• Janice Horslen

Living Roofs - the only way is up!

Have you ever seen a roof covered with plants and wondered why? Living roofs are sprouting up on summerhouses, sheds, extensions and even on bin storage! In fact, the total area of green roofs in the Greater London area is now equal to 1.5 million m²! So what is a ‘living roof’ and why are so many building owners choosing to install them?

A living, or green, roof is a roof that is partially or completely covered with vegetation and a growing medium, planted over a waterproof membrane. It should also include additional layers such as a root barrier and drainage and irrigation systems. Living roofs can be installed on any building as long as it can cope with the structural loading, irrigation requirements and you have the relevant planning permissions. And they’re not just a new fancy trend; living roofs have been around for thousands of years, the most famous example being the hanging gardens of Babylon in the seventh and eighth centuries BC. One of the most famous modern-day living roofs is a huge installation on top of the Pentagon in Washington DC, so even the hard-heads of the US military are convinced!

Living roofs bring economic, environmental and aesthetic benefits to private owners and their neighbours. They are a great way to create an attractive design feature on an outbuilding like a shed or garage and can really improve the views from upstairs windows by helping to integrate the outbuilding into its surrounds. Imagine looking down on a green, vibrant, buzzing meadow instead of grey roofing membrane!

Over the long term, they can pay for themselves by increasing the lifespan of your roof and reducing heating bills through their installation properties. Plus, they help keep you cool in the summer by reducing heat transfer into the building and if you live in a noisy urban area, a living roof can provide an element of soundproofing. And of course, there are the environmental benefits of creating new habitats for bees and butterflies and increasing the biodiversity of your outdoor space.

So why doesn’t everyone have a living roof? One of the most common concerns about living roofs is that they trap water against the roof and increase the likelihood of leaks and damp penetration. This is certainly possible if the roof is poorly installed. But if properly constructed, living roofs can substantially increase the lifespan of a roof, often to double the lifespan of a conventional roof or longer. The key is to use a supplier who follows the German FLL Green Roof Guidelines. These are recognised worldwide as benchmark standards for living roofs. Any horror stories you may have heard about living roofs are very likely to be a result of poor construction.

Another concern is expense. Retrofitting can require costly structural work so factoring in a living roof in the planning stages of an extension will be cheaper than doing it later. Either way, they do cost considerably more than conventional roofs but if properly constructed and maintained, they can often pay for themselves over the long term by increasing the lifespan of the roof and reducing heating bills. Flat living roofs are usually easier, and therefore usually cheaper, to construct but green roofs can work well on pitched roofs too.

However, you don’t need to go the whole hog – why not consider a living roof as part of a new shed, or as a fabulous talking point on a summer house or the children’s playhouse? They’re also a great and unique way of disguising ugly bin sheds! You really can be as modest or ambitious as you want with living roofs so there’s plenty of ways to add a little extra green to your views!

If you're considering a revamp of your garden, and perhaps want to include a living roof, get in touch with Janice to book a free 30 min initial consultation (subject to area).

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Janice Horslen Garden Design


Surbiton, UK

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