Living Walls, Green Roofs, and the Heat Island Effect

Installing Living Walls and Green Roofs not only provide a refreshing natural aesthetic in a concrete jungle, they also reduce electrical costs and help combat the heat island effect. The heat island effect is an urban phenomenon in which a bubble of heat surrounds a city.

The bubble is caused by the development of urban populations (generally 1 million +) and the expansion and conversion of natural, moist land into skyscrapers and other dry masses. This conversion drastically increases the temperature of urban environments because there is less land absorbing heat, and an increasing amount of urban structures (skyscrapers, shopping centers etc…) amplifying it.

As Green Builders at EcoBrooklyn, we strive to reduce the heat island effect by creating Living Walls, Green Roofs, and gardens that absorb heat and give back clean air into the environment. While Green Roofs are costly to install, research shows that they are more durable than standard roofing, and depending on the size, can drastically reduce the temperature around a home, which in turn lowers the amount of electricity needed for cooling throughout the hot summer.

Green Roof technology is equally as useful in the wintertime as the insulation it provides effectively seals the house off from bitter cold temperatures- reducing the amount of electricity, or gas needed to heat the house. Aside from temperature stability, Green Roofs reduce the chance of urban flooding by retaining excess rainwater and slowly releasing it over time, preventing the sewer system from overflowing.

Green Roof1
Show House Green Roof

Living Walls function similarly to Green Roofs in terms of temperature stability and energy reduction, but they do not have the same benefits of water retention for urban flooding. Living Walls are a great way to infuse nature to the interior or exterior of a home and they are relatively easy to install.

Living Wall Prototype


Living Walls can be as simple or complex as the individual wants. EcoBrooklyn intern, Adam Horowitz, recently revamped a previous Living Wall prototype made from a fan cover and other salvaged materials. The barred fan cover provides an ideal growing space for most plants as it has deep and rounded area for soil to be packed in and filled with roots. Living Walls are extremely convenient for apartments or homes with limited soil space. Vertical planting is a great way to take advantage of unused space while cleaning and cooling the air around your home.

Living Wall Prototype

Green Roof Layers

Eco Brooklyn installs different kinds of green roofs but the basic technology is always the same: to replicate a normal soil environment in a very shallow depth and a harsh environment.

A green roof replicates a much deeper soil depth similar to normal planting.

The basic components are plants, growing medium and then an assortment of water retention, drainage, root barrier and soil retention. This can be one layer or a bunch of layers.



We love doing slanted roofs and usually build our own soil retention structures but the general idea is like the image below.

This is a good product for slanted green roofs.
This is a good product for slanted green roofs.

Here are the basic steps:

These are the steps for a green roof installation. There are actually several different ways to do it but this one works.

Installing a green roof is really cool and pretty simple. The problem is that you are high up in the air on the main barrier between the building and rain. So lots of things can also go wrong. As a green roof installer we have learned a lot and thankfully haven’t screwed up too badly. Despite the fact that we are constantly pushing the barrier. Our latest installation involved a river on a roof. Pretty cool.

River on a Brooklyn Green roof.
River on a Brooklyn Green roof.

Green Roof Professional certification

The Green Roof Professional (GRP) certification system was developed by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit industry association working to promote and develop the market for the green roofs throughout North America.

In addition to providing a professional accreditation program, the organization facilitates the exchange of information, supports research, and promotes the establishment of effective public policies. The organization presents Awards of Excellence to celebrate innovative professionals and organizes the annual CitiesAlive conference to develop supportive policies.

Green Roofs for Healthy Cities has been committed to developing a professional accreditation program to legitimize green roof designers and provide education to fill knowledge gaps and improve the quality of work.

In 2004, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities developed its first training course, Green Roof Design 101. It has since added Green Roof Design and Installation 201, Green Roof Waterproofing and Drainage 301, and Green Roof Plants and Growing Media 401. The classes are available throughout North America on select dates. They are each full-day courses recommended as a part of the GRP training program.

