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Susquehanna Life

Green Roof Revolution

Green roof technology

By Whitney Pipkin

When Rick Seavey, CEO of the National Novelty Brush Co. in Lancaster, PA, first told city officials that he wanted to install a green roof on the company’s new warehouse building, they thought he was talking about paint color.

Green Lancaster. Dave Harp.

That was a decade ago, before affixing water-absorbing membranes and plants to the tops of buildings became a popular solution for businesses looking to absorb stormwater runoff from new construction. And the 16,000-square-foot green roof Seavey planned to install would be the first for the South Central Pennsylvania city and surrounding Lancaster County.

Like many cities and counties in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Lancaster city had adopted stormwater management regulations that required developers to offset the stormwater runoff that new buildings would generate. Most developers met their requirements through less expensive features, such as stormwater retention ponds.

But Seavey wanted to keep his family’s business in downtown Lancaster, where there wasn’t room for a retention pond near the new building. He decided that a green roof, though more expensive to install, would be the best option to satisfy the requirements and benefit the bay — even if no one nearby was doing it.

“The closest firm that knew how to build one was in Boston,” Seavey said. “Architects had to come in from Philadelphia and Boston to help me.”

Green roofs are emerging as a timely tool for areas looking to absorb their stormwater runoff, which is still the fastest growing source of water pollution in the bay watershed. Some communities, such as the 2,700 municipalities in Pennsylvania, might have to lean even harder on the private sector to meet their obligations without the fees that have generated funds in other areas.

Green roofs were the focus of the 14th annual CitiesAlive conference that took place in November 2016 in Washington, DC, where the nation’s capital was highlighted as a leader in green roof implementation to an international audience of 500. The city has installed more square feet of green roofs than any other in North America for each of the last five years.
Looking back

Green roof in Washington DC's Dirksen Senate Office Building

Ten years later, Lancaster’s Rick Seavey is still pleased with the green roof he installed on his warehouse, even if the concept hasn’t taken hold across the city as much as he’d like. The city’s old buildings are difficult to retrofit to support the weight of green roofs.

It will last 100 years longer than a conventional roof, he said, and it has also kept his warehouse cooler. The eight species of sedum he planted have evolved over time, something he’s enjoyed watching as a business owner with a biology background. (He also doesn’t mind the occasional weeding that comes with the roof, which is accessible by ladder.)

“I hope more people realize the advantages” of green roofs, said Seavey, who has seen the water-absorbing capacity of his roof firsthand. “It allowed me to build a bigger building than I would have been able to, because of regulations from the city. And it really works.”

Whitney Pipkin writes from her home in Northern Virginia.

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