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Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, is “The Green Roof Guy.” He fine-tuned his editorial focus and inaugurated his new column of the same name in April, 2008.  Formerly “The Roving Exhibitor,” he wrote about his experiences at green building conferences as president of Green Roof Blocks. Kelly roves around the country attending ASTM, GRHC, and other roofing and greenroof related organization meetings, and has become a central figure here. In fact, in November, 2010, Kelly was selected to receive the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Civic Award of Excellence in recognition of his contribution to the green roof industry.
email: kelly (at)
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Green Roof Construction and Maintenance, by Kelly Luckett, 2009.

The Green Roof Guy Column

The Winter of Our Discontent:
Our Roof Gardens Require Tending

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
The Green Roof Guy's Column

Photos by Kelly Luckett Unless Otherwise Noted.

Hello once again, green roof fans,

Plants in winter snow.  Photo: FreeHDWallls.

Plants in winter snow.  Photo: FreeHDWallls.

As many of you know, the Green Roof Guy’s strong suit is in roofing, not horticulture.  Although I’ve learned much along this decade-long green roof odyssey, some through osmosis, much through trial and error, I still rely heavily on my friend and horticulturist partner, Vic Jost.  Together we have developed the Green Roof Blocks product line.  Some were introduced to market after careful research and some were rushed to market on little more than a hunch.

Left to right: Dr. Bill Retzlaff of SIUe, Kelly Luckett, Vic Jost on a green roof, 2007.

Left to right: Dr. Bill Retzlaff of SIUe, Kelly Luckett, Vic Jost on a green roof, 2007.

We sponsored research that both confirmed what we hypothesized and revealed trouble spots for this fledgling new industry.  I recall a particular brainstorming session that...


Big Apple Green

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy

Photos Courtesy Kelly Luckett Unless Otherwise Noted

Hello once again, green roof fans!

Two green roofs atop 1133 Avenue of the Americas; Photo Courtesy of The Durst Organization.

The Green Roof Guy has been abnormally quiet for far too long - initially because the economic down turn reduced the activities that inspire me to write, and then because of the amount of dedication some projects I’ve been working on required.  I’m just now coming up for air after a huge project in Central Manhattan for the Durst Organization.

People, let me tell you, the experience has been equivalent to working on a master’s degree in material handling.  This wasn’t my first project in New York City.  I’ve worked the Big Apple half a dozen times over the years.  To be quite honest, I’ve never really been a fan.  Its loud, fast, and crowded streets are a far cry from my sleepy little lake community of Lake Saint Louis, Missouri.

The Dursts put me up in an apartment about six doors east of Times Square.  Reluctantly, the beginning of last November 2012, I packed my bags, smooched the wife and kiddies, and headed for the city that never sleeps.  By the end of my two month stay, the big city sizzle was in my blood. 

The Durst Organization has installed over one acre of green roofs within their portfolio, and my project consists of about 24 roof areas and setbacks on six high rises in Midtown - 25,310 square feet total.  For you non-city slickers, a setback is the roof area where the building stairs steps inward as the high rise stretches skyward.  After spending a day with Durst building managers, observing narrow streets and cramped loading areas, riding freight elevators, walking winding hallways to peer through windows through which we would hand materials, I clearly understood the degree to which I had my work cut out for me.

Unloading Green Roof Pavers through a window at 205 East 42nd Street.

There are strict limits to the truck size allowed in Manhattan, meaning the 48-foot flatbed semi-tractor trailers I’m used to would be out of the question.  I worked with FedEx Freight Brokerage to solve logistical problems.  We would stage material at our soil blender in Millerton, NY, about two hours north of the city.

Interesting side note: The name of the blender is McEnroe Organic Farm.  We started working with them in 2006.  The Durst Organization is part owner of McEnroe.  They collect food waste from their offices and make the compost I need for my growth media.  For example, food from the 22nd floor cafeteria of 1133 Avenue of the Americas that patrons didn’t eat could very well have ended up above the 47th floor, now helping to feed sedums.  How green is that?  Actually, they collect food waste from all their Durst building pantries and kitchens in New York City — 11 buildings totaling 13 million square feet and send it to be turned into compost at the McEnroe Organic Farm in the Harlem Valley.

Anyway, FedEx would bring 53-foot van body tractor-trailers full of Green Paks and Green Roof Pavers (a new product of ours made from 100% recycled tires, 20” x 20” available in red and green) into a warehouse in New Jersey.  There the load would be broken down so it could be brought into the city 18 or 20 pallets at a time on smaller box trucks.  The palletized material could then be taken up through the building in freight elevators and transferred out to the roof areas.


Moving the pallets.

A few of the access points to the roof areas were in hallways or mechanical rooms. However, the majority could only be accessed through tenant space.  Some spaces were vacant, allowing us access during the work week.  Many were active office space, restricting our activities to the weekend days.  The entire pathway from the elevator to the window or doorway would need to be protected.  Literally miles of Masonite and cardboard protection would be duct taped in place by porters working the Friday night shift.  It would all have to be removed and cleaned before the start of business on Monday morning.

The scheduling made solving the Rubik’s cube seem easy.  How long would each section take?  What about rain days?  Then there were conflicts with concurrent building renovation scheduling.  As you can imagine, we ended up with a very complex schedule that had to be strictly adhered to while remaining flexible enough for the unknowns.  I know.  It’s an oxymoronic situation.

Hurricane Sandy battering the U.S. East coast on Monday, Oct. 29 at 9:10 a.m. EDT.
Credit: NOAA/NASA GOES Project via Flickr.

Schedule hammered out, material ready to start flowing, travel arrangements complete, all set to get started, I was sitting in the living room enjoying some time with the wife with whom I’d be separated for weeks at a time.  She was browsing on her laptop when she looked up and asked “What do you know about a super storm moving up the east coast?”  We tuned in CNN and watched for the next few days as Hurricane Sandy slammed into the east coast.  Landfall was October 29th, and my flight was scheduled into Newark on November 1st.

Needless to say, the project was in question.  I was surprised when David Neil, Chief Administrative Officer for the Leasing & Marketing Division of The Durst Organization, answered his cell the day before I was to leave.  He informed me that all of the project buildings either had generators or hadn’t lost power.  He instructed me to proceed.  I called FedEx and gave them the green light.  With standing water on the runway at Newark, the airline rerouted me to LaGuardia and put me on the ground on November 2nd.  While I was in the air, FedEx had left six voice mail messages.  FEMA was requisitioning everything with wheels to move generators and food into the storm area.  The next few hours were a rollercoaster of We have a truck, We don’t have a truck, We have a truck but the price went up, We lost that truck.

The Dursts were supplying the manpower from their custodial staff.  I was quickly approaching the go – no go point for the crew of 10 that were waiting to hear whether or not to show up.  7:30 pm Friday night, I see FedEx on the caller ID.  Stomach sinking I answered.  The voice on the other side said, “The truck will be there at 6:00 am.”  We were a go.


FedEx Freight before the break of dawn.

The first section went well.  When the tenant opened for business on Monday, there was a newly installed green roof outside their windows and their office space was immaculate.  The next building got a little more interesting.




November 3, 2012: 655 Third Ave. We were able to go through the tenant space through the doorway above; 330 Paks (1,650 sf) and 768 Pavers.

It was a larger project that required multiple truckloads.  We staggered delivery every two hours beginning at 6:00 am.  By the time the 8:00 am truck arrived, the streets were packed with cars and the sidewalks were packed with pedestrians.  There is nothing scarier than unloading 1,000-pound pallets of material and watching person after person duck under the caution tape and enter the loading area while feverishly working their iPhone.  It quickly became very clear: We had to get the trucks unloaded and get off the street before the city woke up.

We started bringing the trucks in at 4:00 am.  I was a little sleep deprived at first but the stress level dropped significantly.  We finished that building by Thursday.  We rested the crew on Friday.  They would need it, the next building introduced a new wrinkle.





November 6, 2012: 650 Green Paks (3,250 sf) and 864 Green Roof Pavers being installed at 205 East 42nd Street with four setbacks on 13th floor and four setbacks on the 14th floor.

The existing roof system on the rest of the buildings were all inverted membrane assemblies; they all had gravel.  The gravel had to be scooped up and bagged.  As growth media moved up through the building and out to the rooftop, gravel moved into the building and down to the loading area.  It was positively grueling work.  The Durst employees rose to the task.  With crews of as many as 15 men, they looked like an army of ants handing bags of gravel in through windows in human assembly lines.

Over the course of the next five weeks the sections fell into place one after the other.  Material flowed from McEnroe, FedEx moved it into the city flawlessly, and the Durst workers showed up every day and accomplished what had never been done before.  We were closing in on the last building, but it posed yet another wrinkle.





November 11, 2012: Staging and installing Green Paks on the 17th Floor at 733 Third Avenue.

The green roof was to be installed on the main roof level of the last building, which was over the 47th floor.  Just one problem, the elevator stops at the 45th floor.  There are four flights of stairs leading up to the rooftop penthouse door.  There is a hoisting beam and a trap door in the floor of the penthouse that allows access to the 45th floor.

I bought an electric wench and the plan was to wench Green Paks a few at a time up through the trap door.  The set up for the wench took some adjusting and seemed slow the first day.



November 28, 2012: Working high in the sky on the 47th and 48th floors atop
1133 Avenue of the Americas.

The crew grew impatient with me and the wench and they carried the 75-pound Green Paks up the four flights of stairs on their backs.  I solved the wench issues about the same time they were hauling the last few.  They were drenched in sweat and physically spent.  We had to take the next day off to allow everyone to recuperate.  No one wanted to carry any more Green Paks up the stairs, and I couldn’t blame them.  The wench was slow but it was steady.  We settled into a nice pace; Paks up, bags of gravel down.  We nibbled away at the 5,500 square feet until the last Pak was in place and the last bag of gravel rested in the loading dock.


1133 Avenue of the Americas in July 2013 top, and September 2013 bottom;
Photos Courtesy of The Durst Organization.

Since we were so late in the year with the installation, we decide to grow the 72 size plugs out to a larger 50 mm elle pot (32 count) over the winter months in the greenhouse and plant in the spring.  This larger plant afforded more rapid vegetative coverage of the Green Paks.

Our plant list for all of the projects included many types of Sedum, as well as perennials:  Sedum kamschaticum, S. 'Immergrunchen,' S. floriferum 'Weihenstephaner Gold,' S. spurium 'Fuldaglut,' S. spurium 'Roseum,' S. green reflexum, S. rupestre 'Sea Gold,' S. spurium 'Dragon's Blood,' S. spurium 'John Creech,' S. reflexum, S. tetractinum 'Coral Reef,' S. album 'Coral Carpet,'  S. sexangulare; and Allium cernuum, Allium schoenprasm, Carex muhlenbergii, Eryngium yuccifolium, Geum triflorum, Oligoneuron album, Penstemon hirsutus 'Pygmaeus,' Talinum calycinum and Tradescantia ohiensis.

Planting the 733 Third Avenue green roof in April 20, 2013.

Trish Luckett on the 655 Third Avenue green roof during planting on April 26, 2013.

After spending seven weeks working side by side, we were finished.  It was a great feeling of accomplishment.  We unceremoniously shook hands and headed for our perspective homes.  I have to admit, while I was ready to go home, I was a little sad.  I had lived in Times Square for nearly two months.  I’d sampled the best food, saw a couple Broadway shows, and brought my wife and daughter up for the Thanksgiving Parade.  I did the touristy stuff and I lived like a New Yorker.


What a view! Celebrating New Year's Eve 2012 on my apartment rooftop with Trish by my side.

I went home for Christmas, but Trish and I came back and spent New Year's in the apartment.  There was a small gathering on the rooftop on New Year’s Eve.  We toasted with champagne as we watched the ball drop, literally right in front of us.  We packed up the apartment and left the keys on the counter.  When the door slammed closed behind us, I felt a little pang, realizing I was giving up my Times Square domicile.

I did get to see my Durst guys once again.  In October, the Dursts had one more section they wanted to get done this year.  I put the team together for one more 4:00 am start.  By 2:30 pm, the Big Apple had gained another 1,570 square feet of green space, seven floors above 3rd Avenue, with a lovely view of the most memorable skyline on the planet.


Planting the Green Paks at 675 Third Avenue, 7th Floor after installation on the same day on October 12, 2013.

See the 3:12 time-lapse installation video of the 675 Third Avenue, 7th Floor 2013 Green Paks Installation in Manhattan below from Green Roof Blocks and The Durst Organization:


The Green Roof Guy has had a long career with many rewarding accomplishments.  Partnering with The Durst Organization to bring their rooftop green space to over an acre will always be near the top of the list.  I’m certain this is only a pause in their green roof story as they have their sights set on other roof sections including another Sixth Avenue high-rise, with an elevator that stops two flights of stairs below the roof access door.  I’m not sure how that green roof story will play out, but I can assure you all, it won’t be boring.

New York City night lights from the top observatory of the Empire State Building.

Until next time Green Roof Fans, from my family to yours, have a safe and joyous holiday season!

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

Publisher's Note: 1133 Avenue of the Americas is featured in the month of May in The 2014 Greenroofs & Walls of the World™ Calendar – order yours today.  They make a perfect holiday gift for your family, friends, staff and clients!

Contact Kelly at: 314.220.2113, or email him at either: or


The New Face of the Green Roof Market

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
December 29, 2011

Hello once again, Green Roof Fans.  The Green Roof Guy has been silent for about a year.  For this, I apologize.  It’s been an interesting year; while the economy has clearly weighed heavily on our minds, all any of us can do is manage our resources and hope for brighter tomorrows.

The PECO Main Office Building Greenroof
with the Philadelphia skyline behind

The 2011 CitiesAlive Green Roof and Wall Conference was held in Philly a few weeks back.  It was great to see old friends and to make some new ones.  Philadelphia appears to be surging to compete with Chicago as the Green Mecca of North America.

Photo by Linda Velazquez

The CitiesAlive Closing Reception in Philadelphia
on December 2, 2011

It was also great to see the energy and enthusiasm for our industry.  As I looked around and took stock of where are and from where we’ve come, I was struck by a startling realization.  Something has happened to our fledgling young industry.

In a few words: it has grown up.

Where once the code enforcement community turned a blind eye towards our people on the construction site, we now have two ANSI (
American National Standards Institute) approved standards that provide clear guidelines for design and maintenance of green roof systems.  There are real incentives in place to help drive demand, like the New York City tax credit and the Washington D.C. cash incentive program.  Where once there were idealistic discussions of how the U.S. needs to follow the Stuttgart model, we now have policies in place that support our industry.  The new faces on the scene are also good signs of expansion of the industry. Introduction of new players and new ideas helps keep the market moving forward.  While these are all good things for the green roof concept, there has been a major shift in the marketplace that is fundamentally changing the way we do business.

The green roof concept has entered mainstream construction.  It’s unimportant whether green roofs are specified in the landscaping section having numbers starting with 01, or in the roofing sections beginning with 07.  What is significant here is that green roofs are listed in construction documents no differently than the roofing membrane or the planted tree selections.  The days of courting architects and securing a project are nearing an end.

Example of a roof plan calling out the green roof
from Perkins + Will

Now, we too see specifications that list our products as well as those of our competitors, just as other construction material providers have seen for many years.  Competitive requirements in government construction projects have long required multiple sources for material suppliers; green roofs are the latest addition to the group of suppliers subject to these regulations.  While entering the mainstream is very good for the overall growth of the market, there are other real consequences.

Welcome, newcomers, to the world of construction, where new OSHA safety regulations permeate every facet of our daily work.  Take our most recent project at Fort Benning, Georgia, for example:

We were required to submit a written safety program including a project specific hazard analysis report.  Before we were allowed to work onsite, every member of our crew had to sit for a safety orientation and sign a document agreeing to comply with the requirements of the general contractor’s safety program.  Additionally, we were required to submit daily safety checklists for every piece of machinery used on the project, daily reports detailing each day’s activities on the project, and minutes from the mandatory weekly tool box safety meetings.  The paperwork, however, was only the beginning.

All activity conducted on the rooftop was required to meet 100% tie off requirements.  This means that the first person up the ladder immediately secures a tie off line for himself and one for the next person up the ladder.  That person cannot step from the ladder to the rooftop until they have secured their personal fall protection harness to the tie off line.  Each person entering the rooftop environment must have personal fall protection consisting of a harness connected to a tie off point capable of supporting 5000 pounds per attached person, guard rails that protect them from coming within six feet of a leading edge that is six feet or higher from the next lower level, or safety nets protecting workers from falling from a leading edge six feet or higher from the next lower level.

Safety is part of the plan at Fort Benning where we're installing a green roof using our Green Paks.

This is all in addition to the basic personal protection equipment that is required for every employee; steel toed boots, hard hats, safety glasses, and high visibility orange or yellow clothing.

The bottom line, entering mainstream construction will have a significant effect to your bottom line.  Expect competition from your competitor, because we are now subject to the requirements of the Fairness in Construction Act.

Start developing your company’s written safety plan; you’re going to need it.  Buy the necessary safety equipment to conduct operations in the rooftop environment and train your employees in the use of that equipment.  Upgrade your workers compensation insurance to include coverage for activities conducted in the rooftop environment; claims for injured employees outside the realm of coverage can bankrupt your business.

The green roof industry can no longer ignore the roofing aspect of our work.  Those of you, who wish to continue to work on rooftops of buildings, welcome to the roofing industry.

I hope you’ll take my own experiences to heart and start planning for safety now and implementing your strategy in the new year.

Speaking of which, I wish all of you a very Prosperous and Happy New Year for 2012 from me and the entire Luckett and Green Roof Blocks Family!


Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy


Green Roofs, a Civic Award of Excellence, and a Lifetime of Memories

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
December 9, 2010


Hello once again, Green Roof Fans.  I write this as I sit on a plane, as I have so many times before; but this time it’s different.  Rather than that usual trudge through security and hustle to my gate, I found myself sauntering a bit with my head still reeling from the events of the past few days.  As I do every year, I attended the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) annual conference, this year appropriately renamed CitiesAlive.

What made this year different was that I had been selected to receive the GRHC Civic Award of Excellence in recognition of my contribution to the green roof industry.  Now friends, if you would have told me ten years ago that if I had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to partner with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to do green roof research, spent tens of thousands more logging enough miles on airplanes to circle the globe to teach and promote the green roof concept, plus spent countless nights in hotel rooms in order to joust with the building code gladiators, and at the end of it all I would be presented with a piece of glass etched with my name - I’m not certain you could have made that sale.

However, as I sit here with my glass award buckled securely in the seat next to me, reflecting over past few days that have been filled with new friends thanking me for all of my hard work, old friends congratulating for the recognition, and just generally being given rock star treatment by everyone I came in contact with, I can honestly say that I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

My Civic Award of Excellence.

I am simply overwhelmed with gratitude and so honored to be included in the group of truly inspirational people who have received this award before me.  While my kids would tell you that I am overly sentimental and that all it takes bring a tear to my eye is a sappy greeting card or Hallmark movie, I will carry this experience with me for the rest of my life.

Now fans, the Green Roof Guy speaks in public often and is usually comfortable at the microphone.  However, I always get an adrenaline rush just as I get started that goes away five minutes or so into my speech.  I was told to keep my comments to less than a minute, which meant four minutes after I got back to my seat I would settle in.  I took a few big breaths as I was approaching the stage and had hoped to stave off the excitement long enough to thank some other people who have shared the heavy load.  About three or four sentences in, I felt the tingling starting to race up my spine, and my voice began to tremble a bit.  I decided to cut my remarks short and in doing so left out some people I really wanted to recognize.  So if you will indulge me here, I would like mention a few people.

Photo by Linda S. Velazquez

I've just accepted my award, December, 2010; Left to Right: Steven Peck, me, and Jeff Bruce

Steven Peck and I have often not seen eye to eye.  In fact, I am on record being quite critical about some of these issues.  But, I have come to respect Steven as the tireless promoter of the cause.  It is difficult to approach a complete stranger and give the elevator speech.  Steven makes it seem effortless.

I remember speaking with him on the phone after every proposal we made at the ICC (International Code Council) hearings in Palm Springs was shot down in flames and telling him I didn’t know if I was the right person for this.  Steven would hear none of it.  He told me I was the right guy for this job and convinced me that the war was larger than this battle.  I appreciate the flexibility I enjoyed to craft and re-craft the standards, knowing their effect would be felt industry wide.  I’ve enjoyed Steven’s support every step of the way.

