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Ralph Velasquez is a "Sustainability Champion" and our former Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor.  Although his new corporate responsibilities don't allow him the time for a regular column any more, Ralph is still with us as our first Guest Contributing Editor, now writing this occasional column "Perspectives from the Green Boardroom."

In April 2008 he inaugurated his updated column "Sustainable Roofing," changing his previous editorial focus when you knew him as the ASTM Editor (2005).  He then wrote a quarterly "ASTM Update" as a member of the American Society for the Testing of Materials Green Roof Task Force (E.06.71.07), part of the sub-committee for Sustainability (E.06.71), which in turn is part of the committee for Performance of Buildings (E.06).

email: ralph (at)
View Ralph's Profile


Retrofitting Office Buildings to Be Green and Energy-Efficient: Optimizing Building Performance, Tenant Satisfaction, and Financial Return,
by Leanne Tobias, [Article by Ralph Velasquez],

Sustainable Roofing Column

Change, the only Real Constant!
By Ralph Velasquez, (former) Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
August 31, 2010

All around us there is change, in our personal lives, in our business ventures, in the environment around us and yes, in this column as well.  You may have seen elsewhere on this website that I have taken on a new role within the Tremco organization recently, that of Executive Director for Sustainability in the Roofing and Building Maintenance Division.  With this role change, it means that I will need to hand over this column to someone else, someone who can focus on vegetative roofs and other sustainable product solutions.  I have asked two of my protégés, Mark Anderson and Mary Ann Uhlmann to take up that challenge.

Mark has been working with me for several years and has been active in helping me shape our company vegetative roof program.  Mark is an architect by degree and has deep knowledge not only in vegetative roofs but in many other sustainable building science solutions.  He will write a more technical approach in his articles for this column.

Mary Ann is a horticulturist by degree and was my first hire within our internal group, shaping things right from the beginning of our group.  She helped me understand the living components of our solutions even more than I had previously.  She will write on vegetative roofs from her perspective of our “living friends” that are the work engines of these engineered solutions.  I think you will find these two not only informative, but absolutely delightful as you get to know them through their writings.  I leave this column in good hands.

As for my new role, I will be responsible for all our company's sustainable activities, from products/systems to operations, manufacturing and in all the countries where our division operates. The idea is to drive the sustainable concepts of people, plants and prosperity deep into our culture and in partnership with our suppliers and customers.  I’m excited about this new role but it will be a daunting challenge as well.

Publisher's Note: You'll be sorely missed, Ralph!
The Editors and us in 2007:
Left to right, top row:
Kelly Luckett, Ralph Velasquez, Aramis Velazquez,
Linda Velazquez, Trish Luckett. Bottom row:
Patrick Carey, Christine Thuring,
Ed Snodgrass and
Dr. Bill Retzlaff (not shown: Haven Kiers; George Irwin (came on board in 2008, and Chris Wark, 2010).

When I told Linda about this, she of course, worked her magical ways of persuasion, as she does with us all and got me to commit to a guest column.  Aramis, buddy, as her husband, you don’t stand a chance!  We agreed to call it “Perspectives from the Green Boardroom.”  Loosely, the idea is for me to write about things I might see or experience from this broader involvement with sustainability.  Since it is a guest column, it will by design, be infrequent, something that Linda was getting used to from me in more recent months anyway.  Not sure of the frequency for this column, we’ll just have to see how it goes.

Now, most importantly, I want to thank the readers of my column for your wonderful support and kind remarks over the years.  Hopefully along the way you found something that helped you in your daily lives, whether from a business or personal perspective.  I want to thank Linda and Aramis, who have been kind to me over the years to let me have broad leeway in my ramblings to their audience. Thanks guys, you are the best!

Finally, I want to thank my wife of 34 years, who has been a great source of ideas and a sounding board for these columns.  She is my truest fan and staunchest supporter but if the truth be known, I’m a bigger fan of who she is and what she has done over the years.  Lea, the only thing that won’t change is my love for you and my eternal wonderment, why you chose me all those years ago.  Just glad you did!  Now that’s real sustainability!

Ciao, everyone.

Ralph Velasquez
Executive Director of Sustainability
Tremco, Inc.

Tremco Inc., located in Beachwood, OH, is a division of RPM (Republic Powdered Metals), providing "Roofing and Waterproofing Peace of Mind" to their customers since 1928. Tremco has long been a leader in the concept of sustainable roofing, with a historical focus in keeping "good roofs good", thereby improving the life-cycle of the roof assembly, forestalling replacement and reducing landfill burdens. Further promotion of this concept came with the advent of asbestos free materials, low and no VOC products, recycled content, cool roof technologies, Energy Star, LEED, Title 24 (CA) and now increased emphasis in vegetative roofs and Photovoltaic solutions.

As a major corporation with construction related activities around the world, Tremco is committed to providing building envelope solutions that will meet the customers need for value driven sustainable solutions. We are committed to building upon our past sustainable approaches, creating new mechanisms to achieve improved levels of sustainability and value for our customers.

Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681 or

Sustainable Giants
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
March 29, 2010

Greetings to all you Sustainable Giants out there!  Seems like months since I wrote my last article…oh, it was, sorry Linda!  I guess it is either because I’m so busy or I’m boring and not sure you really care to hear me rant on about the next subject.

That said, Linda needs me to contribute something meaningful and since she and Aramis are such good friends and all, here go my latest ramblings.

Every month I think about whether I should write something about vegetative roofs, photovoltaics, cool roofs, some combination thereof or some completely off the wall subject.  I’m always torn between remembering this is and that I’m the sustainable editor and can bring you news from other sectors of the “green roof” world.  Today I decided I wanted to share a couple of different thoughts, so this falls into the combination thereof category.

I am amazed how much this industry has grown up.  While we have a lot of maturity to achieve, we sometimes forget how much progress we have made.  Two things struck this cord for me.  First, my fellow columnist, Kelly Luckett, recently wrote about the new fire standard achieved.  What an industry milestone!

Those of us who have been in the industry for a while, know how long this has been worked on and by all those who have contributed vision, time, money and hard work to bring this to fruition.  As Kelly acknowledges, there remains work to be done but all I can say is thank you!  Thank you to all who have made this possible.

Second, I have been on a recent hiring blitz for my company in my group and I have been amazed at the quality and quantity of individuals who have responded for these positions.  When I added the first new hire to my team of one (me) several years ago, it was tough to find anyone with experience in vegetative roofing.  While I struck gold on my first new hire (Thank you, Mary Ann for joining me!), it has become apparent that our little industry is growing up, projects are getting done and people are getting experience, making my hiring process that much easier.  It also means that the customer ultimately wins - whether it’s me hiring or one of my competitors, better qualified individuals are available and that means growth within the industry.

There has also been so much growth in work on wind standards, ASTM Standards, Test Methods or Guides, conducting research, writing white papers and conducting studies.  GRHC, FM, NRCA, RCI and others have produced guides, training and certifications to the industry, producing a better result for the end user.  Thank you, thank you, thank you, to all who are busy every day making this a better industry.  Celebrate; all of this is a sign of maturity that we can be proud of.

Tryon Creek Headwaters Project: A partnership with development to achieve stormwater/watershed objectives, including daylighting a stream, vegetated swales and ecoroofs.  Photo Courtesy Ed Snodgrass.

Moving from the green spectrum to the blue spectrum, we have seen the formation of a new water sub-committee by GRHC, which will begin to develop and mature the water concepts and technologies related to the built environment.  While vegetative roofs can act as a first filter and /or storage technology for storm water, what of the water that does not get used by the plants or is running off our adjoining rooftop structures?  What of the water run-off related to the site?  Or water from any exterior built environment source?  How and what do we do with this?  Again, the fact we have started this next phase of dealing with water in the built environment demonstrates that we are growing up.

The Tryon Creek Headwaters Project in Portland, Oregon; Photo Courtesy Ed Snodgrass.

Then there is the “yellow” or “light” spectrum of the built environment - harnessing the power of the sun.  As I write this, I am sitting in sunny San Diego, attending a solar conference that deals with the financial end of the business.  Solar in the market today is sold primarily via financial vehicles called Power Purchase Agreements (PPA), however the industry is entangled in a host of complicated financial issues because of the state by state, utility by utility, locale by locale differences of incentives, rebates, equity and debt, tax implications, regulatory, environmental and the list goes on. Everyone is trying to deal with all the issues of an emerging industry that is doing, or has done so much better in Europe and is still trying to soar in the USA.  Sound familiar?

