Better start making plans to add space for new tools in your service vans. Your techs will probably need to carry pruning shears, weed whackers, and, in some extreme cases, a lawn mower.

The scenario I am talking about involves a relatively new concept that is slowly appearing in the U.S. market — rooftop greenscapes. The concept of planting and cultivating gardens, wildflower areas, or decorative park-like settings on the top of commercial and residential buildings has been very big in Europe for years. With the “greening” of America in full throttle, ecologists are applauding the efforts of urban landscape/ building architects who are now creating greenscapes, designed to help the ecological balance plus save on energy costs.

I recently attended a seminar on greenscape technology and I was intrigued by some of the presentations. The artist’s conceptions of urban areas resembling forests from the air were worth the visit.


According to one expert, the “thermal mass effect” of buildings in an urban setting is greatly affected by the number of rooftops and parking lots, not to mention the buildings themselves, which retain much of the heat generated during daylight hours.

He said that temperature variations could be reduced by greenscape rooftops, which tend to hold temperatures at a constant level. For example, he showed a regular roof on a hot summer day, where temperature readings fluctuated and spiked with much more frequency than a rooftop with a garden landscape. He emphasized the point by showing median temperature gains for a normal rooftop at 120 degrees F, compared to 40 degrees with a garden rooftop.

His conclusion was that the garden rooftop moderated heat flow in and out of the building, reducing energy demand on space conditioning.

If our contractors can help customers feel comfortable and lower their energy costs, chances are, they will have those customers for life, as well as some referral work, too. Just look at the Department of Energy’s Energy Star® program and how successful that has been for building owners and their service contractors.

Another expert said that the “urban heat element” is very severe. For each 1 degree increase in outside temperature, indoor energy usage increases 3% to 5%. He added that a “minimal amount” of rooftop greenscapes can lower urban temperatures by up to 3%.

What building owner or manager wouldn’t want a 9% to 15% reduction in their energy costs? Higher SEER ratings equate to lower energy costs. Why not lower costs with a garden of petunias or a neatly groomed patch of rhododendron?


Ford Motor Co. has the sprawling Rouge Complex in Dearborn, MI, and is planning to “green” the many buildings within the mammoth industrial park. The first step is to install rooftop greenscapes on three of its buildings, a project totaling over 10 acres. The plants and seeds are being grown in a nearby 15-acre landfill and will be transplanted to the rooftops after this Labor Day.

Why would an HVACR contractor be interested in talking about rooftop greenscapes? For the same reasons a building owner would allow one to be constructed: for ecological and energy-saving reasons.

When your service techs do their spring clean-and-inspects, they can take a bag of turf builder with them. You can advertise it as the “ultimate maintenance checklist: clean — inspect — fertilize.” Throw in some bug spray and you’ll have a customer for life.

Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 734-542-6214; 734-542-6215 (fax); (e-mail).

Publication date: 08/05/2002