Benefits & Incentives for Green Roof Installation in Toronto

This article focuses on the benefits and incentives of implementing green roofs on homes and buildings in Toronto.

Green Roofs


Types of Green Roofs

Table 1 – Comparison of Green Roofing Systems

Figure 1 – Green Roof Types

Green Roofs in Toronto

Since 2006, the City of Toronto has been a leader in municipal green roof policy. In 2009, Toronto became the first city in North America to establish a bylaw requiring and governing the construction of green roofs on new developments. As well, the City promotes and encourages green roof retrofits on existing buildings through their Eco-Roof Incentive Program, which provides financial support to property owners who install green roofs.

CITY OF TORONTO

ECO-ROOF INCENTIVE PROGRAM

ELIGIBLE BUILDINGS

  • Existing residential, industrial, commercial & institutional buildings in the City of Toronto
  • New residential, industrial, commercial & institutional buildings with a gross floor area of less than 2,000 m2
  • All new construction projects by Toronto School Boards & non-for-profit organizations

STRUCTURAL ASSESSMENT GRANT

Grants are also available to help offset the cost of a structural assessment to determine if an existing building can carry the additional weight of a green roof. The grant will equal the cost of the structural assessment or $1,000, whichever is less.

If a structural engineer determines the building cannot support a green roof, the applicant will still be eligible for a grant.

INCENTIVE

Applicants can receive $100 per m2 of green roof installed. Funding requests greater than $100,000 are subject to approval by Council.

(Note: Grant applications must be approved prior to the commencement of any work on the roof. Projects that have started or are completed are ineligible for this funding.)

For more information on the application process and more, please see the City of Toronto’s Eco-Roof Incentive Program page.


Eco-Roof Incentive Program Highlights

Figure 2 – Key Facts for Green Roofs in City of Toronto

Popular Public Green Roofs in Toronto

Photos from LocalLove article Tour Toronto’s Top Green Roofs


Benefits of Green Roof Installation


Public Benefits of Green Roofs

Aesthetic Improvements

Urban greening has become a popular solution to beautifying the built environment. It is a relatively easy and effective solution, if implemented properly. A common example is when building a single-storey extension on a house with a flat roof that is overlooked by windows above. Instead of having a view of bland, grey waterproofing, installing a living green roof can provide a beautiful garden with low maintenance. This can also have a positive impact on property values.

Improved aesthetics of a city are not unimportant, as studies would suggest. In 2014, a University of Nebraska specialist in Landscape Architecture, published a study titled Aesthetics for Green Roofs and Green Walls. The findings of this study state, “aesthetics deal with the sensory experiences that make us value part of the material world and is non-trivial because it taps our sense and links us to the world around us.”

Waste Diversion

Green roofs can contribute to landfill diversion in a number of ways, including:

  • The durability and long-lasting life expectancy reduces the waste associated with replacement
  • Utilization of recycled materials in the growing medium can help divert and reduce waste
  • Prolonging the service life of heating, ventilation and HVAC systems through decreased use

Stormwater Management

Green roofs store water in the growing surface, where this water is then absorbed by the plants, then returned to the atmosphere through transpiration and evaporation. During the summer months, green roofs have the ability to retain 70-90% of the precipitation that falls; alternatively, in the winter months, green roofs can retain 25-40% of the precipitation/melting snow that occurs. Green roofs do not only retain water, but also moderates the temperature of the water, even acting as a natural filter for any of the run-off water. Overall, green roofs reduce the amount of stormwater runoff and delays the time in which runoff occurs, ultimately resulting in decreased stress on sewer systems during peak flow periods.

Urban Heat Island Effect

With assistance from the daily dew and evaporation cycle, green roofs have the ability to aid in the cooling of cities during hot summer months and reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect, as the light absorbed by vegetation would otherwise be converted into heat energy. Green roofs also help reduce the distribution of dust and particulate matter throughout the city, as well as the production of smog. This can play a role in GHG emission reduction and urban adaptation to prepare for warmer summers as climate impacts increase.

Improved Air Quality

The implementation of green roofs can help improve air quality, as the plants can capture airborne pollutants, atmospheric deposition and filter noxious gases. The temperate moderating abilities of green roofs can reduce demand on power plants, and potentially decrease the amount of CO2 and other polluting by-products being released into the air.