I met Dr. Bill Retzlaff for the first time in the parking lot of a property I own in Pontoon Beach, IL just outside St. Louis.  I wanted to establish a green roof research program in the metro St. Louis area.  After many conversations with area universities, Dr. Retzlaff was the only academic I could get interested.  We set a time to meet, but it was going to be one of the last nice days of the year and my son, Jesse, and I wanted to get in some time riding our Sea Doo’s.  So when I showed up I was towing them behind me in my pickup truck.  As if I needed to appear any more unprofessional, I had forgotten the keys to the building, so we had to look at my green roof photos on my laptop as we sat on the hood of the truck.

Dr. Bill, me, and Vic Jost on a Green Roof (2007).

Needless to say, it wasn’t my most sparkling moment and I pulled out of the parking lot with little confidence I would hear from Dr. Retzlaff again.  However, we started communicating regularly and soon we had students conducting regionally specific green roof research.  We joke that every time we get together to find answers to our questions, we generate even more questions.  The investment I made in the G.R.E.E.N. (Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network) is the largest expenditure in my company’s history and continues to be among my most rewarding endeavors.  The wind tunnel testing we conducted shifted the tide and provided that final push we needed to get the RP-14 Wind Design Guideline completed and approved through the ANSI process.  Through the years, Dr. Retzlaff and I have become good friends and fiercely competitive golf companions.  Through his work with each new class of students he continually spreads his passion for the green roof concept to future leaders and consumers.

While I sat in on the many meetings and conference calls where we would discuss each objection submitted to us by members of the canvass pool, Dave Roodvoets, Mike Ennis, and Linda King of SPRI (Single Ply Roofing Industry) made the countless edits to the documents and circulated each revision.  Mike traveled to the ICC hearings ahead of me and would scout out the schedule and try to pinpoint when our proposals would be heard in order to minimize my time on the road.  We could not have gotten this done without SPRI’s leadership and experience in the building code arena.

I cannot say enough about the participation from the canvass pool.  They are the sole reason we have two completed ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standards.  They came forward and tossed their hat in the ring and then took the time to go over each revision and weigh in. It’s easy to label someone voicing an opposing opinion as an adversary, when in reality, the healthy debate and exchange of ideas almost always results in a more favorable outcome.  We changed minds, compromised, and agreed to disagree.  At the end of the day, we managed to find the consensus of the group and push forward.  Thank you canvassers; you know who you are.

 Mark Graham, NRCA

That leads me to this next gentleman.  Early in the process, Mark Graham of the NRCA (National Roofing Contractors Association) was labeled the enemy by many who felt there was no need for code enforcement to have any bearing on the green roof concept.  If you didn’t know, I come from a family of roofers and spent most of my life working on the roof.  I worked for a past president of the NRCA and that gave Mark and I something in common.  We talked over breakfast the day we met and I liked him right away.

Mark and I often disagree; I think he can make things more complicated than necessary and I get the feeling he thinks I oversimplify everything.  We work well together and though we often find ourselves on opposite sides of an issue, he has taught me a great deal about the process and the political pressures that sway it.  Mark, I appreciate your friendship and I look forward to jousting with you soon.

My wife and kids have spent many nights in the house without me.  When I get home, they help to celebrate the successes, and they make themselves scarce after the failures.  Just kidding, they actually attentively listen to me lament and allow me to vent as I slowly come around to remembering what is most important.  Striking the balance between work and family continues to be among my most difficult challenges.  To my lovely wife Trish, and my wonderful kids Jesse and Shannon, I love you most and thrive because of your love and support!

Aramis, Linda and me in Stuttgart,
with Trish taking the photo (2005).

I would not be able to come to you through this medium were it not for my family.  Linda and Aramis you are among our most treasured friends.  Your contribution to the green roof concept, which has long gone under noticed, is greatly appreciated.

Finally, my Green Roof Fans, without whom the green roof concept withers on the vine: You have made me feel so very fortunate.  As we head into this holiday season, from my family to yours, be well, be green, and have a wonderful holiday!

Happy Holidays from the Luckett Family!
Left to Right: Kelly, Trish, Shannon & Jesse, 2010

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

Publisher's Note:  I have to say that Aramis and I feel honored to have the Lucketts as our friends and greenroof colleagues.  Kelly really is a tireless crusader and we have greatly enjoyed his contributions over the years here on  Congratulations, Green Roof Guy, on a well deserved award, and continued success!

VF-1 Fire Standard Finally Accepted for Green Roofs

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
March 9, 2010


OK Green Roof Fans,

Your wait is over.  After three years in the making from members of Single Ply Roofing Industry in cooperation with Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, we now have a green roof design guide for minimizing the risk of fire on green roofs.  ANSI/SPRI VF-1 was approved on January 29, 2010 by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as a consensus based standard for the design and construction of green roofs.

While I am certain there will be people who are unhappy with new guidelines that alter the way some of us conduct business, please look past the initial inconvenience to see this milestone in the North American green roof movement for what it is: the securing of a place in mainstream construction through the International Code Council (ICC).  No longer can the green roof be deleted from a project due to failure to comply with the fire code.

Atlanta City Hall Greenroof; Photo Courtesy Bill Brigham, ASLA

Admittedly, the fire concerns are only half of the code story as the wind design guide is still progressing through the ANSI process.  However, we must overcome both the wind and the fire obstacle.  Therefore, this victory is absolutely essential to the development of the green roof industry.

Without further ado, please allow me to introduce the VF-1 Green Roof Fire Design Guide:

External Fire Design Standard for Vegetative Roofs


This design standard provides a method for designing external fire resistance for vegetative roofing systems. It is intended to provide a minimum design and installation reference for those individuals who design, specify, and install vegetative roofing systems. It shall be used in conjunction with the installation specifications and requirements of the manufacturer of the specific products used in the vegetative roofing system.

2.0       DEFINITIONS:  The following definitions shall apply when designing a vegetative roof system.

2.1             BALLAST: In vegetated roofs; ballast consists of growth media, the trays or containers used to contain growth media, large stones, paver systems or lightweight interlocking pavers.

2.2             Border Zone: The band around the edge of the vegetative plantings, where no vegetation exists. It is frequently the perimeter of the roof area.

2.3             Firestops: Area capable of stopping the spread of flame.

2.4             Gravel Stop: A low upward-projecting edge, usually formed from sheet or extruded metal, installed along the perimeter of a roof to prevent gravel or other small or lightweight aggregate from being blown or washed off. The gravel stop also serves as a point of termination for the roofing system.

2.5             Growth Media: An engineered formulation of inorganic and organic materials including but not limited to heat-expanded clays, slates, shales, aggregate, sand, perlite, vermiculite and organic material including but not limited to compost worm castings, coir, peat, and other organic material.

2.6             PARAPET: A parapet wall is a structure that rises above the roof edge to provide a wall of varying heights. The part of a perimeter wall that extends above the roof.

2.7             Penetration: A penetration is an object that passes through the roof structure and rises above the roof deck/surface. Penetrations consist of, but are not limited to, mechanical buildings, penthouses, ducts, pipes, expansion joints and skylights

2.8             Roof Areas: For design and installation purposes, the roof surface is divided into the following areas:

2.8.1       Corners: The space between intersecting walls forming an angle greater than 45 degrees but less than 135 degrees.

2.8.2       Corner Areas: The corner area is defined as the roof section with sides equal to 40% of the building height. The minimum length of a corner is 8.5 feet (2.6m).

2.8.3       Perimeter: The perimeter area is defined as the rectangular roof section parallel to the roof edge and connecting the corner areas with a width measurement equal to 40% of the building height, but not less than 8.5 feet (2.6m).

2.8.4       Field: The field of the roof is defined as that portion of the roof surface, which is not included in the corner or the perimeter areas as defined above.

             2.9             Succulent: a plant with thick fleshy leaves and stems that can store water.

2.10            GRASSES: Slow growing, narrow leaved plants. Grasses can be maintained by mowing.

2.11            Vegetative Roof System: A Vegetative Roof System consists of vegetation, growth media, the trays or containers used to contain growth media, large stones, paver systems or lightweight interlocking pavers, drainage system, and waterproofing over a roof deck.

 3.0             System Requirements & GENERAL DESIGN CONSIDERATIONS  

3.1             Roof Structure Design or evaluation: The building owner shall consult with a licensed design professional such as an architect, architectural engineer, civil engineer, or structural engineer to verify that the structure and deck will support fully hydrated growth media, vegetation and other material or objects installed on the roof deck in combination with all other design loads.

3.2             Membrane Requirements: The membrane specified for use in the vegetative system shall meet the recognized industry minimum material requirements for the generic membrane type, and shall meet the specific requirements of its manufacturer. When the membrane or system is not impervious to root penetration a root barrier shall be installed.

 3.3             Slope:  The Design Standard for Vegetative Roofing Systems is limited to roof slope designs up to 2 in 12. For slopes greater than 2 in 12, a design professional experienced in vegetative roof design shall provide the design and the design shall be approved by the authority having jurisdiction

 3.4             Fire stops

3.4.1   Walls: Fire stop walls shall be of non-combustible construction complying with the applicable building code and extend above the roof surface a minimum of 36 in (914.4mm).

3.4.2   Fire Break roof areas shall consist of a class A (per ASTM E108 or UL790) rated roof system for a minimum 6 ft (1.8 m) wide continuous border.

3.5             Interior Fire Rating: Steel Decks: Concrete Decks: Interior fire resistance shall comply with the design fire penetration requirements based on use and occupancy and be determined to meet interior fire resistance requirements for the system installed beneath the soil media.

 3.6             Exterior Fire Rating: Construct the roofing system inclusive of roof decks, vapor barriers, insulations, roofing membranes, flashings, roof drainage components, growth media and vegetation to conform to the designed fire resistance requirements as determined by the building code for the building considered.   

3.7             Wind Design: The vegetative roof system shall be designed for wind resistance before beginning the design process for fire resistance. Vegetative roof systems shall be designed to the requirements of SPRI RP 14, “Wind Design Standard for Vegetative Roof Systems” or other design standards as approved by the authority having jurisdiction.

4.0.           VEGETATIVE ROOF DESIGN OPTIONS: Fire-resistant vegetative roof designs include, but are not limited to, the generic systems described below. Other systems, when documented or demonstrated as equivalent to the provisions of this standard, are permitted to be used when approved by the authority having jurisdiction (See Commentary Section 4.0). When there is a conflict between this standard and the wind design requirements the design with the more conservative requirement shall be used.


4.1.1.    SUCCULENT BASED SYSTEMS: Systems where the vegetated portion of the roof is planted in growth media that is greater than 80% inorganic material, and the vegetation consists of plants that are classified as succulents. Non-vegetated portions of the rooftop shall be systems that are classified ASTM E108, Class A.

4.1.2.    GRASS BASED SYSTEMS: Systems where the vegetated portion of the roof is planted in growth media that is greater than 80% inorganic material, and the vegetation consists of plants that are classified as grass. Non-vegetated portions of the rooftop shall be systems that are classified ASTM E108, Class A.  

4.2.           FIRE PROTECTION FOR ROOF TOP STRUCTURES AND PENETRATIONS: For all vegetated roofing systems abutting combustible vertical surfaces, a class A (per ASTM E108 or UL790) rated roof system shall be achieved for a minimum 6 ft (1.8 m) wide continuous border placed around rooftop structures and all rooftop equipment.

4.3.                       SPREAD OF FIRE, PROTECTION FOR LARGE AREA ROOFS: A firestop as described in Section 3.4 shall be used to partition the roof area into sections not exceeding 15,625 ft2 (1,450 m2), with each section having no dimension greater than 125 ft (39 m). Incorporate the border zones into expansion joints or roof area dividers wherever possible.

4.4.                       FIRE HYDRANTS: Access to one or more fire hydrants shall be provided.

4.5.                       BORDER ZONES: Border zones are required when terminating at a fire barrier wall.


5.0       MAINTENANCE:  Maintenance shall be provided as needed to sustain the system keeping vegetative roof plants healthy and to keep dry foliage to a minimum; such maintenance includes, but is not limited to irrigation, fertilization, weeding. Excess biomass such as overgrown vegetation, leafs and other dead and decaying material shall be removed at regular intervals not less than two times per year. Provision shall be made to provide access to water for permanent or temporary irrigation. The requirement for maintenance shall be conveyed by the designer to the building owner, and it shall be the building owners responsibility to maintain the vegetated roof system.

Commentary to VF-1

This Commentary consists of explanatory and supplementary material designed to assist designers and local building code committees and regulatory authorities in applying the requirements of the preceding standard.

The Commentary is intended to create an understanding of the requirements through brief explanations of the reasoning employed in arriving at them.

The sections of this Commentary are numbered to correspond to the sections of the VF-1 standard to which they refer. Since it is not necessary to have supplementary material for every section in the standard, there are gaps in the numbering of the Commentary.


Green roofs, also known as vegetative roofs, eco-roofs, and rooftop gardens fall into two main categories: intensive is primarily defined as having more than 6 inches of growing medium, greater loading capacity requirements, and greater plant diversity, and extensive, defined as having less than 6 inches of growing media, less loading capacity requirements and fewer options for plants.  

 Vegetative roofs are complex systems consisting of many parts critical to the functioning of the system. To name a few of the components that are generally found in the system, but the system is not limited to these products: insulation, waterproofing membrane, protection mats/boards, root barrier, drainage layer, filter fabric, growth media, and vegetation. A vegetative roof may consist of more than just growth media and vegetation, but include such things as walkways, water features, stone decoration, and benches.

             A vegetative roof may cover the whole roof or share a portion of the surface with a conventional roof system. They are versatile systems with many strong attributes including stormwater management, reduction of the heat island effect, and aesthetics to name a few.

            VF-1 is a minimum standard.  Manufactures and /or designers requirements that exceed the standards minimum requirements can be incorporated into specifications for vegetative roof fire resistance.

            While the standard is intended as a reference for designers and roofing contractors, the design responsibility rests with the “designer of record.”

 C2.1    BALLAST: Ballast includes the growth media and the trays and containers that are used to contain growth media. The type of growth media used as ballast in vegetative roofs can influence the fire performance of the system. Stones, pavers, and concrete surfaces are often used as ballast and are non-combustible.

 C2.5    Growth Media: Inorganic materials used as growth media are not combustible, however media with high concentrations of organic material can support combustion.  Soils with high percentages of organic material can negatively affect the fire resistance of a system. Currently data is unavailable on specific growth media blends, but it is known that media with high loadings of organic material such as peat moss can burn.  

Sources for Growth media specifications are as follows:

From ASTM:

C549-06                     Standard Specification for Perlite Loose Fill Insulation

C330-05                     Standard Specification for Lightweight Aggregates for Structural Concrete

C331-05                     Standard Specification for Lightweight Aggregates for Concrete Masonry Units

C332-07                     Standard Specification for Lightweight Aggregates for Insulating Concrete      

Test Methods for Classifying Material:

C117-04                     Standard Test Method for Materials Finer than 75-µm (No. 200) Sieve in Mineral Aggregates by Washing

C136-06                     Standard Test Method for Sieve Analysis of Fine and Coarse Aggregates

D5975-96 (2004)         Standard Test Method for Determining the Stability of Compost by Measuring Oxygen Consumption.

US Composting Council: “TMECC” Test Methods for the Examination of Composting and Compost.

C 2.7   Penetration: Penetrations may consist of, but are not limited to, mechanical buildings, penthouses, ducts, pipes, expansion joints and skylights. These penetrations may be combustible or fire may have a major impact on their performance. For these reasons, penetrations need to be protected from fire exposure.

C2.11 Vegetative Roof System: Vegetative roof systems will go over both loose-laid, mechanically fastened, and fully adhered roof systems. However, when a mechanically attached roof system is used special precautions need to be taken to prevent damage to the membrane due to the fastener and plates below the membrane and impact damage and wear that can occur at these locations. Mechanically attached systems should not be used unless approved by the membrane supplier of vegetative roofs, and all precautions from the supplier are followed.

There are several types of vegetative roof systems as noted below, and they can be interchanged without affecting the fire performance of the system.

            Ballasted Vegetative Roof System: A ballasted vegetative roof system consists of vegetation; ballast as defined in 2.1, provides waterproofing and includes a membrane or membrane and substrate materials installed over a structural deck capable of supporting the system. Membranes are permitted to be loose laid, mechanically attached or partially adhered to the roof deck or supporting insulation.

            Protected Vegetative Roof System: A protected vegetative roof system consists of vegetation, growth media, ballast as defined in 2.1, a fabric that is pervious to air and water, insulation, and includes a membrane that provides waterproofing and substrate materials installed over a structural deck capable of supporting the system. Membranes are permitted to be loose laid, mechanically attached or partially or fully adhered to the roof deck or supporting insulation.

            Vegetative Roof System Using A Fully Adhered ROOF Membrane System: A vegetative roof system using a fully adhered membrane system consists of vegetation, growth media, ballast as defined in 2.1, and includes a membrane that provides waterproofing and is fully adhered to attached insulation, or adhered directly to a roof deck.

C3.2    Membrane Requirements:

List of ASTM references for generic roofing types:

EPDM                                                ASTM D-4637

PVC                                                    ASTM D-4434

TPO                                                    ASTM D-6878          

Hypalon/CPE/PIB                             ASTM D-5019

KEE                                                    ASTM D-6754          

SBS                                                    ASTM D-6164, 6163, 6162

APP                                                    ASTM D-6222, 6223, 6509

BUR                                                    As defined by the standards referenced in the International Building code.

Fully Adhered Hot-Applied Reinforced Waterproofing System    ASTM D 6622 

            Building Height: Special consideration shall be given when the building height is greater than 150’ (45.7 m). Vegetative roofs can be designed using reference 1, consultation with a wind design engineer, or wind tunnel studies and fire design experience of the specific building and system.

OTHER Factors:  There are other factors that affect the design of the vegetative roof for wind and fire. These include, but are not limited to, building height, building location, pressurized buildings, large openings, eaves and overhangs.

C3.5    Exterior Fire Rating: Building codes are specific as to the requirements for the roof system fire resistance based on designated occupancy. Roof systems may be required to obtain ASTM E 108 Class A, B or C. Data exists that supports the Classification of succulent based systems as Class A fire resistance. Other systems may be tested for fire resistance as installed, but the vegetation needs to be maintained in order to continue to sustain fire resistance. Provisions need to be made so the vegetation installed on the roof will have sustainable resistance to the spread of flame as required by the building code.

 C3.6    Wind Design:  Vegetative roofs are not recommended where the basic wind speed is greater than 140 mph (225 kph). However, they can be designed using reference 1, consultation with a wind design engineer, or wind tunnel studies of the specific building and system. The “authority having jurisdiction” is the only source for approval of designs not covered in this document. ASCE 7 gives guidance on how non-standard conditions should be evaluated.

 C4.0    VEGETATIVE ROOF DESIGN OPTIONS:  The Design Options of Section 4 were developed to provide a barrier to prevent the spread of fire from the vegetative section of the roof to other parts of the building. These design options were developed from European experience, forest fire prevention, and roofing experience. Vegetated “Green Roofs” have an excellent history of resisting fire damage.

            Some vegetation, such as succulents, are very fire resistive. Local code officials may consider waiving the barrier requirements when fire resistive vegetation is installed.

            ASTM E-108 and UL 790 can be used to test vegetated roof systems. Modifications of the test standards may be able to provide a meaningful test for selected conditions. However, with all the plant types that could be used in a roof design, the varying weather conditions that occur through the year, and the effects of seasons generate many variables that limit the potential to classify a roof construction. For this reason, if the roof is being designed with little or no maintenance planned; fire rated barriers are required.

            Given that wind standards may often require greater areas of non-vegetated roof, the wind standard will most often determine the size of the perimeter area or border zones.

 C4.2.   Fire Protection for Roof Top Structures and penetrations:  Pavers are often used as Class A or non-combustible separators. Care should be taken when installing pavers to avoid damaging the membrane. Some manufacturers require a separation material between the paver and the membrane.

C4.3    SPREAD OF FIRE, PROTECTION FOR LARGE AREA ROOFS:  Spread of flame for Class A fire is limited to 6’ (1.8 m), if there is a 6’ break separating vegetative areas using Class A material or non combustible material the flame spread is not expected to ignite the nearby area.

            The dimensions chosen for large area roof limitations are based on FLL and FM requirements, they also coincide with the International Building Codes Area limitations for Assembly buildings.