The following half-day courses are also available, and count as continuing education credits:
· Advanced Green Roof Maintenance
· Introduction to Rooftop Urban Agriculture
· Green Walls 101: Systems Overview and Design (2nd Ed.)
· Integrated Water Management for Buildings and Sites
· Ecological Green Roof Design
· Green Infrastructure: Policies, Performance and Projects
· Green Roof Policy Development

Each course is accompanied by a course manual, which includes all the material on the accreditation exam.

Tuition for each full-day course is around $400 USD and is accompanied by a course manual. Each course manual can be purchased for $200 USD separately for those who choose not to take the classes in person. The accreditation exam itself consists of 100 multiple-choice questions and lasts 2 hours. It costs $500 USD to enroll and cannot be taken online, but is available at select times throughout the year.

In order to maintain GRP Certification, you must be a Green Roofs for Healthy Cities member ($160 USD annually), and renew your certification every 2 years. This involves completing a minimum of 16 continuing education credits, 8 of which must for GRHC related activities, and paying a renewal fee of $95 USD.

Interestingly, each continuing education course is listed at 3.5 units, effectively forcing members to increase the number of classes they must take to maintain their accreditation. Some of the half-day courses can be taken online for $125 USD as part of the Living Architecture Academy.

Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers.
Here we used Gaia Soil as the growing medium (recycled Styrofoam) and native wildflowers with some low laying native sedum.

While the accreditation process may be designed to increase the reliability of green roof designers, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities is also cashing in on the deal. The North American green roof industry is growing by over 100% each year, drawing many more interested professionals and increasing public awareness. Much like LEED in their field, GRHC accreditation does require a financial commitment.

For standardization reasons, the green roof methods taught in the GRP program teaches industry standard techniques, usually involving brand name products. As a guerrilla green builder, EcoBrooklyn works with clients who seek the most cutting edge techniques. We reduce the waste of each project by maximizing the use of natural and salvaged materials.

This means we often go outside the envelope of normal green building techniques. We’ve tried all sorts of green roof experiments using alternative salvaged materials. We’ve used bottle crates as soil stabilization on sloped roofs. We once saved 6,000 used diapers and used them as the base for the growing media. The plants loved that one. And we almost never use the traditional palette of non-native sedum, preferring to use native plants and grasses.

How to Maintain a Green Roof

Whenever we install a green roof we strongly recommend the client pay for ongoing maintenance, regardless of whether they do it with Eco Brooklyn. It is not like caring for a green roof is difficult, in fact it is very easy and pleasurable, but if you don’t there could be problems.

EcoBrooklyn's green roof with Strawberries
EcoBrooklyn’s green roof with Strawberries

Green Roofs, like all gardens, require some amount of maintenance and, like gardens, the type of green roof you have will determine the amount of maintenance it needs. Intensive green roofs (more than 6″) will require much more time and effort than extensive ones. So as there is no simple answer to the question of “how to maintain a green roof,” here are some general green roof maintenance tips.

General Green Roof Maintenance and Care

Keep the drainage areas clear of plants. The border around the edge of the roof and the areas around drain outlets and other roof penetrations should be kept clear of all plant life and vegetation. Plants growing too close to the drain will clog it up, causing possible leaks and in stress to the building structure. If plants grow near roof penetrations it could cause a leak, or it could make it hard for maintenance. Biannual weeding should suffice.

Add compost biannually. Organic mater in growing media decomposes over time. It gets absorbed by plants and gets washed away. Nutrient-rich compost should be added to the roof garden in spring and autumn. This provides plants with important nutrients and replenishes the soil. How much really depends. A rough rule of thumb we use is to add 1/4″ of compost, making sure it does not cover too much the existing plants.

Weed out unwanted plants, also known as volunteer plants. Being on a roof, seeds dropped by birds or carried by the wind inevitably find their way into your roof garden. Some of the seedlings are fine and can be left alone. It’s your call. Others, such as a budding oak tree, are not desirable for obvious reasons. Smaller bushes and plants are also not desirable because they may have aggressive roots that may cause leaks. Monthly walk-throughs should be scheduled to monitor the types of vegetation growing on your roof.

At the very least a thorough weeding should be done in the spring to get them as they are freshly coming out of the soil. And then another weeding should be done in the summer just before the weeds get a chance to spread their billions of seeds.