Harnessing the limitless energy of the sun can be a tricky proposition.
Photo left: Keetsa; Photo Right: InventorSpot

There is both hand wringing amongst the financial markets and unbridled optimism amongst the bankers, attorneys, developers, contractors, manufacturers and God knows who else is in attendance.  Yet, despite the ebb and flow of the conversations, session by session, what I see is another industry that is maturing and growing, making great strides in its development.  When the industry looks back over where they have come in the last five years, it is amazing!  The cost of solar continues to free fall, still expensive perhaps but getting closer daily to the holy grail of grid parity.  New technologies abound!

The many faces of solar power; Photo Source: Yasser A. Hosni 2009

While some will fail, others will fade but some will emerge as the technology to drive the future.  Who wins?  The customer wins, the industry wins, the country wins, as this technology has its own set of benefits that touch both the economical and environmental concerns of the public.  We haven’t even discussed the idea of solar and vegetative on the same roof, enhancing each other’s effectiveness.  Hmmm….the genesis of my next article perhaps?.

We haven’t touched other rooftop technologies that deal with cool reflective approaches, lower VOCs, recycled or bio-based content.  While some of this has been around a while, some of this is new and developing, while the old technology continues to have incremental improvement.

So what is the point of this article?  The point is, we are growing up and the next time you get stuck in the challenges and problems of your portion of the sustainable industry, take a moment and look back over your shoulder.  You might not be at the summit yet but that valley below, where we started, where you started, is a distant view.

Even sustainable giants deserve a rest every now and then!

Enjoy the view of where you are, relax and celebrate the accomplishment to date, dare to enjoy the moment!  After you have had a bit of time to rejuvenate the soul, then pack up your gear and start the climb back to the top.  We have problems yet to conquer, a technology yet to bend to our will and more importantly, a world to change through our sustainable journey, one project, one city, one nation at a time!  Enjoy the journey, you green roof teenager you - becoming an adult should be a blast!

Ralph Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

Formerly, Ralph headed up Tremco's program for sustainable roofing, waterproofing and building envelope solutions, including green roofs, photovoltaics (incl. BIPV), cool roofing and bio-based materials. Previously founding his company Integrated Building Technologies (IBT), Ralph has been involved in the roofing industry since 1978 with a wide range of roofing experience serving hospitals, schools, universities, industries, major corporations, non-profit organizations and property management companies.

Tremco Inc., located in Beachwood, OH, is a division of RPM (Republic Powdered Metals), providing "Roofing and Waterproofing Peace of Mind" to their customers since 1928. Tremco has long been a leader in the concept of sustainable roofing, with a historical focus in keeping "good roofs good", thereby improving the life-cycle of the roof assembly, forestalling replacement and reducing landfill burdens. Further promotion of this concept came with the advent of asbestos free materials, low and no VOC products, recycled content, cool roof technologies, Energy Star, LEED, Title 24 (CA) and now increased emphasis in vegetative roofs and Photovoltaic solutions.

As a major corporation with construction related activities around the world, Tremco is committed to providing building envelope solutions that will meet the customers need for value driven sustainable solutions. We are committed to building upon our past sustainable approaches, creating new mechanisms to achieve improved levels of sustainability and value for our customers. 

In the Year 2020
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
August 23, 2009

For all of those who read my New Year’s article, all my resolutions have been broken, so I have decided to look forward to a new year, the year 2020 in fact.  I have chosen 2020 because all my grandchildren that have been born to date will be either in college or about ready to enter college and I will have reached the normal retirement age of 65.  What will their sustainable future look like and mine in retirement?  Let’s take a stab at it together.

Dongtan, China: Current. Arup is designing energy from wind, solar, and bio-fuel to be standard along with recycled city waste. Clean technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells will power public transport. A network of cycle and footpaths will help the city achieve close to zero vehicle emissions. Source: 2008 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

First, vegetative roofs will be a normal way to roof or re-roof a building.  The current controversies about fire and wind uplift will have long since been resolved, going the way of Europe back in the late twentieth century.  We are designing vegetative roofs to be very specific in their functional attributes.

House of the Future: Conceptual.  In April, 2009, The Wall Street Journal asked four architects to design an energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable house without regard to cost, technology, aesthetics or the way we are used to living. The idea was not to dream up anything impossible or unlikely. Instead, they were asked to think of what technology might make possible in the next few decades. This is William McDonough + Partners entry.

Costs have dropped significantly due to the old American market forces of competition and innovation.  Every component in the design is either recycled or highly renewable and the design from the inception has been created to be deconstructed after its design life is complete and reused.

Zorlu Ecocity: Current, Istanbul, Turkey. The mixed-use development project by Llewelyn Davies Yeang has been planned as a ‘city within a city’ and adheres to the original planning strategies of Istanbul of relieving the pressure on the city’s core by developing more urban centers in the entire Marma region. Office towers, residential towers, apartments, two hotels and resort-like elderly units cover a three-storey retail complex. The 14 towers will range from 8 to 26 stories, and the green city would also have a seven-story deep basement, providing space for six thousand cars. Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

Perhaps we have vegetative roofs that come in completely inclusive rolls of waterproofing, soil and plants, you just apply the entire assembly, water and let it grow.  Will we be doing vegetative roofs using hydroponics and no growing media of any type will be needed.  Perhaps we spray on a slurry mix of waterproofing, soil and plants.  By the way, the vegetative roof extends to the walls both on the roof and on the exterior shell of the building, as we want the entire building structure to breathe in that nasty carbon and breath out fresh life giving oxygen.  We want to clean the air, cool down our cities, save more of the ever increasing costly energy and save water, that is getting even more valuable then the energy we consume in an increasing fashion.

The ECO Casino: 2007, Nevada AIA Design Awards. Steelman Partners says it’s “A building that's both a fantasy attraction and a structure sensitive as an efficient green energy generating machine.” Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

Speaking of energy, we have come a long way with our ability to harness the sun, wind and other natural forces of energy in the built environment.  Since we finally figured out how to easily capture the suns rays at a molecular level, we now incorporate it everyday into paints, coatings and films.  The projections that are still on our roofs, now at least can be painted with solar energizing paint and produce electricity.  We capture solar rays through our day lighting building components, we have moved solar capture into our building skins and we have even figured out how to harness wind energy in the eco-skeleton of the building frame itself.  We just don’t design buildings to resist wind pressures, how stupid was that?  We now design wind to be captured by the framing of the building and the entire building is a generator.  Of course, now that we have figured out how to use fuel cells to store the solar energy effectively and relatively inexpensively, we can now use it at night.  Speaking of nighttime, the newly perfected technology that captures light during the night hours, similar to the way night vision goggles work, has really improved total energy capture over a 24 hour time period.

'Anti Smog: An Innovation Centre in Sustainable Development': Prototype, Paris, France. Central to the design is the “Solar Drop” an elliptical structure. The exterior is fitted with 250 square meters of solar photovoltaic panels and coated in titanium dioxide (TiO2). The PV system produces on-site electrical energy while the TiO2 coating works with ultraviolet radiation to interact with particulates in the air, break down organics and reduce air born pollutants and contaminants. Source: 2008 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

Producing so much of our own energy has really had an impact on so many economic, social and political factors in our society; it is hard to recount them all.  We have even improved our national security because we now import so much less oil from the unstable Middle East.  We have improved our national debt through the increase of some many “green jobs” that came as a result of the new technology and the reduction of our national debt.  Through the savings of energy we have had more money to deal with other things such as health care, social security, Medicare and a host of other things that needed some real work.  Our military has become less dependant on fuels such as oil, gasoline and coal to provide the energy needs of our soldiers and their bases.  Proven solar technologies such as dye sensitive solar have allowed new advances in how to move an armed force with less supply lines, their costs and diminish their vulnerability to disruption from our enemies.  Everything from homes to cars to, well you name it, seems to have been affected by these new solar technologies.

New York Tower at One Madison Avenue: Current/Conceptual, New York, NY. Daniel Libeskind designed a 54-story apartment building featuring a series of sky gardens cut out from its façade providing green space and  terraced balconies.  Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

Other green technologies such as bio-based and highly renewable materials are now being regularly used in vegetative roofs.  Agricultural based, highly reflective roof coatings, using non-edible portions of agricultural materials have replaced a large portion of our oil based roofing materials.  This again has impacted how much oil we import and has so many of the same impacts already discussed with solar.  Since we are growing more plant based materials, our carbon footprint is reducing, in fact with the advent of some many clean energy sources and more plant material being used, our carbon clock is rapidly spinning backward.  Also, since more materials are available locally, less energy is used and less carbon is created in moving stuff around the country.

