Rooftop Safety

Green Rooftops in Canada: Benefits and Challenges

Green Rooftops in Canada: Benefits and Challenges

Nearly two decades since the beginning of Canada’s green roof revolution, what was once a fringe concept has now grown to become a multi-billion dollar industry. This learning resource from Skyline Group explores some of the key drivers behind this growth, highlighting several of the challenges this trend presents to commercial building owners, property managers and facility maintenance teams. 

The reasons behind the exponential growth of green roofing are wide-ranging, from the popular appeal of its aesthetics through to the variety of advantages it lends to sustainability and natural conservation. But what does green roofing actually entail, and how should building owners expect this practice to impact  their building and its safety when maintaining the rooftop?


Green Roofs: An Essential Overview 

In essence, green roofs are a type of vegetated rooftop. Also known as ‘living roofs’ and ‘eco roofs’, the term can apply to any space where both vegetation and a growing medium have been installed on top of a waterproofing membrane. These roofs can be intensive, featuring deeper soil and irrigation systems for an environment conducive to higher levels of plant growth and rooftop insulation. Alternatively, they can be extensive, featuring a shallow growing medium and little or no irrigation.

As cities become denser and less green, an increasing number of urban planners are realizing the importance of integrating natural elements into their building design. Indeed, green roofs don’t only offer a visually pleasing alternative to the conventional rooftop: they also provide a range of environmental, economic and social benefits.

The Benefits of Green Roofs 

Of all the advantages associated with sustainable green rooftops, those associated with environmental impact are perhaps the most significant. Let’s take a closer look:

  • Flood limitation: Urban areas are becoming more susceptible to flooding in an era marked by climate change. Green roofs can mitigate this risk by absorbing rainwater and reducing the volume of water that reaches street level. This can alleviate pressure on stormwater systems and decrease the likelihood of overflow.
  • Reduced carbon footprint: Green roofs can significantly lessen the carbon footprint of its building. This is because it can provide natural insulation and reduce pressures on HVAC systems, lowering overall energy consumption and associated greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly important in densely populated urban areas, where air quality continues to deteriorate.
  • Supporting habitats: Amidst an ongoing biodiversity crisis, green roofs can combat this problem by providing habitats for a wide range of species; particularly pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Meanwhile, using native plants on green rooftops can maintain the health of natural ecosystems and serve as ecological corridors connecting various habitats and supporting the free movement of species across urban landscapes.
  • Climate action: Densely populated urban areas are increasingly seen as ‘heat islands’, where increases in localised heat creates higher temperatures compared to outlying areas. Fortunately, vegetation absorbs much of this heat and can cool the air through the processes of shading and evapotranspiration. 
  • Cleaner cities: With vegetation effectively capturing particulate matter and other pollutants, green roofs can improve air quality while reducing the amount of contaminated water that ends up in urban waterways.
  • Community benefits: Beyond their many environmental benefits, green roofs can provide valuable social spaces in densely populated urban landscapes. These areas can be used for community gardens, enhancing the livability and desirability of urban buildings. 

The benefits of green roofs are significant. However, as with any decision, this comes with its pros and cons.


Green Roofs in Canada: Challenges & Restraining Factors

green rooftop close up

While green roofs are being embraced on an international scale, there are a number of factors that are restraining it from becoming the ‘norm’ across Canada. According to Grand View Research, those restraining factors include a lack of proper designing layout and guidelines for the installation of living roofs, as well as unfavourable climatic conditions like extreme heat in regions such as the Middle East.

Beyond those challenges, a number of other challenges are faced by facility maintenance teams, commercial building owners and property managers alike. This is particularly true when it comes to installation and maintenance, as well as general safety considerations.

Challenges When Implementing a Green Roof

Green roofs introduce unique challenges for the building and its management. We’ve highlighted some of those key challenges below:

  • Structural integrity: Green roofs are heavier than traditional roofing due to the added weight of soil, plants, and retained water. This necessitates a comprehensive evaluation by structural engineers to ensure the roof can support the additional load without risk of collapse.
  • Installation risks: Unlike flat, barren rooftops, green roofs have uneven surfaces, varying levels of moisture, and other natural elements that can increase the risk of slips and falls during installation. Ensuring worker safety involves rigorous adherence to fall protection standards, including proper guardrails and clear pathways that are free from obstacles, making it safer to navigate the green rooftop for routine maintenance.
  • Membrane protection: The root systems of the plants used on green roofs can pose a risk to the waterproofing membrane if not properly managed. Choosing the right type of vegetation that is non-invasive and suitable for the depth of substrate available is crucial.
  • Drainage challenges: Maintaining a green roof also requires more effort than traditional roofs. The vegetation needs regular watering, feeding, and pruning to stay healthy and effective in providing the intended benefits. The drainage systems must be checked frequently to prevent clogs that could lead to water pooling and subsequent roof damage or plant decay.
  • Safety design: Lastly, access to green roofs for maintenance purposes must be carefully designed to ensure safety and practicality. This often involves installing paths or walkways, for example, that protect the roof membrane and plants while providing stable footing for maintenance personnel. Depending on your roof layout, you may require personnel to walk along the edges of the roof, putting them at risk of a fall, ultimately requiring a form of fall protection.

Navigating these challenges requires expertise in roofing and horticulture, as well as a commitment to ongoing maintenance and monitoring to ensure the long-term success and safety of the green roof and the personnel using it. For more advice on ensuring the highest levels of safety on your green roof, reach out to one of our experts today. 


Skyline Group: Elevated Work, Elevated Safety

Here at Skyline Group, we bring together decades of experience in rooftop safety to protect people, companies and brands. To find out how we can elevate the safety of your green rooftop, contact us today for your expert consultation. Alternatively, get started by browsing our full selection of safety solutions

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