In April of 2009, Toronto became the first city in North America to mandate green roofs for most types of new construction. By a City Council vote of 36-2, the legislation was to require green roofs on all residential buildings over 6 stories, schools, affordable housing developments, and commercial and industrial buildings beginning January 31, 2010 for most property types.
But last November the industrial real estate sector successfully lobbied for an exception to the Green Roof Bylaw, as the legislation is known, before it was scheduled to take effect for industrial properties at the end of this month. New industrial properties and building additions are instead permitted to install cool roofing material (i.e., “white roofs”) instead of green roofs. Now the institutional sector – which includes schools – is pushing for the same exception. A decision is expected sometime next week.
The pushback shouldn’t be surprising: the development community in Toronto opposed the initial legislation on the basis of increased costs. (On the other hand, green roof advocates believed the legislation wasn’t broad enough and actually successfully fought to increase its purview over an original iteration of the bill.)
When we noted Toronto’s Green Roof Bylaw here at GRELJ back in 2009, we also touched on some of the associated risks that insurers and other players have identified as stemming from green roof installations generally. Recently, some of those perceived risks prevented a green roof installation on a public project in Port Moody, British Columbia. There, according to the town’s engineer, higher structural loads associated with a green roof for a new fire station would have both required a redesign and “limit[ed] the functionality” of the building, in addition to presenting “significant additional costs.”
Interestingly, the Canadian National Research Council provided Toronto legislators with input regarding the Green Roof Bylaw in 2009, noting that the energy savings from green roofs would only occur for 3 months during the year and that any claimed water retention benefits would likely never arise.
The schools’ current request for the exception is notable too: many insurers believe that green roofs are likely to become flammable and have identified schools- and their relatively easy low-rise roof access- as particularly troublesome from the perspective of potential arson. Whether those concerns play a role in driving the pending decision on the exception remains to be seen.