter).

Fixing waterproof edging

Pebble detail around drainage outlet

7 Planting: The most vital and exciting part of the green roof is the planting! It can be applied by several means: prevegetated mats or blankets; direct on-site planting of cuttings or plug plants or seeding, or any combination of these methods. There are advantages and disadvantages and for each methods (see right). TYPES OF PLANT: For simple light-weight roofs, the most widely used plants are Sedums. These species are hardy, drought-tolerant, have non-woody roots and require little maintenance. They are self-sustaining and look good throughout most of the year. Sedum album (white stonecrop), S.acre (biting stonecrop), S.hispancium and S.reflexum are all suitable and their summer flowers attract a wide range of insect species including bees and butterflies.

Wildflower roofs. With the correct choice of species, the free-draining, low-fertility substrates and exposed conditions of roofs can support highly diverse, species-rich native or exotic grassland communities. In fact, rooftop wildflower meadows can be more successful than those created at ground level, as conditions discourage competitive weeds from establishing. The wildflower-meadow communities best adapted for green-roof use are those associated with limestone and chalk. Cowslip, ladys bedstraw, birds-foot trefoil, rockrose, harebell, hawkweeds, thyme, small scabious will thrive on substrates of only 70-100mm depth.

It is very important that plants which are native to the local conditions are taken into consideration in order to support biodiversity. Scout out your local garden centers to find native plants that are suitable for these conditions. Avoid monocultures when planting; the success of establishing a self-maintaining plant community is increased when a mix of species are used. The steeper the slope of the roof the more care should be taken to make sure the plants near the top are the most drought-tolerant because they will get less water. If parts of the roof are in shade then shadetolerant plants should be used.

8 Maintenance: Once the green roof is well established the maintenance requirements are usually minimal: To ensure good plant coverage it is essential that during the first year, you supply sufficient water and occasional fertilizing until the plants have fully established. Replanting will be required where there are dying or bare patches. After the first year only watering during severe drought will be required. Weeds and unwanted plants should be removed, with plants at the roof perimeters and drains.

Environmental Considerations: There are a number of environmental considerations that need to be made in order to maximise the green roofs benefits to the environment: Recycling: Is the drainage material made of renewable sources? Can the wood you use be from a recycled source? What about crushed brick for the Chemicals: i) Avoid using herbicides. They will eventually drainage layer? leach out of materials, escaping into the environment and diminishing the root-inhibiting function of the root-proof layer. ii) Think about using alternatives to tanalised timber this could be one of many new products. iii) Avoid using PVC based products where possible. Transport: how far away do you have to transport the substrate and other materials?

Further Information: Green roofs, research advice note: British Council for Offices and Corporation of London (2003) Websites: Main Suppliers:
Alumasc/Zinco ( Sarnafil ( Bauder ( Safeguard Europe ( FlorDepot ( In addition specialist DIY green roof kits are available from FlorDepot

Books: Green Roofs Ecological Design and Construction: Leslie Hoffman (Foreword), William Mcdonough (Foreword), Earth Pledge (2005). Schiffer Publishing Ltd. Planting Green Roofs and Living Walls: N Dunnett and N Kingsbury (2004). Timber Press. English Nature Leaflet Living Roofs Green Roofs, English Nature Research Report no. 498. (2003). English Nature

Part-financed by the European Union European Regional Development Fund

This advice note is intended as guidance. If you have any concerns or doubts, we suggest you contact an architect or structural engineer. It may be advisable to contact the council (Building Standards department) if the roof you are constructing is on a boundary with another property or involves structural changes.