 C5.0    Maintenance:  The building owner needs to properly maintain a vegetated roof. One of the important ways of preventing fires is to keep the roof adequately watered. The need for water will vary greatly due to climate and types of plants chosen.  Designers should be aware that plantings are to be specific for the roof being installed and that rooftops are at best hostile places for vegetation. Removal of dead foliage should occur on a regular interval, for most roofs and that may be at least once a month. The moisture level of the growing media should be checked weekly. By regularly removing excess biomass that could become fuel for a fire on the rooftop, the risk of fire spreading beyond the 6 foot (1.8 m) Class A fire rated separation setback to combustible vertical surfaces is minimized.  

Best management practices for maintenance include regular weeding, fertilization, and removal of dead/dormant vegetation in accordance with the recommendations of the green roof provider. Specific directions for the proper maintenance of the vegetated cover should be furnished by the green roof provider.”

Industrial Greenroof in Germany; System: Optigrün; Photo Source: Sarnafil

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy


1.         Kind, R.J. and Wardlaw, R.L., Design of Rooftops Against Gravel Blow-Off, National Research Council of Canada, Report No. 15544, September 1976.

2.         FM Global: Property Loss Prevention Data Sheets 1-35 Green Roof Systems.

3.         FM Global: Approval Standard for Vegetative Roof Systems Class Number 4477 Draft April 2009.

4.         FLL Standard “Guideline for the Planning, Execution and Upkeep of Green-Roof Sites”, Forschungsgesellschaft Landschaftsentwicklung Landschaftsbau e.V. – FLL, Colmantstr, Bonn, Germany.

Publisher's Notes:  Download the VF-1 Green Roof Fire Design Guide "External Fire Design Standard for Vegetative Roofs" as a PDF here.  Make sure you read all the background info in The Green Roof Guy's Archives below.

Green Roof Wind & Fire Design Guidelines:
After Three Years, Half the Battle is Won

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, GRP, The Green Roof Guy
Photos Courtesy Kelly Luckett Unless Otherwise Noted
December 22, 2009

Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) Wind Tunnel Testing in June, 2009.

Hello once again Green Roof Fans,

As many of you know, the Green Roof Guy has been waste deep in the efforts to get design guidelines for minimizing risks of fire and wind uplift for green roof systems inserted into the International Building Code.  The journey that started nearly three years ago has been one with many starts and stops and has been a continuous learning process.  You may recall the initial discussions throughout the industry as to whether testing was necessary or even possible.  The decision was made to develop design guidelines that would govern how we build green roofs rather than attempting to test seemingly infinite green roof variations.

However, as we coursed down this winding road, the wind design guide called Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) / Green Roofs for Healthy Cities RP-14 met with some resistance that we could not overcome without conducting some testing. Though the testing we conducted in the wind tunnel at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville this past summer may not be sufficient to gain the endorsement of everyone in the canvass pool, the tests were very enlightening and clearly revealed some issues regarding the minimum level of vegetative coverage necessary to keep the growth media from becoming airborne.  The testing report is nearing completion and once it has been approved for release, I will dedicate an entire column to more fully explain everything we evaluated and exactly what we learned.  For now, what I can share with you is that RP-14 is being edited to reflect what we learned through the wind tunnel testing and will be sent out for the fourth round of balloting to the canvass pool soon.

Testing at SIUE to help develop prescriptive design guides for wind uplift (RP-14) for green roof design and construction.

The fire standard called SPRI / Green Roof for Healthy Cities VF-1 received the necessary approval from the majority of the canvass pool and has been submitted to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) for approval as a consensus based standard.  We had hoped to have the ANSI approval in hand for the International Code Council (ICC) hearings held in Baltimore in November, 2009.  When that didn’t happen, our strategy for the hearings was to introduce the standard anyway in hopes of gaining acceptance based on the expectation that ANSI approval would be attained before the printing of the updated building code.  In addition to proposing the insertion of VF-1 into the fire safety section of the building code, we also felt that that section of VF-1 that deals with maintenance of green roofs needed to be inserted into the property maintenance.  This would pull the maintenance of green roof systems into the same category as the rest of the building envelope and effectively making it the property owner’s responsibility to maintain their green roof and gives the local building inspector authority to issue citations for noncompliance.  Does your head hurt yet?  Wait, it gets better.

The proposal before the property maintenance committee was the first of our proposals to be heard.  Though I felt this was going to be a pretty easy sell to the committee, as I stepped to the microphone I noticed the line forming to oppose the measure.  While I’ve learned to expect the unexpected at ICC hearings, I was surprised not by the opposition, but from where it was coming.  Code enforcement officials testified before the committee that they conduct exterior inspections, in many cases from the street.  Additionally, they felt their inspectors were not qualified to inspect green roof plants and were less than enthusiastic about getting them qualified.  As the committee makeup was primarily public works employees from various cities around the country, testimony from fellow public works department employees easily swayed the vote; 10-0 disapproval of our proposal.

As many of you know, green roof maintenance has been an issue that has been troubling me for some time and as you can imagine I was more than disappointed.  I saw this as a missed opportunity for the green roof industry.  I invited a friend to engage in a high level strategic planning session at the hotel bar or at least join me in a cocktail while I vented some of the steam from my collar.  My friend is far more engaged in the ICC proceedings than I and he informed me that a couple of code change proposals were approved by the fire code committee a week earlier that could effectively accomplish the same thing.  Turns out he was right, the fire code committee approved a proposal that says:


318.1 Maintenance of vegetation.  Vegetation placed upon buildings shall be maintained to prevent the accumulation of weeds, grass, vines, trees, or other growth that is capable of being ignited.  All vegetation that poses a fire hazard to the building or exposure structures shall be removed from the building.

318.2 Maintenance plan.  The fire code official is authorized to require a maintenance plan for vegetation placed on roofs due to the size of a roof garden, materials used, or when a fire hazard may exist to the building or exposures due to the lack of maintenance.

What is significant here is that our proposal attempted to place the responsibility for policing green roof maintenance with the building inspector.  The building inspector typically only gains access to the property when there has been an application for an occupancy permit and his inspection is post-construction.  The proposed code change approved by the fire code committee shifts the policing of green roof maintenance to the fire marshal who conducts routine inspections throughout the occupancy of the building, and allowing the fire marshal to require a maintenance plan moves the review of the green roof maintenance to plan review; which takes place prior to the issuance of the building permit.  This moves the conversation that green roof providers must have with property owners about green roof maintenance to the forefront of construction design instead of being an afterthought that only comes up when problems arise.

Left: A highly maintained greenroof, Photo Courtesy ZinCo;
Right: A not-so maintained greenroof, Photo Courtesy and By Janet Faust.

But wait, there’s more.  The fire code committee also approved a measure that contained the core action items from VF-1. The following language was approved for inclusion in the next printing of the International Building Code:


316.1 General.  Rooftop gardens and landscaped roofs shall be installed and maintained in accordance with this code and Sections 1505.0 and 1507.16 of the International Building Code.

316.2 Rooftop garden or landscaped roof size.  Rooftop garden or landscaped roof areas shall not exceed 15,625 ft2 (1,450 m2) in size for any single area with a maximum dimension of 125 ft (39 m) in length or width.  A minimum 6 ft (1.8m) wide clearance consisting of a Class A (per ASTM E108 or UL790) rated roof system shall be provided between adjacent rooftop garden or landscaped roof areas.

316.3 Rooftop structure and equipment clearance.  For all vegetated roofing systems abutting combustible vertical surfaces, a Class A (per ASTM E108 or UL790) rated roof system shall be achieved for a minimum 6 ft (1.8 m) wide continuous border placed around rooftop structures and all rooftop equipment, including but not limited to mechanical and machine rooms, penthouses, skylights, roof vents, solar panels, antenna supports, and building service equipment.

316.4 Vegetation.  Vegetation shall be maintained as described in Sections 316.4.1 and 316.4.2

316.4.1 Irrigation.  Supplemental irrigation shall be provided as necessary to maintain levels of hydration necessary to keep green roof plants alive and to keep dry foliage to a minimum.

316.4.2 Dead foliage.  Excess biomass such as overgrown vegetation, leafs and other dead and decaying material shall be removed at regular intervals not less than two times per year.

905.3.8 (IBC [F] 905.3.8) Roof gardens and landscaped roofs.  Buildings or structures with roof gardens or landscaped roofs that are equipped with a standpipe shall extend the standpipe to the roof level on which the roof garden or landscaped roof is located.

Let me remind you that all this happened before our scheduled time slot at the code hearings to introduce VF-1, which has not yet garnered ANSI approval.  While having this language in the fire code section of the building code is great, it needs to also be in the fire safety section of the building code, which is where we our proposal was to be presented.  Coincidentally, the gentleman who sponsored the code change proposal that the Fire Code Committee approved had a proposed code change on the schedule immediately before the VF-1 proposed code change.  After some code hearing wrangling, the gentleman agreed to modify his proposal to simply read as a pointer from the fire safety section of the building code to the fire code section of the building code, instructing code enforcement officials enforcing the building code requirements for green roofs to reference the language in the fire code.  When the committee approved the pointer proposal, some of the urgency to propose VF-1 was relieved.

Rather than to introduce VF-1 now, without ANSI approval in hand, and be subjected to opposing testimony, we decided to request the committee to disapprove the proposal; which automatically keeps a placeholder at the committee action hearings next spring.  By then we will have ANSI approval in hand and can testify that the core action items have been accepted by ICC committees and that acceptance of VF-1 at that time, only brings the building code into alignment with what the other committees have already approved.

Well, green roof fans, that’s almost half the fire and wind uplift battle.  Wind uplift issues and RP-14 still remain.  RP-14 goes out for the fourth round of balloting in the next few weeks.  I will keep you posted as the standard evolves.

As the holiday season settles in and we turn our focus toward issues a little closer to home, I’d like to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season.  Between bail outs and reforms, incitements and accomplishment, I am confident that the dream is still alive.  We will, once again, unleash that special quality that makes us American and sees us through to a brighter tomorrow.

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

Green Roof Wind Uplift Challenges:
Paranoia, Turn a Blind Eye, or How About We Work Together?

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, The Green Roof Guy
May 29, 2009

Publisher's Note:  For backgrounders see Kelly's "Wind Uplift, Fire Resistance, & Maintenance Issues: Winds of Change for the New Year" from December 15, 2008 and his "Same Guy, New Editor Name, Renewed Focus" from April, 2008.

Green Roof Wind Uplift Challenges

Hello once again Green Roof Fans,

A while back I received an invitation to attend a wintertime meeting in Dallas to discuss wind uplift and fire resistance characteristics of green roof systems. Though people who live in St. Louis don’t typically need much of a reason to head south for a few days when there is snow on the ground in the Midwest, I was particularly interested in taking part in these discussions

I had just completed a green roof installation in Orlando, Florida, perhaps one of the more stringent code enforcement environments in the United States, and I never even heard mention of the building code or the building inspector. The last time I had worked in Florida was just after Hurricane Andrew (August, 1992). The building code and the building inspectors dominated the conversation across the roofing industry. Yet here I was back in the land of wind uplift paranoia and not a single mention of how the green roof complied with wind uplift requirements in the building code.

Hurricane Andrew from Ken Kaye's Storm Center.

The short answer why? There wasn’t anything in the building code concerning wind uplift for green roof systems. Rather than ask the unanswerable questions, the building inspectors turned a blind eye to the green roof portion of the project.  The meeting in Dallas gave me the opportunity to share this experience with others in the roofing industry and to learn about their experiences as well.

The meeting, hosted by the
Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI), started with a round table discussion of whether wind uplift and fire resistance testing was required for green roof systems.  The group agreed that there are too many variables among the various green roof systems to test all possible configurations and agreed that developing prescriptive standards for constructing green roofs to minimize wind uplift risk and maximize fire resistance would be more practical than conducting tests.

We broke into groups to discuss how best to collate information from existing green roof construction standards and how to go about drafting new standards that could give the construction industry some clear guidelines.

The group I was assigned to gathered in the lobby of the hotel and proceeded discussing the existing standards from which we could pull information.  Among our group of four was the Technical Director of the
National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), Mark Graham.  Though I had not met Mark before, I have long been familiar with the NRCA as the authoritative figure in the roofing industry.  When the groups came together at the end of the day, Mark was put on the spot. It was disclosed to the group that the NRCA had proposed a change to the International Building Code that would require green roofs to meet the same requirements for wind uplift and fire resistance as all other roofing assemblies.

The conductor of the meeting asked Mark if the NRCA would be willing to withdraw their proposed code change given the group’s agreement to work towards the development of prescriptive standards for wind uplift and fire resistance of green roof systems.  Mark explained to the group that his organization felt that lacking clear direction in the building code for green roof construction found the liability for potential catastrophic failure of a green roof system resting upon the roofing contractor who applied for the building permit.

Given this exposure to the roofing contractor members of the NRCA, Mark said they would not withdraw the code change proposal; as the NRCA saw the proposal effectively transferring liability for potential green roof failure from their contractor to the code enforcement authority having jurisdiction.  The
International Code Council (ICC) hearings were over nine months away.  If the industry wished to develop prescriptive standards to address wind uplift and fire resistance, there appeared to be ample time to do it.

The green roof industry is made up of businesses and business people with diverse backgrounds and expertise.  While the diversity of this young industry is good on many levels, there is often a lack of consensus among the players; this was especially true when it came to addressing the building code.  Some felt that since the American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM) had yet to develop testing protocol for green roofs, there was no way to comply with the NRCA proposed code change; while others simply felt that testing was unnecessary since there has never been a documented failure in the forty plus years the green roof concept has been employed in Europe.

What the industry could agree on was that this was a time to take action of some sort.  After much discussion, heated at some points, a plan was formulated for a few representatives to attend the ICC hearings to oppose the code change.  When ICC unanimously approved the proposal despite the opposition of the green roof industry, plan B became the development of prescriptive standards that could be presented to the ICC as a means of complying with the adopted code change.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities entered into a memorandum of understanding with SPRI to undertake the development of green roof standards addressing wind uplift and fire resistance.  The two phase process began by drafting two documents; a wind design guide we call RP-14 and a fire design guide we call VF-1.  The second phase was to establish a canvass group of industry stakeholders to shape the documents through the consensus building American National Standards Institute (ANSI) process.  This is a process by which draft standards are submitted to the canvass pool for comment. The comments are then addressed in the redrafting of the documents and resubmitted to the canvass pool.  This process repeats until the documents reflect the consensus of the industry stakeholders.  Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it?  So, let the games begin!

Fast forward two and half years, nearly 100,000 frequent flier miles later, and enough time on the cell phone attending conference calls to make me glow in the dark; we are nearing the final drafts of RP-14 and VF-1.  There have been too many versions of the documents and too many elements that were opposed to list here.  What I will share with you is that I have been careful throughout the process to keep the standards broad enough to include all design techniques and proprietary technologies currently in the marketplace.

The mission was to build consensus based standards, not to eliminate an operating business through the use of the building code.  Equally important was to be careful that the standards did not stifle future innovation. A s this process has stretched on for over two years, it has given us the opportunity to attend several ICC hearings and to better understand the process and to indentify which aspects of the standards would bring opposition and from whom.  We have been successful in bringing parties together for fruitful discussion that helped to align our interests and to garner support.  Though the standards are each several pages long and deal with various aspects of green roof design and construction, they are written around two fundamental principles:

Let’s begin with the RP-14 Wind Uplift Standard: While we have removed the use of gravel ballast in no-vegetation zones to quell concerns surrounding the gravel becoming windborne debris, we have also called out some minimum weights for growth media in built-in-place green roof systems and for green roof modules.  However, at the core of the wind standard is the assumption that vegetated growth media weighing a minimum of 10 pounds per square foot performs equivalently to 1 ¾ inch gravel roofing ballast applied in the same weight.

Once we’ve made this leap, we can then train our focus on how to keep the growth media from scouring in high winds while the plants are being established.  Scouring is a term used to describe the blowing of the particles in the growth media from the surface of the green roof, thereby reducing the volume and weight of growth media and its ability to ballast the green roof components below.  Before we can have the scouring discussion, we must agree on the premise that growth media bound by vegetation has the same wind uplift resistance as equal weight of large stone roofing ballast.  Here is where we come to somewhat of an impasse with some of the canvass pool.

Modular Vegetated Examples:  Left, Minnetrista Green Roof and Right: Forest Park Forever Playground

Though we have some anecdotal evidence, there has been little testing conducted that would allow us to justify this claim.  Since the ASTM has yet to develop a testing protocol for wind uplift testing of green roof assemblies, certified testing may not be possible for quite some time.  While many can agree that the assumption seems to be reasonable, some testing is necessary.  Conducting some testing without certification would go a long way towards convincing opponents.  The NRCA has agreed to collaborate with the green roof industry to conduct wind tunnel testing at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville beginning this June, 2009.

The testing will begin with four inch deep, fully vegetated green roof systems.  Subsequent tests will then vary the level of vegetation to identify the minimum levels required to bind the growth media at varying wind speeds.  Finally, we’ll look at the use of wind blankets and we’ll also look at the use of liquid tackifiers that bind the surface of the growth media and decompose over time as the plants mature.  I hope to have the completed reports from this testing by mid-July that would allow us to finalize the RP-14 Wind Design Guide.

Built-in-place Conventional Vegetated Examples:  Left, Life Expression Wellness Center and Right: Multnomah County Multnomah Building

Turning now to the VF-1 Fire Design Guide: The fundamental requirement in VF-1 lies in the maintenance section that states it is the building owner’s responsibility to keep plants adequately hydrated and routinely to remove excess biomass; both intended to minimize the flammability of the green roof system.  The NRCA suggests that if the main fire resistance strategy lies in the maintenance of the green roof then VF-1, or at least the maintenance section, needs to be submitted to the ICC for inclusion in the Maintenance section of the building code.

Here too, some testing may be necessary.  Where the wind tunnel testing seems pretty straight forward in that we will simply blow air at the green roof system at speeds up to 200 miles per hour, the testing set up and evaluation for fire is more complicated.  Are we to test sedums or grasses?  Are we to test well hydrated plants or at drought conditions? While these questions are important and perhaps the answer is all of the above, I feel the more important issue is how we evaluate the test.  Factory Mutual (FM) has recently released a green roof fire testing protocol called Approval Standard for Vegetative Roof Systems class number 4477.

FM appears to be prepared to go it alone and conduct testing without ASTM guidance.  The initial feedback I’ve received has been opposition to their testing setup.  They intend to test drought conditions by depriving plants of hydration for 28 days by housing the green roof being tested indoors under artificial sun lighting for ten hours per day.  This will ensure that the plants are dead or near death at the time of the testing.  While I agree that testing under worst case scenario may be prudent, where FM is off track is the use of standard flame spread evaluation.

We all know that dead plants will burn!  The question is will the flame penetrate the growth media to ignite the other building components?  I suspect the fire will rapidly consume the vegetative fuel and burn itself out on top of the mineral based growth media.  VF-1 mandates class A coverings for all flammable vertical surfaces or adequate setbacks to protect the fire from spreading beyond the green roof vegetation.  While the image of a quickly burning rooftop may be unsettling, if it results in no damage to the structure, it proves the green roof not to be a fire risk but superior fire protection.  If FM is truly interested in reducing the risk to property owners and insurers, then their testing should evaluate this protective characteristic of the green roof growth media.

In closing, we are very close to having workable language in the building code for green roof design and construction.  Not everyone will be happy with every provision, but there has been a great deal of compromise from all sides to get us this far.  I cannot hazard a guess as to when we will complete the process.  I can promise you, however, that I will not stop working on it until we do.

In the meantime, the way to make certain that your next green roof project will comply with the local building code is to make an appointment with the building inspector to go over the project.  To steal a quote from a friend, in the world of construction, the building inspector is God.  Given the opportunity to review the information prior, rather than being surprised by the green roof the day of the inspection, will help not only to gain his approval for this project but you’ll have a supporter for future projects as well.

Once you’ve been through the process with the building department in one community you can refer back to them to help gain approval from the next one.  Ours is a young industry that holds great promise for the environment and the economy.  Though writing the rules as we go can occasionally have us butting heads, our common interests are greater than our disagreements, so we will find a way to get this done.

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

A Green Lining to Every Dark Cloud

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
Photos by Kelly Luckett Unless Otherwise Noted
April 11, 2009

Even Dark Economic Clouds Can Present Opportunities and Break Out a Green Lining; Photo Source.