The best practice is to also just weed a little every time you see one. It takes two seconds. Be sure to remove the weed from the roof. Throwing it on the soil could release its seeds.

Roof maintenance is great fun.
Roof maintenance is great fun.

Green roofs should be watered as little as possible for ecological reasons. But there are times when it is so hot and dry that some water may save them. Experiment with plant types and, depending on how much rain you get, try to get to the point where you don’t have to water your roof at all. When it does become necessary to water your plants, err on the side of under watering. Also, if your roof garden is on a pitched roof, begin watering at the top of the roof to the water can trickle down through the plants at the bottom, which may not need any water at all.

Watch out for pests and diseases. Keep an eye out for pests and diseases that may come to your roof garden. While green roofs are designed to attract insects and increase biodiversity, sometimes unwanted insects come along. This is rare given the harsh environment up there. Pests can find much more pleasant places to bother.

If you are at all inclined, keep a detailed maintenance log/diary. Schedule when you’re going to do these checkups (and follow through!) and keep and detailed record of your findings. This will also help you see what plants do best in your roof’s environment. This is optional. Maintenance is really pretty simple and doesn’t need much except some common sense.

Vote For Green Roof

Windsor Terrace Library is seeking city funding to install a green roof and you can help get them the money. You just need to vote for them to get the money. It’s that simple. Scroll down for details of where and when to vote.

Their hope is to use the green roof to reduce their energy use, limit stormwater run-off, improve air quality, add wildlife habitat & add beauty. As a certified green roof installer we have a vested interest in more money going to green roofs in NYC. And so should everyone else! The benefits are huge. So scroll down and find out when to vote!

Library Green Roof

Green Roof Habitat

Windsor Terrace branch of BPL, Ft Hamilton Parkway at E. 5th St.

Who Benefits
Windsor Terrace Library serves a diverse community of families, professionals, and retirees from many cultures. The branch serves many students from PS130 & Brooklyn Prospect schools, both nearby.

Project Description
The 7,500 sq foot green roof at Windsor Terrace library will beautify the area while improving the building’s energy efficiency & roof’s longevity. It will also absorb stormwater from entering the sewers. The project demonstrates environmental leadership to BPL patrons.


Vote for green roof

Library Green Roof

Best Urban Space Remodels: Our Instagram Claim to Fame

In the spirit of awards season, we’re pleased to announce that our green building Instagram account has been awarded an Instagrammy! Improvement Center evaluated the top ten home contractors to follow and we’ve been recognized for having the best urban space remodels.

Our feed features images from our Manhattan and Brooklyn ecological construction projects including gardens, green roofs, renovated shipping containers, passive brownstones, and more. In addition to project updates we include tips on green construction and sustainable design, a behind-the-scenes look at our salvaging techniques, and ways to save energy and reduce your carbon footprint.

Big thanks to Improvement Center and be sure to take a peek at our Instagram account under the handle @ecobrooklyn.

Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden
Red Hook container studio built from salvaged materials with a rooftop garden

Natural Mosquito Control

Summer might not be just around the corner, but once gardens are in full bloom safe insect and pest control will become a necessity. As a NY green contractor that specializes in green roofs and gardens it’s part of our job to ensure that the spaces we create can be enjoyed to their fullest potential.

Mosquitoes and other bugs will exist naturally within any green space and it is important to be able to control their populations. The best option is to use safe and natural methods so as to reduce diseases spread by mosquitoes and maintain a clean and healthy setting. It’s much easier for our clients to enjoy their urban landscape when they are free from worry regarding insects and pests.

With this article we aim to provide a deeper understanding of how one of the most annoying and dangerous pests, mosquitoes, finds a host and the current scientific advancement in safe pesticide production and application.

The focus here is on the mosquito species Aedes Aegypti AKA the Asian Tiger mosquito; most well known for being a royal nuisance but also very importantly responsible for spreading yellow fever. When mosquitoes hunt for a meal they detect a number of chemicals, including carbon dioxide, lactic acid, ammonia, and octenol.

Octenol, in particular, is emitted by all mammals and is a carbon-based compound that has a molecular structure that can take on a “right-handed” or “left-handed” form. Both the right and left forms are a mirror image of the other and the “handedness” of either form determines how its molecular bonds are assembled.

