Hello once again green roof fans all over the world; you know who you are…lol.
The goblins and witches retreated into the night, the fat turkey feast left us all sleepy, and the Christmas eggnog had us ready to prop the feet up and glide a little…one would think. No, my little green roof fans. 2020 has taken its toll on all, and the Green Roof Guy is not immune…ouch…too soon?
A Lean 2020
Anyway, all shots aside, to say the year was lean would be an insult to 90% hamburger. Under normal circumstances, we may have packed the tools away and watched winter settle in on the other side of the windowpane. 2020 was anything but normal and the chance to make a little late season money was irresistible.
Just a little back story…the Green Roof Guy, like many of us, took to home repair during the early days of the pandemic. As you may recall I barely made it back from the west coast before COVID was taking hold and locked us all down. (See my Greenroofing Adventure Amidst COVID-19.)
Sooo… long story short, the Green Roof Guy fell from a step ladder and shattered his heel. I hear you all whispering…he should have hired someone to do that, he’s almost 60 for goodness sake…And, trust me Green Roof Fans, Mrs. Green Roof Guy more than shares your opinion.
Against All Odds
Which is going to make what I’m about to tell you…well, against the odds.
Let’s start with the foot. I fell on June 11th, since then I’ve have had two surgeries and spent 7 weeks self-administering intravenous antibiotics through a pick line in my arm leading into my heart to fight staph infection.
That was a long, hard fought battle that I simply would have lost were it not for my wife of 36 years who was suddenly cast into the thankless role of caretaking. It was tough coming through that; really tough. When times appear to be most bleak, this guy tends to look for and take stock in small steps of progress.
Perhaps, he starts to feel like things are getting back normal a little sooner than the Mrs.
Then came the phone call…a 110 square foot Green Paks job that I had bid, literally years ago, wants to know if they can still get a 2020 installation.
Now, the Mrs. and I have worked from home for nearly 20 years. We spend a lot of time together so obviously, we’re compatible. Which is good because there’s not much privacy. I saw her eyebrows raising over her Words with Friends game on her phone as I was ending the call.
“What do you mean, no problem?” she asked looking at my foot. Oh and yes, you guessed it, I’m still not walking. I replied, “Let me just do a what a ya“ (a Woody Harrelson line from the movie Doc Hollywood which basically means “have a look”), trying my hardest to wipe that “I must rise to meet this challenge” look off of my face or else this endeavor was going to end quickly.
We modular guys live and die by our inventory. It’s not enough to have material on hand, it’s got to be where you need it. I had empty Green Paks on hand, but my regular growth media supplier, Oldcastle Landscape Supply in East St. Louis, was completely out of stock of the lightweight aggregate we need for the rooftop blend. In fact, the only lightweight aggregate available in the Mid-West was in Kansas City at Missouri Organic Recycling.
I spoke with their Kevin Anderson, who agreed to not only mix up the couple of yards of media for me, he agreed to loan me a couple of guys to help me get the mix into my Green Paks. As I hung up the phone, I could feel the wife’s eyes burning a hole in my soul. I pretended not to notice as I proceeded with the second phase of my diabolical plan. I fired off an email to Dick Bernauer and Rich Hoek at Moerings USA / Sempergreen to see if they could harvest some sedum tiles for me. I was in luck. The weather had been mild and barring a Christmas nor’easter, they would be able to get into the fields to cut the tiles for me.
I pulled up the calendar and mapped it all out. If I left for Kansas City Sunday night on December 20th, I could hold up in a hotel and be at Missouri Organic Recycling first thing Monday morning. If the sedum tiles shipped from Moerings USA in Virginia that same Monday, they would arrive in St. Louis before the Christmas holiday. The temperature plummeted deep below freezing just as I was hitting the road. The bitter cold waited outside as I kissed the wife goodbye and she asked one last time if I was sure about this, looking down at the orthopedic boot on my left foot. I told her not to worry and hobbled on the crutches out to my truck.
Kindness of Strangers
Throughout the injury experience, I have found the kindness of strangers to be overwhelming, whether it be holding the door for me or getting something from the top shelf at the grocery store. I pride myself on being self-reliant, but I’ve learned to graciously accept the help.
