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Case Study: A Practical Look at the Risks of Green Roofs

Recently, there have been a number of articles suggesting that the risks associated with green roofs have been overblown. Over the past few days, I’ve spent some time looking for more concrete examples of green roof-related risks in practice. I started by looking for case law where a plaintiff alleged an attractive nuisance claim against the owner of a building arising out of a green roof or other rooftop landscaping. Westlaw did not return any results entirely on point, but I did find a number of interesting attractive nuisance decisions which I may present in a subsequent post here at GRELJ. The much more practical research that I turned up was the following except from an article by Kelly Luckett, the self-proclaimed “Green Roof Guy” who writes a column for In a column from the very end of 2008, Mr. Luckett describes how uneducated project teams may unwittingly expose themselves to unanticipated risks stemming from the maintenance requirements of green roof installations. His remarks also reflect a number of key points we’ve made consistently both here at GRELJ and over at gbNYC with respect to the additional risk management strategies demanded by new green building technologies and third-party certification programs.

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Labor Law Issues May Begin to Impact Green Construction

There have been a couple of interesting articles recently that suggest the pending intersection of labor law and green building. First, you probably read about a complaint that was recently filed with the NLRB by workers who attempted to unionize while installing a green roof on the Target Center in Minneapolis. In addition to alleging a number of safety violations, the workers claimed that the contractor paid them the prevailing wage for landscapers- not for roofers, who earn $20 more per hour. The $5.3 million installation was a city project, and officials, along with OSHA, investigated the workers’ safety concerns earlier in the spring, finding that “the contractors lived up to the specifications of the contract to ensure safety.” From a prevailing wage rate perspective, is the installation of a green roof more akin to landscaping than roofing? This was the contractor’s argument and, I think, a neat example of how green construction practices continue to introduce legal wrinkles into even the most traditional of practice areas. However, what got me thinking a bit more seriously about the intersection of green building and labor law was an article (link after the jump) discussing the California Labor Federation’s two-day conference held earlier this month in San Francisco.

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Mitigating Risks When Building Green Roofs

Green roofs have been a part of building for over a thousand years. The current green building movement has, however, had the greatest impact on the growth of the green roofing industry. A green roof is commonly defined as a roof that consists of vegetation and soil, or a growing medium, planted over a waterproofing membrane. There are two basic types of green roofs: (i) an extensive roof, which has a few inches of soil cover; and (ii) an intensive roof that has two feet or more of soil for a variety of grass, trees, bushes and shrubs. Green roofs are used in a multitude of buildings, including industrial facilities, commercial offices, retail properties and residences. The benefits of a green roof include reduced storm-water runoff, absorption of air pollution, reduced heat island effect, protection of underlying roof material from sunlight, reduced noise, and insulation from extreme temperatures. A green roof can thus be a critical design element for a green building. As more properties across the country are attempting to obtain LEED certification, it is worth noting that a green roof can help a property obtain over a dozen LEED credits, including credits for reduced site disturbance, landscape design that reduces urban heat islands, storm water management, water efficient landscaping, innovative wastewater technologies and innovation in design. The increase in green roofs and the green building movement is also resulting in an increase in liability resulting from errors in the design, installation or maintenance of green roofs. As a result, owners, design professionals and contractors should carefully consider ways to mitigate the potential risks involved with building a green roof.

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