A test performed by Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologists concluded that mosquitoes are more likely to be attracted to the right-handed form of octenol emitted by mammals. Information regarding compounds that most attract mosquitoes can be crucial in determining effective pesticide and repellent use.

Traditionally, a variety of man-made chemicals are applied to the body or a garden to repel insects. These chemicals are known to have harsh smells and negative health effects especially when applied directly to the skin. Folk and homeopathic remedies have long been used by indigenous cultures and many are coming under current scientific review.

The USDA and their chief scientific research agency the ARS along with a few collaborators have recently found that the ancient Pacific folk remedy of using breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) to repel mosquitoes actually holds scientific weight.

Three chemicals within male inflorescences of breadfruit have been identified as being more effective at repelling mosquitoes than the leading repellent known as DEET. These chemicals – Capric, undecanoic and lauric acids (or C10, C11, and C12 saturated fatty acids) – have been recorded as being entirely successful in repelling the malaria carrier.

A separate study that examined the effectiveness of a variety of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids as mosquito repellent found that participants wearing a cloth treated with these compounds were protected against mosquito bites. Dried clusters of the flowers can be burned, as is done in native pacific cultures, to release the chemicals and stave off harmful mosquitoes as well. This is the first scientific research validating the effectiveness of the folk remedy.

In the same respect, ARS scientists studied the effectiveness of the Indian and African method of burning Jatropha curcas seed oil to repel insects. Jatropha curcas is a versatile plant with all parts having homeopathic functions.

In an effort to validate the folk remedy, Natural Products Utilization Research Unit (NPURU) chemist Charles Cantrell extracted the smoke from the plant and analyzed its repellent properties concluding that the free fatty acids and triglycerides present were effective at preventing mosquitoes from biting. Fatty acids have previously been observed to have mosquito repelling properties, but this study is the first to include triglycerides in its findings.

Folk remedies are regarded as safer methods of repelling mosquitoes due to the toxicity of modern pesticides. Chemical pesticides often have a strong negative impact on humans due to the similarity in physiological systems shared by humans and pests.

In further scientific advancement, ARS scientists have tested a new form of mosquito control that they have concluded to be safe for humans, yet detrimental to insect populations. This nonchemical approach involves using a molecular pesticide technology that prevents mosquitoes from producing essential proteins necessary for their survival. The protein present in this pesticide is a nucleic acid such as DNA or RNA that interrupts specific genes within pests.

Due to the gene technology involved, this method can be designed to target a specific pest species and is even effective against species that are resistant to certain chemical pesticides. It is important to use caution with any technological advancement, however this alternative to modern pest control is reported by the USDA to negatively affect only the species towards which the method is directed. This new, nonchemical approach to preventing mosquito bites could serve as a model system for developing new, safer pesticides.

When enjoying your days and evenings in your Brooklyn green roof or garden you probably won’t be using natural pesticides like jatropha curcas seed oil or breadfruit to stave off pesky mosquitoes. But we are looking at these ingredients and many more as possible natural mosquito control. We’ll be sure to keep you posted as our research continues!

Green Roofs Reduce Electromagnetic Radiation Penetration

As a New York green roof installer we may be doing more than reducing storm-water runoff and energy costs when we install a green roof on a NY building. It turns out that green roofs are also excellent at stopping Electromagnetic frequencies (EMF). This is a good thing since there is no shortage of EMF’s in NYC. It seems every rooftop is littered with radio transmitters and the like.

EcoBblog1 pics2

Formerly believed to effect only thermal levels in humans as represented in international exposure limits, electromagnetic frequencies are currently believed by experts to have a multitude of negative health effects on the body. The International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection has published safety levels or guidelines to ensure that exposure to radiation from base-stations involved in telecommunications does not result in an adverse degree of body heating that will exceed what the body’s thermoregulatory mechanism can deal with thus limiting the allotted radiation intensity. With permitted radiation levels being too low to effect the thermoregulatory system of the body it can only be concluded that non-thermal influences associated with electromagnetic frequencies surrounding base-stations are responsible for adverse health effects on the biochemistry and electromagnetic sensitivity of the human body which is characterized by a frequency similar to those found in GSM/TETRA signals (systems of telecommunications) and varies by individual.