I had a small bag with clothes and a cooler with some beer and food the wife packed so I didn’t have to deal with stopping during the pandemic. I managed to get it all through the hotel lobby door when the front desk agent met me and insisted on carrying my belongings to my room for me. She even allowed me to park in a spot just outside the door to make it easier to get on the road in the morning. The beer made for a pleasant evening and the empty cooler was much easier to carry the next morning.
I managed breakfast on crutches with the help of a couple of fellow business travelers and then headed to Missouri Organic Recycling. I was trepidatious as I pulled into the unpaved lot and parked by the construction trailers that serve as the office. The gravel parking lot had puddles here and there that I navigated around as I made my way to the metal stairs. The treads were slick, and the crutches slid around on the bottom stair. I opted to just crawl up them and try the crutches again once I got to the top. It was squirrelly at best, but a gentleman exiting the door reached out and grabbed under my arm and helped me through the door to the dry carpeted floor.
Kevin emerged from his office and instructed me where to meet him. Getting down the stairs was much easier than getting up! I followed Kevin through the complex to a large pile of freshly blended media where about eight guys were standing waiting for us. I backed up the truck and crutched my way to the rear to open the tailgate for them. I indicated with a Sharpie-drawn line on two Home Depot buckets where to fill each bucket, then instructed them to pour two buckets in each of the 30 empty Green Paks.
I got in the back of the truck and let them hand me the filled Green Paks one at a time – I got the Paks stacked in the truck and was back on the road home within 20 minutes. I tuned in the radio and smiled as I heard the forecasted warming trend. I thought to myself, I may just pull this off.
The Plan Is Coming Together
I got home Monday evening and hurried to check my email. The sedum tiles had been harvested and loaded on a FedEx truck headed west.
Luck continued to be on my side. The weather warmed to around 60 degrees F on Tuesday. My dear friends Lennon and Traci Irvine have a son, Ryan, who is an avid long-distance runner. He was visiting for the holidays, and I asked if instead of his usual morning run, would he be interested in carrying the 30 Green Paks from my truck to the rooftop for me?
The client’s house, under an extensive remodel, would have a new rooftop deck with a small green roof adjacent to the master bedroom. Ryan carried the 70-pound Green Paks up the stairway and out to the roof and, wearing my knee pads and working from my knees, I arranged each Green Pak in place and prepared the roof to receive the in-transit sedum tiles.
I was in contact with the dispatcher at the FedEx terminal in St. Charles who stated the truck was supposed to be in on Wednesday, but didn’t show. FedEx wasn’t making deliveries on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, or the weekend for that matter. The temperatures were going to plummet once again and the dispatcher could not guarantee the pallet would get offloaded before they did.
I couldn’t chance having the pallet sit in a freezing truck for the four-day weekend, so I was told I could meet the truck there and pick up the pallet near midnight. “Near midnight” turned into 2:00 am, which turned into 6:00 am, which turned into 9:00 am. At 10:00 am on Christmas Eve they loaded the pallet into the back of my pick-up truck. Trish and I recently downsized from our 5,000 square foot lakefront home into a much smaller and quaint condo. The downsize didn’t come with a garage and the freezing weather was eminent.
I made a beeline to the Irvine’s home, where Lennon was clearing space in his garage for my truck. He put a space heater in the bed of my truck, and we all enjoyed Christmas without fear of the sedums’ freezing.
A Green Roof in Time for Christmas
The gods once again smiled on me and the weather warmed to the mid-fifties on Saturday. My son, Jesse, and Lennon agreed to help me get the sedum tiles to the roof. They carried a couple armfuls up before deciding to use a ladder pulley and rope to pull the rest up. Once lifted to the rooftop, I positioned the tiles over the Green Paks. Within an hour, the green roof was complete.
I will stop short of saying against ALL odds, but they were definitely stacked against us. With the help of strangers, new friends, old friends, family, and a little Christmas magic, we created our final green roof of the year.
A Last Minute Living Wall Challenge
The success quickly went to my head and my mind turned towards a little project I’d lined up just prior to breaking my foot. The project was a really cool variation of the VerTexx living walls I had been building for Vertech. I’d already had the trim metal made, purchased the Vertexx components, and had the plants grown at Jost Greenhouses here in the St. Louis area.
I remember one of the first texts I sent from the hospital was letting the living wall clients, Buddy and Becky Maupin, know that I would be out of commission for a bit. They told me they were in no hurry and to just worry about my healing. When I reached out to them to let them know I was planning on moving forward, they were a little skeptical; might have been the crutches I was on when they met me at the front door.