The “Spinach Home” Concept Home: Concept/Current. The winning entry in the 2008 Cradle to Cradle Home International Design Competition has a photosynthetic, phototropic spinach skin surface and a vegetated roof system that filters storm water. A vertical core with super-conductive photosynthetic plasma that generates 200% more voltage than ordinary solar cells. The spinach protein shell of the house grows over time, generating enough electricity to power the neighbors' homes, too.
Source: 2008 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

On the manufacturing side of the equation, we are using less water, recapturing so much of what we use to waste, saving money, energy and reducing carbon.  Capturing storm water from roofs and buildings, condensate water from HVAC units, grey and black water from building use, has opened up whole new industries and career opportunities for my grandchildren’s generation.  We have learned how to better use waste from our manufacturing operations, many burning this as bio-fuels, while others are recycling so much of what we use to throw away that new landfills rarely need to be opened.

Project Green: Current, Austin, TX. This urban, mixed-use development uses a comprehensive approach to sustainability. In addition to incorporating usual green components like solar panels and wind turbines, it also features greenroofs, above and below grade treatment cisterns, and most notably, vegetated street treatment swales. These swales are loaded with plant material that cleans storm water as it is filtered through. The project aims to "Minimize the impact on water resources, including storm, potable, and waste water discharge, through stormwater management and storage, fixture efficiencies, grey water systems for flushing and irrigation -- augmented by sewer mining which processes sewer discharge for grey water uses and creates a net reduction in potable demand. Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

While I could go on with one new technology and sustainable approach after another, suffice to say, my grandchildren’s sustainable future is looking so much brighter, than our own less than illustrious past.  Glad we began to wake up to what we needed to change when we did or we might never had seen the new economy blossom from 2010-2020 the way it did.  It’s so easy to see with hindsight but for those back in 2009 it was as clear as mud.  I’m glad we were not deterred with the many challenges with energy, water or carbon and pressed forward with the opportunities that were right in front of us.  We made mistakes along the way but what a real mistake it would have been if we had not persevered, pushing the envelope of sustainable technologies.

Vertical Farm: Conceptual, The World. The concept for 30-story towers that could feed thousands of people has captured the imagination of international architects and city planners. In 1999, Dickson Despommier, a professor of public health at Columbia University, created the concept with 82 graduate students in his class on medical ecology - the study of how the environment and human health interact. “He says that the skyscrapers could protect a city's food supply from floods and droughts, and from pathogens that attack crops.” Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

As I think about retirement in 2020, I think I just might recycle something even more valuable then building components…....Me!  Here is to refiring, not retiring in 2020!  Watch out Tristen, Kameron and Taylor, your grandpa is not done yet.  I hope you see the world we are turning over to you as a work in progress and you will do an even better job than what we started. Who knows what your generation will come up with, but whatever it is, let’s git er done!


Lilypad, a zero emission ecopolis for climate refugees: The World, Conceptual. By Vincent Callebaut, it’s a completely self-sufficient floating city intended to provide shelter for future climate change refugees. Through a number of technologies (solar, wind, tidal, biomass), the project’s vision it to not only produce its own energy, but be able to process CO2 in the atmosphere and absorb it into its titanium dioxide skin.  Pushing the envelope of sustainable technologies for our children and grandchildren!
Source: 2009 Top 10 Hot Design Trends.

Ralph Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681, or

Integrated Thinking
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
May 26, 2009

In this column I want to tackle the issue of roofing as it relates to Photovoltaic installations.  Better known as PV or solar, these installations have taken on new importance as the new administration has settled in.  Legislation and economics around the country have begun to make these types of sustainable options more economical.  This column will not focus on whether this makes sense or it doesn’t but will focus on the less glamorous side of the house, dealing with issues related to roofing in solar applications.

As most of you know, this site is all about green roofs, those beautiful vegetative rooftops that have so many benefits for the building, the community and the individual person.  Many of you know that I have written about solar or photovoltaic roof options in this column and have extolled the virtues of sustainability in general.  Today, I want us to think more holistically, more integrated; hence the title of integrated thinking.

When I think of sustainability, typically I think very broadly, as there are many ways to be more sustainable then we currently are in the general built environment marketplace.  The integrated thinking in today’s article will be scaled down a bit, focusing on the rooftop environment and how we might be more holistic in our approach.

Each project decision starts with something we want to accomplish with our built structures, a certain activity or function of the building to achieve an end in mind.  This is done within the context of financial parameters of some type and away we go.  When it comes to the roof, we typically think of its primary function, that of keeping out the weather, specifically moisture of any and all types.  Some have ventured to think about aesthetical appeal, storm water control or sound damping, others have really begun to think about the roof being an energy producer or at the very least something that helped cool the building down and reflect the sunlight off the roof and the building.  All great and worthy considerations for any building, but let’s build upon those ideas.

Let’s play a game of what if or what could be or even borrow from the historically famous Dr. Martin Luther King speech….I have a dream!  Can you dream of roofs that produce energy for the entire building through coatings and paint that convert sunlight into usable energy?  Imagine the building's metal fascia coated with dye sensitized solar generating paint -  attractive and generating power.  Think about soil stacks; drain covers, flashings and other mundane roofing components coated with the same energy generating paint.  Think of solar skylights pulsing with power!  Think of anything and everything that can be painted or coated with a PV generating paint, even roof coatings on membranes!

Now, let’s combine the vegetative roof with all these energy producing components, vegetative roofs that collect stormwater, clean carbon from the air and exhale pure clean oxygen, cool the surrounding atmosphere, reduce sound pollution, re-invite our biological friends back into our urbanscapes, improve health and productivity, extend building life components, provide urban agricultural opportunities, extend public space and invite more interpersonal interaction in our urban environments and, by the way, make us feel that we are doing the right thing.  Now this rooftop is really humming, but we aren’t done yet.

What if the rooftop could also capture the wind?  Could we design the rooftop and the building’s wall structures to not just resist the wind but capture the incredible wind force subjected to these areas each and every day and convert this power of nature into more pure energy?  Wind turbines on parapets, communication towers that are turbines, penthouse walls capturing wind energy, the actual exoskeleton of the building frame itself vibrating with wind energy!

OK, so now we have this great energy hummin, green “Garden of Eden”, what about the water?  Well, we are capturing some through our green roof but what of the other precious droplets hitting non-vegetative roof areas or water discharged from the HVAC units on the roof or water running down the walls?  We can capture this precious water and re-use it for our green roof, our rooftop urban vegetable garden or on-grade vegetation around the building or even gray water use within the building.  Carbon capture?  Are you kidding, we are doing it the old fashioned way, the way Mother Nature intended, using vegetation to breathe the bad stuff and exhale the good stuff.  We scrub the air, literally eat the pollution and sequester the pollutants in the most ingenious method known to man.

Wow, we are touching water, energy, and carbon, what’s left?  What about all the things in the green bucket?  How about highly renewable or bio-based insulation materials, fly ash in our concrete decks, low VOC paints on metal decks or environmentally sensitive coatings on our fasteners, environmentally certified wood in our nailers around the perimeter, formaldehyde free plywood, solvent free adhesives, recycled metals, and the list goes on……….

By now your creative minds have run past my initial attempts but then, if that is true, I have accomplished my purpose. The exciting thing is we are already doing much of this already.  Most of the technologies are used in isolation, some are clumsy, expensive, not yet top drawer stuff, others are yet to be invented, BUT we need to begin to bring these ideas together in a more integrated, holistic fashion.  As an optimistic realist, we need to find the economic story behind these technologies that make it feasible in our everyday society otherwise it will remain a dream and not a reality.

We have to think bigger, more expansively, think what can be done first, not what can’t be done.  Our challenge remains us, not the technologies themselves.  Don’t think so?  What about all the things throughout mankind’s history that couldn’t be done or that many said would never be done or that is was too expensive?  Cost is a relative thing.  How much would you give for a new heart if yours were failing?  What would you pay for a breath of fresh air, if you could not breathe? What would you give for the future of your children?  How hard would you work if you could secure that right job?

So you see, it’s all about choices.  I challenge you to think more in an integrated fashion on your next roof project, your next building, and your next choice.  Count the cost, measure all the right things and go have fun forward, changing the world, one green roof at a time!

Thanks for your time, see ya next time!

Ralph Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681, or

Rooftop Solar Installations
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
March 13, 2009

Okay, let’s get this out of the way and then get down to some serious issues.  Most of the New Year's resolutions that I made in my last column I have broken, especially the ones about being on time with new articles.  Still working on some of them, so all is not lost one quarter of the way into the New Year.  Enough said!

In this column I wan to tackle the issue of roofing as it relates to Photovoltaic installations.  Better known as PV or solar, these installations have taken on new importance as the new administration has settled in.  Legislation and economics around the country have begun to make these types of sustainable options more economical.  This column will not focus on whether this makes sense or it doesn’t but will focus on the less glamorous side of the house, dealing with issues related to roofing in solar applications.

