Green Roofs are 'Low-Maintenance' not 'No-Maintenance'

Green Roofs are 'Low-Maintenance' not 'No-Maintenance'

20th February 2017

Green roof maintenance is generally a very simple process. They are designed so that they will not require endless hours spent on the roof in order to keep them looking at their best. Each type of green roof brings many different benefits to the occupants, the owners and the roof itself, so a little time maintaining the system is advantageous in the long run.

London is an excellent example for the rate of living roof growth in the UK. Everywhere you look there are green roofs sprouting up on new rental properties and council buildings around our capital city. The reason for this is the space being lost due to this urbanisation.  Many areas of development are replacing green areas that are habitats for local wildlife and species of various plants, flowers and grasses.

The ball is rolling to counter this through policies suggesting that developments are now expected to incorporate living roofs where possible. This is a step closer to the policies in Germany that have been in place for many years, and to the recent law passed in France, stating that rooftops on new buildings in commercial zones must be partially covered in plants or solar panels. The Flood and Water Management Act 2010 will bring us much closer to that situation.


Types of Roof Maintenance

Further green roof maintenance processes differ depending on which system is installed on the roof.

Sedum green roofs require very little maintenance as they are very hardy plants and don’t require much attention to keep them healthy. A sedum green roof can be maintained easily in two visits, one in the spring and one in the autumn. In the spring, the gutters and drainage channels will be cleared, any weeds removed and fertiliser applied. Weeding is particularly easy on a sedum roof due to the lower level of substrate preventing many weeds from establishing, and those that have established are easily removed. In the autumn the drains can be checked again and the spent flower heads and any weeds that have grown over the summer can be removed. With this little maintenance sedum will remain healthy and the green roof will stay looking lush throughout the year.

Other systems require slightly different maintenance. With wildflower roofs it is recommended that the year’s growth is cut back and removed in the autumn. This prevents a build-up of decaying organic matter on the roof and the nutrient levels do not get too high. Biodiverse roofs require little maintenance because they are designed to be seeded naturally by the local environment. Some housing associations or private landlords prefer the removal of certain species from their biodiverse roofs and others like to cut back the year’s growth in autumn but this is personal preference and is not essential for biodiverse roofs.

The only other form of maintenance green roofs need is irrigation. As green roofs only have a limited depth of substrate to reduce weight, moisture cannot be drawn up from deep in the ground like it can for conventional plants. That said, a good drainage board will allow the plants to absorb all the water they need to stay healthy using only natural precipitation. However, in the first few months after installation the plants will be ‘stressed’ from the move and will be trying to establish in a new environment. In this time, and in periods of extremely hot and dry weather, roofs may need irrigation in the form of full saturation once or twice a week.

Sedum is an extremely drought resistant plant and even when it looks like it has died from lack of water it is likely the underlying structure is still alive and therefore will continue to grow when it rains again.


Maintenance Issues

Although the task of maintaining a green roof is usually straightforward, there can be issues that arise before a maintenance team reaches the roof.

Access is often a stumbling block. When a green roof is initially installed there is usually scaffold and easy access to roof level. Six months later when maintenance is required the building is completed and the scaffold has been removed. In order to meet health and safety requirements the green roof company would need a man-safe system or a scaffold tower to fulfil the works.


Kanes Salad Factory

A prime example of a successful maintenance project is the wildflower green roof system at Kanes Salad factory. It is the largest wildflower roof system in Europe, boasting a beautiful setting within the Worcestershire countryside.

The roof suffered during the first year after installation. A prolonged heat wave and drought lead to large areas of the roof being scorched and heavily damaged.

A green roof company based in Gloucestershire, were asked to solve the issues. The damaged areas were replaced with fresh wildflower blankets; plug plants were used to add further vegetation to certain areas of the roof; and a specialised irrigation system was installed to counteract any more dry periods and assist the blanket to become fully established within the biodiverse substrate below.

The results were breath-taking. The roof now continues to flourish, with stunningly beautiful flowers adding colour to the glorious green fields surrounding the factory. After the initial intense maintenance visit, an ongoing bi-annual maintenance contract has kept the roof looking great to this day.

Simple, consistent maintenance of living roofs leads to less roofing headaches in the long term for housing associations, local authorities and private landlords. Keeping a green roof maintained prevents damage to the roof which can lead to expensive remedial works.

To find out more about maintaining your green roof, get a free maintenance quote today.