Roof Helps Save Environment

By: Whitney Holmes
By: Whitney Holmes

July 12, 2005

The Chesapeake Bay's water quality is continually getting worse, so Albemarle County is literally working from the top down to help.

Days ago Albemarle County planted 9,000 plants atop its office building. Although only a couple inches tall, two years from now these plants will stand over a foot and cover the entire roof, creating the state's largest "green roof."

The green roof's plants will not just better the environment, but also cut costs just by being plants.

"There's a lot of benefits and they sort of add up together," explained the county's senior planner, Sean Dougherty.

One benefit is plants' use of pollutants such as nitrogen and phosphorus. Found in rain water, these chemicals run off the roof, into a stream, and into the Chesapeake Bay, but not any more.

"What the green roof will do is filter, slow down, and clean the water before it gets [to the streams]," said the project's architect, Richard Price. Price is the president of Charlottesville's Folsom Group.

Slowing down the water saves plants and animals. With storms such as last week's, water races into streams, practically running over wildlife. The roof puts the brakes on this damaging process.

"It will retain that water and release it slowly back into the environment cleaner and cooler instead of [the water] flashing in and flooding out, basically pushing plants and wildlife further down stream," said Dougherty.

The plants cut costs by cutting energy use by as much as 30 percent. Dougherty says it does this by merely shading the building.

"During the hottest parts of the day when the sun is beating on the building, the plants actually absorb and process some of that heat as opposed to [retaining] it, which is what a conventional roof does."

The green roof cannot stop development, but it can mitigate the harmful effects. The green roof project began a year ago with the help of the Chesapeake Bay program, and the state's Department of Conservation.

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