There are few key things to consider when you are weighing the option of going solar.  The first is the issue of roof water tightness.  In other words, making sure you keep the roof from leaking or being damaged, during or right after the installation of those bright new, shiny energy panels.  We have two basic technologies to consider here, panels and thin film adhered to the membrane.  First let’s deal with the panel type installations.

When panels are installed, things to keep in mind are the multiple penetrations that will be required in order to support the panel and the racks they sit upon.  The best solution is to install a proper curb and flashing system, by a professional roofing contractor.  The second best alternative is to install a pitch pocket with a rain hat, as detailed in the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) roofing manual.  A third option is to install a pipe wrap flashing of some type.  This third option is the least costly and the least desirable.  Since flashings are typically where roof leak first, it makes sense to build the best flashing detail possible with high quality materials by a professional roofing firm.  Anything less then good design, quality materials and professional workmanship will only be a source for leaks, damage, headaches and in the worst case a court case in everyone’s future.

When you are considering the use of a building integrated system, known as a BIPV installation, then flashings on curbs are replaced by critical tie-in seams of some type.

Panel-Type Solar Installation:  Building integrated systems (BIPV installations) utilize critical tie-in seams of some type.

Somewhere in the installation, the BIPV cell must interface to the ply or sheet good and be adhered to the roof membrane below.  In some applications the roof below is cut so that the wiring can be passed through to the underside of the deck, here the outside seam tie-in to the roof is even more critical to be watertight.  While there are non-penetrating solar applications, they will not be addressed in this column, but still have interface requirements as well.  Nothing put on a roof is devoid of interface requirements and issues!

In addition to flashings, we must consider the weight loads that these types of systems will impose on the roof deck and the membrane.  Panel systems and their support structures can add significant weight and considerations must be given to potential deck deflection.  If deflection occurs, then stress to the roof membrane will be experienced.  Deck deflection can cause water to collect and pond, causing a host of roof challenges and of course in the worst-case situation, a roof collapse could occur.  BIPV systems by design are much more lightweight but they still add some weight and you want to make sure you are clear on how much and what if any impact this will have on your roofing system.

Another consideration is the wind loads that solar panels will impose on the roof system.  Panels will obviously be more likely to catch the wind and impose wind loading on the roof.  The system chosen must be carefully considered for this impact, especially if you are looking at the ballasted systems.  There have been cases where the ballasted system did not stay in place under less then advertised designed wind conditions.  There can also be problems for thin film applications if adhesion of the film is inadequate for the wind zone of the installation.  Any panel system not properly anchored can become a sail, so the bottom line is to pay close attention to the force of wind on your selected PV system.

Consider the issue of foot traffic required for servicing of the PV array.  Mechanics will be required periodically to access the roof to maintain the PV array.  How will they do this?  Where will they walk?  How often?  What tools will they bring and can these tools cause damage to the roof system?  In addition to PV maintenance, how are you going to conduct roof maintenance with the PV array in place?  The roof will require ongoing maintenance and now you will have something in the way, so have a plan on how to handle this anticipated work.  A related issue is the idea of heat build-up.  What doesn’t generate power will generate heat and where does this go?  If attached as in a BIPV installation it could be driven into the roof system and therefore require the roof to be maintained more often, as heat and UV is an enemy of all roof systems.  Panel applications also impact via heat build-up, just not as much since they are elevated.  They also put various strains of hot and cooler shaded spots on the roof, causing various levels of roof expansion and contraction.  Ballasted systems are also closer to the roof surface and have higher heat impact on the roof membrane. The bottom line is plan for how you are going to address this issue.

Timber framed house with a photovoltaic array of solar panels in Buschhoven near Bonn, Germany; Photo By: Túrelio; Source: Wikipedia

Let’s move onto the roof warranty issues.  If the roof is an existing assembly, then be assured, that you need to contact the holder of that warranty before you install the PV array to make sure you do not violate the terms of that warranty.  The manufacturer will have very specific ways they will want you and the contractor to treat this roof, if you want to keep your warranty intact.  It goes without saying, to get everything in writing.  Make sure you are clear on maintenance requirements and who is responsible for what if something on the roof is damaged by a component of the PV array.

Take into consideration unusual weather events such as hail, tornados, hurricanes, earthquakes, high winds, etc.  How does your roof warranty handle these issues and how will it handle them if a PV array is installed?

Codes and safety: Simple statement here, make sure your array meets all current standards for fire, wind and electrical.  How do these codes interface with your roof code requirements?  Make sure the PV and roofing installer follow OSHA requirements.

A big issue in the marketplace is that in the rush for solar installations, as desirable as this is, there are many buildings where the building is not “roof ready.”  In other words, PV arrays are being installed over roof systems that will not last anywhere near how long the array will last.  The NRCA publishes that the average commercial roof lasts 17 years, while the average PV array today will last 20-30 years.  Even the old PV arrays lasted 20-25 years so we have a mismatch here.  I have talked to owners who want to put a PV array on roof systems that will not make five years let alone twenty and they have not considered the costs of upgrading their roofs before they install the array.  If you think roofing is expensive now, think what the cost of that roof removal will be in three, five or ten years, when the entire array will need to removed or at best worked around, as the old roof has to be removed.  Think of the damage that could be done to PV equipment that needs to be removed from the roof, set aside and re-installed later.  Experience tells me that a lot of damage could occur and then the re-roofing project will get real interesting at that point.

How can you avoid this?  Make sure you have a quality roof, preferably with redundancy built-in to the system.  Make sure the roof is designed to accommodate maintenance and future removal, if the array outlasts the roof system selected.  If you are considering a PV installation on an existing roof, have a roof professional exam the roof to look for instances of damaged membrane, water intrusion into the insulation layer, flashing deterioration, poor drainage or any number of concerns that would need to be addressed before an array should be installed.  If you are in a state where PV still does not make economic sense, then by all means take this opportunity to get your roof “PV ready” so that when the incentives, the technology or the cost of energy makes it viable for you, you are ready to pounce on the opportunity without the added costs of dealing with the roof at the same time.

So what if PV is never a good choice for you and you got your roof “PV ready?"  Then all you did was make an incredible good economic decision to extend the life of your roofing asset, lessening the impact on landfills, promoted the use of less virgin resources required for a new roof, probably increased energy efficiency through removal of wet insulation or reflective coatings and kept your building dry for less cost per year.  Sounds like a pretty sustainable thing to do in my book!

Stay green and remember, those New Year resolutions you broke, if they made sense on the first day of the year, then they still make sense and you can keep on keeping on with them any day of the year, even today!

Talk with you again in the next column.  Who knows that one might even be on time.

Ralph Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.


Doors of Opportunity 2009: My New Year's Resolutions
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
January 21, 2009

All Photos Courtesy Ralph Velasquez

An awe-inspiring winter landscape with promises of a new day dawning.

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year to everyone!  Hope your Santa was good to you and you enjoyed the Holiday season.  I know I did because the scale tells me so…have to do something about all that holiday cheer around the middle… but I digress.

As the New Year is upon us and many of us make resolutions I thought I would make a few myself this year relative to this column.

1.  I will endeavor to be on time with my article. Linda is soooo very patient with me and always gives me these friendly reminders but I’m not sure if it is because she pays me so much to write these columns or just because she is so nice. Hmmm, since she pays me nothing, it must be because she is so nice.

2.  I will add more pictures to my first draft and not make her dig so much into her photo arsenal to make me and the column look better.

3.  I will not get tired of people asking me if Linda and I are married or related in some other fashion. After so many years you would think everyone knows that we are not (just ask Lea my wife) and that if they look closely will see even our last names are not spelled exactly alike.  Looked, didn’t you?

4.  I will write more creative, relevant, entertaining, educational, fascinating and deep columns that will cause you to just rush each month to the website to read what I was going to write next.  Okay, maybe a bit more realistic, they will be timely and less boring, not technically incorrect and you will get to them if you can…in your spare time.

5.  I will answer all the calls and emails I receive as a result of the column and not make the excuse I have a regular job to do that demands so much of my time.  After all, my boss can wait; he only pays my salary.  That was a bit sarcastic wasn’t it?  Comes with getting older, which is not as much fun as when I was a lot younger.

6.  I will not write anything more about the sustainable house we have been trying to build for so long.  Oops, will need to break that one already because I made the mistake of already putting resolution # 5 into practice.  I answered an email and already told someone I would follow-up with updates on the house in the future.  If you didn’t like this column, sorry, someone did and I made that silly resolution to respond to my emails.  Drat these stupid resolutions!!!  I spit on them!!!

7.  I will not think I’m funny and try to be in the column.  I will be serious as I write and……yah, that won’t work…already broke my second resolution.  Shoot!!!

8.  I will write more about vegetative roofs, more about Photovoltaics and more about related topics such as cool roofs and bio-based materials.  That should be an easy one to keep since that is the reason this column exists.

