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
The Green Roof Guy's Column
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
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 is President of GREEN ROOF BLOCKS and Green Paks, subsidiaries of Saint Louis Metalworks, and a member of the USGBC. Kelly has been involved in the industry since 1980 and is a LEED Accredited Professional.
Contact Kelly at: 314.972.8010, or email him at either: GreenRoofGuy@greenroofs.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Past Green Roof Guy/The Roving Exhibitor Articles
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