Living organisms are sensitive bodies that can recognize and discern the presence of external electromagnetic radiation due to biological oscillatory electrical activities that exist within our bodies. Internal electrical pulses in each living organism are essential to biocommunication and the control and regulation of bioprocesses essential to the health and functionality of the brain and body. Specifically, the human body can detect electromagnetic fields millions of times weaker than those found around GSM/TETRA base-stations. Therefore this functionality is likely to be impaired by exposure to radiation of sub-thermal intensity that contains bioactive frequencies.

EcoBblog1 pics7

Tests performed on rats concluded that the GSM frame repetition rateof 217Hz is similar to coherent electrical oscillations found in the rat’s hippocampus, effectively influencing learning, memory, spatial awareness, and epilepsy. Low frequencies or pulses emitted by GSM/TETRA base-stations have been found to influence human mood and behavior ranging from depression to rage.

Specific effects manifested in the human body associated with electromagnetic radiation exposure around base-stations include, but are not limited to: reduction of melatonin released from the pineal gland, sleeping disorders, headaches, memory problems, anxiety, nose bleeds, “unexplained” clusters of human cancers, nose bleeds, compromised immune system, nocturnal hallucinations, and a reduction of the white blood cell neutrophil. Non-thermal radiation adversely effects brain function, electrical activity, electro-chemistry, and the blood/brain barrier (BBB) via alteration of the natural rhythm of electrical activity in the brain, disturbance of the delicate balance of chemicals in the brain – specifically the dopamine opiate system, increased permeability of the BBB therein facilitating the passage of chemical toxins from the blood into brain fluid. Increased permeability of the BBB caused by EMR is directly associated with the appearance of dark neurons indicating damage to brain cells and can result in reduced brain reserve capacity. REM sleep and nocturnal secretion of melatonin are noted as being effected by EMR and both effects can correspond to sleep disruption and concentration problems. In addition to being an oncostatic hormone, melatonin can block the effect of exposure to low intensity microwaves on DNA fragmentation subsequently reducing interference of microwave radiation on DNA replication and the natural repair of normal DNA breakage. Reduced melatonin levels directly alter molecular conformation in DNA and can allow microwave radiation to interfere with these essential processes.

While many symptoms have been dismissed as merely psychosomatic the recorded observance of neutrophil depletion and BBB issues supports the theory that sub-thermal radiation associated with base-station frequencies have actual effects on biological oscillatory electrical activities within living organisms.

With the proliferation of telecommunication devices, transmission towers are now commonly located on top of buildings where we live and work. Studies conclude that green roofs, and specifically the vegetation, are shown to reduce and essentially eliminate electromagnetic radiation penetration via absorption during chemical processes that may be encouraging for buildings with rooftop telecommunications equipment. Green roofs have been found to block almost all incoming and in some cases outgoing electromagnetic radiation. Reducing our daily exposure to electromagnetic radiation with green roofs can have significant heath benefits.

EcoBblog1 pics6 The most popular location for base-stations is atop the roofs of schools

So if you are concerned about EMF exposure for yourself or your children, it may be worth looking into a green roof for your building.

Green Roof




We Love Motherplants

MotherPlants is a nursery in Ithaca, NY that specializes in growing plants for green roofs. MotherPlants is a women-owned company, committed to environmental sustainability. They use renewable energy, healthy growing practices, and dedicate a large portion of their land for wildlife.

living roof

These woman do green roofs right. They focus on plants that are drought resistant, have shallow roots, and are hearty enough to survive Northeastern winters. MotherPlants offers a variety of plant options such as “plug plants” (already grown plants with developed root systems that will grow immediately), unrooted cuttings (cuttings take less time to install and are cheaper but take more time to get established and should be planted in the spring), pre-grown mats and modules, and they will even grow custom plants by request. Many of these plants are sedums and grasses– check out their catalogue here. They also sell green roof media and can help you design your green roof.