9.  I will make sure we tackle topics that will cause you to think.  You may not agree but you will think.  I can do that, I’m sure of that.

10.  I will break all of the above.  Well, maybe not all, but if I’m like most Americans I will break most of these and then rationalize why I did, give myself a pat on the back for the few I didn’t and do this all over again in 2010.

By the way, here are those promised pictures:

A shining green star among super heroes.

This is the Green Lantern, legendary superhero, along with his trusty band, the Green Corps.  He leads the way in all things green, through the light of his ring.  My alter ego.

The lovely Lea, "Green Lantern's" wind beneath his wings.

Me in real life with the true superhero, my wife Lea.  See, she is not Linda.  Told ya!

May warm winter wishes break through a new world of opportunity!

From my house to yours, may we walk through the door of opportunity, be in awe of our surroundings and see things with a new perspective this New Year.  Talk with you next month about something more serious.

Ralph (Green Lantern) Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

Contact Ralph at: phone (VM) 877.510.2681, or

Green in Tough Times?
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
October 21, 2008

A Sustainable Earth is possible in tough times!

Dear Readers,

What I love about adversity is that during those times, the cream will rise to the top.  What, what are you saying?  Well, it has been my observation over my 30 years in the building industry, that when times are good and money flows most easily, then even the sloppy, poor quality, unethical and downright horrible products, businesses and business strategies thrive.  It seems that money covers a multiple of “sins” and much is overlooked, not much different than what we see in the financial markets today.  BUT, when times get tough and the money gets restricted, then these type of businesses begin to fail and fall out of favor and the better run companies with superior solutions and good value, not only survive but often thrive.

Why does this phenomenon occur?  It occurs because money is tight and more “valuable.” so purchasers look more closely and more carefully at what and from whom they will purchase to fulfill their needs.  With resources scarce, we want to be more sure than ever that our limited resources are spent wisely and with good solid companies who will be around and will respond to any concerns we may have.  Further, the competition increases and the good companies, again with solid offerings who have not cut corners during the flush times, are better positioned to respond to this increased competition and have the staying power to survive the downturn.  I could go on but right about now you are asking yourself so what does this have to do with sustainability and green issues?  Glad you asked!

Sustainable Business is
Good Business.

While sustainability has been building for sometime, it has absolutely exploded over the last couple of years, with everyone having a “green” solution for their product, system or service.  While this has been great on one hand it has spawned some who are sloppy, those who provide poor quality, are unethical, provide marginally sustainable products bordering on “green washing” and perhaps some with just plain horrible products.  Sounds like the normal business cycle to me.

So during this downturn, we will find those companies that are good, solid concerns that offer true sustainable solutions and superior value to their customers.  We will see those who are committed to the fundamental shift in the built environment not only survive, but thrive as they pick-up the pieces from those who are just on the “latest bandwagon,” with no commitment to the process and the solutions.  This can only be good for the informed consumer!


I know that specific to green (vegetative) roofs, more will begin to look at the value these roof solutions bring to their various properties.  We know that vegetative roofs can offset some construction costs, mitigate stormwater, reduce energy use, extend life of a roof system, reduce sound transmission, improve the building's value, provide an income source on some installations, reduce the heat island impact, have health benefits, help reduce air pollution, increase the bio-sphere of an urban landscape, reduce stress. and on and on.  Is this great value or what?  I’d say vegetative roofs make better sense than ever during tight economic times.  Let’s get the greatest bang for our buck and get all these benefits from the dollars we do spend on buildings.

Solar and Flower Power.

What about solar, specifically building integrated solar?  Prices for the technology are coming down, energy concerns due to cost and national security is more important than ever and more incentives are being made available to encourage the use of this technology.

By the way, if you are not aware, congress passed the 2005 energy bill extension which was due to expire this December 31st, until 2016.  The 30% federal tax credit, coupled with a removal of the residential limit (previously $2,000), will keep the solar industry growing new green jobs for our economy and help all Americans to achieve energy independence.

There are other great incentives for exterior windows, other roof materials, insulation, HVAC, ENERGY STAR® appliances and hybrid cars - sorry, not quite the built-environment but good to know anyway.  There are incentives for the reuse and recycling of property used to collect, distribute or recycle certain materials.  There is the extension to issue tax-exempt bonds for qualified green building and sustainable design projects.  Commercial buildings that achieve energy efficient design had a tax deduction extended through 2013.  New was the 30% tax credit for wind turbines on residential properties.

Through good times and bad, through the ages of business, government and finance, these standards have been sustainable and sustained: Good ideas, good business, and good business people triumph in difficult times.

Being sustainable is a good idea, it’s good for business and it has great people involved, so in and of itself, it will not only be sustained but will thrive!  GO GREEN!

Our Future Earth Can Be Green.

See you next month!

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.


When are Green Roofs Really Blue?
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
September 14, 2008

All Photos Courtesy Ralph Velasquez unless otherwise noted

Dear Readers,

As many of you know, I personally like the term vegetative roofs, since “green roofs” implies the roof's environmental aspect or perhaps its color, but not its primary functional element.  I suppose, the illustrious editor of this website may take exception with that, it is after all,'s Note:  That's why we call them "greenroofs" and not "green roofs" so there is no question in terms of the roof color or use of ecologically friendly materials - a greenroof means a roof with plants on it!)

That said, this month we are going to talk a bit about another “green roof,” one that is often “blue” or perhaps, one could even define them as “yellow” like the sunshine or gray, which many of them are before being coated or even color-less, for the power they generate has no color at all.  All this leads me back to green, as in the color of money they can save and cost anyone who installs a solar rooftop system.

Solar roof installations are referred to as Photovoltaic (PV) systems or when incorporated into a building component like a rooftop or a wall, they are known as Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV). We will focus on BIPV, since we are not interested in utility-provided PV, like those cool solar arrays you see on The Discovery Channel or like this one below at left @ Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.

Left: We're not focusing on these types; Photo Courtesy Nellis Air Force Base.
What we will be interested in is applications like these; Victorville City Hall – Courtesy of Tremco Roofing

First a little background for the initiated, without getting too deep.  There are several PV technologies to consider. Typically when we are discussing PV panels, whether they are on a rooftop or on the ground, the basic type and the type many people think of first is crystalline silicon based panels.  This is considered first generation technology and is the oldest type of PV technology.  While this has been around quite sometime, there have been many enhancements to the technology, especially in terms of efficiencies of the panels.  When we see a PV panel on the roof tops it looks more like this type of application:

A typical PV panel application.

When we move to BIPV, we typically are talking about thin-film technology based on a variety of approaches.  Considered first generation is Amorphous Silicon (a-Si) and Cadmium Telluride (CdTe); considered second generation is Copper Indium Gallium di-Selenide (CIGS) and considered third generation or emerging technologies are Dye-Sensitized (DSC), organics or nano-materials. These various materials are now being used in roofing materials, walls, windows and other building components to turn buildings into something that generates power and reduces electrical needs from the electrical grid of the country.


Graphic Courtesy of Uni-Solar.

We will take our limited space to review rooftop applications and the use of thin-film in those applications.  While Amorphous is considered first generation and is the most mature of the thin-film technologies, there have been many technical breakthroughs that have improved this product and make it a great component to go into roofing materials.

When capturing light from the sun, the better the panel is at accomplishing this, the more efficient in producing power it is, so the idea of slicing the incoming light into its various light spectrums has been introduced.  The idea in these single, double or triple junction configurations is to capture various light spectrums and improve the efficiency of the panel.  Simply, various layers in the cell are created to catch the light missed by the layer above it, as the color spectrum of the light beam passes through one, two or three “junctions” or “flat plates,” if you will, thereby improving the panel’s output.

What you laminate to is important and more manufacturers are moving from heavier materials like glass to stainless steel or plastic laminates.  Lighter is better!

A second “first” generation technology is the CdTe guys, also around from the same time frame as amorphous - the 1970’s - and is well understood.  This material has two great advantages, having great potential for high efficiencies and a very low cost for large-scale manufacturing, making it far more desirable for solar farm applications.  While there is application for rooftop applications, we will not focus here much other then to mention it as a mature PV technology.

The second-generation material causing some excitement is CIGS technology.  CIGs have been the darling of much Wall Street investment and media attention, as it holds promise for many applications.  It has demonstrated record levels of efficiency in the lab, but as is true with all published lab results, the field capabilities are far lower then what can be accomplished in lab conditions (typically 50% of lab conditions), so be careful of what you read or hear.  Someone may not be intentionally misleading you, as they may just have incomplete facts.  CIGS can be attached to rigid or flexible substrates, has high efficiency and exhibits excellent stability over time.  This technology is still very new and companies are just beginning to make this stuff in commercial quantities.