Hello once again Green Roof Fans,

Those of you in my inner circle know what a tough year 2008 was for the Saint Louis Metalworks Company.  What you may not know, and what I would like to share with the rest of the readers, is the role the green roof industry played in our survival.  Saint Louis Metalworks Company, I often refer to as my "day job," is a sheet metal contracting business I started in 1997 with my best friend since our sophomore year in high school.

We started toying around with an idea for a modular green roof in 2002, though we didn’t use the term modular yet.  We spent some trial and error time with various designs and materials.  Then we made some critical acquaintances with people like Vic Jost, our horticulturist, Ed Snodgrass, the green roof plant guru, Linda Velazquez, green roof enthusiast extraordinaire, and many others who shared expertise and provided encouragement.  After two years of exploration into green buildings, green roofs, and ourselves, two career roofers from St. Louis launched the first product of the Green Roof Blocks line.

In the coming five years we would become involved in industry organizations, fund university-based green roof research, assume a leadership role in the development of standards for green roof construction, and realize a modicum of success of the dream we had when we began.

As our endeavor into the green roof industry began to dominate more and more of my time, devoted employees of Saint Louis Metalworks stepped up and accepted new responsibilities to help fill the void.  Because of the hard work of my business partner and our two superintendents, production numbers continued the upward trend we had enjoyed each year since opening our doors.  At the center of activity, both green roofs and sheet metal, was our office administrator.  This 55 year old grandmother juggled multiple duties and became the glue that held the entire operation together.

As mine and my partner’s attentions were drawn toward the expansion of our business, the office administrator’s role expanded beyond that of the typical administrator to that more of a trusted partner.  My partner and I found it reassuring, even liberating, that we had this trusted and competent individual minding the store.  We trusted her completely and we gave her unfettered access to the books and the accounts.

Near the end of 2007 there were vague signs, glimpses really, that there was something wrong with the administration of our operation.  Deadlines were missed, documents were misplaced; nothing that would be cause for alarm, in and of itself. However, in consideration of the office administrator’s recent family problems that seemed to increasingly bleed into our business, these miscues appeared to be more of a pattern than isolated incidents.

Finally, after the failure to deliver a bid bond on time resulted in the disqualification of what would have been the low bid for a $250,000 project, we decided to let her go.  In the coming weeks and months we discovered that she had stolen nearly $250,000 from our company over the course of her 3 ½ year employment, beginning just three months after she was hired. Most of the money was stolen through the use of company credit cards.  She was on a three year long, world class spending spree using our credit cards.  Since it was her job to open the monthly statements, make the data entry in the bookkeeping program, and ultimately generate the check to pay the bill, she was free to operate with impunity.  While we noticed an uptick in overall company credit card charges, it seemed to correspond with the rising cost of gasoline.  With twenty trucks in operation, each being fueled via credit cards, we never suspected any wrong doing.  Subsequent investigation revealed several withdraws from the checking account payable to her, her husband’s automotive business creditors, and the IRS that were covered up by tampering with the accounting program.

As you can imagine, a quarter of a million dollars is a staggering amount of money for a small business to lose.  It wasn’t long before the house of cards she used to conceal her deceit began to come crashing down.  We learned that vendors hadn’t been paid, taxes were late, and union benefit were two months behind.  As if the horizon wasn’t dark enough, it began to rain, and rain, and rain some more.  The bad weather meant we couldn’t work on sheet metal projects; which meant we couldn’t generate receivables.  This went on for three months as the Midwest experienced the wettest spring in recorded history.

When we turned to our bank for help through this dark time, the bank responded by revoking our working capital line of credit and the company credit cards we needed to fuel our vehicles.  The credit crunch became a reality for us months before the banking collapse would dominate the news.  The feeling of hopelessness was overwhelming as each bit of bad news felt like another nail in our company’s coffin.

 Photo credit: Michael Osterrieder

That’s when it happened; the call came in for the first green roof project of the year.  Then we got the call for the second, and the third.  For seven years, Green Roof Blocks drained profits from Saint Louis Metalworks Company to invest in the green roof concept.  We invested money in things we considered to be the cost of doing business like product development, distribution infrastructure, and marketing.

However, we also invested in things that simply advanced the green roof concept like research at universities, travel expenses to participate in policy making at ASTM and building code meetings, and education programs like American Institute of Architects Continuing Education.  After years of money flowing from Metalworks, green roof projects were now generating real dollars.  Though the spring rains kept Metalworks trucks parked in St. Louis, green roof projects in places like Tulsa, Minneapolis, and Greenville moved forward.

Our marketing dollars were beginning to pay dividends.  More interestingly, our investment in the green roof concept was beginning to pay off as well.  The university where we help fund research is building a new student center with 16,000 square feet of green roof.  Architectural firms that hosted our Lunch and Learn presentations are specifying green roofs on new projects they are working on.

Last weekend we planted 4,000 Green Roof Blocks that will go on SIUE’s new student success center sometime this summer.
Dr. Bill Retzlaff rallied 26 student and staff volunteers to help out.

Green roof dollars paid mortgage payments, insurance premiums, and utility bills and helped see Saint Louis Metalworks Company through seriously trying times.  Unfortunately, similar financial stories were playing out all over the country in businesses that didn’t have green roof sales to help pull them through.  Many didn’t make it, many more still may fail.  The business environment will likely remain turbulent until credit flows again to small business.

If you’re like my partner and I, you’re hanging on every word coming out of Washington; hoping to hear that our leaders are moving beyond partisan bickering to take action to mend our economy and bring prosperity back to our businesses.  All indications are that green building technologies will play a major role in the recovery of our nation’s economy.  The trick for all of us will be to keep our doors open long enough to participate.

Team Building for Green Building Technologies:  A Green Lining for a Great Cause.
One of the staff Dr. Bill and I have been working with brought her daughter out with her to help. I wasn’t even sure I got this shot because she ran by so fast. It’s one in a million.

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

Wind Uplift, Fire Resistance, & Maintenance Issues:
Winds of Change for the New Year

By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, The Green Roof Guy
December 15, 2008

Winds of change for the coming New Year.

Hello once again Green Roof Fans,

As many of you know, the Green Roof Guy has been working with several agencies to get language concerning wind uplift and fire resistance of green roof design and construction written into the International Building Code. 
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) have been engaged in a joint effort to develop RP-14, a Wind Design Guide, and VF-1, a Fire Design Guide. Though we did not complete the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) balloting process in time to have these green roof standards adopted by the International Code Council (ICC) for the 2009 printing of the building code, we made significant progress.

You may recall I discussed some of the challenges we faced in the form of opposition from other players on the stage and with the decision to parallel our wind design guide to an existing design guide for ballasted roofing.  You may also recall I ended my last column by informing you that I intended to meet with Edwin Huston of the
National Council of Structural Engineers Associations (NCSEA) and Mark Graham of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) to establish a dialogue in hopes of identifying and reconciling some of the opposition to standards we have been working on.  I am pleased to inform you that the meeting was very fruitful and ended with the parties pledging to keep lines of communication open.

Without getting waist deep into the technical aspects of the standards (though once we have ANSI approval, I will dedicate an entire column explaining the details of the finalized standards), there seemed to be a conflict between our wind design guide and our fire design guide.  We discussed alternative language and strategies to bring both standards into alignment and to get the green roof industry out of the ongoing rock fight over the use of gravel ballast.  I reported back to the SPRI committee where we worked to make the necessary changes to reflect the suggestions posed by the NRCA and NCSEA.

Namely, we removed reference to the use of gravel to create no-vegetation zones at roof perimeters and penetrations.  The perimeter and corners of a rooftop are areas of increased exposure to wind and placing gravel in these areas increases the chance of it blowing off of the roof.  The re-crafted drafts of the wind and fire standards will now go back out to the canvas pool for the final round of balloting.  Provided we have the approval of the majority of the canvas pool, we can complete the ANSI process and introduce the standards to the ICC for acceptance in to the building code at the next round of hearings.  I will keep you posted as we make our way through the process over the coming months.

Follow the Maintenance Road.

I would like to turn the focus now to an issue that continues to plague the green roof industry: the maintenance-free green roof myth.  Some in the media continue to espouse this nonexistent characteristic of green roofs resulting in many of our customers being painfully uneducated about realities of critical green roof maintenance!

Pretty strong language, I know, but the problem doesn’t seem to be getting better.  Let me tell you a story about my company's largest project.  It’s a government owned project in the city that has become the nation’s green roof capitol; you know the place.  I sat in on a meeting where the general contractor, the architect, and the roofing contractor removed all mention of maintenance guidelines and the Plant Health Alert System from my submittal package!

For those of you outside the construction industry, a submittal package is a gathering of documents and drawings the subcontractor submits to the architect and owner to demonstrate compliance with the specifications for products or portions of the construction project.  When I questioned why they were removing critical pages of information from my submittals, I was told that they eliminated the irrigation system for this 96,000 square foot green roof based on a tour a green roof provider took the owner on during the preceding spring.  I asked if they had told them about the drought that killed green roof plants all over the region the summer before, to which I only received blank stares.  I practically had to threaten to hold my breath until I turned blue, or at least threaten to walk away from the project to get them to issue a change order to put the irrigation system back in.

The green roof was planted in June and July, 2007, and required routine irrigation throughout the establishment period, a task that could not be accomplished over 96,000 square feet using a garden hose.  After alleviating concerns over the irrigation system conflicting with LEED certification requirements by agreeing to disconnect the system after the establishment period, the change order was issued.  However, I insisted that the irrigation system remain in place as insurance should drought conditions require its activation to keep the $250,000 worth of plants alive.

Now fast forward two years. The phone rings; it’s the roofing contractor.  The ownership is requesting a walkthrough to discuss the condition of the green roof.  I asked our horticulturist to accompany me to the autumn meeting on the rooftop. We were greeted by the general contractor, the architect, the roofing contractor, and a clearly unhappy owner’s representative.  The condition of the green roof?  Starving sedums due to absence of the fertilizer that was supposed to have been applied the previous spring, per the maintenance guidelines that the ownership never got to see.

Remember that plants are living beings, on the ground or up on the roof.  Low maintenance does not mean
No Maintenance!

Also, since the plants did not receive the food required to grow and cover the surface of the growth media, the weeds moved in.  The good news –  the weeds will die over the winter and an application of fertilizer next spring will allow the plants to thrive.  The bad news – the project lost the opportunity for the plants to grow in one of the wettest growing seasons on record.  As you can imagine, there was a round of discussion about who was supposed to have provided the maintenance, a discussion that may wind up being continued in a court room.

However, the owner’s representative asked why the irrigation system was still there.  When the general contractor started to speak he was stopped by the owner’s representative who said the question was directed to me.  Before I could answer, another question was posed, “Do you tell your customers that they need to provide irrigation for their green roof?”  To which I replied, “Absolutely yes, every single one of them.”

The owner’s representative, clearly not expecting this answer, became even more agitated.  That’s when I began to appreciate how serious this problem has gotten for the green roof industry.  The owner’s representative placed in charge of one the city’s largest green roofs, in arguably the most green roof educated city in the nation, was utterly surprised by the fact that plants need food and water.  The building code issue evoked an urgent call to arms that brought about action by many and opened lines of communication among perceived adversaries, while lack of proper green roof maintenance poses far more serious threat to the green roof concept yet the green roof industry remains largely quiet.

Admittedly, nobody uses discussing maintenance during the green roof sale as their go-to closing strategy, but it’s a lot healthier for a green roof business in the long run to address this issue upfront rather than standing in the middle of a problem on a green roof facing an unhappy and uneducated customer the following season.  I’ll keep working on the code issues on behalf of the industry, but it’s time the industry start working on this much larger problem.

Well Green Roof Fans, as the year nears the end, I like to take an account of my many blessings; Trish - my wife of 25 years, Shannon - my 13-year old daughter who looks more like her mother every day, Jesse - my 21-year old son who appears to be doomed with his father’s hairline, and all the opportunities afforded me through my work in the green roof industry - the chance to reach out to you is among the top.

From my family to yours, have a happy and safe holiday and may next year bring you every success.

We wish you Mele Kalikimaka and warm greetings from the
Luckett Family in St. Louis via Hawaii.

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

The Green Roof Guy, Inaugural Column

Kelly Luckett at one of many conferences

Kelly Luckett, LEED AP, is “The Green Roof Guy.”  He fine-tuned his editorial focus and inaugurated his new column of the same name in April, 2008.  Formerly “The Roving Exhibitor,” he wrote about his experiences at green building conferences as president of Green Roof Blocks and St. Louis Metalworks Company.  They manufacture various modular green roof products and accessories.  As president of both, he still is a frequent trade show exhibitor at greenroof and green building conferences, workshops & seminars - but Kelly also roves around the country attending ASTM, GRHC and other roofing and greenroof related organization meetings, and has become a central figure here.

Look for this column about his experiences and impressions within the greenroof industry as just a regular (green)roofing guy from St. Louis, Missouri, where Kelly lives with his wife, son and daughter.  So read his column to stay up to date within the greenroof industry!

April 2008

Same Guy, New Editor Name, Renewed Focus

Hello once again green roof fans,

The green roof industry continues to grow and evolve and so must we all.  As the "Roving Exhibitor" has been engaging in and reporting on a broad range of green roof activities, it’s been suggested that perhaps the Roving Exhibitor has outgrown that title. For quite some time now, friends and business associates have referred to me as "The Green Roof Guy."  So, I humbly submit that this designation may better suit the scope of my column as we head into the future together.  So, without further ado - let’s get started.

I had hoped to be reporting on completed wind and fire guidelines that were headed for International Code Council (ICC) acceptance.  However, the process turned out to be far more nuanced than I could have possibly imagined.  For those of you who are unaware of the ongoing efforts, I’ll review a bit.  The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) submitted a building code change proposal last spring that gained unanimous acceptance by the ICC.  The simple proposal merely states that green roof systems will be subject to the same wind and fire testing standards as any other roofing systems.  Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  However, the American Standard Testing Methods (ASTM) has developed testing standards for most every building material used in construction, except, of course, green roofs.  As a member of the ASTM green roof task force, I can tell you that we are years from handing down testing methods for fire resistance of various plants and wind uplift for various green roof assemblies.  What does this mean?  In short, it means that Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and Factory Mutual (FM) have no standardized testing methods by which to test and rate green roof systems.  Which basically means that the green roof industry has no means of complying with the new NRCA sponsored building code change.
Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) struck a committee to develop a plan to resolve the conflict between the green concept and the new building code language that is scheduled to go into effect January 1, 2009.  Many of us were invited to participate in a task force assembled by the Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) to discuss the issue.  At that first meeting, we decided to research existing green roof design standards from other agencies and countries and work to develop prescriptive design standards that could be presented to the ICC for approval as a means of meeting the requirements of the new code language.

Though I had drafted a wind design guide and a fire design guide based on the compilation of the research, the chairman of the task force suggested that the wind design guide could be more easily drafted by making some minor changes to an existing standard for deigning ballasted roofing systems.  Since many of us in the industry recognize similarities between ballasted roofing systems and green roof systems, the suggestion seemed to make sense and we then initiated the standard development process sanctioned by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).  This is a process by which industry stakeholders are identified and invited to review and comment on the design guides.  This “canvass” process is meant to build consensus by allowing those polled to contest flaws and to make recommendations to the guideline.  The comments are to be addressed by the taskforce and reconciled into the next draft and resubmitted to the canvass pool for more review and comments.  The process continues until consensus is reached and the canvass pool approves of the guideline, at which point we have a consensus based standard.

As you can imagine, this process is often quite lengthy.  As the 2009 publishing date of the NRCA sponsored code change looms off in the distance, the taskforce works to accelerate the process.  We had hoped to get the ICC to allow us to attach the standard draft to the new code language at the ICC hearings held in Palm Springs in February.  However, we learned at the SPRI meeting several weeks earlier that the process was moving very slowly as the first round of comments from the canvass team had just been submitted.  Next we learned that the NRCA was submitting additional code changes that appeared initially to provide a much simpler means of meeting the language of their earlier submitted change.  However, on closer inspection, the NRCA proposal referenced an existing standard that dramatically restricts the use of ballast in “high wind” and coastal regions.

The referenced standard has been contested by members of the roofing industry, including SPRI, because it sets the “high wind” design speed at 90 miles per hour; that incorporates most of the United States, which would have an overly restrictive impact on green roofs as well.  This was my first glimpse into the quagmire that is the International Building Code.  The code change proposals are printed in two volumes about the size of a big city telephone book.  These proposals are filled with cross references to other sections of the building code and existing standards. It’s a complicated read that can have you wishing you still had that secret spy decoder ring you enjoyed as a kid.  In all, there were about a dozen code changes being proposed during this round of hearings that could impact green roofs.  I met with two representatives from SPRI and two representatives from the NRCA just before the first of the proposals was presented to the ICC panel.  Mark Graham, NRCA associate executive director, made it clear during that meeting that the NRCA would not endorse either of the design guidelines coming out of the SPRI taskforce unless there were major revisions.  That seemed to set the stage for opposition to SPRI sponsored proposals coming from the NRCA and vice versa.

The first code change proposal regarding green roofs was presented by the NRCA proposing a simple definition of a green roof.  It seemed to be a benign assembly of words that offered some clarification regarding the distinction between a vegetated green roof and other sustainable roofing strategies that could be termed “green.”  Both SPRI and GRHC welcomed such a definition in the International Building Code (IBC) and we expected the measure to pass without opposition.  The hearings are moderated by the chairperson under Robert’s Rules of Order and heard by a thirteen member panel.  The sponsor of the proposal and those in support of the measure and then those opposing the measure are given the opportunity to give testimony and one round of rebuttal testimony.  After the final opposing rebutting rebuttal is heard, the chairperson asks the panel if they have questions for those giving testimony.  There is often a brief question and answer session between the panel and those giving testimony and a comment session for the panel; after which the chairperson requests a motion.  One of the members of the panel then makes a motion to either approve or disapprove the proposal.  Next the chairperson requests a different member of the panel to second the motion.  After there has been a second to the motion the chairperson asks the panel member who made the first motion to explain the reasoning behind their motion.

Now comes the moment of truth for the proposal.  A simple show of hands among the panel determines the life or death of the proposal; sort of.  After the panel has voted, the chairperson looks to the assembly to see if anyone in the room wishes to be heard.  At this point anyone can approach the panel and request the measure be put to a vote among those in attendance.  A simple majority in the room can overturn the decision of the panel.

When Mark Graham stepped to the microphone and addressed the panel to propose the addition of a definition of a green roof flanked by Mike Ennis of SPRI and myself representing GRHC testifying in support of the measure, we fully expected the proposal to be approved without opposition.  To our surprise, however, several members of the engineering community lined up to oppose the measure.  As they gave testimony citing conflicts the new definition would present to existing language elsewhere in the building code, they were well spoken and impressively prepared.  They addressed the thirteen member panel, made up of mostly engineers, with section numbers, dates, precedence, and anecdotal evidence to support their positions.  In the days to come, we would see every green roof related code change proposal be disapproved, in large part as a result of the opposing testimony given by this group of engineers.  The fact that GRHC working with SPRI had identified the NRCA as our opponent and completely overlooked the engineers who completely dominated the proceedings is only half the story.  The decision made by SPRI to throw out my drafted wind design guideline and instead revise an existing wind design guideline (RP-4) for ballasted roofing systems actually put us in the middle of an ongoing debate that has been raging between various interests and playing out at the ICC hearings since 2003.

As I sat and listened to nearly three hours of debate about the use of gravel ballast, I began to gain a better understanding for the high stakes chess match the International Building Code has become.  One engineer approached the microphone and announced that he represented Portland Cement and proceeded to give damning testimony regarding the use gravel ballast in hurricane zones.  His testimony was followed by similar testimony given by a representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  It then occurred to me what I was witnessing.  Portland Cement, manufacturer of concrete roof pavers, has a vested interest to see regulatory restrictions placed on the use of gravel roof ballast in favor of the use of concrete paver roof ballast.  FEMA seeks to limit the windborne debris during high wind events that result in federally funded repairs to neighboring property.  SPRI is on the hot seat then to continually defend the RP-4 wind design guideline.  This battle has been ongoing since 2003 with no end in sight.