ny green contractor

As an NY green roof installer, Eco Brooklyn is very attracted to MotherPlants because of their expertise, commitment to sustainable practices and native species, variety, and proximity (so as to reduce our environmental footprint.) Many of the plants we use in the green roofs we design are sourced from MotherPlants. When possible, we like to use clippings from the roof garden at the Eco Brooklyn Show House when propagating new roofs to avoid unnecessary use of fossil fuels through transportation… and just because we like to share.

ny green design build

Above is a photo of Eco Brooklyn’s green roof at the Show House. MotherPlants highly recommends on their website that people avoid the do-it-yourself method of installing a green roof. We agree; building a green roof should be done by an expert who can assess a roof’s ability to support the weight of a green roof, can install a well-insulated and well-sealed garden that will not leak, and can choose plants that will thrive in the conditions created specifically by your roof’s location and design.

As an NY green contractor, Eco Brooklyn can help you design and build your green roof in keeping with the most sustainable practices and products. Contact us to learn more about living roofs in NYC.

Green Source Magazine Products

Reading through the March-April 2012 issue of Green Source Magazine I came across their products section, which featured some very interesting new green roof and living wall items and exciting companies.

By now most people are aware of and understand the benefits of living/ green walls and roofs;

-Health and wellness

-Urban wildlife


-Building protection

-Energy savings

-Acoustic dampening

-Property value


-Improved air quality

-LEED credits

The first product listed designed by Green Over Grey was an improvement on the typical modular living wall system.  Their living walls use a soilless grow medium in a stainless steel frame which allows for a greater range of plants grown per module including anything from ground cover to small trees.

The company was commissioned recently to design/ build the largest green wall in North America in the Edmonton international airport using this system.  While the design is nice and the system is effective it is still run on a hydroponic irrigation system that requires a pump running 24hours to the keep the plants watered, which in our opinion makes for a very nice wall but isn’t ecological.

We don’t use this system for that reason.

edmonton international airport green wall
edmonton international airport green wall

The next company is Colbond Inc. they are global manufacturer of high-performance construction products and textiles.  On their website is a section geared specifically to green roofs and roof gardens.  Their products are a small range of drainage/ water retaining mats and liners for various roof gardening applications.

Their featured item is the “Enkamat” which anchors roots, drains water and grips growing medium, making it useful in sloped roof or high –wind conditions.  Their “Enkadrain” is a water proofing membrane made from 40% pre-consumer recycled polypropylene.  The company itself is not quite a “green company” having a very limited selection of green products compared to the rest of their catalogue.

We have used the Enkamat is our New York green roof installations with good results. Because it offers drainage and water retention in one it makes for an easier installation.

enka drain green roof system
enka drain green roof system enkamat

Tournesol Siteworks is another company specializing in module green wall systems; this one like the Green Over Grey system is capable of supporting a variety of plants making it an improvement on typical systems.  This VertiGreen trellis and Tournesol VGM exterior green walls use soil, between 4 and 8 inches and are designed for easy maintenance with modules that can be independently replaced/ removed. The framework for the wall garden is comprised of recycled polypropylene boxes and stainless steel mounting brackets.

A couple drawbacks are; this system does not come with a built in irrigation system, they recommend a water saving drip system but you are left to figure that out with your green contractor/ builder. This is an important part that could make or break its success. Also the system comes disassembled, your green builder has to assemble the pieces, do the planting and wait 1-3 months before they are ready to hang.

At first you may think this is not the most efficient system or company model.  But it increases work for local labor, decreases shipping load, and moves you away from the “instant product” that people have become obsessed with at great cost to the environment.

Letting the plants grow in place has many benefits. You haven’t invested a lot of money in plants if they don’t survive, the plants that are happy will grow, you get to see them go from zero to full, and the cost is lower since you aren’t paying somebody else to grow your plants.

We like this product because it uses soil and not hydroponics. We also like the fact that it does not cater to people who are willing to spend lots of money for the instant fix. Assembly and growing in place is much more ecological.

The main issue I have with this system is that the square boxes are very visible even when the wall is fully grown. There is no way you can make the wall appear natural. If you highlight the squares like some installers have done then it looks great.

But Eco Brooklyn is more of a naturalist green wall installer in that we like it to look like it just grew there. For that reason we haven’t used this system despite all the great things we like about it.

tournesol greenwall
tournesol module
tournesol module