The emerging or third generational materials are items like DSC, which seems to have the early lead in this category, or organic materials and nano based technologies.  This category has great advantages in low manufacturing costs and relatively inexpensive materials, along with simple processing.  Just a bit early to know exactly where and how this will play out in the marketplace.

With those brief introductions, I want to go back to the industry's current workhorse for BIPV, especially as it relates to roofing: amorphous silicone or a-Si.  One of the reasons a-SI works well for roofing applications is its ability to maintain conversion efficiency even in low and in-direct light levels. In addition to this advantage, many feel that a-Si will dominate the market for at least the next 5-10 years due to additional advantages such as unlimited feedstock sources, its light weight, roll-to-roll manufacturing processes and continuous improvements.  I would think the CIGS and emerging technology folks may take exception to this but only time will tell which “truth” becomes evident.

While there are numerous advantages, there are drawbacks to any technology and a-Si or BIPV as a concept for that matter has some that need to be addressed in the industry.  There are concerns around the heat build-up issue that all PV cells generate.  If solar energy is not converted into usable power, then heat is thrown off, much like your computer, which if it gets too hot can get fried.  Heat build-up limits efficiency and more importantly, what happens to the roof membrane if a constant heat source is applied?  We know from traditional roofing technology that heat is an enemy of roof life and so we spend a lot of time and technology to reflect heat and protect the membrane from its ravages.

So what role will heat build-up from thin-film play in the life expectancy of the membrane?  Then we have questions like wind uplift, fire ratings of a combined system, maintenance, mechanical damage, hail, foot traffic, wiring, inverters (the mechanical unit that converts DC power to useable AC power for most buildings), etc. I n other words the industry is on the right track but it is still very new and there is as much as we don’t know as we do know about BIPV applications.

So what is a business or homeowner to do?  You want to go “solar” but which technology, which approach, which roof can I combine with a vegetative roof, who do I use to install, how do I conduct maintenance, what maintenance, what about warranty, and so on?

Vegetative roofs and solar panels - a natural symbiosis of two green technologies.

The usual good advice for many purchases applies here.  First do your homework - there is a lot on the Internet these days.  That said, just because it's there doesn’t mean it’s true.  Hmmm, that means this article as well…..but I digress.  Second, work with reputable people, get references, and check out their capabilities. Third, ask if they can stand behind their offering; will they be in business next year or five years from now, ten, twenty, thirty?  Fourth, read the warranty closely.  The fine print is fine for a reason.  Know what the exclusions are, so many of us don’t.  Fifth, there are various trade organizations that reputable companies belong to, so check to see where the company you are considering is a member.  Finally, be cautious, even doing due diligence is not always enough in an industry that is changing rapidly.  Lots of good people out there but there are always those who are less so, and you want to avoid those.

Hope our brief journey into BIPV was helpful and started you thinking about another sustainable solution, besides our favorite on this site.  By the way, the blue color on most PV panels is from a coating applied to the basic silicone, which is dull gray.  So go out and be green, blue, yellow………… oh heck, just be colorful!

See you next month!

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

It’s Not Easy Being Green!
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
August 13, 2008

All Photos Courtesy Ralph Velasquez unless otherwise noted

Dear Readers,

We all recognize the famous saying from the Muppets kingpin, Kermit the frog.  This has been ringing in my head a lot lately as my wife and I have been in the process of building a new sustainable home.  We have found out that in Tennessee anyway, this process can be difficult.

A few years ago, we sold our home on the golf course and decided to make a serious personal commitment to a more minimalist and green life style.  Now, we already had begun the process of downsizing our lifestyle years earlier and had continued this process when we moved to the golf course in 1999.  By today’s standards we had a modest home, a 1,900 sq. ft. condo on the 18th hole.  This had been prompted by our desire/need to move closer to our oldest daughter who was having our first grandchild.  When we decided to sell this property and move downtown, this was the initial erosion process of my golf game.  It wasn’t great to begin with then and today is unmentionable.

We had decided to move into downtown Nashville and get a condo in the city center.  This would allow me to move my offices downtown, reduce our need to drive anywhere, making a huge carbon impact reduction on a personal scale, since we could walk most everywhere and further reduce our square footage of living space.  We made that move in the spring of 2005, downsizing even more to about 1,000 sq. ft.  While adjustment took a little bit of time, it wasn’t really all that long before we adjusted just fine to the small footprint and began to enjoy the city lifestyle.  While I enjoyed the city and loved all the time savings, ecological and logistical advantages, I did not enjoy the high-rise style building of our condo.  So after a little more than two years, our conversation turned to what else could we do to maintain a minimalist lifestyle and get back into more of a house style of living?  We talked many a summer evening on our balcony overlooking the city lights about all our options and finally came to our “Eureka” moment.  We would remodel or build a sustainable home in or near the city. This would be our final home; one where I could finish my working career and were we could retire.  The idea seemed perfect and green!

A beautiful, colorful "green" roof in Germany by Zinke Gartenbau.

After reaching this most critical decision, we first set out to find the perfect property in and around the city where we could rescue or remodel an existing home in a sustainable manner.  Over the next several months what we found were homes that were big enough to park airplanes in, which seemed a waste given it is just my wife and I.  We also found property that might have worked if we were willing to tolerate the high level of crime and pay prices that were not even close to being in line with what we were willing to pay.  Seems the recession was not being felt much in Nashville last summer.  So we abandoned the idea of remodeling and decided to look for empty lots and build something new.  Again, we were thwarted.  Not much that was empty in the city and what was had the same problem of crime or price or both.  So with some reluctance we moved farther out to look for the right piece of property.

The property was critical to the design of the house since we had decided that we would push the envelope for Tennessee at least.  We decided the house would be 1,000-1,200 sq, ft., with all living space having multiple functions.  We would get off the electrical grid entirely, by using building integrated photovoltaics on the garage roof and battery storage.  No utility company for us!  And, of course, we would install a vegetative roof over most or all the house.  This would allow for stormwater capture, energy efficiency, noise reduction and perhaps even a bit of food production in the manner of herbs for Lea’s kitchen.

Left: Typical Solar Panel Installation;
Right: This Shelby Bottoms building has a similar shape to our initial design.

We would re-capture the remaining stormwater and re-use for gray water needs.  We would also install a compost toilet, thereby eliminating the need to tie-in to the sewer infrastructure.  All building materials will be evaluated for VOC content or any other negative health related components.  We will use highly renewable materials such as bamboo flooring, recycled glass and concrete countertops (with fly ash, of course).  As much recycled materials as we could think of would also be incorporated into the design.  We would balance the end product with the manufacturing process, trying to make the best overall sustainable decision we can for the site and our home.  Finally, we would eliminate a central cooling and heating system, along with the “evil” ductwork my wife has come to loathe.  Instead we would design a home that was as naturally cooled and heated as possible, then supplemented by portable room units powered by the solar system on the house.  Time and space does not permit me to outline all our ideas but you get the drift of where we are headed.  So what could possibly be so hard about this Shangri-La?


A lake site in the forest and an open field similar to ours, except ours has a pond. See photo source.

We are just in the early phases of design and the property has been found.  We chose a 5-acre lot nestled in the woods and adjacent to a pond that will aid in the natural cooling effect needed in the hot, humid Tennessee summers.  There is open space for the garage and its photovoltaic system.  So what are the early challenges?  Try financing!

Seems that building a house this green is a bad thing, according to most banks in middle Tennessee.  Because of our credit rating?  Nope, we are excellent candidates.  Because of our down payment?  Nope, good there.  High outstanding debt?  Nope, don’t have any, that minimalist lifestyle, ya know.  It seems, they have several concerns.

Since we are building such a small house, we will be out of whack on the costs per sq. ft. when compared to other “comparable” houses.  In fact, building healthier, more efficient homes seems to be a poor financial choice according to the financial institutions.  They are worried about risk and what if they have to take back the house and re-sell it.  Who would buy it they say?  I say pick up a newspaper, magazine or get on the Internet and see where things are heading.

My house will be in demand in the years to come, while those monstrosities that burn high levels of energy will be the ones hard to re-sell. In fact before they are worried about re-sell, they are worried about just how to establish the value of the house to begin with and be able to determine what they will lend on this property.  Perhaps they are just a worrisome bunch.  They haven’t made very good decisions lately it seems.  Perhaps I should re-think using a bank, they are kind of risky, ya know.  He he!  One ‘green” lender (that’s what their advertisement said), told me that being off the electrical grid is one of my major hurdles in getting financing, so we just might have to hook up to the grid, just to get financing.  Seems like a total waste to me.

Vegetative roofs and solar panels are certainly more common in Germany on many types of property than the U.S., including single family residential.  Do we want to get this "organic?"  We'll see.
Left Photo Source: ReNatur; Right: Optigrün.