While the green roof industry is in a difficult position resulting from the approved NRCA code change proposal, partnering with SPRI to jump into the ongoing rock fight may not be our best course of action.  We allowed SPRI take the driver’s seat to develop green roof design standards because they have experience with the process.  However, we could go through the entire ANSI process and end up with a green roof wind design guideline that is as hotly contested as their RP-4 wind design guideline.

Now I’m not ready to abandon the work we have done just yet.  But I took the opportunity to introduce myself to Edwin Huston, one of the engineers who was so impressive at the ICC hearings.  It was abundantly clear to me as I witnessed the ICC proceedings that support from the engineering community is going to be critical in gaining ICC approval of any proposals the green roof industry presents.  Mr. Huston chairs the committee within an engineering organization that would be interested in helping draft building code language to include green roofs.  He suggested that we invite the NRCA to send a representative to join GRHC and meet with his committee.  I posed the invitation to Mark Graham at the ASTM meetings in Anaheim several weeks ago and he accepted.  The meeting will be sometime in August, 2008 and I have every hope we can establish productive dialogue towards aligning the interests of all parties.

There are some real lessons for the young green roof industry here.  First and foremost is to be involved in the process!  The head in the sand posture resulted in the NRCA's acting in their own interest and at the expense of ours.  The activities of the various policy generating organizations must be monitored and, more preferably, affected by our involvement and input.  Membership in these organizations and attendance at the meetings is going to require a commitment of time and money on the part of our industry.  Our members need to populate the committees of these organizations to ensure representation of our interest.  When the ICC hearings commence, we need to fill the room with our members in numbers necessary to overturn decisions handed down from the panel that are not in the interest of our industry.

As we consider all the places we are trying to stretch our limited dollars, I know the last thing you all want is an added entry to the expense column.  The reality, however, is that regulatory barriers could dash the hopes and dreams we all share for a thriving and prosperous green roof industry.  Stay tuned green roof fans; I’ll keep you posted as we navigate the turbulent waters ahead.

Kelly Luckett, The Green Roof Guy

The Roving Exhibitor

Kelly Luckett at one of many conferences

Kelly Luckett, President of Green Roof Blocks, is a frequent trade show exhibitor at greenroof and green building conferences, workshops & seminars.  Look for this occasional column as it happens as result of his attendance - a quick snapshot of the event - like "reflections of a trade show exhibitor" or, The Roving Exhibitor.  But sometimes it's not about exhibiting - he also roves around the country attending ASTM and other roofing and greenroof related organization meetings, so read his column to stay up to date!

Please feel free to send your comments about either this article or your personal take on each of these events, including photos to share and we'll post your experiences, too:

January 2008

2007 in Review and 2008: A Year of Promise for the Green Roof Community

Hello once again green roof fans,

2007 is in the memory chest and baby 2008 has started crawling towards what is sure to be an eventful year for green roof enthusiasts.  Let’s take a moment to look back on those events of this past year that helped to shape our green roof world.

In March the Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) attempted to head off a building code change proposal submitted to the International Code Council (ICC) by the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) that would require green roof assemblies to meet the same wind and fire testing requirements as any other roofing assembly.  At an assembly of stakeholders hosted by SPRI in Dallas, TX the NRCA refused to retract the proposal citing a lack of cooperation to date from the green roof industry and contending that the code change timeline provided ample time for the green roof industry to address the issue.

The few following months produced little in the way of progress towards addressing the issue as the green roof industry choose instead to attempt to fight the measure at the ICC meeting.  Despite these efforts, the measure received unanimous approval and is slated to become part of the International Building Code (IBC) in 2009.  However, the industry responded through the joint efforts of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities (GRHC) and SPRI to draft wind and fire design standards that will be submitted to the ICC in a proposal to attach the standards, as a means of meeting the requirements, to the newly adopted green roof building code.

Though time is limited, we are making progress, the necessary processes are underway, and we are optimistic that the standards will be accepted by the ICC for 2009 publication of the new IBC.  Still troubling, there are those in the industry that still don’t seam to "get it."  At the GRHC Corporate Members meeting in November, I addressed the group to present an update of the process and an overview of the standards.  While I meticulously prepared for discussion of the specifics of the standards, the session was mired by off point comments and arguments as to whether wind and fire testing was necessary or possible.  As the discussion heated and appeared to be speeding towards the brink of the unproductive abyss, GRHC founder Steven Peck came to my rescue.  To paraphrase what Steven said to the group, "The ship has sailed for arguing for or against testing.  The code change has been adopted and if we cannot get these standards completed and accepted by the ICC, testing will become mandatory, whether possible or not.  Everyone has been given the opportunity to get involved and participate in the process; those of you who took a pass in the first few rounds can make your voices heard through GRHC by emailing Kelly."  That was over two months ago and I have yet to be contacted by anyone.

Another issue that is poised to spell trouble for the green roof industry is our failure to convey realistic expectations to the public about green roof maintenance.  I can’t tell you how many articles I have read claiming that green roofs never need watering and that they require no maintenance.  Nothing will kill the green roof movement quicker than widespread catastrophic failures.  Yet, almost daily I hear these misconceptions echoed by building owners and architects.

To give you one example, we (Green Roof Blocks) installed just over two acres of green roof modules at the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago this past year.  Just as we were getting started, we were informed that the irrigation system that had been specified by the project designers had been eliminated because someone convinced the owners it was unnecessary.  It has been widely accepted by the green roof industry that supplemental irrigation throughout the establishment phase of a green roof is often necessary and sometime critical for the long term success of the green roof.  We could have rolled the dice and hoped that Mother Nature provided rain two to three times a week for the first six to eight weeks and then one inch of rain per month thereafter.  The size of this particular green roof, however, would have us shelling out a quarter million dollars to replace 96,000 square feet of plant material if we were wrong.

Instead, we held firm and insisted that the $25,000 irrigation system be added to our contract.  We were willing to walk away from the project, which indicated to the owner that we truly believed the irrigation system to be an absolute necessity.  Our conviction impressed upon them the possibility that future drought conditions could kill the green roof plants. They approved the installation of the irrigation system which was allowed to run for ninety days and is now disconnected, but will remain in place as insurance against drought related catastrophic plant failure.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have many green roof installations without irrigation systems, and in fact, this is the case with most of our green roofs.  The point is this: I never have a conversation about green roof maintenance without saying, “We provide drought tolerant plants, but there is no such thing as a drought proof plant.”  As an industry, we have to do a better job dispelling the myth.  If you are one of the green roof professionals using the term never needs irrigation or you are on the receiving end of these words, you are playing with fire.

The Roving Exhibitor participated in regional conference Greening The Heartland, hosted this year by Madison, WI; the ASLA Annual Meeting & Expo in San Francisco; and Greenbuild 2007, held this year in the new expansion of the McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.  Greening The Heartland was a small conference and produced little traffic for the exhibitors during the tradeshow hours.  As the ASLA Annual Meeting is a much larger conference, expectations were much higher regarding traffic through the exhibit hall.  Our expectation proved too high, however, as the number of people visiting exhibits fell far short of the number of attendees registered for the conference.  Conversations with some conference delegates seamed to indicate problems with the conference layout with limited time between educational sessions and the distance from the sessions to the exhibit hall.  Some felt there was little new to see at the tradeshow that was not also available in industry trade magazines and through the internet.

Then there was the conference that continues to be the pinnacle in tradeshow exhibition, Greenbuild.  The 2007 conference hosted over 22,000 registered attendees with thousands more utilizing passes to the exhibit hall that were circulated by the exhibitors.  Each event of the conference was filled to capacity and the exhibition hall was continuously full.  There was no down time for exhibitors between sessions and the host had to dim the lights at the end of the exhibit hall hours to get the attendees to allow the exhibitors leave for the night.  The number of attendees interested and the media attention given to the green roof exhibitors would seem to indicate the prominent position the green roof concept continues to hold in the green building movement.  The marriage has been good for both, as the public statement of the green roof continues to overshadow most other green building strategies and the green roof industry continues to grow within green construction.

To these other 2007 green roof happenings that, in the sake of brevity, are receiving short shrift, my sincere apologies.  GRHC secured financial sponsorship from Tremco Incorporated to develop the Green Roof Lifecycle Cost Calculator.  Phase one of this impressive effort is available online and future phases will be added as the technology advances to add other functions including energy modeling.  Early last year GRHC convened a group of green roof experts from various sectors of the industry to develop the Professional Green Roof Accreditation Program.  The Roving Exhibitor took part in the two day project to define the skill set required to earn the accredited designation.  In the months following we worked in committee to develop the testing model.  Our work will continue with hopes of rolling out the program in the next eighteen months.

The City of Chicago committed to continue into 2008 offering both the $5,000 grants for residential and small commercial green roof projects, and the $100,000 matching funds grants for larger commercial green roof projects.

The Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network (G.R.E.E.N.) saw two of the researchers complete their projects and successfully complete their thesis defenses.  Congratulations are in order for Krista Forrester, Sam Kaufman, and their program director, Dr. Bill Retzlaff.

Let’s conclude "2007 in Review" by remembering just a few of the people to whom we have said goodbye. The Green Grid family suffered the untimely loss of Sandra McCullough at the very beginning of the year.  I had the pleasure of working with Sandy on some industry committees.  She was smart and funny and her passion for green roofs will be sorely missed.  Also from the Green Grid family, the founder of ABC Supply Company, Ken Hendricks, fell through the roof during a construction project at his home and sustained fatal injuries.  Those of us in roofing industry recognize ABC Supply as one of the first roofing suppliers with national presence.  Ken’s vision of moving roofing supply beyond local supply houses, from stabilizing pricing to maintaining reliable availability, raised the bar for the supply business and made life easier for thousands of roofing and siding contractors across the country.

Our country said goodbye to First Lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson.  Though not directly connected with the green roof industry, the first class team of researchers conducting green roof research at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center continues to honor the name of this great American.  And finally, it was a difficult year for the Green Roof Blocks family as we lost my younger brother, Casey Luckett, in March and we lost my wife’s father, Gene Dabbs, a couple days after Christmas.  While these individuals were not involved within the green roof industry, I must acknowledge that tragedies as well as triumphs shape who we are, emerge through our work, and, in some small part, shape those around us as well.

Just as 2007 made good on the promise of reaching new heights, 2008 is sure to hold even more promise for the green roof community.  My resolution is to work even harder to strike a balance between work and play.  Well green roof fans, this concludes my final column of 2007.  From my family to yours, have a prosperous, healthy, and Happy New Year!

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

August 2007

Sweeping Changes Coming to the North American Green Roof Industry
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP

Hello again, green roof fans.  While two national conferences took place in late spring that the Roving Exhibitor was planning to chronicle for you, the Fifth Annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference and the 2007 American Institute of Architects National Conference, an issue has come to light that could bring wide sweeping changes to the green roof industry in North America.  Rather than discuss the conferences at the moment, I would like to take this opportunity to bring you all up to speed on these latest developments.

Early this year, the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) announced a plan to submit a proposed change to the International Building Code requiring green roofs to meet the same requirements for wind uplift and fire testing as all other roofing systems and materials.  The International Code Council (ICC) met this spring and unanimously approved the proposal and it will be adopted into the International Building Code in 2009.  Up to the present, there has been no testing of any green roof system for wind uplift or flammability.  What’s more, there currently are no standards to conduct the testing necessary to meet the requirements of the new building code.  This measure effectively places all green roof installations at odds with the International Building Code, which governs construction of most everything built in the free world.

There are some interesting back stories regarding a clash of personalities between some in the long established roofing industry and some in the younger green roof industry.  While there may be some debate as to what steps may or may not have been taken to bring these two sides together, whether the roofing industry is guilty of overreaching, or the green roof industry is guilty of inaction, one thing is abundantly clear: the green roof industry is guilty of being painfully unaware of the processes by which construction standards are developed in this part of the world.

Taking a position that the green roof industry had largely ignored concerns that liability for a wind or fire related green roof catastrophe would fall to NRCA member roofing contractors, the NRCA took full advantage of their longstanding involvement in building code development to protect their members using the building code.  The Single Ply Roofing Industry (SPRI) invited stakeholders from the green roof and roofing industry to meet in Dallas prior to the ICC meeting to discuss the issues of wind and fire testing.  It was concluded that there was a definite need for some standards of green roof construction within the building code but absent testing methodology from ASTM, which may be many years away, it was agreed that a prescriptive standard detailing green roof construction in terms wind uplift and fire resistance could serve to guide the industry and relieve the roofing contractors of the perceived liability.

At the conclusion of the SPRI meeting, representatives of NRCA were requested to delay the building code change proposal until such a standard could be developed.  Sighting the 18 month delay between the approval of the proposal and the final adoption of the measure in 2009, the NRCA’s position was there was ample time to develop a standard prior to the 2009 publishing date and therefore, refused to withdraw their proposal.

This matter dominated conversation during the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ (GRHC) corporate members committee meeting (of which my company, Green Roof Blocks, is a member) at the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference in May.  A committee was struck to develop a strategy to keep the measure from becoming a restrictive barrier to future green roofs.  Through several conference call meetings, the committee developed a plan of action involving several GRHC representatives attending the ICC meeting to oppose the measure through the public comment portion of the code change review process.  This effort proved futile and as I previously stated, the measure received unanimous approval.

Since SPRI had already committed to developing a pair of prescriptive standards, the fall back plan then became to partner with SPRI to develop one standard detailing how to construct green roofs to meet wind uplift requirements similar to those in place for traditional roofing systems and another standard addressing the fire concerns.

To get the ball rolling, I drafted two standards using a combination of material from the existing Factory Mutual Green Roof Guidelines (you can buy it here: FM Global's Property Loss Prevention Data Sheet 1-35: Green Roof Systems, updated 1.07).  Its 26-pages include Scope, Loss Prevention Recommendations, and Support for Recommendations, the FLL (English) Guidelines For Green Roof Construction and Maintenance, and the some of the work in progress from the ASTM Green Roof Committee.  These draft standards were circulated among several members of GRHC and SPRI for comment.  The draft standard for wind uplift was overhauled and rolled into a new document that parallels the existing roofing wind uplift standard RP-4 by Dick Gillenwater of Carlisle.  This new draft was then circulated among some members of GRHC and SPRI for additional comments.  Both drafts were revised to reflect most of the comments and submitted to SPRI for review during their recent August meeting held in Provenance, RI.

The group that had met with SPRI members in Dallas, now designated as the Green Roof Coalition, convened once again to review the draft standards at the Provenance SPRI meeting.  The twenty member panel poured over every detail of the two standards, revising until we emerged with two standards capable of initiating the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) review process.  The ANSI review process entails identifying a canvas field of experts and stakeholders who agree to review and comment on the two standards.  This field of reviewers submits their comments to the Green Roof Coalition who must then revise the standard to address all comments.  The revised standards must then be re-circulated among the same reviewers for additional comments, which must be addressed through further revisions.  This process continues until there is a consensus among reviewers on the final versions of each standard.  This is a process that typically requires many months to complete.

In our case, we have about two months to have completed the ANSI process so that the new standards can be submitted to the ICC at their February 2008 meeting.  The two new ANSI standards could then be added to the NRCA’s code change proposal that was approved last spring and would become the new building code to be published in 2009.

The new standards will undoubtedly change how green roofs are constructed in North America.  The current form of the standards includes some new restrictions based on accepted roofing practice and common sense.  Not everyone will be happy with the new rules, which is typically the case with such change.  However, the green roof industry has been flying under the code enforcement radar for quite some time.  The American construction industry is heavily regulated, providing uniform building standards the insurance industry and construction financers can rely upon.  This necessary step is likely just the beginning of the growing pains this young industry is destined for.

Pioneers of the industry may be left behind as the maturing process continues and new players emerge to take green roofs into the mainstream of American construction.  Some of us may need to reinvent ourselves to remain on the new stage.  One thing is certain, the green roof business is not static and like the plants we cultivate, it changes in concert with nature, constantly evolving to meet the needs of an ever changing marketplace.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

April 2007

Greenroofs for an Earth-Friendly Family

The new eco-friendly home for single mom Georgia Yazzie and family in Piñon, AZ; Photo Source: Reporter Jenn Burgess' WebXtra Blog
'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' comes to Arizona - Credit : Jeff the photojournalist.

Green Roofs Go Primetime
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
Photos by Kelly Luckett, unless otherwise noted

Publisher's Note:  The air date has been set for Sunday, October 28 at 8 Eastern and 7 Central!  See the all new Green Extreme Makeover Home Edition: One Boy Saves His Family. Six people headed up by a single mom, her innovative teenage son, two daughters, including one with asthma, and two grandchildren living together in a trailer on a Navajo reservation with no running water, but still living in the Navajo Way, which means sustainable living on the land, in accordance with the principles of Mother Earth.

Ty Pennington and his team of design professionals give the Yazzie family an exceptional home which treads lightly on the Earth - using solar and wind power, and greenroofs, too!  See how they employed two modular systems, Green Roof Blocks and Green Paks, as elements of living architecture which honors the Earth and the Navajo Way.  See the ABC Extreme Makeover - Home Edition website here and also on Greenroofs.TV.

Hello again, green roof fans. Though it has been a quiet winter for tradeshows and exhibitions for the Roving Exhibitor, spring has sprung and I have most exciting news to report:  About two weeks ago I received a phone call from a television producer from the ABC network.  She wanted to know if we would be interested in supplying Green Roof Blocks for Extreme Makeover – Home Edition.  Do we want to do a green roof that will be viewed by over 15 million people? Hmm, let me think… uh…Yes!!

Extreme Makeover Home Edition

The crew in blue of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

The next phone call came from the project manager - it was then I was informed that the project was a residence to be built in Piñon, Arizona, Navajo County, Navajo Nation, northeast of Flagstaff for a single mother and her children.  The family had little or no heat, no running water, and no indoor plumbing, and their outhouse was situated away from their home.  I was about to learn more.

All I could think of when I heard them say "Arizona" was images of tumble weeds blowing across the desert floor.  I discussed by way of speaker phone, with what appeared to be a room full of people, the weight of the saturated green roof and the hydration needs of the plants.  After tossing around ideas about rainwater harvesting to irrigate the plants; they could add guttering to the project and we could supply some Rainwater Solutions rain barrels (, the construction team agreed that the first hurdle to clear was the weight factor.  They said they would review the structural drawings with the engineers and get back to me.

Ty Pennington

The host of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Ty Pennington, on site, after demolition, pre-construction.

The phone call came the next day around 4:00 pm. The voice on the other end said somberly that the structure would not support the added weight of the green roof.  He said they might build a shed to house the hot water tank that perhaps could use a small quantity of Green Roof Blocks.  I disappointedly hung up the phone and began to rationalize that it wasn’t meant to be.  However, the phone rang again at 9:00 pm.

This time the voice was upbeat and so was the news.  The producers of the show insisted on finding a way to include the green roof on the residence.  I was informed that the engineer was working to find a way include the green roof and would let us know definitively the following day.  After a very long twelve hours the phone rang once again.  By now I recognized the number to be the project manager calling. I nervously answered to hear the news.  The answer was Yes, the engineer determined there to be three gables on the front of the structure that would indeed support the saturated weight of the green roof.

As the initial high subsided, we began to identify the many challenges facing us.  The show was filming in ten days and the producers needed a mature green roof on the day of the shoot.  We keep some planted Green Roof Blocks on hand for the occasional small project but since we did not know how big the roof areas were, our first hurdle was to calculate the roof area to determine if we had enough product. The project would require 180 of the 200 Green Roof Blocks we had at the greenhouse.  Next was the matter of transporting 180 Green Roof Blocks, some 9,000 pounds of growth media, and live plants  nearly 1,500 miles.  Since some recent experiences with common carriers proved that mode of transportation less than reliable, we decided to drive the material ourselves in a rented truck.

Finally, the roof slope on one of the gables was 26 degrees.  Green Roof Blocks have been tested on lesser slopes but 26 degrees would require some means to keeping the modules from sliding off of the roof.  We decided to fasten the handles together using stainless steel draw bands allowing the Blocks on opposite sides of the ridge to counterbalance each other.  Armed with a plan for which we felt confident, we set out for Arizona.  Regarding the final irrigation plan, we decided to input the coordinates of the project in our plant health alert system, and the owners will water the plants using the water from the rain barrels when they receive the alert from us.

The St. Louis Metalworks Company Entourage in the Arizona desert.

