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Homes with living roofs

Marcelle Sussman Fischler

Carpets of green have topped dwellings since ancient times. If you believe the legend, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon blanketed an entire palace in exotic greenery. And during the Viking days, sod roofs made of earth were all the rage.

Once a relic of earlier civilizations, living rooftops are blooming once more, albeit with modern technologies like irrigation and drainage systems — eco-friendly alternatives to materials like asphalt or tile.

“You have to have a bit of a green thumb,” said Katy Brahler, who along with husband, Gary, “wanted to go as green as we could,” when they hired Cleveland architect Robert Maschke to renovate their three-bedroom cottage near Lake Erie a little over two years ago.

The Brahlers aren’t alone. The green roof market alone grew by 115% last year, according to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a not-for-profit organization touting the benefits of turf roofing.

And there are many: according to the EPA, green roofs insulate, filter pollution, reduce storm water run-off, and naturally cool the air, reducing what’s known as the “heat island effect.”

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Here are four homes that put green roofs to spectacular use.

Meera Sky Garden House, Singapore

The top roof of this modern home on the island of Sentosa (adjacent to the main island Singapore) is slow growing and easy to maintain carpet grass but still keeps the residence cool, according to Guz Wilkinson of Guz Architects. Wilkinson designed the home in a new development where the plots are not large and homes are built close together.

A solid wall provides privacy to each side and the home's layered effect makes each story feel like a single-story dwelling with a private outdoor garden.

Contemporary Cottage, Bay Village, Ohio

Situated steps from Lake Erie, the owners of this three-bedroom cottage wanted to include as many green elements as possible when they renovated three years ago. Cleveland architect Robert Maschke used a steel roof on the original portion but suggested a sloped green roof and vertical wall for the exterior of a new master bedroom suite.

Pacific Heights Townhouse, San Francisco

Some green roofs aren't just for plants. In urban areas where outdoor space is limited and the views are best from the top, residents use them, too, says architect Jonathan Feldman. To get more greenery and less concrete in his clients' lives, Feldman placed living areas on the top floor of this 1906 stucco-clad Victorian (he also added skylights). A large portion of the rear space was removed to make space for a roof garden and outdoor lounge space. "It's not just the plants that get the view," Feldman says.

Natural Balance, Vancouver, Canada

Nick Kerchum, an owner of, built himself a green home with a green roof in 2009. It has three living roofs blazing with pink and fuschia-toned plants, one on the garage, one on the top roof next to the roof next and one on the main level roof. The garden is completely self-sufficient. It doesn’t need to be watered or pruned.

Click here to see more homes with living roofs.