Then there are the codes.  We have just begun to bump up against this process.  My architect, who is well versed in what we will need to do, seems to think we will have to put in a separate septic field, even though we will never need to use it, thanks to our composting toilets.  Building codes in middle Tennessee have not caught up with technology and those responsible for our public health, cannot conceive of a toilet that does not need a septic field.  Well maybe I’m being a bit harsh, they might be able to conceive of such a thing, it’s just not allowed.  Again more waste (I mean of money and resources, not the other), having to put in something I don’t need or want because we are behind the times in building techniques.

We have not even begun to touch the many other design considerations that will fly in the face of conventional wisdom.  Never mind that is a healthier house for us or better for our environmental future or is energy efficient, it doesn’t fit and so you can’t do it.  So what does this personal saga have to do with this column and our monthly topic of sustainability?  I think the title says it all.  It isn’t easy being green and there are many roadblocks in building a hospital, a school, an office building, a manufacturing facility with green building practices in today’s economy.

While there are many challenges, there are many reasons to persevere; changing the status quo by challenging what is, with what can be.  I encourage those of you who are doing something sustainable where you live, in your homes, in your workplace, in your business, to keep up the good fight of faith.  Believe in what you are doing, be willing to pay the price, as you must always do if you want to change something worth changing and don’t despair, you will see sustainability become the new norm.  There are thousands of things that once were difficult for us to do and today are easy, even the norm.  Things like diversity and gender equality, heart surgery, cancer treatment, airplanes, world travel, space travel and freedom.  These are just but a few of those things that once were hard and now are most common.

Let’s not give up until it is easy being green.

See you next month!

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

What is Roofing Sustainability?

By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
July, 2008

Dear Readers,

The term sustainability is being heard a lot these days.  So what is it really?  How do I apply it to my roof? Is it the same as being green?  What about “greenwashing?”  How do I go about getting more sustainable or green, whichever word I’m suppose to use anyway?

These and many more good questions are being asked each and every day in countless offices, among many individuals and we are all awaking to a new dawning, that to be green or sustainable is challenging at best and downright impossible for many of us.  Perhaps we can unravel this a bit for all of us.  In my introductory column, I wrote that I had fondly remembered the founder of our company talking about “keeping good roofs good” and how this struck me as being very sustainable, many years before it was fashionable.  Many of you know that reuse of old materials sometimes makes great sense or is done because of the necessity of the situation.  Either way you are practicing sustainability.

Copyright Dan Hellen, Source: Google

New York "Cityscape at Dusk" Copyright Dan Hellen;
Source: Google.

If one is going to tackle the question of sustainability, the first issue on your plate is how far reaching do you want to go?  Do you want to measure where the stuff was originally pulled from the earth?  How it was it mined or grown?  How it was transported? Manufactured?  Packaged?  How much energy was used in any or all of these processes?  How long it lasts?  Does it impact the environment during installation or its use?  Longevity?  How it is handled at the end of its useful life?  Does it go to a landfill? Will it be recycled?  How much energy does it take to recycle, more then if we produced new goods?  If your head is not spinning by now, then we could delve even deeper, but I think you get the idea that there are many ways to measure sustainability, so the first step is for you to think about how far you want to go.

I would contend that any improvement in any one of these areas could be considered sustainable.  Some would argue that if improvement is achieved in only one product or approach and that the overall impact is still negative, then what have we achieved?  Others would say we need to account for most or all of the categories listed in the previous paragraph.  So, while you may already be arguing with me in your head, please note I said, “could be” in my first sentence, not “should be” or “would be”.  HA, HA, had to go back and read that again, didn’t you!  I would add that any progress is better then no action, yet the danger is that "some" is way short of what we need to do to make a true impact in the built environment.  It's kind of like needing to lose 30 lbs. to get healthy and you lose only 5 lbs., stop there, then talk about how you have gotten healthier by losing those 5 lbs.  Well…yes and no.  Yes, you are better off then having gained 5 lbs. more, but you are being a bit self-delusional if you think you are really healthy.  Ouch!  I wasn’t talking about you; I’m talking about the other guy.

An example of a green oasis in the city; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Conference Center, Salt Lake City, UT.

OK, point made, now what can I do!  Well, first make that all-important decision about how far you want or need to go.  Second, get educated or enlist someone who is educated on the issues of roof sustainability.  Third, set an agenda on the objectives you decided on earlier.  Be realistic.  Think diet.  You didn’t gain all that weight in one day and you won’t lose that way either.  Changing sustainable habits will be much the same.  Don’t forget to look at what you are currently doing both in process and products; you may already be more sustainable then you think.  Capture that data.  Fourth, start!  Sustainability is like cleaning a messy room - sometimes it looks so overwhelming and we don’t where to start, so we don’t.  The secret is to start anywhere and soon, the road will become clearer as you go.  Again, capture what you do and document any savings that this action brings to you, your customer or to others.  Think broadly; sometimes, there are savings that go unnoticed, simply because you don’t see immediately how your actions have saved time or money.  Keep evaluating how you are doing.  Make course corrections as need be.  When you get where you wanted to go, celebrate, then review and see if you can do more from where you currently stand.

Some practical hints on roofing.  Can the roof be saved?  Can the life be extended through a maintenance program?  What about non-destructive testing methods to find wet insulation, while it is small and before it spreads like cancer through the roof, causing premature replacement and impacting landfills?  Wet insulation does not insulate, so keeping the insulation dry saves energy.  Could it be retrofitted with a vegetative roof?  What about washing those white single ply roofs to make sure they are operating @ peak reflectivity.  This will extend life and save energy.  Think about green cleaning products and processes if you clean the roof.  Can you coat the dark surface with a reflective coating?  Saves energy and extends life.  Make sure you properly insulate in the first place, as there are many under-insulated roofs out there.  Could you use an integrated photovoltaic solution?  In some states, this is cost neutral.  Can you build with better quality roofs, so they last longer, thereby reducing the use of new virgin materials, lowering impact on landfills, reducing energy use for transport and production?

Photo Courtesy of Christine Thuring, Green Roof Safari.

Sustainable in Stuttgart, Germany; Photo courtesy of Green Roof Safari.

The list could go on but by now you’ve got it!  THINK, PLAN, ACT and you will become more sustainable in all your roofing decisions.  In fact, THINK, PLAN, ACT is a good formula for a lot of things in life.  Just wish I could EXECUTE better then I do.

Have a great 4th!!  God bless the USA!

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.


First Costs Relative to Vegetated Roofs

By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
June, 2008

Dear Readers,

Now that the light-hearted introductions from last month's article have been completed, it’s time to dive into the real issues of sustainable roofing.  The question is what to write about in the first article?  What I have chosen for our first chat is the issue of money.  Ah, money, the issue that we think more about, save one other topic, which is not appropriate for this column space or audience.  OK, stop daydreaming and bring your thoughts back to the issue at hand.  We were discussing money or more specifically, the issue of first costs relative to vegetative roofs (VR).

Just a few years ago, VRs were considered and then dropped from the project due to first costs, when the inevitable VE process took control.  While money will always be a part of every discussion relative to the built environment, the understanding of how to evaluate a VR project is beginning to be broadened.  I noticed just two years ago that when a potential client heard the installed costs, they fell off their collective chairs, regrouped, then cut out the VR from the project design and moved on.  But, things are changing!

What the end user and the design professional have begun to understand, is that once the initial shock of the first costs are said out loud, the VR can be a great tool to offset numerous construction and operational costs, making a VR a very attractive, cost effective alternative.  How is that possible?

First, we need to consider the issue of stormwater.  Can we use the VR to offset the costs of retaining stormwater on site?  If we have to reduce the amount of stormwater runoff from the site, then there may be savings from having to dedicate other valuable land space to this effort.  Perhaps we can save the costs of below grade water storage.  Maybe the land that would be used for stormwater capture could be put to use in income producing activities.  Any costs that are mitigated, avoided or reduced from the use of VRs, need to be captured in making the business case for a VR.  Those costs need to be set against the delta of a VR versus a conventional roof assembly.

"Aesthetics aren’t emphasized on many traditional storage ponds," and take up a lot of valuable real estate. Read "Detention ponds – all it takes is a little magic" by Clay Loomis. Photo courtesy of Triad Associates.

Second, we need to consider the energy savings impact of a VR roof.  VRs have biomass, provide shading and evapotranspiration (sweating), to reduce the amount of heat transfer and impact the energy usage of the area in question.  How much depends on the VR design, roof to wall ratios, plant choices and maturity of the plants, how many floors, heating and cooling equipment, how efficient they are, whether or not air is being pulled off the roof surfaced, pulling cooler air from the VR, then a conventional roof surface.  While numerous studies are in progress and final results yet to be verified, it appears that an extensive VR can produce an “R” factor of 2-10, not counting the roof insulation being used.  We need to capture these costs savings in making the business case for VRs.

