Having a sedum roof or other live plants growing purposefully on your barn, coop or dwelling has many advantages. In addition to being aesthetic, these living roofs can help reduce waste, improve air quality and help with the building’s energy efficiency.
A few months ago, while I was in Iceland, I learned that the Icelandic architectural style of having sod grow up and over the roofs of many farm buildings originated from a lack of natural resources. Today, Icelanders continue building green roofs for environmental factors as much as nostalgia.
“I hear they are quite popular over in Europe,” Lori Davey of Sedum Master Inc, says. “Green roofing is an age-old concept that has been reintroduced with the practicality for our new-age construction.”
“Whether to slow and reduce the amount of stormwater, decreasing energy costs in the summer months, or simply enjoying the view onto a planted roof, living roofs can meet a homesteader’s specific goals as well as provide other benefits,” Emilio Ancaya, Co-Owner of Living Roofs, Inc. says. “Living roofs provide an enormous and diverse list of benefits including environmental, economic and aesthetic returns.”
Earthship homes are the epitome of alternative building materials. Earthship homes are radically sustainable from their solar heating and electric systems to their water harvesting and food production. These homes are built with natural and recycled materials and often have a sedum roof or edible living walls.
Sedum Master Inc. has been in the green roof business for 10 years and Davey says sedum roofs help with electricity bills and should be incorporated into new building designs.
“Green roofs add to the insulation and can help lower your heating costs in the winter and your cooling costs in the summer,” Davey explains. “They help with the stormwater runoff, used as an aid as a sound barrier, a natural habitat, increases building value and is an added landscape feature.”
She explains that sedums are succulents and are great for droughts. The succulent soil should be a mix of inorganic and organic blends. Some individuals may even use recycled media for their plants to grow on.
“Depending on the soil depth and planting goals the soil combinations will be different,” Ancaya says. “However, it is usually composed of 75-85% of inorganic with the remaining being organic matter (compost).”
“When it rains the sedums soak up as much water as they can into their fleshy leaves,” Davey explains. “When a drought is persistent they will use the stored water to hydrate through the drought until the next rainfall. Our sedum mats have a mixture of 18 different sedum varieties in each mat this way there is an abundance of color and a mixture of sedums for various gardening zones. Sedums will go dormant through the winter and pop back up come the following spring.”
Sheds, Barns, and Coops
“Green roofs are becoming strong in the forefront of new design and are becoming more and more common throughout North America,” Davey says. However, many people have discovered the benefits of installing a green roof on a pre-existing building such as a barn or garden shed turned chicken coop.
Davey recommends checking with an engineer to see if your roof top can withstand the weight of a green roof. You can always add additional support.
Davey also recommends having trained green roof professionals install your green roof as there are many layers of a green roof required besides the vegetation.
Davey’s third tip for sedum roofs for sheds and coops is to make sure there is a maintenance plan in place. “Green roofs are like gardens: they need to be irrigated and weeded,” she adds. After installing the sedum products it is recommended that they are watered for the first two weeks. During an extended drought, a little bit of water is very beneficial to the plants.
Many of the hundreds of sedums are Northern Hemisphere plants which thrive in direct sunlight. It is easiest to install a sedum roof on a pre-existing coop or shed if the roof angle is not greater than 20°. For steeper roofs, a water catching system is essential.
While sedum is the medium of choice for green roofs, harvesting food may also be possible with the correct planning and planting.
“This requires a deeper growing media depth and there are many examples of this in urban areas. Another option is for edibles to be grown in containers on the roof,” said Ancaya.
“Remember that green roofs also create and support the biodiversity of a region, particularly for invertebrates (pollinators) and birds,” Ancaya says. “Living roofs do not have to be solely composed of succulents. If you are able to install a deeper growing depth consider a diverse palette of plants including hardy native plants.”
Ancaya concludes, “Take the time to plan your living roof so you maximize your investment.”
What species do you grow on your living roof on your shed or homestead? If you don’t have a sedum roof, what reservations do you have?