What you need to know about green roof maintenance

Green roofs, or living roofs, are roofs that have been partially or completely covered with vegetation, including grass or flowers, providing an aesthetically pleasing alternative to standard roofs.

As well as being aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to local biodiversity, however, there are many other benefits to green roofs, including:

  • Increased life expectancy of membrane, protecting it from UV and weather damage
  • Improved water runoff, preventing localised flooding and water damage
  • Improved air quality and removal of airborne contaminants
  • Improved thermal performance thanks to greater thermal mass

Due to these benefits, both the government and local authorities are beginning to invest heavily in green roofs across the UK. On a greater scale, these types of roofs are an important part of combating climate change.

The misconception

However, alongside the benefits of green roofs come a raft of misconceptions, the most common being that these roofs are self-sustaining and as such do not require maintenance. In fact, green roofs require maintenance at least twice a year. Common maintenance of green roofs can include:

  • Removing weeds and replacing dead plants
  • Checking drain outlets and fire breaks
  • Checking components such as flashings, mastic and roofing membrane
  • Cleaning roof lights and photovoltaic panels
  • Removing general rubbish and debris

Twice-yearly maintenance is considered by the HSE to be frequent activity, and it is vital that it is taken into account at the design stage, and the correct provisions are made for the work to be carried out safely.

The solution

In the first instance, the correct safety solutions should be implemented during the design and planning stage. According to the work at height hierarchy, collective measures in the form of guardrail should be the first priority – this is even more vital if those accessing the roof regularly are likely to have limited experience or training in work at height.

Despite what some might think, guardrails do not have to detract from the aesthetics of the roof, as they can be powder coated to blend in with their surroundings.

In some scenarios however, collective protection may not be suitable, such as if there is limited space or if it is absolutely vital that the aesthetics of the building itself are not affected, meaning systems cannot be visible from the ground.

In these situations, the alternative would be a personal fall protection system, most commonly in the form of roof anchors and lifelines which offer a fall restraint or fall arrest design. Lifelines are often considered a better choice as they allow continual handsfree protection along the roof, though anchors can be used as either a single unit or linked together.

These systems can be used in either fall restraint, which restricts workers from approaching an exposed edge, or fall arrest, which allows access to the edge and arrests a fall should it occur, but the work at height hierarchy states that fall restraint should always be used where possible. If fall arrest must be used, then all users should be trained in both the equipment and rescue.

Wherever personal protection is used over the collective, then all efforts should be made to ensure users are trained, qualified and competent to prevent accidents from occurring.

Growing demand

Green roofs are only growing in popularity, alongside an increasing demand for environmentally and ecologically sustainable construction, but it is important to highlight that safe maintenance is as vital on these types of roofs as on any other.

By implementing practical measures according to the work at height hierarchy at the planning stage, the correct system can be installed before planting, ensuring safe use of these systems when carrying out maintenance without disrupting the aesthetics of the green roof itself.

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