On the floor beneath the second storey bedroom window in Janna Levitt and Dean Goodman’s Toronto home, a pair of gardening clogs sits poised for action.
On the other side of the window is a green roof, lush with swaying grasses and lavender. “Every night when I go to bed, and in the morning when I wake up, I feel like I’m in a garden,” says Goodman. Indeed, with 108 square metres of green space cascading over three different levels, Goodman and Levitt’s roof is their garden, with more landscaping on top of the house than at ground level. “Our bedroom overlooks the roof,” says Goodman, “so we wanted it to be beautiful.”
Long established in Europe, green roofs are becoming increasingly popular in Canada. They can be found atop hotels (such as the Fairmont Hotel in Vancouver), universities (at Trent in Peterborough, Laval in Quebec City and York in Toronto) and public libraries (in Vancouver, for example).
In Ontario, cities such as Waterloo, Toronto, London and Guelph have joined Seattle and Chicago and installed green roofs on their City Hall buildings. Schools are also getting into the act—St. Christopher Catholic Elementary School in Windsor, for example, is known locally as “the school with hair on top.” Parking garages, churches, museums, hospitals, convention centres and retail stores—whatever the building’s function, more green roofs are popping up across Canada with each passing year.
The final frontier in this revolution, though, is our houses. Residential green roofs are still in the vanguard, but homeowners are embracing the relatively new (and admittedly still expensive) trend, with green roofs gracing more and more homes, garages and sheds.
“The North American residential market for green roofs is less developed than that for commercial and industrial buildings,” says Steven Peck, founder and president of the non-profit group Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, who attributes this lag to economies of scale. Mathis Natvik, whose company Natvik Ecological is involved in creating more than a dozen green roofs this year, suggests many of the larger businesses installing them aren’t as interested in smaller projects. Thus, while homeowners may be enthusiastic, finding information and resources can be tough.
Colin Viebrock experienced this firsthand when he and his wife decided to rebuild the 1950s garage in the backyard of their Toronto home. Unable to find a green roof company willing to take on the project—“They laughed when they found out how small it was; most of the larger green roof companies don’t even have a truck that would fit in our laneway”—Viebrock went the DIY route, learning all he could, talking with experts, reading books, even starting a blog. Now, two years later, Viebrock’s 36-square-metre garage roof is carpeted with a dozen or so varieties of sedum, and his new company, Green Garage, has completed three other small projects, with more lined up for spring. “I look around the city,” says Viebrock, “and there are a lot of laneway garages that could be greened.”