How Initial Green Roof Design Impacts Stewardship

Posted by Ecogardens

How Initial Green Roof Design Impacts Stewardship | How a green roof is constructed and how it’s cared for are irrevocably intertwined.


While good stewardship helps keep a green roof sound throughout the decades of its life, you’re fighting a losing battle without good design.

On the surface, green roof design and stewardship might seem like two wholly different aspects of the green roofing process.

Design and installation are completely done by the time stewardship takes over, after all. They exist in two distinctly separate phases, leading some to believe that the one doesn’t impact the other. Design is one-and-done. Stewardship comes on later, and if it’s good, can keep a green roof healthy no matter what.

… Right?

Not necessarily.

Truth is, design and stewardship are inextricably intertwined. Yes, good design – based on sound scientific concepts and artful creativity – should set a roof up for life. And yes, excellent stewardship does help any green system weather the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

But without good design, stewardship is set up for a fall. Let’s talk about why the right approach is so important from the very beginning.

How Are Green Roof Design and Stewardship Related?


How Initial Green Roof Design Impacts Stewardship | Green roof design dictates later stewardship, while the plan for stewardship must be taken into account during design.

Before we can understand how green roof design and stewardship are linked, it’s critical first to comprehend the meaning of stewardship.

It’s not as simple as maintenance, which connotes a pre-set routine.

Stewardship, on the other hand, requires carefully watching over a system and taking note of its needs on an ongoing basis. It’s an ever-changing process that requires knowledge and flexibility.

How does that relate to design?

Simply that stewardship stems from green roof design, and design must account for later stewardship if the roof is to succeed.

Factors Affecting the Early Green Roof Design Phase


So what should a good ecological designer take into account when planning a green roof and overseeing its installation? Here are a few of the most important factors linking green roof design and stewardship:


  • The weight constraints of the building: How big a load the roof can bear matters hugely to the success of the roof. Too much weight, and it can sag, crack or otherwise deteriorate, which leads to problems both for the building envelope and for the rooftop. Too much weight, and good stewardship is impossible.
  • Local rules and regulations: Stewardship means continuing to uphold rules and regs. It’s critical that initial design take these into account, or you’re setting yourself up for a roof that’s out of code later. For instance, if it has to capture X inches of stormwater, then you must design it to have the capability now and long-term, with plans and parts that last.
  • Beauty and function: Later stewardship is more complicated for an ornamental roof garden. That’s fine, so long as you actually use it for human traffic. If not, then ornamental design is both unnecessary now and can create headaches later on when a steward tries to keep up with the needless high design.
  • Budget: When designing a green roof, there are two budget considerations. First, the one for the roof’s design and installation. Second, the budget for upkeep. When you don’t take the latter into account, the chances of the owner abandoning or neglecting a roof skyrocket.
  • The needs of the space: A green roof might look great in a lab or another city, but it has to perform in your city, on your specific roof. Considerations like microclimate, elevation, local plants, invasive species and pests are all critical. Fail to take the hyperlocal environment into account, and no amount of great stewardship will make up for it.


As you can see, a quality stewardship plan that keeps the green roof functioning over its potential lifespan – usually three or four decades, or more – needs to start with design.

Sadly, it often doesn’t.

What Is the Most Common Green Roof Design Problem?


How Initial Green Roof Design Impacts Stewardship | Green roof design often makes stewardship too spendy.

The biggest problem when it comes to green roof is failing to take realities into account, and therefore making stewardship too costly.

Here at Ecogardens, we routinely encounter green roof owners who aren’t pleased with the cost of stewardship. They complain that maintaining the roof is draining them, and for what? When we check it out, we see that the roofer has used persnickety high-design concepts that require too much maintenance for a functional roof, and that they are indeed charging too much to keep that invisible roof looking spandy.

Ignorance is another problem. By failing to take the local environment into account and use components/plants capable of handling it, designers put an undue burden on stewards. That means ignoring temperature, wind, seasonal changes or other local conditions. In having to constantly make up for this deficit, green roofers responsible for upkeep have to charge more than a well-designed roof.

Over-shepherding the plants causes problems too. Many designers create fancy bands of color with plants, even on green roofs no one will ever see. Then those plants migrate to where they’re happiest, whereupon lots of green roofers will purse their lips and move the plant back to its original location. That costs a lot of extra money, which wouldn’t be needed if you opted for a simpler, more organic planting pattern instead.

Also, using shoddy components is simply asking for failure. When a designer deceives an owner (and it happens all the time), those cheap components can cause majorly expensive problems, such as standing water, breakdown of the waterproofing barrier and penetration of the building envelope. Not good.

Expectations: A Critical Aspect of Design and Stewardship


Perhaps the most important link between design and stewardship is expectation-setting. The designer needs to take the stewardship requirements into account for two reasons:

  1. To design the roof accurately
  2. To give the owner a realistic idea of what the cost of upkeep will be, before the owner signs on the dotted line

Good designers do this, setting expectation from the outset. Bad ones don’t, and the result is poorer care for plants.

Don’t let that happen.

Instead, get in touch with Ecogardens today. Our friendly, knowledgeable team understands both green roof design and stewardship, as well as the unbreakable bond between the two. If you’re looking for decades of green roof success, you’ll find it here.



Topics: Stewardship

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