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Roof top research to pave way to greener buildings

Media Release
18 September 2006

Roof top research could pave the way for greener buildings

A living, growing experiment has been built on top of the Engineering Building at the University of Auckland to test the city's suitability for 'green roofs'.

Researchers from the Faculty of Engineering turned the roof on Symonds Street into a 200-square foot garden over the course of the weekend, September 16 and 17.

Fully funded by the Auckland Regional Council (ARC), this three-year research project will look into design specifications for green roof systems suitable for both new developments, and to retrofit existing structures.

It will be Auckland City's first green roof and the first in the region to be built on top of an existing building.

ARC Councillor, and Deputy Chair of the council's Environmental Management Committee, Paul Walbran, can see the benefits.

"Green roofs are an ideal solution for reducing stormwater runoff that pollutes our waterways, destroys aquatic life and causes stream erosion, which can lead to flooding. They also have the added benefit of creating habitats for birds and improving insulation," says Cr Walbran.

Dr Elizabeth Fassman, a lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering who is leading the project, says green roofs overseas have reduced stormwater runoff by 50 to 90 percent.

"We would like to know if our locally sourced materials work as well as the materials that have already been proven overseas, and if so, establish the best combination of materials," Dr Fassman says.

"We're not just throwing up some soil and plants, we have very carefully selected porous materials that can hold a lot of water. When they are dry, they weigh almost nothing."

The roof has been divided into six plots with different combinations of lightweight mediums being trialled in each, including pumice, zeolite, imported expanded clay and bark fines. Soils are not used as they are too heavy for most existing roofs to withstand.

The plots have been planted with 3,600 plants, a combination of natives and sedums, or succulents, selected for their hardiness and ability to withstand droughts or floods.

Ideally the roof will be able to absorb up to 35mm of rain, which will eventually evaporate back into the atmosphere.

Earl Shaver, ARC Specialist Policy Advisor for stormwater, says looking at more sustainable ways to treat stormwater runoff in the CBD and beyond is vital.

"Green roof technology has been proven in many locations around the world and provides numerous benefits, including reducing the total volume of stormwater that leaves a roof, retention of airborne contaminants, reduced stormwater temperature impact, and can be an aesthetic amenity. Keeping the region clean and green could easily include green roofs," says Mr Shaver.


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