Michigan State University Building Gets Green Roof

Michigan State University Building Gets Green Roof

Ground zero in the latest movement to lighten up the environmental assault of urban development is rather lofty.

It's on the roof.

Michigan State University has gone green -- installing a vegetative green roof on a portion of the Plant and Soil Sciences building.

Two-hundred-pound rolls of sedum have been hauled up and laid on specially developed materials that will grow into a living flowering carpet.

Not only does it require less maintenance than shingles or asphalt sealant, it also doesn't need to be mowed or weeded. The green portion of the roof is about 3,500 square feet, with the rest left covered with conventional materials for research purposes.

Green roofs have been touted as an environmental preferably way to help urban areas:
  • reduce airborne pollution

  • reduce storm water runoff by greater than 60%, a major problem in dense urban areas

  • moderate temperatures for both the building that sports the roof and those around it -- reducing the so-called urban heat island effect

  • reduce noise

  • increase roof durability and longevity
"Green roofs look great, but if this were just purely aesthetic, it wouldn't fly," said Clayton Rugh, assistant professor of crop and soil sciences. "These additional benefits will recoup their cost and pay for themselves."

MSU is eager for more data. In 2000, MSU advised Ford Motor Co. on installing a 10.6 acre green roof -- the world's largest -- on a new assembly plant in Dearborn, which is being closely monitored. The new roof planting at MSU - on the southern two-story section of the building over the horticulture preparation area and Sparty Floral shop -- will be an effective on-campus lab, visible from the main building.

Workers have installed a 2-inch layered base that drains water, holds roots in check and provides a growing medium that nourishes the sedum without conventional soil. The system doesn't wash away or create dust and is comparatively light weight.

The plants do the rest. Brad Rowe, associate professor of horticulture, said these mixed varieties of sedum are climate warriors - enduring extreme heat and cold, as well as surviving more than 88 days without watering. Its hardiness and ability to grow in the minimalist root system makes it triumph over weeds.

Green roofs are a concept embraced for years in Germany, where some 12% of flat roofs are green. Xeroflor America LLC, the company that donated a portion of the supplies for the MSU project, is a Lansing-based green roof provider founded by the German developer of the Ford system.

Rugh said that because existing American flat roofs must be modified to convert to green, the concept is still new. While green roofs are initially more expensive, over time energy savings, storm water runoff reduction and other benefits make it cost effective.

MSU's Office of the Vice President of Operations is funding the project. Terry Link, director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, said that studies here can help determine if these approaches can save money, not to mention give more aesthetically pleasing vistas when looking down from above.

"MSU needs to be investigating and finding solutions to our looming global climate change crisis," Link said. "Green roofs hold a number of intriguing possibilities, including absorbing carbon, reducing heat island effects and adding insulating effects to buildings." More information is available online.