The Roof, the Roof, the Roof is in Bloom A Philadelphia firm is turning tar paper and concrete into vast urban meadows.
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Charlie Miller, the founder of Roofscapes Inc., spent much of his recent career as a civil engineer specializing in storm-water management. Turns out much of the dangerous runoff that erodes streambeds and carries a stew of contaminants into water supplies is caused by traditional roof construction, which, by design, sheds water as quickly as it catches it.
"I was talking about this problem with a friend who had recently written a best-practices manual for developers," says Miller, 58. "He told me there was a fully developed green roof industry in Germany for water management. I dropped everything, thinking 'this is the wave of the future.'" In 1997, Miller and a Swiss company that makes the underlying roof material, usually a water-distributing fabric, collaborated to install a green roof on Chicago's City Hall.
As cities develop ever-stronger storm-water mitigation ordinances (a trend that only really kicked in last year), more commercial buildings are required to have green tops. Once hired, Roofscapes contracts with one of its 25 certified landscaping companies to install a "meadow" with Roofscapes' guidance and warranty backing it up. The green roof absorbs and slows runoff. As a bonus, most green roofs score as high as Energy Star white-surface roofs, keeping buildings cool in summer and warm in winter.
To date, Roofscapes has installed 124 roofs, including a 230,000-square-foot roof (the second largest in the U.S.) on the Howard Hughes medical building in Dulles, Virginia. Even in the recession, Miller has yet to see a downturn; this year's sales are projected at $800,000. "The market in Germany is 1,000 times larger than it is in the U.S.," he says. "That kind of economy of scale is just on the horizon."
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