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Environmental Issues

The living roof

October 10, 2011
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There is something alive atop a New York carwash, and the residents of Endwell have definitely taken notice. Honestly, it is pretty hard to miss. The living, breathing hulk weighs thousands of pounds, and it is perfectly perched on the slanted roof of the Enviro Auto Wash. No matter the weather, it sits content. In fact, the beating beams of sun and the serious soakings of rainwater are the only things that keep it alive.

"What is it?" some may ask. "Why is it there?" Simply put, it is a solution — a creative answer for a carwash that must meet strict water runoff regulations. This living, green roof is made up of specially selected plants that soak up plenty of pesky, excess water. Still, that's not its only job. The roof also acts as an eye-catching billboard for the eco-friendly carwash.

It's alive!

"Stringent rainwater runoff totals forced us to consider alternatives to traditional methods for water 'retainage,'" David Yacobelli, the owner of Enviro Auto Wash, said. "The living roof adds a unique way to decrease rainwater runoff totals, lower [the] urban heat island and add a very colorful and interesting addition to the community."

Haas Landscaping of Binghamton, NY, and B.A.P. Architecture of Apalachin, NY, came together and proposed this green roof to help reduce the runoff. Yacobelli said the roof planter system is actually made up of many different layers. A waterproof PVC membrane is placed on top of plywood and a layer of DensDek. Next, a cable system is strung from one end of the roof to the other. The cables string through a product called CelTek that gives the dirt structure and keeps it in place. The plants are then grown on top of this stable soil.

The plants selected for the roof were several varieties of sedum plants that bloom and change color throughout the year. The plants go dormant during the winter months, similar to a traditional lawn. Yacobelli said they are very hardy plants, and they thrive in tough climates like upstate New York and even further north in Canada.

"The plants are very full and lively making them good at keeping seeds and other invasive plants from starting," Yacobelli explained. "However, the roof will need annual fertilizing and weeding to ensure it stays looking healthy."

Design and installation

Before installation, a great deal of planning and architecture went into the green roof. One of the biggest challenges was designing a high-quality roof system that would not be problematic in the harsh Northeastern climate, according to Yacobelli. This meant much of the design had to be created especially for Enviro Auto Wash and specifically for this individual roof system.

Also, the entire carwash structure had to be modified to support the special roof. The structure had to be strong enough to sustain the tremendous weight that would occur when both the plants and soil were completely saturated. Yacobelli said the wash's concrete block walls were filled with cement as they went up, and the number of roof trusses was tripled compared to what would traditionally be used for this type of structure.

When the structure was ready, the components of the green roof still had to be delivered. Yacobelli said the delivery of almost 100,000 pounds of dirt, fabric, cabling, membrane and plant material was a major undertaking. And, placing these materials on the roof required the use of a crane.

All together, the installation of the roof took several weeks, from putting down the membrane to placing the plants on the roof. But, it actually took longer than that. Yacobelli explained that the project began in late fall, so the roof installation had to be put on hold during the winter to ensure the health of the plants.

Spending to save

Yacobelli said one of the largest costs involved with the green roof was the custom design it required. "Being innovative can be expensive, and it will cost extra in many areas to have the roof designed to last by a professional team." Other extra costs involved with the green roof included the extra trusses, the membrane and cable systems, the cement-filled block structure and the professional installation.

Even considering the extra costs, the roof does offer financial advantages to the carwash. First, it will mitigate costs the carwash would have incurred when finding alternative ways to handle the rainwater runoff totals. But, the largest incentive is how the unique and interesting roof serves as a constant billboard for the wash. "There has been more than one occasion where I have overheard people discussing the green roof with friends while out to dinner or at a local get together," Yacobelli said. "This type of advertising has a very positive, but difficult to measure, effect on revenue."

Other green technology

The roof isn't the only green feature that the Enviro Auto Wash utilizes, according to Yacobelli. The wash equipment in the touch-free bays was designed to conserve water and energy. The wash uses special "Green & Clean" wetting agents and foamers with natural, renewable surfactants. These chemicals are corn, coconut and vegetable oil based to help reduce their impact on the environment.

The wash also has a 96.4 percent energy efficient boiler that heats the floor during the colder months. This has made a huge difference in how much natural gas the wash uses. Enviro Auto Wash also uses LED lighting inside the bays to reduce energy costs.

Today, with ever increasing water and electricity costs, this conservation has become a necessity in the carwash industry. "The concept of water and energy conservation is more and more important," Yacobelli said.

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