Business is booming for Jeanne Weber, owner of Philadelphia Green Roofs, LLC. “Even during the pandemic, business has not slowed down. It blew up. In a good way,” said Weber who, since 2011, has designed and built over three acres of green roofs in Philadelphia and the Greater Delaware Valley. Major projects include Septa Frankford Transportation Building, Rittenhouse Estates, and 2601 Parkway. Jeanne also completed the four green roofs located above the Solo Real Estate’s offices at 2017 Chancellor St and the green roof at 1330 N 5th next to Kensington Yards, Solo’s most recent development project.
Why would a talented landscape designer choose to specialize exclusively in green roofs? For Weber, the transition was organic. “Back in 2009, I had been invited by the Philadelphia Horticultural Society to judge their annual City Gardens Competition in the Sustainability Category,” said Weber. “I saw a gorgeous green roof at the home of a Center City architect and we gave it a perfect score.”
Weber had seen green roofs before. But never one that appealed so powerfully to her design sensibilities. After a decade of landscape design, she became a certified green roof professional in 2009 and in 2013 launched a certified woman-owned business, one of only three or four companies in Philadelphia that exclusively installs green roofs. Weber’s roofs aren’t just functional and cost-saving. They are beautiful.
For developers, contractors, and architects, the savings of installing a green roof balance the cost over the long run. Any company that pays Business Income and Receipts Tax in Philadelphia that has a green roof, covering 60% of the available roof area, can apply for and receive a Green Roof Tax Credit up to $100,000 per building. Besides Tax Credits, SMIP Grants are available for non-residential properties to cover the cost of installing a green roof on existing buildings, called a retrofit.
The Philadelphia Water Department goes one step further – eliminating stormwater charges for buildings that have a green roof. “Every time it rains over an eighth of an inch, there is a good chance that the City’s 19th-century sewers will overflow and send untreated raw sewage into the Schuylkill and Delaware River,” said Weber. “Green roofs absorb and hold the rainfall and can keep more sewage out of the rivers.” They also provide up to 70% savings in cooling costs and protect roofs from damage and will slow down or even eliminate the need for replacement.
The environmental benefits are vital to our City’s sustainability. Green roofs reduce the “urban heat island” effect, lowering the risks of people becoming sick or dying of stroke as summer temperatures spike. They also clean the air and combat pollution, reducing the incidence of asthma and other respiratory and coronary diseases. A 2018 EPA study found that adding green roofs to the workplace can result in lower stress, higher productivity, and fewer employee absences.
How to go green
First Kensington and Fishtown went green. Now the action is in Germantown, Roxborough and Manayunk. “Not every property qualifies,” said Weber. “Green roofs require a flat roof that must be able to support twenty-eight pounds per square foot. The average Philly rowhouse roof cannot withstand the weight.” The best candidates are new construction with flat roofs, repurposed factories and warehouses.
The process starts early. “It is best to plan your green roof installation well before construction,” said Weber who attends preliminary meetings with architects and civil engineers.
The roof will first be covered with a waterproof membrane, then a rot-proof, plastic barrier. Next comes a layer of engineered soil medium composed of crushed rock and three percent compost material. Plants used on green roofs are drought-resistant and can survive for up to three months without water.
While green roofs require little maintenance and can last up to 45 years, Weber initially keeps a close eye on her projects for the first two years. “I might be there every two, three weeks checking on growth and the health of the plants,” she said.
The cost of installing and maintaining a green roof varies. It can range from $10 to $35 per square foot, depending on the size of the roof, height of the building, accessibility, etc.
Weber has worked with Deborah Solo for ten years, creating green roofs for commercial and residential properties reflecting Solo’s personal commitment to environmental sustainability. Solo Real Estate strives to take an active role in environmental stewardship through building and renovating properties in a way that reduces their carbon footprint, and supporting programs like the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Pop Up Garden on South Street, which increases the amount of green space in our urban landscape. The PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street is currently open through November featuring food, drinks, and pop-up plant giveaways sponsored by Solo Real Estate throughout the season.