Temperature fluctuations are modified with a vegetated cover.

Courtesy and Copyright Roofscapes, Inc.

Next, we need to consider the life extension of the roof membrane.  We know that ultra-violet is an enemy of every roof, so if we can bury it and protect it from heat, thermal expansion and contraction forces, mechanical damage such as is experienced from hail, wind, foot traffic or people working on the roof, then we can push out the life cycle of this roof.  This life cycle extension can be significant enough to make the initial higher costs of the VR a mute point, often driving the annual cost of ownership below conventional roofing options.  Let’s be conservative and just say it adds to the business case for choosing a VR.

Temperature differences between ambient, roof membrane, and 4" and 8"deep  modules

Courtesy GreenGrid  and ©Weston

Now, let’s consider some of the other benefits that help make the business case for VRs.  If we install a VR and can create a public relations or marketing advantage in our particular sector, then this value must be added into the equation.  Each business has a marketing cost associated with business, as they compete against others in their marketplace.  If my business has better equipment or better service or a better facility and I can take advantage of this in my market space, then this has a value.  I believe VRs have this unique market value for anyone that installs a VR, at least during the emerging phase of this technology.  How much is that worth?  If marketed correctly, it can be significant.  Whatever it is, it needs to be captured and applied to the business case for a VR installation.

We can mitigate sound with a VR, so what if we can offset sound damping material in the construction?  Again, that costs need to be captured in the business case model.  In some applications, we can actually produce an income source from the VR. Whether we produce herbs or other edible produce, produce rentable space or can generate fees for a lawn bowling VR, as is done in Minneapolis on a bar, not to mention the additional libations sold because of this rooftop activity, there are and can be many additional offsets that need to be captured in our business case model.  What of the tremendous health and productivity benefits?  This can impact a business model incredibly.  Just think.  What if access to a VR increased productivity by ¼ of 1 percent per annum?  What if there are 3,000 employees who have access to this roof, what if their average salaries were $35,000?  Simple math would tell me that over $2.6 million dollars of additional productivity might be achieved.  At this rate how many years before a ten million dollar VR would pay dividends?  Too simple you say?  You input the right numbers just input something because this could a real savings to the owner and it needs to be calculated.  Oh, by the way this is close to a real life example.

Brit's Pub in Minneapolis, MN: Photos Courtesy Minneapolis Green Roofs Council.

Overall, there are some twenty benefits associated with VRs, some huge, others minor and specialized, but whatever the scale of the benefit, we do ourselves and our clients a disservice, if we do not capture these savings and help them make an informed decision.  At the end of the day, if we capture all the costs savings available in a given project, we would find very few poor candidates for a VR installation.  Not every roof can and should be fitted with a VR, but more would and should be fitted with one if we think more broadly then we currently do.  This thought process does not even begin to touch the macro issues associated with air pollution reduction, heat island reduction due to city scale VR installations, savings on city-wide infrastructure investments for stormwater runoff, water quality improvements of what does runoff, aesthetical value and the list goes on.  Boy, I’m just getting rolling and it’s time to stop.

I think you get the idea.  To help, a tool has been developed to help you capture these costs.  You can access this tool, called the GreenSave calculator provided by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (funded by Tremco Roofing).  Go to or to run this tool.  It’s a version one software tool, so it has some glitches and needs additional layers of sophistication but hey, what version one software tool did you ever use that was all you wanted it to be?  Two more phases are planned to improve the tool and increase its local flavor.  If you don’t like it, blame me; I chaired the sub-committee that built it, along with the Athena InstitutePublisher's Note:  Download the Press Release of 07.11.07 here.

Click here to use!

Compare the cost of green (vegetative) roofing with conventional roofing systems right now,
with the GreenSave calculator!

Oh well, you can’t wait for everything to be perfect before you start; sometimes you just have to wade in and make the best of it.  My dad always said it is easier to turn a car if it is moving, then if it is standing still.  You know what?  That’s not bad advice for living either.  See you next month.  For now, off on vacation, taking the grandkids for some good old time summer fun in WI.

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.


Inaugural Sustainable Roofing Column
By Ralph Velasquez, Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor
April, 2008

Dear Readers,

Many of you have come to know me as the ASTM Editor on this website for a few years now and I have enjoyed being your ASTM conduit during that time.  While that has been true, I have always believed that more needed to be communicated to the market about sustainable roofing and their design.  Recently, the Publisher/Editor of, Linda Velazquez (no relation) asked if I would be willing to write a more regular column about this very topic, something I have agreed to do.  Perhaps Kelly Luckett, who also writes for this website, under the “Roving Exhibitor” column can continue the important task of reporting back to you on our semi-annual ASTM meetings.  Kelly is also part of the committee and already writes a great column.  Guess I should ask him.

So what is sustainable roof design and why write about it in this forum?  Perhaps a little history will help give context.  I have been in the roofing industry since 1978, having been mentored by great roofing professionals whose careers reached back into 1940’s.  I even had the pleasure of meeting our company’s founder who started my current company (Tremco) back in 1928.  Some of what I remember from those early days and from such experienced men, were ideas of roof life extension, durability, adaptive re-use of selected materials and other sustainable practices that are very much back in vogue today.

Based on these well tested ideas, the industry has taken on additional enhancements relative to sustainability, things such as vegetative roofs, building integrated solar membranes, bio-based roofing materials, increased recycled content, increased concepts of material re-use and so many other ideas that in years past would have been considered wacky or not economically viable.  Well, the world is changing and our industry is rapidly changing with it.

Greenroof over an impermeable subterranean five-story parking garage Solar panels over a greenroof

Left: Nashville Public Square Metro Courthouse complex, Nashville, TN, Photo Courtesy Ralph Velasquez; Right: Schule Unterensingen, Unterensingen, Germany, Photo Courtesy ZinCo.

Over the next several months and for who knows how long, together we will explore the many varied ideas of roof sustainability.  This will include of course, vegetative roofing and many of its varied components and concepts.  We will also explore solar, building integrated solar, bio-based materials, nano-technology, sustainable practice and procedures, integrated wind design in roofs and building envelopes, “smart” roofs, cool roof technology, sustainable legislation and its impact back to you, living walls, related water management technologies, energy related items or issues, and carbon impact relative to the roof and built environment - or any other issue that the readers want to explore or my small brain, twisted by an insatiable curiosity wanders into.

Photovoltaic panels and white reflective roof Wind cowls, soalr panels and greenroofs

Left: Victorville City Hall PV's, Victorville, CA, Photo Courtesy Ralph Velasquez;
Right: BedZED (Beddington Zero Energy Development), Beddington, Surrey, England,
Photo Courtesy

I hope to educate, learn, enjoy and explore these ideas and concepts with you.  I’m sure to express my opinion but also hope to motivate and sometimes infuriate you with my topics and column.  I know the columns I enjoy reading the most are the ones that are informative, helping me do what I have to do each and every day but also cause me to smile, chuckle or just mutter under my breath the famous line from “Everyone Loves Raymond,” expressed so eloquently by Debra, Ray’s wife…….“Idiot!”  If you like that kind of column, you should enjoy this one.  If you like heavy technical articles, you might not like mine so much, since you should learn something when you’re done reading it but it won’t be mistaken for a technical journal.

What I need from you in this little partnership, is your feedback and ideas on what topics you would like more information on and I’ll try to write about that.  In the face of little or no input, you’ll have to read to what comes out of my head and from my vantage point.  On this, you might want to talk to my wife, Lea, of 31 years +, as she contends this is not always a pretty sight.  She tolerates me, even likes me, and I hope you will do likewise.

Here is a thought to ponder until our next time together.  Never mind, that’s your boss coming around the corner and you need to get back to work.

Look for my first “real” column next month.

Ralph P. Velasquez
Director, Sustainable Technologies Group
Tremco, Inc.

P.S.  My first name is an old Anglo-Saxon name that means wolf-counselor or wise counselor. Yeah, I chuckled too.

Publisher's Note:  It bodes well for The Sustainable Roofing Technologies Editor that his new column was inaugurated on Earth Day, 2008! 

Read Ralph's previous column "ASTM Task Force Updates" which ran from March, 2005 through October, 2007.

Past Sustainable Roofing Technologies Articles

Past ASTM Task Force Updates

The opinions expressed by our Guest Feature writers and editors may not necessarily reflect the beliefs of, and are offered to our readers to simply present individual views and experiences and open a dialogue of further discussion, debate and research.  Enjoy, and if you have a particular comment, please contact the author or send us an email to:


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