Our green roof team, made up of my partner Mike Crowell, his wife and their 7 year old triplets, my wife Trish and my daughter Shannon, our greenhouse owner, Vic Jost, and fellow contributing editor, Dr. Bill Retzlaff, assembled in Flagstaff, Arizona.  When we showed up Sunday morning, just four days after bulldozing the family’s old home, we found a standing structure complete with shingle roofing.  The wind howled terribly the entire day with gusts up to 45 miles per hour.

Placement of the Green Roof Blocks on the steep roof.

The installation, nevertheless, went off without a hitch.  Designer Paul Di Meo helped position Green Roof Blocks for the camera while discussing the some of the benefits the green roof would be providing for the project. 

Ridge attachments and valley cuts are no problem.

Left: The camera crew getting a good shot; Right: Trish on the roof!

The completed greenroof installation on the two Hogans, one for the mother, one for the daughter*.

Right: The installers carefully inspecting the roof;  Left: Success! Kelly on the Greenroof.

The local medicine man, Georgia Yazzie’s older brother, gave his blessing for the new dwelling.  The general contractor, HomeLife Communities, supplied a dedicated extending forklift and operator for hoisting the Green Roof Blocks to the rooftop, and volunteers fed us and looked after our every need.  We were fortunate enough to be invited to return to the home for the presentation to the family.

Making sure everything is ready!

Solar panels, greenroofs, and finalizing everything, 4.16.07; Photo Source: Reporter Jenn Burgess' WebXtra Blog 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' comes to Arizona - Photo Credit : Jeff the photojournalist.

Left: Watering of the Green Paks to keep the hot water tank cool;
Right: One "green" hot water tank building.

Thirty Green Paks were also applied on the hot water tank, as shown above.  The atmosphere was charged with excitement as the film crew spent the early afternoon staging shots and rehearsing for the big moment.

Left: 4.17.07, Trish and Shannon Luckett and friends; Right: Ty and guests waiting for the bus, 4.17.07; Photos by Kelly Luckett.

Photo by Kelly Luckett

The anxious crowd is waiting for the “Move That Bus” moment...

Ty Pennington and his designers posed for photos with the construction team and with the crowd of over 70 volunteers, Navajo Nation friends and family who gathered for the “Move That Bus” moment.  After much anticipation the white limo pulled up with the Yazzie family, the film crew made final preparations, and at last the moment arrived...

The designers and hosts The Happy Family

Left: Designer Paul Di Meo (in glasses) and design team hosts waiting in the desert sun, Photo: Kelly Luckett; Right: Georgia Yazzie and her children with Ty; Photo Source: Reporter Jenn Burgess's WebXtra Blog 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' comes to Arizona
Photo Credit : Jeff the photojournalist.

The bus pulled away and there stood Ty with mom Georgia Yazzie and her children as they first laid eyes on their new home.  You could hear a pin drop as Ty pointed out the solar panels, wind turbine, and the green roof.  The crowd was overwhelmed and there wasn’t a dry eye to be found among us.

One final view of the green site for the Yazzie family in the Navajo Nation.

We’re not certain of the broadcast date at this time, though we have heard some speculation about a two-hour special for the season finale or perhaps even the fall premier.  This was Extreme Makeover – Home Edition’s first green project, and with sun tracking solar panels, solar heat and hot water, all LED interior lighting, wind turbine, green roof, and a host of other environmentally responsible building strategies, there will be quite a bit more of the actual building to discuss than is covered in the typical one-hour episode.

Don’t worry green roof fans; you can be certain we’ll let you know when this episode will air.  Until then, tune in weekly to see all of the great work Ty and his friends are doing; Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, Sundays, 8/7c on ABC.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

* Publisher's Note:  Read Reporter Jenn Burgess' WebXtra Blog on the Navajo Nation family's new home in 'Extreme Makeover: Home Edition' comes to Arizona, for her in-depth journaling at the scene including many photos of the emotions, hard work, and joy of the entire Piñon experience.  Jenn talks about the native landscape of grasslands that give way to terra cotta-colored cliffs dotted with green brush.  She also delves into Navajo dwelling traditions and placement of built structures, and among other topics touches on the reverence and significance of the feminine in native architecture, and Hogans, in particular.  You will also find Video!  See the project profile in The Greenroof Projects Database here.

February 2007

greenbuild 2006

The Greenbuild 2006 International Conference and Expo
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
All Photos by Kelly Luckett

Hello once again, Green Roof Fans.  This exhibitor closed the 2006 tradeshow season with "The Mother of All Green Building Conferences": Greenbuild, hosted this year by the Mile High City of Denver, Colorado.  I could not have asked for a better ending to the year.  It seems like only yesterday when conference delegates stood before me with inquisitive looks on their faces asking, “What’s a green roof and why would I want one?”

Photos by Kelly Luckett

The Greenbuild 2006 International Conference and Expo, Denver, Colorado

Well, let me tell you, there is a new breed of educated green roof enthusiasts combing the floors of tradeshows looking for specific products and information.  Seldom are the questions about rudimentary green roof functions and purposes - I now find myself fielding questions about green roof details like growth media saturation weights, plant palate specifics, lead times, and storm water retention data. These are educated consumers that know the benefits of the green roofing concept.  Now they need the tools to incorporate green roofs into their projects.

I find most architects I speak with to be huge green roof fans.  They look to green roof professionals to arm them with the ammunition they need to convince their clients that the green roof is a sound investment.  They want to know the first cost, hidden costs, and ongoing maintenance costs.  They want to know which LEED points the green roof will help capture and if there are any incentives or tax relief to help recoup the cost.  Some are developing in areas where stormwater runoff restrictions exist and they want the data to submit to the regional planners and code enforcement officials.  And, of course, they all want to know what the energy savings will be, so they can calculate the return on their client’s green roof investment.  While most of us in the green roof industry can practically recite most of this information from memory, the energy savings derived from installing a green roof remains illusive.

The Committee hard at work

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has two committees working concurrently to help the industry provide information to the design community.

There is good news to report, however. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has two committees working concurrently to help the industry provide this information to the design community: While one committee is working to evaluate the energy performance modeling tool, another is developing a lifecycle cost analysis tool that will help determine the return on investment by quantifying a broad range of tangible and intangible green roof financial attributes.  Phase one of the lifecycle cost analysis tool is due out in April.  Phase one will produce the structure of the Excel based worksheet and will use placeholders for areas of the program still under development.  These items were among those discussed at the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities corporate members meeting held in one of the meeting areas just before the Greenbuild Opening Ceremonies.

Photos by Kelly Luckett

Fellow Exhibitor Janet Faust of JDR Enterprises.

A shot with fellow exhibitor and GRHC Member American Hydrotech, with Steve Skinner.

Conversations with the corporate members during and after the conference revealed similar impressions of the tradeshow traffic, quality of the sales leads, and the venue; it was great!  I didn’t have one negative comment from anyone; exhibitor or delegate.  The educational presentations were poignant and well attended.  Tradeshow traffic was outstanding.  And the city of Denver truly rolled out the red carpet, including unseasonably warm and sunny weather for a few of the days.

Mrs. Roving Exhibitor and I lived in Denver about 15 years ago and we were excited to get back and see all that has improved.  The 16th street Mall was especially impressive.  This blighted area of downtown Denver has been transformed into a very cool outdoor mall with an interesting blend of boutique and big box retailers.  The shops are situated along each side of a divided street that has a sprawling landscaped median with park benches and various pedestrian amenities that stretch its entire 16 block length.  After lunch at the Cheese Cake Factory, we walked off some calories and shopped for souvenirs.

Trish Luckett of Green Roof Blocks

"Mrs. Roving Exhibitor" at the Green Roof Blocks/Green Paks Booth at Greenbuild 2006.

So, Green Roof Fans, as we say so long to 2006 and we start setting our goals for 2007, let’s try to remember to be good tenants of the planet because our lease is short and the next generation will appreciate the nice green carpet on that top floor.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

November 2006

ASLA logo 2006 ASLA Annual Meeting & EXPO and 43rd IFLA World Congress logo IFLA logo

The ASLA 2006 Annual Meeting and EXPO and the 43rd IFLA World Congress
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP

Hello again Green Roof Fans!  While the green roof planting season may be winding down, the green roof market is heating up.  Designers, contractors, and building owners all seem to be on an incessant quest for green roof information and price quotations for future projects.  There certainly was no shortage of inquiring minds at the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) 2006 Annual Meeting and EXPO and 43rd International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA) World Congress hosted on October 6–10, 2006 by the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Delegates came from all across the U.S. and all over the world to share their expertise and to learn from their colleagues from China, France, Colombia, Germany, Sweden, Mauritius, Spain, Canada and more.  Green building principles and sustainability permeated discussions throughout the week.  Chicago’s Mayor Daley spoke about his efforts to make his city the greenest community in the United States.  Ed Snodgrass made a presentation on green roofs and Green Roofs for Healthy Cities presented two instructional green roof courses.  And there was a continuous buzz among the delegates about the new green roof on the ASLA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

This is the first time Green Roof Blocks exhibited at the ASLA meeting.  The 2005 meeting was hosted by Fort Lauderdale so when we were planning our exhibition schedule for 2006, I remember thinking “Fort Lauderdale in October?  It’s a tough gig, but somebody’s got to do it.”  You can imagine my disappointment when I was informed that this year’s meeting would have me traveling in the opposite direction. One conjures visions of late August snow falls when thinking about Minnesota.  To my surprise the weather was sunny with balmy 70 degree temperatures.

The convention center here is bordered by incredible displays of landscape architecture on both public and private properties.  As I took in a bit of the city, I couldn’t help but to be impressed by the greenery that abounded from hanging baskets, adorned the sidewalk in planter boxes, and draped the building walls.

Minneapolis is eager to continue this citywide focus on green space to the rooftops, and the city will host the annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards & Trade Show next spring to further promote the green roof concept in the region.  Some of our green roof family gathered after the conference for some relaxation at a pub where the locals were enjoying lawn bowling on one of American Hydrotech’s green roof projects.  We enjoyed each other’s company and discussed the green roof business, and the general consensus was that this market continues to expand.  I was a little surprised, as I walked the exhibit floor, by the absence of some of the faces I have become accustomed to seeing at such exhibitions.

The landscape architect plays a significant role in many of the green roof projects with which we are involved, and I found those in attendance to be keenly interested in the green roof concept and many who requested information from me said they were currently involved with a green roof project.  While I tend to focus on the functionality of the green roof, I suspect landscape architects will help our industry find a marriage of form and function.

That’s all for now Green Roof Fans - my next stop, the 2006 Greenbuild Conference and Expo hosted this week in Denver, Colorado.  Until the next roving experience, have a happy Thanksgiving!

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

Publisher's Note:  Read all about Green Minneapolis in the article, "Beacon of Art: Minneapolis, host city for the 2006 ASLA Annual Meeting & Expo" from the May 2006 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine here (PDF).  For more info about the American Society of Landscape Architects, please visit the ASLA website, and for the International Federation of Landscape Architects please visit the IFLA website.

September 2006

The AIA logo The G.R.E.E.N. logo

The AIA National Convention and G.R.E.E.N.'s first Green Roof Symposium
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
All Photos by Linda S. Velazquez

Hello once again green roof fans.  Summer is winding down, the green roof market is heating up, and the Roving Exhibitor has been roving!  Between the ball games and barbeques there was quite a bit of activity to report so I’ll get right to it.

I kicked summer off in June at the 138th AIA (American Institute of Architects) National Convention held this year in sunny Los Angeles.  This was a first class event on every level.  Discounted airfare was provided for delegates and exhibitors; a first for this exhibitor.  Blocks of rooms at area hotels were complimented by efficient shuttle service to and from the event. The exhibit hall was decked out with every amenity.  But most impressive was the trade show traffic.

The format was typical of most conference tradeshows holding breakout sessions concurrent to tradeshow hours.  So, I was expecting some idle time during sessions.  I was mistaken.  A crowd of designers gathered at the tradeshow entrance waiting to be allowed into the exhibit hall.  Once security declared the hall open, the flood of visitors to the exhibits was overwhelming.  I don’t typically utilize the scanners that are available to gather visitor information because I don’t make cold calls and I don’t like sending correspondence that resembles junk mail.  At the last minute, however, something made me decide to give the scanner a try, and how that scanner saved my butt!  Within minutes of the hall opening I had architects lined up at my booth four deep handing their badges over the top of the people in front of them for me to scan.  I was alone in the booth, a mistake I won’t make next year, and the scanner was the only way I could have kept up with the hectic pace of delegate traffic.

During the three day exhibition I distributed over 1500 brochures before running out and I scanned 467 architects requesting information.  The last day of the show I actually stayed in my booth speaking with designers and scanning badges for about an hour after the exhibit hall lights were shut down.

On June 29th the Green Roof Environmental Evaluation Network (G.R.E.E.N.) held our first Green Roof Symposium in Edwardsville, IL.  Visitors came from nearby cities like Chicago and Kansas City, and from cities as far away as New York.

Ed Snodgrass of Emory Knoll Farms ('s own Ask Ed) was the Keynote Speaker.  Ed Jarger and Bill Schaefer from American Hydrotech came to present a case study breakout session and to help introduce the green roof basics.  Mr. Jarger presented the anatomy of a green roof and I followed up with an introduction to the modular approach.  Mike Curry of Midwest Trading and Grace Koehler of Midwest Groundcover presented a breakout session on green roof soil formulation and plant selections being utilized in Chicago Land.'s Publisher, Linda Velazquez, helped kick the event off with a state of the industry presentation and then presented a case study on one of her projects in Atlanta, and closed with a demonstration of the new international Greenroof Projects Database.

Ed gave an inspiring Keynote speech - now it's time to relax.

A view through the glass

Left:  Ed Snodgrass, the Keynote Speaker at the 2006 G.R.E.E.N. Green Roof Symposium chatting at the reception; Right:  The G.R.E.E.N. test plots atop the roof of the SIUE Engineering Building.

Other speakers included the Dean of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, the stormwater engineer for the City of O’Fallon, IL, a representative from the St. Louis Metropolitan Sewer District, and yours truly, who presented a breakout session on structural engineering for green roofs that I borrowed from a symposium Dr. Bill Hunt had hosted previously in Raleigh, NC.

Green Roof Blocks Make Easy Test Modules

Different Types of Growth Media

Stormwater Monitoring

The G.R.E.E.N. Test Field Site with Monitoring Equipment at the
SIUE Environmental Sciences Program field facility.

The G.R.E.E.N. research team presented the latest data of each of the green roof research projects and the guests were treated to a tour of the stormwater research site.  Tabletop exhibits were provided by Rooflite, Buildex, American Hydrotech, St. Louis Retaining Wall, and of course Green Roof Blocks.

The months of July and August were quiet on the exhibition front but we were busy installing another green roof at Carnegie Mellon University, preparing a project for Bank of America in Chicago, and launching our first privately funded Green Paks project for Cook + Fox Architects in Manhattan.  As I write this column I am returning from China where I met with our team to continue to expand our presence there.  When my feet hit the ground again in the United States my focus will be on a project we are doing in Chicago for one of Mayor Daley’s green roof grant recipients.

My next exhibition stop is in Minneapolis in October for the 2006 American Society of Landscape Architects Annual Meeting & EXPO and 43rd IFLA World Congress. Until then, green roof fans, think green - be green!

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

June 2006

Click here to Register!

The Fourth Annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards & Trade Show
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP

Hello once again Green roof Fans.  To kick off spring 2006 the green roof industry came together in Boston last month for the fourth annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities.  Ever notice how family reunions seem to bring out the very best and the absolute worst in people at the very same time?  Well the green roof family isn’t much different.  I wasn’t ten minutes into unpacking my display material, and a fellow exhibitor was giving me an earful about the cost of doing business.  That theme was echoed over the next several days as I interviewed exhibitors and conference delegates.  Though the green roof industry is growing by leaps and bounds, most of us are still pumping way more money into our businesses than we are getting out.  Like that rich uncle that everyone likes to lash out at, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities was the target of some critical comments.  I shared some of your comments with founder Steven Peck this week to get his take on the conference, the tradeshow, and membership in the Green Roofs For Healthy Cities organization.

Steven was actually surprised by some of the criticisms, stating that the feedback he had gotten was all positive.  I guess that’s understandable.  I mean, who of us tells the host as we’re walking out the front door, “Great party but the music and the bean dip sucked.”   Tantamount to asking your Aunt Agnes how she is feeling, my asking exhibitors about GRHC seemed to elicit an onslaught of sentiments.  All of us are under a great deal of pressure to produce results for our investment in this emerging market. Unfortunately, tangible returns on your marketing investment in the green roof business can come many years down the road.  The architect you meet today at the tradeshow may specify your product on a project that will be ready for a green roof in the year 2009.

As we examine our profit and loss statements to see where all of the money is going, we tend to take aim at big ticket items like membership fees and tradeshow costs.  To questions regarding high membership fees and tradeshow costs Steven Peck said, “We are keenly aware of the need to give as much value as we can to exhibitors and delegates.”  He is quick to point out that there were extended hours for the trade show this year and the new format did not have the trade show competing for the same hours as the breakout sessions.  The new format allowed exhibitors the opportunity to attend breakout sessions and provided ample time for delegates to leisurely browse the tradeshow.  I loved the new format though there were some comments about long days.  Steven indicated some tweaking will address that issue for next year.  Steven also pointed out that this was the largest conference to date with over 850 participants.  All of the exhibitors I spoke with enjoyed the focused group of delegates and were pleasantly surprised by the tradeshow traffic.  There were some comments about the need to get more architects and trades people into the tradeshow.

The intangible returns on our marketing investments can come without us even noticing.  Greater attendance numbers to our annual conference mean that interest in the green roof market is expanding. Steven is pleased to announce that the conference resulted in moving the market in the city of Boson forward with commitments for stormwater funding for green roofs.  This kind of governmental support for the green roof concept will hopefully lead to more communities like Chicago, the Holy Grail of green roof market share.

Another subtle governmental policy that could have a huge impact on our sales numbers is the new Internal Revenue Service Deduction for Energy Efficient Commercial Buildings announced June 2nd of this year.  Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the IRS will allow deductions up to $1.80 per square foot for buildings that achieve a 50-percent energy savings target.  The new IRS announcement states that owners can qualify for deductions up to $.60 per square foot for buildings that only achieve a 16.66-percent energy saving target.  The Department of Energy will provide a list of approved software that can be used to calculate energy savings for the purpose of certification.  It will likely have us in the green roof industry scrambling to fit green roofs into these modeling tools, whether through assumed R-factor or through rooftop heat gain calculations.  Mayor Daley has shown us that supportive policy generates far more sales than marketing.  It is absolutely critical that we continue to press policy makers to include green roofs in the language of storm water management and energy policies throughout the country.

Furthermore, we need to press for more research into storm water, heat island, and energy benefits of green roofs.  Accurate, replicated research data will go a long way to help our family validate the use of the green roof products we promote.

Finally, there was some jousting among our family in terms of achievement and recognition.  There were some comments made by some visitors to my booth about conflicting information given by competing exhibitors.  In a competitive market place we are all working hard to set ourselves apart from our competitors.  My blood used to just boil every time I heard, “You’re nothing like your brothers?”  I wanted nothing more than to break free from those family bonds and establish my own identity.  Until, of course, somebody challenged a member of that family.  Suddenly there were no differences between us.  You were now in a battle with us all.  Likewise, when one of us did something good, it hoisted the entire family up and the interfamily competition didn’t seem as important.

So within our green roof family, a little friendly jousting is just good fun; My website had more hits than yours last month, We installed more square footage of green roof, Our company grossed the most sales, and Mom told me you were adopted.  Let us be clear about one thing though, our hopes for the green roof industry live and die together and all of our successes and failures reflect on the entire family.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

May 2006

CSI logo

The 50th Annual CSI Show & Convention
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
All Photos by Kelly Luckett

About the middle of March an architect from Las Vegas emailed me about a mid-rise building they were designing and wanted to know if a green roof would survive the desert climate.  I refer such plant questions to my friend and horticultural advisor, Vic Jost.  I knew the first thing Vic was going to ask was if the project would have an irrigation system so I posed that question to the architect before making the call to Vic.  The answer was Yes, they were designing the project with an automated drip irrigation system.  When I spoke with Vic he felt as long as we were irrigating it should be possible to do the green roof.  But before we committed to anything he wanted to call some perennial grower associates in Las Vegas and get their help with a plant selection list.