Buddy said, “I thought you said you were walking.” To which I replied, “So very close.”
The Maupin’s home is rich with eclectic, fengshui, and cutting-edge style. The pod style home has connectors that form interior courtyards, and our living wall would be a perfect circle mounted to a wall in one of the courtyards. You can actually see the living wall from standing on the bear skin rug in the main entry foyer.
So, green roof fans: The Green Roof Guy, after seven months out of commission, and bitten by a fresh sense of immortality gained from the green roof success, decided to start this job. There was just one glaring problem; I still couldn’t walk. As I hashed and re-hashed the job, one thing was soon obvious…I was going to need help. I had figured this job at cost for my friends, never dreaming I’d break my foot.
Now I was in a bit of a conundrum …Hmmm …who could I get to help me put in a really complex living wall …who’s really good with tools …who’s available during the day …for free? (A line stolen from a favorite movie!)
A Brother in Need
Introducing my big brother Dan! Dan had been in Minnesota repairing hail damaged roofs, and stopped by the house for a visit while in town for the holiday. I thought he might like to check out this new living wall technology. You never know when or where your next opportunity lies; and these living walls are gaining in popularity. Plus, his little brother with a broken foot was asking for help; something that hadn’t happened for a long time. It was a short phone call…he said Yes.
Back in the day, we’d start gathering at daybreak to be on the roof at first light. I’m pushing 60 and Dan, well, he beat me there. The temperature was on the rise again, but not for the early birds, and it was cold at 8:00 am. So we decided to start at 10:00 am.
The round design presented some challenges as I’d been building this thing in my head for the better part of a year. Most of it went as planned, but like many projects, we would need to make a couple of mid-course corrections.
It was determined we needed something from the hardware store. I asked Dan if he wanted to take lunch while I ran to the store. He started laughing and told me tomorrow was another day. That made me laugh. This wouldn’t be a story of the old dudes summoning some inner youth to slam dunk this job in a day. Rather, we took our time, being careful not to injure ourselves. We wrapped up on day three; Dan’s friends were beckoning.
A group of his buddies were headed to Florida for a few weeks. After a year in Minnesota, Dan was more than ready for some Florida sun! After making sure he’d carried everything I needed him to, I watched as he keyed the Florida coordinates into the GPS and headed to join his friends. I helped Buddy connect his smart phone to the irrigation controller, and it was done.
A year in the making, despite COVID-19, despite broken body parts, this small project allowed me to touch that place deep within that creates. I was worried it was going to be another COVID casualty, but hope abounds.
Well, green roof fans, there is no doubt that the damage from 2020 will be rearing its ugly head for years to come. Truth be told, I got my ass kicked for the better part of it. But I managed one last win in its waning days and have taken a good poke at the days that lie ahead in 2021.
So, roll up those sleeves, green roof fans. Get those shots, wear those masks, wash those hands, and earn where you can. Better days start with tomorrow.
~ Kelly Luckett, GRP, LEED AP, The Green Roof Guy
Hailing from Lake Saint Louis, MO, Kelly Luckett, GRP, LEED AP has nearly two decades in the green roof industry which followed Kelly’s thirty years in the roofing industry. His work includes: developing the Green Roof Blocks product line with products in service on over 125 green roof projects; providing the initial funding to establish the G.R.E.E.N. Green Roof Research Program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville; co-authoring minimum design standards for green roofs within the International Building Code; authoring Green Roof Construction and Maintenance (GreenSource Books) (McGraw-Hill’s Greensource) 2009; serving on committees to develop and beta test the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities’ Green Roof Professional accreditation testing program; and working as an instructor with the NRCA University educating designers and contractors about green roof design and construction.
Kelly designed, patented, and introduced the Green Wall Blocks vegetated retaining wall system. Kelly has been a contributing editor on Greenroofs.com (2005); he is The Green Roof Guy who shares his travels attending ASTM, GRHC and other roofing and greenroof related organization meetings. In 2010, Kelly received the Green Roofs for Healthy Cities Civic Award of Excellence.
Kelly Luckett’s latest book is a novel entitled Death and Humanity – Neck and Neck Down the Stretch: The Race Against Pandemic (Kindle Edition), 2020 available from Amazon.
Contact Kelly at: [email protected]