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Tropical Vegetated Earth Roofs
by Fred Oesch  |  10th Oct 2012  |  Green Living
The Caribbean and tropical regions are especially suited for the application of vegetated “Green Roofs” due their inherent resistance to high winds, seismic disturbance, and intense solar radiation. In fact, an earth roof, properly called a green roof when covered with vegitation, functions as a passive cooling system for the whole building because of the evaporation, transporation, and self-shading aspects of the vegetation.
Many practical factors reinforce the utilization of green roof systems. In addition to the initial affordable cost, these include reduced energy consumption and operating expense, and life cycle maintenance cost. Vegetated green roofs return natural habitat to the land that the building’s footprint has taken away, and may provide a landscaped roof terrace as an extended natural outdoor living space, or even a securely elevated private garden for growing food.
Tropical Earth Roofs
There is a notable distinction between a “Green Roof” building, and an “Earth Sheltered” structure. Earth shelter typically connotes an underground building, earth bermed on most of its exterior walls, with heavy earth covering the majority of its roof area. While there may be some localized situations where an earth structure may be most appropriate, this is a more specialized case. A building with a vegetated green roof is essentially above ground, with increased opportunity for omni-directional natural daylighting, ventilation, views, and access. It affords none of the, psychological perceptions of earth shelter, as dark, stuffy, cold, damp, or entrapping.
Earth Roof Freshly Planmted - Tropical Earth Roofs
If installed properly, a green roof may never need to be replaced, and once established needs little or no maintenance. Modern materials and methods are available which can achieve maximum planting efficiency, with minimum organic support, and its associated weight. So additional structural and logistical requirements, and their related costs, are usually minimal. A green roof can be installed on almost any existing or new roof, ranging from almost flat to a high 45 degree roof pitch. Plantings are typically drought resistant local native succulents or sedums, grasses or wildflowers.
If monitored and cared for, a green roof can be self-sustaining and self-maintaining indefinitely, as a regenerating natural system. The care involved typically requires less than a lawn or flower garden, and even this is optional. A green roof may even perform best if just left alone. By allowing it to grow, mature, die, and fertilize itself, the cycle of regeneration is perpetuated. A well detailed green roof system should continue to function properly [not leak], even if the plantings are dormant or not yet fully propagated. The proper utilization of modern materials, combined with a design strategy of built-in waterproofing redundancy, can help insure against human neglect.
Nursery of Plants for Earth Roofs - Tropical Earth Roofs
A living roof eloquently exemplifies the very definition of “shelter” itself, as protection from nature’s elements, and these include:
* Extreme sunlight [Ultra-Violet Radiation]
* Thermal Shock [Temperature Fluctuation]
* Water, Ice, Acid Rain [Freeze / Thaw]
* Oxidation [Rust]
* High Winds [Ballasted]
* Natural Cooling [Shade and Transpiration]
* Wildfire [Nonflammable]
* Seismic [Elastic resilience]
* Acoustics [Ambient Noise]
 Earth Roof with Tiled Pedestrian Area - Tropical Earth Roofs
Furthermore this protection includes the building’s structure itself, as well as for the inhabitants. This in turn helps to insure the building’s longevity, and likelihood to remain cared for over time. And in the event the building is abandoned and left to ruin, the transition back to the land [providing new habitat for flora and fauna in the process], will be one of dignity, beauty and grace. Green roofs return to the site, at least as much as the building construction footprint has trampled away. From a bird’s perspective, the site changes very little, or even improves with the availability of safe new nesting sites, wildflower seeds, or perhaps even a water feature with a bird bath! Thus, a green roof can be a healing, self-preserving, maintaining, sustaining, renewing, perpetuating, regenerating, and I suggest enriching sheltering roof system.

For more information contact: Fred Oesch : Environmental Design at

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