Several days went by as I waited to hear from Vic and his friends from the desert.  The timing for this project was curious because I was getting ready to travel to Las Vegas for the national Construction Specifications Institute tradeshow.  I was even kind of jazzed about the prospect of having a local project I could discuss with the tradeshow delegates.

The day before my flight, however, I got a rather disturbing phone call from Vic.  It seemed his friends in Las Vegas were in disagreement about the feasibility of getting plants to live in the full desert sun. One grower told Vic that he could not get any sedum to survive at grade without afternoon shade, let alone on a roof.  While another grower felt as Vic did that as long as the plants were irrigated they would do just fine.  The last thing I want to hear when I am designing a green roof project is that the plant professionals on whom I rely for expert advice are at odds about the viability of the project!  I really didn’t want this uncertainty while I was headed to Las Vegas to speak with a few hundred architects and specification writers.  I like having answers to the questions and I don’t like surprises. But here I was headed to the desert armed only with “two out three growers recommend…”

An American Hydrotech associate stopped by my booth to chat and I asked him about their experience.  It seems they have yet to do a green roof in such a climate though he heard there are a couple in existence.  He said it will likely to take some failures before the industry determines how to design green roofs for the desert.  He suggested it would be nice if I took one for the team and produced the first catastrophic failure.  Though we were teasing, he was right.  As an industry we need to get some testing going in these arid climates that so desperately need the green roof concept to help address serious runoff and heat island problems.

Some of the usual tradeshow suspects were also with us at CSI in Las Vegas:

Left:  The Green Roof Blocks booth; Right:  Dennis Yanez of American Hydrotech

Left:  The Henry booth; Right:  ER Systems

Las Vegas isn’t the only region looking at green roofs and wondering if the solution to some of their environmental problems lies within.  Phoenix, New Mexico, Southern California, and parts of Texas are all in the same boat.  One problem is the lack of cohesion within the industry.  We shroud our failures in secrecy while they are celebrated by our competitors.  Green roof research, though increasing, seems to be isolated and largely proprietary.  Though this business model has worked well for other industries, it does a disservice to ours.
Green roofs are still too expensive, which makes the stakes too high to gamble with a building owner’s money.  The green roof industry seems to be taking a “play it safe” approach.  This is understandable since nobody wants to be associated with failure and who of us can afford to loose money on a grand scale?  Perhaps the way to wade into the unknown is as a group.  We can start by sharing information.  Who knows where we could go from there.  We might even co-sponsor some research projects that would provide all of us with some answers.  We all need to come to terms with one unavoidable fact:  Every green roof sold makes it a little easier to sell another, and every green roof failure makes it a little more difficult to sell the next one.

At this embryonic stage, our industry clearly has some common enemies.  Mother Nature is out front while rising fuel cost and instability within the expanded aggregate market trail closely behind.  We need cheaper growth media and a better understanding of the plant life we are working with.  We need to take a serious look at leaching and explore contaminant fixers.  We need to be able to tell consumers what they can realistically expect from green roof installation in terms of energy savings and storm water runoff reduction.  Once we’ve found some answers and worked some of these bugs out of the green roof concept we can all get back to the business of back stabbing and playing hardball.

Oh Yeah, this column is supposed to be about the CSI Show.  You may recall last year I wrote that the CSI show at McCormick Place in Chicago was one of the best attended tradeshows I’ve seen.  I was also a huge fan of the conference format separating the tradeshow hours from the education sessions.  This year the format was the same; education sessions ended at noon and the exhibit floor hours followed from 12:30 to 4:30.  Though the total number of delegates to the conference increased over last year, the traffic at the tradeshow seemed a little light.

Now don’t get me wrong, I spent three days engaged in conversations with a lot of people who were genuinely interested in the green roof concept, some from as far away as Hawaii and Australia.  But comparatively it didn’t hit the numbers we generated in terms of contacts and handouts at the Chicago show last year.  Perhaps the reason was a combination of the format and the setting.  In a city where there are slot machines in the neighborhood 7-11 convenience store, the closing statements of the morning education sessions had the same effect as a grade school recess bell.  How are you going to get people into the tradeshow when the playground of all playgrounds beckons?  This could also explain the rush of delegates speeding through the exhibit hall frantically gathering brochures during the final hours of the show.

The next stop for the Roving Exhibitor is Boston, Massachusetts for the 4th Annual Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards, & Trade Show.  Until then, Green Roof Fans, enjoy the spring and keep building green!

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

March 2006

Raise The Green Roof Fundraiser and Other Worthy Events,
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP

After two years of marketing the green roof concept, I have learned to carefully choose where to invest my company’s time and resources.  With new green building tradeshows and conferences springing up almost daily, it’s increasingly difficult to choose which events to participate in.  In fact, it’s downright hard to say no.  This year we had chosen to limit our tradeshows exhibitions to six.  We are doing the top four: CSI, AIA, ASLA, and Green Build. We made our debut at the regional conference Greening the Heartland in 2004 so we like to do this conference for sentimental value, plus it helps support our local chapter of the USGBC.  Though the Green Roofs For Sustainable Cities conference is not one of the best attended tradeshows, it’s a great to catch up with green roof industry friends, make some new friends, and check out new green roof products and technology.

I got out the laptop and plotted each date on my calendar.  With no scheduling conflicts and the year planned out, I closed the calendar and opened my email.  There it was - the invitation to exhibit in the annual Earth Day Festival.  OK, I thought, one more event wouldn’t break the bank.  A couple days later came the invitation to participate in the regional Low Impact Development Symposium.  After that was the Sierra Club Energy Festival, the Botanical Garden Green Building Expo, the Construction Expo, the Wichita Green Expo, Forest Park Forever, and about half a dozen more.  With so many worthy events it wasn’t long before my 2006 calendar looked a lot like 2005.

The future is green at Whitfield High School.

So when the students at the Whitfield High School called on me to set up my booth at their Raise The Green Roof fundraiser, I just couldn’t say no.  The students accompanied their teacher to the Earth Day Festival last spring where they gathered information and literature from the many exhibitors of green building products. I was flattered to hear that of all of the exhibited products the students were most excited by our green roof product.  It seems each senior class engages in a major project to improve the school and to inspire future senior classes to keep pushing the bar higher.  The graduating class of 2006 has decided to green a portion of the school rooftop.  On a cold Saturday in January they held an open house to raise money for the project. T hey washed cars, sold organic snacks and cloth shopping bags, and a student rock and roll band performed in the school auditorium.

One by one the students brought their friends and family members to my table to explain what their efforts were purchasing.  They beamed with pride as they explained how green roofs benefit the environment and why they had chosen this particular green roof system.  As I spent the afternoon thoroughly entertained by the enthusiasm of these young men and women, I reflected on my own high school days.  To us, saving the planet meant not lighting forest fires and “pitch-in” with our litter.  You couldn’t have dragged me onto school property with a team of oxen on a Saturday, let alone get me to spend my day off raising money for a school related anything.

What a long way we have come in 25 years.  As consumers, we are demanding goods and services that reflect our environmental values, and industry is responding. Saving the planet is now a multi-billion dollar industry. Though I have heard recent skepticism about reducing our fossil fuel dependence, when I look at the commitment of these young people, I can’t help but to be optimistic for a very green future.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor        

December 2005

Greenbuild logo

The Greenbuild 2005 International Conference and Expo
By Kelly Luckett , LEED AP
All Photos by Kelly Luckett

ello once again Green Roof Fans.  Though it’s been a while since my last report, the Roving Exhibitor has been busy.  We returned to Beijing in September to establish Green Roof Blocks in China, and I managed to complete the journey without becoming the subject of an international incident.  Our first Beijing project will be in place soon; keep an eye on the press releases.  I also recently participated in several Watershed and Low Impact Development conferences.  A driving force behind green roofs in the next decade will be storm water issues.  The State of Illinois has just passed Bill 519 providing funding and mandates to address run off issues in selected counties including the Chicagoland and metro East St. Louis.  The Metropolitan Sewer District of St. Louis is taking another run at implementing an impervious surface surcharge despite growing opposition by powerful lobbyists representing owners of properties containing vast amounts of impervious surfaces.  It promises to be a hard fought battle that pits money against the environment.

Trish Luckett of Green Roof Blocks, 11.05

Now, I know what you’re thinking, but before you assume that big money will steam roll over the environmental interest, let me tell you about an event that is rallying the troops for the environment: Greenbuild.  The Greenbuild 2005 International Conference and Expo was held on November 9 - 11 at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, GA.

Now in its fourth year, Greenbuild is presented annually by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a nonprofit coalition of more than 5,500 private companies, nonprofits and governmental agencies working to transform the building industry.

Throughout its 10-year history, the USGBC has been at the forefront of green building - introducing the LEED Green Building Rating System in 2000 and launching Greenbuild in 2002.

A local marching band opened the Awards Ceremony at The Tabernacle.

The 2005 Greenbuild Expo was hosted by the city of Atlanta, Georgia, and with over 500 exhibitors and nearly 10,000 delegates, this year’s expo was the most successful environmental awareness gathering to date.  The educational sessions covered green building issues ranging from policy to practice, and numerous workshops and tours were offered; the exhibit hall was jammed with vendors marketing everything under the sun, literally.

For such a huge undertaking, everything flowed smoothly with a lot of behind the scenes support and the entire organization proved to be very professionally run - even the conference food was good!   A couple of fun events were the Welcome Party and the Leadership Awards Ceremony with live music at the awesome Tabernacle, a historical landmark and former church turned award-winning entertainment venue.

The evening started with performances from a local marching band followed by the awards, a soulful choir, and DJ's spinning some great sounds.  Good food, drinks, an abundance of funky and cozy performance rooms plus great colorful art representing local and exotic primitive, religious, and oriental art and sculpture equaled an evening to remember with friends old and new.

The green roof industry was represented by several total system providers as well as some green roof component suppliers.  Additionally, Green Roofs For Healthy Cities hosted a booth in the non-profit table area. I spoke with many of the green roof industry representatives after the trade show to get their feelings on the success of the show.  The consensus was overwhelmingly positive.  Everyone was impressed with the number of focused visitors to their booths and most had already signed up to exhibit at next year’s GreenBuild show in Denver, Colorado, and this exhibitor is no exception.  The 2005 GreenBuild Expo was the most successful marketing event of the year for Green Roof Blocks - having given away 250 DVD’s, over 500 brochures, and almost 1000 business cards, signing up for the 2006 show in Denver seemed a sound marketing decision.  See the green roof exhibitors:

JDR and J-Drain

Colbond at Atlanta's Greenbuild 2005

Left:  Janet Faust, Greenroof Product Manager, of JDR Enterprises and J-DRain;
Right:  Colbond's Enkadrain and visitors.

RMS and Building Logics exhibit at Greenbuild '05

Left:  Dennis Yanez, Greenroof Product Manager, and seated Matt Carr of American Hydrotech;
Right:  RMS and Building Logics.

GEOdren at Greenbuild, Atlanta, Georgia

Stevens Roofing at Greenbuild

Greenbuild exhibitors visitors at Left:  GEOdren;  Right:  Stevens Roofing.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities

Firestone at Greenbuild

Left:  Steven Peck of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities and friend; Right:  Firestone's Booth

In my opinion, a marketing strategy that does not enjoy such a positive consensus among the green roof industry is involvement in the Green Roofs For Healthy Cities organization.  Though this is not a forum to air those grievances, the significant presence of the group’s organizers at the Expo kept the topic emerging during my interviews with the green roof players.  There was a corporate member meeting held just before the opening of the exhibit hall.  The meeting was supposed to put to rest dissention among the members about the project database the group has been discussing throughout the year.  The meeting was poorly attended, however, and though there were votes and measures were passed, the project lacks member consensus.  Founder Steven Peck spoke about various activities aimed to bring more value to the membership in the organization.  The members I spoke with experienced a significant raise in membership fees when the new corporate fee structure went into effect.  Many feel the gap between the new fees and the value of corporate membership is too wide to be offset by these recent activities.  As we all attempt to squeeze every ounce of value from our marketing budget for 2006, many of us are taking a hard look at organization memberships.  Organizations perceived as fee generation entities will see membership diminish, while organizations that add zeros to the membership’s bottom line receive our coveted marketing dollars.

Well, Green Roof Fans, it has been an exciting year for the green roof industry.  The design community is helping to expand the market with each new green roof project.  Some plant failures in the Midwest, though seemingly catastrophic to those involved with the projects, helped to bring drought tolerance expectation levels down to more realistic levels and will make for more successful green roofs going forward.  New research projects are springing up all over the country helping to both educate future consumers as well as to help the green roof concept evolve through better understanding of design and performance.  From my family to yours, I hope you have enjoyed a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and have a GREEN New Year!

Publisher's Note:  I was a member of the Atlanta Host Committee, and would like to add that the USGBC, the local chapter, Southface Energy Institute and all the volunteers did a great job!  Read all about the last and future Greenbuild on the USGBC's Greenbuild International Conference & Expo website here.  Read about the features of the Greenbuild 2005 Proceedings CD-ROM, available for purchase for $159 - LSV.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

August 2005

Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Products Exposition for Olympic Projects

Beijing Olympic Committee at the Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Products Exposition for Olympic Projects
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
All Photos by Kelly Luckett

s members of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), Green Roof Blocks was invited to exhibit at the Beijing Olympic Committee at the Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Products Exposition for Olympic Projects. The invitation came June 14th and we were asked to RSVP by end of the following day! In this budding business that seems to be dominated by trade secrets and patented intellectual property, the decision to participate in the Expo could not be taken lightly. Many of the green roof related patents in the United States do not extend beyond our boarders. Some friends who routinely do business in China had some pretty disheartening warnings about brand name knock-offs and price undercutting. There was even some mention of SARS and the typical concerns for the safety of an American traveling abroad. I must admit that I was more than just a little apprehensive about going where I could not readily communicate with my host. After carefully weighing the pro and cons, it all came down to this: we could list endless concerns and reasons not to go, but would an American green roof company ever again be invited to China to display a product to an Olympic Committee? Not likely. Despite the many unknowns, we decided to accept the invitation.

Construction in Beijing

Construction projects near the Beijing International Airport

Those of you who exhibit at tradeshows know the challenge of getting your display material to the show on time and in one piece. We decided to pear down to what we could check as baggage on the flight over. The extra charges for additional and overweight baggage came as some what of a surprise at the departure check in, but I decided there was no turning back at this point and I handed over my credit card. The trip took about twenty hours with a two hour layover in Atlanta. As the plane taxied down the runway upon landing I looked out of the window over scores of construction cranes erected at an immense string of construction projects that line the runway.

Photo by Kelly Luckett

Room with a View

Once I gathered my baggage and cleared Chinese Customs I made my way to the exit. Just outside the exit doors was a 200 foot long rope line with people standing five and six deep waiting to greet arriving passengers. Just as my head started to spin from the overwhelming chaos, I spotted my name written on a sign being held by the driver sent by Expedia to pick me up and take me to my hotel. The driver, Leo, corralled my five pieces of luggage to his car, conversed with me in English on the way to my hotel, and even programmed my cell phone to the Beijing cellular network.

Placing the check in the box for the optional shuttle service on the Expedia website may have been the best $45 I spent on the entire trip! Leo even talked with the front desk clerk and the bell hop at the hotel and made sure me and my bags got settled into my room at the Prime Hotel Beijing.

Wangfujing Street

That evening I walked along Wangfujing Street and, though I didn’t interact with anyone, I was feeling pretty worldly for a Midwestern American.

The next morning I started the day with a traditional Chinese breakfast dumpling and some noodles and set about the task of checking in at the Product Expo. I approached the concierge to arrange for my exhibit materials to be brought down from my room. This seemed to confuse the three young men at the desk since I had just checked in the day before and now I appeared to be checking out six days early. When I tried to explain that I was not checking out and that I only needed my exhibit materials I started to realize that there are a few English phrases they spoke flawlessly, prompting me to assume they were fluent in English. However, once the conversation began to deviate from the typical hotel guest requests, communication became much more difficult. No problem, I got my own bags and decided to just stick to the tourist script. Or so I thought. The address to the Expo didn’t seem to be on that script. After five minutes of discussion among the hotel staff, none of whom I was able to understand, it was concluded that they did not know where the Expo was being held. Now, this is significant because none of the taxi drivers speak English. The hotel employees flag down a passing taxi and tell them where to take you as they help you into the car. If the hotel staff doesn’t know where you are going getting you there becomes quite a challenge.
The Roving Exhibitor, however, is a seasoned traveler with extensive experience navigating his way to and from a multitude of convention centers and conference locations. I confidently reached in my briefcase and produced the phone number to the hosting agency. The concierge spoke briefly on the phone and wrote something in Chinese on the back of a hotel business card. He handed the card to the doorman and the doorman helped me into the waiting taxi. After some brief conversation between the driver and the doorman, the doorman gave the hotel business card to the driver and away we went. I took many digital photos as I took in the sights along the 45 minute drive. The driver turned and said something in Chinese as we turned into a gated driveway with a posted guard. The driver lowered the window and spoke to the guard. Evidently the guard knew nothing of the conference. The driver and the guard began speaking to me simultaneously, in Chinese. As I remembered handing the paper with the Expo host’s phone number to the hotel concierge and realizing that he did not give it back to me, my traditional Chinese breakfast began to churn in my stomach. Just when I thought I would be heading back to the hotel the driver produced the hotel business card on which the concierge had apparently written the Expo host’s phone number along with the directions to the building. The driver phoned the host from her cell phone and found that we were, in fact, at the correct address but at the wrong gate. I retrieved that precious hotel business card from the driver and guarded it like the Holy Grail for the next few days. Though it was a little more of a challenge than I expected, I made it to the Expo site with my exhibit and I strolled into the building to announce my arrival.

Beijing Olympic Committee at the Energy Efficient and Environmentally Friendly Products Exposition for Olympic Projects

The Destination, at long last.

There were four bright faced young people behind a desk just inside the main entrance. They smiled at me as I walk up to the desk. I said “hello.” Three of them stopped smiling and looked nervously at the remaining young girl as she returned my greeting and said “hello.” I told her my name, she told me hers, so far so good. I said, “I’m with Green Roof Blocks.” She looked at her clip board to find me on her list of exhibitors as she repeated after me, “Green Roof Blocks.” I knew that all of the USGBC members were supposed to be located together at the Expo so I decided to try that as I said, “USGBC?” She looked up and said, “Oh yes, USGBC. This way please.” She then lead me to an area about twenty feet by twenty feet where there were three exhibitors setting up already. She spoke to them at length. They did not appear to be happy about being squeezed into this space and the addition of my exhibit wasn’t going over well. At one point they stopped and brought me a chair and politely asked me to sit while they sorted the situation out. The conversation went on for about twenty minutes all in Chinese except for the occasional “Green Roof Blocks” and “USGBC.” Finally they assigned me a space along one wall and allowed me to get set up.

Green Roof Blocks in Beijing

Green Roof Blocks at the Expo

Several times during the discussion, the girl from the front desk spoke to me. She asked if I was alone at the Expo. She asked me if someone else was coming to represent my company. Then, as to confirm my situation in her own mind, she said, “You come to Beijing by yourself, no speak Chinese?” She smiled and sort of shook her head in disbelief. I began to feel all of my worldly confidence settling into my stomach along with my Traditional Chinese Breakfast. I started to calculate in my head the money my company had spent on this trip. Travel visa: $300, airfare and hotel: $2600, printing and promotional give aways: $450, three days of communicating using high level charades: priceless. I quietly set up my booth and headed for the street to get a taxi back to the hotel. The first four taxi drivers I approached refused to take me back to my hotel. By the time I made it to my room, I was feeling a little rattled.

Since we were invited to the Expo as members of the USGBC by the Beijing Olympic Committee, there was some speculation as to what provisions would be in place to help USGBC companies communicate with Expo delegates. However, once I saw that the four other USGBC companies had decided to employ Chinese companies to represent their products, I concluded that I was the only exhibitor with a language barrier. To solve that issue I went through the business center at the hotel to engage the services of an interpreter. For the next three days Dr. Li Chang-Qi, Professor of Mechanical Systems from the Beijing Information Science and Technology University helped me represent Green Roof Blocks. The first morning began as one might expect with delegates asking Dr. Chang-Qi questions in Chinese, who would relay those questions to me in English. Dr. Chang-Qi would then translate my answers for the delegates. As the morning progressed, the Professor called on me for answers less and less.

