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The Benefits of Green Roofs Part 2: Urban Heat Island Effect

Green Roofs Improve Human Health: Blog #2 Urban Heat Island Effect (UHIE)

When urban areas lose natural vegetation, heat can no longer escape.  The combination of steel and glass buildings, concrete and asphalt roads/sidewalks reflect sunlight and heat up cities.  Elevated temperatures from UHIE, particularly during the summer months affects a community’s environment and quality of life.  Nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and other industrial emissions mix to form ground level ozone. 

These conditions cause respiratory and cardiac problems, including asthma, non-fatal heat stroke, cramps and exhaustion.  Urban air quality has been estimated at killing nearly 800,000 per year globally and 1,000 in the US.  The city of Toronto averages about 120 deaths per year attributed to heat island effect.   New York City has been called a “floating oven” due to the scorching summer heat. 

Green, living or vegetated roofs mitigate pollution levels by lowering summer temperatures, trapping particles and capturing gases.  Roof surfaces are one of the major culprits of temperature increases.  Vegetating rooftops will help cities regain some of the cooling and evaporative effects that the trees, shrubs and other plant provided prior to the construction of the cities.  In 1995, 700 people in Chicago died from heat wave displayed by heat island effect, so in 1998 Mayor Richard Daley directed municipal funds toward green roof development in Chicago.   Many other municipalities all over the world have various incentives for the installation of green roofs.  Most of cities have requirements for green roofs to qualify for rebate programs, such as drainage layers to keep moisture in the green roof system to enable evaporative cooling processes and plant type and density. 

By removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, green roofs work to stop climate change as well as heat island effect.

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