Public Green Spaces

Green roofs can help to reach the principles associated with smart growth and positively impact the urban environment by increasing amenity and green space, and reducing community resistance to infill projects. Green roofs can serve a number of functions and uses including community gardens (e.g. local food production or co-ops), commercial space (e.g. display area, restaurant patio), and recreational space (e.g. children’s playground).

Local Job Creation

The growth of the green roof market provides job opportunities relating to manufacturing, plant growth, design, installation, and maintenance. According to president of Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Steven Peck, the entire North American green roof market is about $500 million per year, and that there are a number of small projects occurring in Canada, particularly in Toronto. “We’re not seeing many individual homeowners doing green roofs overall, and that’s because the cost is disproportionately high. There’s a lot of economies of scale with bigger projects. If you go from 5,000 to 50,000 sq. ft., you can come down [in cost] by 10, 15, 20 percent.” Peck also estimates that Toronto alone represents approximately 50% of the green roof market in Canada right now, with significant growth occurring after the City passed its bylaw.

Increased Biodiversity

Green roofs can sustain a variety of plants, invertebrates, and a range of bird species. This can be particularly helpful for migrating birds, as it can act as a temporary habitat – linking together species that would otherwise be fragmented. Increasing biodiversity has positive economic, social, and ecosystem effects.

  • Ecosystem: Diverse ecosystems are better to maintain high levels of productivity during periods of environmental variation than those housing fewer species.
  • Economic: Stabilized ecosystems ensure the delivery of ecological goods and services (e.g., food, medicine, maintenance of hydrological cycles).
  • Social: Visual and environmental diversity can have positive impacts on communities and psychological well-being.

Improved Health & Well-Being

The reduced pollution and increased water quality that green roofs can provide can also decrease demands for health care. Additionally, green roofs can serve as community hubs, increasing social cohesion, sense of community and public safety. During the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an increase in demand for private or semi-private outdoor spaces, so residents can have an opportunity to utilize green space while safely distancing.

Urban Agriculture

Green roofs can be utilized for urban agriculture, allowing communities to. reduce their footprint, and create a local food system. Projects like these can serve as a source of community empowerment, engagement, increase self-reliance, and improve levels of nutrition.

Educational Opportunities

Green roofs provide a number of educational opportunities for individuals and the public. Green roofs on top of educational facilities can provide an easily accessible site to teach students and visitors about ecology, green roof technology, urban agriculture, and the benefits of green roofs. As well, homeowners have the opportunity to learn new skills.

Private Benefits of Green Roofs

Energy Efficiency

The greater insulation from green roofs can reduce the amount of energy needed to moderate the temperature of a building, as roofs are the source of the greatest heat loss in the winter and the hottest temperatures in the summer.

Durability

A rooftop is continually impacted by the elements, and with an ever-changing climate like Toronto’s, it has plenty to cope with throughout the year. Not only will a roof need to sufficiently deal with wind, rain, and heavy snows, it also must deal with UV rays and our drastically fluctuating temperatures (e.g., from season to season & more recently due to climate change). As such, it is understandable that homeowners and business owners would look for alternative roofing options. Green roofs offer many benefits, even proving to double or even triple the life expectancy of rooftops. The barrier of greenery helps protect the waterproofing underneath, ensuring a long life expectancy.

Fire Retardation

Green roofs have much lower burning heat load (the heat generated when a substance burns) than conventional roofs do. However, it is integral that maintenance is consistent on green roofs, as ignoring excess biomass could end up inadvertently fuelling a fire.

Noise Reduction

Green roofs also have acoustical benefits. Green roofs have a heavier weight to them, resulting in an increased sound insulation for the roof system. This could lead, depending on the design of the building, strong reductions of indoor noise levels during increased outdoor noise levels (e.g., a plane flying overhead). In 2008, Ghent University published a study, Green Roofs for Quietness. This study illustrated that green roofs can also be used to successfully reduce road traffic noise exposure, which is the main source of noise disturbance in urban areas.

Marketing & Promotion

Installing a green roof can increase the marketability of a building or the selling value of a home. Green roofs are an easily identifiable symbol of the green building movement, and can act as an incentive to those interested in the many benefits of a green roof. Green roofs, as part of the green building movement, have been identified as facilitating sales, lease-outs, increased property value due to increased efficiency, easier employee recruiting, and lower employee and tenant turnover.


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