Visiting the Green Roof Blocks booth

Discussing green roof benefits

He first explained the environmental benefits of the green roof concept and then used the photos on our display to introduce our modular approach. The delegates were genuinely interested in the environmental and aesthetic qualities of the green roof concept, but like their western counterparts, price and value soon dominated the conversation.

Over the course of the next three days about 300 delegates visited with us. The Expo was open to government officials, architects, and construction related professionals the first day. The next two days were designated for visitors from the hotel, restaurant, and tourism industry. The event was covered extensively by the Chinese print and electronic media. The professor and I gave interviews to about six reporters from various news papers and magazines and four television stations.

Being Interviewed for Chinese TV

The Chinese Media

Companies seeking to conduct business in China are faced with the decision whether to open facilities in China or to operate from their home country through Chinese sales representatives. There is no shortage of companies seeking to represent western products in China. I had the privilege of meeting with such a firm wishing to represent Green Roof Blocks in Beijing. The meeting took place in the company’s conference room typical of such a meeting here in the United States.

I was then given a crash course in Chinese business culture. The meeting began with the very ceremonial preparation of Chinese tea, during which time pleasantries were exchanged about my visit and our families. Though we spoke through an interpreter, it was soon apparent that this was a business meeting, as they hammered on me to give them exclusive territorial rights to distribute Green Roof Blocks in China.

When I told them I was not prepared to make that commitment the meeting lightened up somewhat and they invited me to dinner the following evening to experience Peking Duck. The CEO, Mr. Jin, picked me up at my hotel with an interpreter and we proceeded to an exclusive restaurant nearby. As we were greeted at the entrance to the restaurant, I noticed we were the only patrons. The firm had reserved the entire restaurant for our dinner and our table was surrounded by six or seven restaurant employees that doted on us throughout the dinner. After several courses of appetizers, the chef rolled out the duck and proceeded to carve our main course. Speaking through the interpreter, the chef said they were presenting me with the finest cut of the duck as the guest of honor. Then they all watched eagerly for my reaction as I took the first bite. It was absolutely delicious and once I nodded and gestured my enjoyment, they all smiled and joined in. It was all very heady stuff and as they cleared the dishes from the table I was preparing myself for the full court press. To my surprise, however, Mr. Jin asked the interpreter to tell me now that we have shared this meal, even if our business interests take us down separate paths, we are now friends for life and when I return to China I will be returning to visit my friend.

The conversation turned then to green roofs in China where Mr. Jin said they have met with limited success. After dinner we drove to a parking garage that was adorned with elaborate plants around the perimeter of the roof. Though we couldn’t get on the roof we could see some of the plant selections which included some trees and shrubs.

Photo by Kelly Luckett

Beijing Intensive Greenroof

Mr. Jin told me there was a general opinion that green roofs in China are green the first year, brown the second year, and dead by the third year. I told him that part of the problem may be their expectation for beauty. When you look around Beijing elaborate plantings and colorful floral displays speak volumes about the Chinese horticultural appreciation. It is very difficult to maintain such beauty and complexity in a rooftop setting. I shared with Mr. Jin some of what we have learned about green roof plants and engineered soils and indicated that they may need to change their perceptions in terms of aesthetics in order to achieve sustainable green roof plant life. We agreed to work together to do a small display green roof on the Venture Plaza Building in Beijing to help advance the green roof concept in Beijing while helping to market Green Roof Blocks.

Since the purpose of this trip was all about marketing, I decided to combine some sightseeing with some photo-ops with our 3 foot by 8 foot Green Roof Blocks banner. I first made the trip to the Great Wall where some fellow visitors helped me get some photos of my driver and me holding the banner stretched out atop the Great Wall.

The Great Wall of China

Kelly on The Great Wall of China

Kelly and friend atop the Great Wall of China

Upon downloading the photos I thought perhaps people looking at them on our website may not realize the structure we were on to be the Great Wall of China. I decided to go to Tien An Men Square to get some shots that would leave no doubt where they were taken. The first shot was of a huge display just outside the People’s Hall that is counting down to the 2008 Olympic Games. Two young college students held the banner while I took some photos with the display counting down the minutes to the Games in the background.

Green Roof Blocks in Beijing

The People's Hall is counting down to the 2008 Olympic Games

I had two great photos and I should have stopped there, but the main entrance to the Forbidden City lies just across the street from Tien An Men Square, and called to me. It’s an impressive monument to Chinese architecture with a large photo of Mao and Mandarin writing over the massive doors.

The Forbidden City

The forbidding Forbidden City

With no thought what so ever given to the possible consequences of my actions, I found some ribbon on the ground and tied the banner stretched out on the fence along the end of the square. I took several photos and retrieved the banner from the fence. Just as I was finishing rolling up my banner, I was surrounded by five or six guards. Suddenly, all of the ramifications of what I had just done raced through my mind. I realized that I had left my passport in the hotel room and that my flight was leaving in a few hours. One spoke to me in Chinese, but realizing I didn’t understand he motioned to me to unroll the banner. When he saw the banner contained the Green Roof Blocks logo, and not some political propaganda, he nodded and motioned to me to roll it back up. The guards dispersed and left me standing in the square. I took a moment to gather myself and headed for hotel. I managed to stay out of trouble long enough to get home.

Green Roof Blocks, Mao, and American Optimism

I found the Chinese people to be friendly and accommodating. They openly discussed the new marriage of capitalism and communism within their country. There is hope for prosperity and social advancement they told me did not exist twenty years ago. To this western observer there seems to be amazing similarities between our countries' people. We work hard to provide for our families, cherish our children’s future, and strive to make this planet a better place for them to live. Whether through green buildings, recycling, conservation, or green roofing, for those of us working to bring about change, realizing that our mission is global and reaches beyond the boarders of our individual communities is both inspirational and overwhelming. Our common bond as inhabitants of this planet unites us in our efforts to preserve it. At the same time it calls on us to include all of the inhabitants. This includes the industrialization of China and India, the modernization of the United States, Europe, and all of the counties of the former Soviet Union, as well as the development of all emerging and conflicted nations. We are truly in this together.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

July 2005

Greening the Heartland 2005 Logo

Greening the Heartland 2005 Conference
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP

reen Grid, Intrinsic, JDR, American Hydrotech, Prairie Technologies and Green Roof Blocks were back in Chicago last month for the for the second annual Greening the Heartland Conference.  Keynote speakers included Chicago’s Mayor Daley and USGBC founder Rick Fedrizzi.  The show was attended by designers, policy makers, and green building enthusiasts from all over the Midwest.  Green roofs continue to be a major attraction for tradeshows hosted in the city of Chicago.

Steven Peck of Green Roofs For Healthy Cities was at the show drumming up business for his Green Roof Design 101 class.  He stopped by our booth to chat about the Green Roofs For Sustainable Cities Conference in Boston next year.  The corporate committee has been discussing changes to the format of the trade show to enhance the experience for the exhibitors and delegates.  Details will be included in my future columns as they become available.  There was some discussion of possible sites for the 2007 conference, Minneapolis was mentioned. Stay tuned.

Susan Morgan and John Albrect of the Chicago General Services were in attendance.  Susan said the Chicago city officials are currently evaluating information provided by various green roof suppliers and component manufacturers that responded to the November 2004 Request For Information.  Though green roofs are just one of the green building strategies that the city is promoting, they continue to play a major role in their overall policy of sustainability.  I spoke with quite a few designers and developers who were gathering green roof information to help them meet the green roof requirements of their Chicago building permit process.  The more public funding a given project utilizes, the more green roof space the city is asking for.  We are currently working with a couple of developers who are returning to city hall to request reductions in square footage of required green roof space

Though I completely understand budget limitations and cost overruns on construction projects, renegotiation of the building permit requirements undermines the process.  Chicago City Hall will have to decide whether green requirements are as important as any other building code requirement.  Once we start relaxing the requirements of the building code we step onto a slippery slope that’s increasingly difficult to navigate.  I’ll keep you posted green roof fans.

My next stop is Beijing, China to exhibit for the Beijing Olympic Committee.  The BOC has committed to build the 2008 Olympic Village and associated buildings to green building standards.  The USGBC members have been invited to Beijing for the Building Product Showcase July 12-14, 2005. I’ll have all of the details for you next month.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

June 2005

Greening Rooftops 2005 Logo

Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference, Awards and Trade Show
By Kelly Luckett, LEED AP
Photos by Linda Velazquez

Well green roof fans, another Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference has come and gone.  For green roof industry exhibitors this trade show is the equivalent of an all star game! We all went to Washington, D.C. to see and be seen by the movers and shakers of our industry.  For some there was less tradeshow traffic then they may have hoped for, yet for others there was a steady flow of interested delegates.  Perhaps one of the busiest booths at the tradeshow was Daichi Corporation’s.  Each time I stopped by their booth they had visitors waiting in line to hear about their new sedum sheet that uses sedum cuttings sandwiched between two biodegradable layers of fabric to propagate green roofs and living walls.  Just another example of how innovators are working hard to make green roofs easier, more effective, and more affordable.

Host Steven Peck made the rounds near the close of the tradeshow to hear first hand from the exhibitors what they thought of this year’s show and what improvements could be made.  There were some suggestions of perhaps changing the tradeshow hours to be dedicated times either before or after the plenary sessions, allowing the exhibitors the opportunity to sit in on sessions. Some felt the delegates needed more time to browse the exhibit hall rather than squeezing the exhibition time between plenary sessions.  There was some agreement that a cocktail hour in the exhibit hall would work well to get delegates to visit the exhibits in a more relaxed frame of mind.  Steven said the corporate membership committee would entertain all suggestions to keep the conference evolving towards the best possible experience for delegates and exhibitors alike.

The green roof tours provided the chance to see some of Washington, D.C. that wasn’t on the guided tour, and were well planned and very informative.  Those of us who stayed for the weekend took in some of the sites that were on the city guide, too. Though I have seen many photos and even visited the traveling replica when it came to St. Louis, I was not prepared for what a moving experience a visit to the Vietnam Memorial Wall is.  The mementos left by surviving loved ones and the reverence with which the National Park Service hosts the monument made the visit one of my most humbling experiences. I recommend placing it on your “have to do list;” the Vietnam Memorial alone was worth the price of the trip.  We squeezed what we could into one day of site seeing, though you could spend a month and still not see everything.  We saw the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the National Monument, the White House, the Capitol Building, and we even viewed the original Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in the National Archives Building.

Some of the original members of the green roof family talked about how far the movement has come since the first conference in Chicago, while the new members anxiously look forward to the next three years.  All agree we have long way to go but collectively we can eventually make the building without a green roof the oddity.  I’ll keep shoveling my share of the water.  My next stop is the Greening the Heartland Conference at the Palmer House Hilton in Chicago, Illinois, May 31st through June 2nd.

Kelly Luckett

Publisher's Note:  Most of us in the industry would agree that the Greening Rooftops for Sustainable Communities Conference is the premier opportunity to showcase greenroof projects, products, and people.  Here is your opportunity to submit and share photos, experiences, etc., too.  Below are some reader comments and photos I took on the last day in the Trade Show.

From  "Great content, and a lot of bells and whistles.  A couple of things about the basics:

    ~ The conference website was hard to access, hard to read, hard to register.
    ~ A better balance on the food - it was feast or famine - mostly famine.
    ~ Almost all of my sessions started late and ran over. Perhaps reconsider what can reasonably fit in a 90 minute session.
    ~ The last presenter in a session shouldn't be punished because the first ran on and on... The audience shouldn't be punished by missing lunch or a break, or content of importance to them.  Facilitators need to bring their sessions in on time, or find a way to excuse the audience if necessary.
    ~ The proceedings are pretty skimpy. Perhaps it would be possible to link to websites or researchers full publications. I understand that many academics are reluctant to assign copyright, so instead, permission to reprint might result in vastly improved abstracts."

From an exhibitor wanting to remain Anonymous:  "What happened to the green carpeting that was supposed to line the walkways of the Exhibit Hall??? It looked like an industrial warehouse and not very inviting."

Click on each thumbnail to enlarge the photo:


Michael Miller & George McCord of VersiCell by Vespro, Inc.

The U.S. Composting Council

SofTILE AP - Architectural Pavers

The Schundler Company - Vermiculite & Perlite

Dr. Stephan Brenneisen & Keith Ardron


Dusty Gedge & Linda Velazquez


Dr. Nigel Dunnett visiting the Emory Knoll Farms booth


The Daichi Corp booth


Colbond & Enkadrain

Sarnafil Roofing & Waterproofing

Janet Faust of JDR Enterprises and JDRain GRS

Resource Conservation Technology

Tecta America


Keith of ELT Easy Green


Kelly Luckett of Green Roof Blocks

Steve Skinner & company of American Hydrotech


Charlie Miller & Melissa Muroff of Roofscapes, Inc.


The Eichhorns of ILD - International Leak Detention

Alex Johnston & Ed Snodgrass visiting Paul Kephart of Rana Creek Living Architecture

Midwest Trading & Xero Flor America, LLC.


May 2005

The 49th Annual Construct America Show and Convention, By Kelly Luckett
All photos by Kelly Luckett

The 49th Annual CSI Show and Convention at Construct America was hosted for the third year by the City of Chicago. The show was a collaboration of the Construction Specifications Institute, Total Facility Management, and Mason Contractors Association of America. The more than 800 exhibitors at this three day trade show enjoyed a focused group of delegates from all over the United States. The more than 130 educational sessions were confined to morning hours followed by exhibit hall hours from 12:30 to 4:30. This allowed exhibitors to attend the sessions and allowed the delegates ample time to leisurely peruse the exhibits.

There was an exhibitor’s lounge complete with complimentary refreshments which included breakfast and lunch each day of the show. The teamsters had everyone’s exhibit supplies waiting for them in their booths when they arrived and were staffed in sufficient numbers to get them their packing containers in short order after the close of the show. The optional lead retrieval scanners were wireless and about the size of a large magic marker. They made scanning the delegates ID badges quick and easy and were a big hit with both the exhibitors and the delegates. From Mayor Daley’s greeting speech to the organized system in place for providing taxi service, it was a first class operation.

American Hydrotech

JDR and J-DRain


I had a chance to visit with several exhibitors displaying green roof systems and green roof components. Total system providers American Hydrotech, Permaquick, and ERS Prairie Technologies all said the show met or exceeded their expectations in terms of delegate attendance. These exhibitors told me that green roofs currently represent between 5 and 10 percent of their over all business, but each expected those numbers to double in the coming year. JDR and American Wick Drain, manufacturers of drainage products and root barriers, also enjoyed a steady flow of focused delegates. Flex Membranes and Sarnafil manufacture waterproofing systems used with green roofs. The Sarnafil representative told me their green roof business is concentrated to certain regions at this time. They are using marketing strategies like this trade show to spread the word about green roofs beyond the regions they presently service.

American Wick Drain

ERS Systems

North Safety Products and Kee Industrial Products sell fall protection equipment used in rooftop construction work. Both companies are seeing an increase in sales of roof related safety equipment they attribute to increased enforcement of the OSHA fall protection standard. Those conducting green roof business may wish to review their safety plans with one of the safety equipment suppliers to ensure their workers are properly protected and are in compliance with the standard.

North Safety Products

Kee Industrial Products


Among the delegates in attendance were some familiar faces from the green roof industry. I got the chance to visit with Grace Koehler and Mike Curry from Midwest Ground Covers to discuss their green roof business. They are experiencing an increase in both the number of green roof projects as well as in the size of the projects. When asked about green roof pitfalls they said the most common and critical mistake green roof designers make is in media formulation. It seems many are specifying garden soil mixtures with too little mineral content giving rise to a host of problems. Brian Rockers of Buildex stopped by my booth - Buildex is a supplier of expanded clay and is looking forward to increased green roof demand as a way to expand their business, pun intended! The folks from Elevated Landscape Technologies stopped by to see me as well. They didn’t exhibit at this show but they are planning to exhibit in Green Roofs Goes to Washington.

Perhaps the largest draw of the show was the masonry competitions. Masons from all over the country competed in three competitions. The International Skills Challenge and The Fastest Trowel had men and women erecting masonry walls in a race against one another that were then judged based on the quality of their completed wall sections. The highlight of the competition, however, was Masonry: It Takes A Village, where six teams designed and built original projects constructed of masonry. The winning entry was a tug boat complete with lighted windows and a smoke stack that bellowed thick white smoke. I had the good fortune of having the Green Roof Blocks booth directly across the isle from the competition area, allowing me to watch the six projects from start to finish over the course of three days. Just as amazing as the construction itself, once the winners were announced, the six teams immediately demolished their projects and packed up the debris. One team member told me they had to hurry with their cleanup so they could get on the road for their 2000 mile journey home.

Overall Construct America was a huge success. Construction industry professionals came from all over the country to learn about the latest in construction products and technology in Chicago, the greenest city in the nation. When they headed home, they took with them some of Mayor Daley’s passion for green. It was a good week for green roofs in America.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

Inaugural Column, March 2005

Publisher's Note:  This short commentary or review of sorts is the first for Kelly Luckett, President of Green Roof Blocks, a frequent trade show exhibitor at greenroof and green building conferences, workshops & seminars.   Look for this occasional column as it happens as result of his attendance - a quick snapshot of the event - like "reflections of a trade show exhibitor" or, The Roving Exhibitor.

The Building & Design Exchange (BDX) Conference & Exposition, By Kelly Luckett

The 2005 Building and Design Exchange Conference & Exposition was hosted by the City of Chicago in the McCormick Place Convention Center February 16th and 17th, 2005.  The event was sponsored by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) member American Builders and Contractors Association and was kicked off by a speech from Chicago’s Mayor Daley.

The keynote speaker and USGBC founder David Gottfried signed copies of his new book Greed to Green: the transformation of an industry and a life, after an inspirational speech about going beyond constructing sustainable buildings by building a sustainable life.  Though attendance to the Trade Show was relatively light, the green roof exhibitors enjoyed a focused group of building owners, designers, and contractors who were seeking green roof information.  Many of these visitors are required by the City of Chicago to install green roofs on new rooftops, and so it was natural for them to come and learn more about products for their current projects.

Emory Knoll Farm’s Ed Snodgrass at left gave an instructional presentation on green roofs, covering a variety of design considerations including project region, building use, waterproofing options, media formulation and plant selections.  Ed also offered some statistical data regarding the benefits of green roofs in the area of storm water retention and roof surface temperature reductions.  Among the trade show visitors were representatives from various Chicago City Departments such as The Department of General Services and The Chicago Transit Authority.

The facilities at McCormick Place are clean and spacious, and the exhibition areas and service were great - but very expensive.  Events held at McCormick Place are hosted by the convention services provider GES.  All deliveries are required to go through their offsite marshaling yard.  This was a complicated procedure for those of us driving our own vehicles, as the system is really geared towards the use of commercial freight carriers.  However, every effort was made to accommodate the “do it yourselfers” while not stepping on the toes of union dock workers.  Factor in the $30 per day parking charges, and it probably makes better sense to leave the heavy lifting to the professionals, leave the van at home, and enjoy a nice flight.

Green Roof Blocks Exhibit at BDX

Kelly Luckett in his new trade show digs at BDX.

As a result of the recent RFI, the City is really trying to find ways to lower green roof costs.  As a follow up, I spent about two hours talking with some people in Mayor Daley’s office while I was here to share my thoughts.  Future trade show opportunities in the city of Chicago include The 49th Construction Specifications Institute Show and Convention to be held at McCormick Place April 20th through 22nd, Birds and Buildings 2005 Conference to be held at The Illinois Institute of Technology on March 11th, and The 2nd Greening the Heartland Conference to be held at The Palmer House Hilton May 31st through June 2nd.  These events are sponsored in part by the USGBC and are all part of Mayor Daley’s initiative to make Chicago the greenest city in America.

I'll be attending a lot of trade shows and conferences here in the U.S. and possibly in Europe again this year, so look for my comments soon.  Check back here for coverage of the combined trade show for the Construction Specifications Institute and Total Facility Management held at McCormick Place April 20th through 22nd.

Kelly Luckett, The Roving Exhibitor

Publisher's Note:  3.07.05:  Tecta America sent us the following photos of their participation at BDX:

Mayor Daley at BDX; Photo by Tecta America

Tecta America's Booth at BDX

Left: Chicago City Mayor Richard Daley visited Tecta America's exhibit of a simulated green roof garden entitled "View from the Top"; Right:  after his breakfast speech at BDX.


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