My renovation saga: Installing a green roof

While Mary McCutcheon takes a break, we have a new homeowner who is going to share her renovation saga.

This month I’ll surprise some on the block, hopefully in a good way. But no doubt it’ll be an eye-opener, especially for some of the longtime folks here in the Petworth neighborhood.  


Annette Olson's home in Petworth (Photo by Annette L. Olson)

As a biologist and environmentalist, I’ve been familiar with green roofs for years, though I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in person. When I mentioned I was building one, about half of my neighbors and friends asked what I meant and seemed taken aback when they found out it was a roof with plants, not environmental in some other way or painted green. “Green roof” designs basically consist of low plants in a growing medium (not soil). A drainage system, a root barrier and a waterproofing membrane sit between the plants and the roof deck. 


The roof on Annette Olson's home (Photo by Annette L. Olson)

My friends and family are supportive and encouraging, though my dad admits some trepidation about something so different.  Negative reactions so far have been about the potential cost (rightly so).  And my traditional roofer refused to rebuild the rotted roof deck to support a green roof; it just wasn’t something he wanted to get into. I found another by looking for eco-friendly roofers on Angie's List.  But in the end, I decided to go with Roof Solutions, which regularly builds green roofs with DC Greenworks.


Petworth homes (Photo by Annette Olson)

Petworth  has undergone a lot change (planting trees on the New Hampshire Avenue median, a farmer’s market, a jazz festival, house renovations). A close  neighbor, a longtime resident, was thrilled when D.C.’s RiverSmart program helped me install a rain barrel and rain garden two years ago.  She brought another neighbor to see it and to discuss getting rain barrels for the entire block.  Life got busy, however, and nothing happened.  She didn’t appear as excited about this project, though, but then she isn’t into gardening.

Green roofs are becoming more popular in this area (See Washington Post article): More than 125 roofs were installed in the District in 2011; five in my ward, Ward 4. Most have been on alley garages or main roofs above street level; a green roof on a front porch is more visible, so I am curious as to reactions from friends and neighbors once this is installed.

 Through DC Greenworks, I have started the permit and rebate applications. In a few weeks, the roof should be planted. I wonder how the construction will go and whether this roof will improve my view. I have many questions about this experiment, but I’m looking forward to it.

Annette L. Olson is a Petworth homeowner who will share her experience of installing a green roof on her rowhouse.

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