Creating a Plan to Manage Green Roofs 6

Monday, February 1st, 2016
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Green roofs need to be managed, but who is responsible for this and how can they best go about it?

In a commercial or retail building, managing the green roof is the responsibility of the facility manager. In an apartment block, it is the responsibility of the building manager. In a house, the owner normally performs this role.


City Hall building, Chicago
Photo: New York Times

 There are a few things facility managers and building managers should know about managing these assets, but if you own a green roof or are a property developer creating a green roof, many of the same lessons will be helpful.

Managing green roofs can be straightforward. It is a satisfying task which is not rocket science. However, this task is rarely talked about. It is worth spelling out what is involved.

What does managing a green roof involve?

Managing a green roof means more than simply arranging its maintenance. Fundamentally, it requires you to provide a long-term vision of how the asset will look and work when it reaches maturity, and a plan for how to realise this vision. We call the latter a green roof management plan.

How to form a vision for a mature green roof asset

Your vision for the green roof asset needs to be aligned with the owner’s vision for the asset, and most importantly, with the purpose of the green roof.

Green roofs are created for a purpose. If you are responsible for managing a green roof, make sure you know exactly what the purpose of your green roof is. They can serve a range of functions.

In an ideal world, the project manager of the green roof installation would hand over this and all other crucial information about the green roof. At present, because green roof management is rarely discussed, handovers of green roofs are not well-established. Make sure they work well in your case.

Handovers of green roofs from project managers to facility managers

Make sure you ask for and obtain a documented declaration of the green roof’s purpose by the owner.

Better still, contribute to discussions of the purpose of the green roof from the outset of its design. The purpose of a green roof should ideally be approved by you or another facility manager before the project proceeds. You are well-placed to assess how the people in your building will interact with the green roof in practice, and how management of the green roof will integrate with the other building management systems.

Check that the green roof has been designed to fulfil its designated purpose. Raise a red flag if it has not.

Check that the green roof has been installed according to its design, so as to fulfil its designated purpose. Raise a red flag if it has not.

Make sure you understand how the green roof’s design features serve its purpose. Talk to the designer and installer to find out how this green roof is designed to work and grow.


Anthony Mayer, CEO of Hanging Gardens LLC, checks the irrigation system at the recently planted green roof on the Mitchell Street Market Lofts on Wednesday in Milwaukee. The green roof, which covers 16,334 square feet on two levels, is capable of storing thousands of gallons of storm water
photo: Chris Willson

Once you understand the purpose of the green roof and how it is designed to achieve it, form a vision of how the asset will look in five to 10 years, when it matures. The key point to understand here is that only when the asset matures will it fully serve its purpose. At the date of installation, green roofs are basic assets.

To form a practical vision of how the asset will look in five to 10 years, you will need input from a horticulturalist who understands green roofs and how they affect plant growth and garden development along with your own insights, based on experience, into how your building community is likely to use the green roof over time, and what this means for the evolution of the asset.

Forming the green roof management plan

Once you have a vision for what you will create over the next five to 10 years, you are ready to form a plan for how you will realise it. Note that it is your responsibility as facility manager to make sure the vision becomes reality. Your management plan is an essential tool for making sure this happens.

You will use the green roof management plan both to track progress and to brief your green roof maintenance team and keep it on track.

A green roof management plan should, at the least:

  • State the agreed purpose of the green roof
  • Outline your vision for the mature green roof asset
  • State how long you expect it to take the asset to grow to maturity
  • State the systems and products in the green roof and how they are designed to achieve the green roof’s purpose
  • Outline access to the green roof
  • Outline any management risks, and how these will be managed
  • State the annual maintenance budget
  • Summarise the type of maintenance tasks required
  • Outline the skills and certification required in the maintenance team to perform these tasks
  • Outline communication requirements
  • State when the management plan is due for review

The management plan provides you with the information you need to identify the skills, capabilities and certification you need in your maintenance team so that you can recruit and train a horticultural maintenance team as required.


If you are not a horticulturalist and do not have specialist knowledge of green roofs, you will need advice from an expert. You may want to engage an expert immediately as the leader of your maintenance team. Ultimately, you will need someone with this expertise to lead your maintenance team. Alternatively, the designer and installer of the green roof should be able to provide the expert you need. Make sure this person has expertise in both horticulture and green roofs.

The second key sphere of knowledge required to form a good management plan is knowledge of how the building operates – its functions and its operational culture. This is what you hold, and it is crucial you feed it into the management plan.

When do you write the management plan?

As council planning departments take a greater interest in ensuring that green roof applications are feasible in the long term, they may start to require that management plans be submitted in planning. When this occurs, the management plan will need to be completed during the design phase of a green roof construction project. This is our recommended timing as it enables the facility manager to provide feedback on the designs.

In cases where a facility manager has not yet been appointed for a new building, engage an expert to produce a management plan during design or at the latest, during construction. This is crucial so that the management and maintenance budget is formed by the date of installation and no unanticipated costs arise at this point.

At the moment, councils in Australia tend to require a (highly abridged) maintenance schedule as a demonstration that the design takes into account the sorts of maintenance activity that will be required to sustain and develop the green roof. For practical purposes of green roof management and maintenance, however, such schedules are of no particular value unless they are founded in a solid management plan. If maintenance plans do not meet the goals and constraints of management, they will flounder. Green roof maintenance only occurs within the context of management of the green roof.

Equipped with a green roof management plan, the leader of the horticultural maintenance team can form a maintenance plan which sets out the goals for the cultivation of the green roof over a shorter period of time, such as two years. The maintenance crew will use this maintenance plan to form their maintenance schedules and checklists. The facility manager needs to approve the maintenance plan.

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  1. JD Wm

    I don't see anything in the management plan that a green roof has a life, and when it is at the end of its life it needs to be replaced. Like any other building asset, replacement costs need to be factored into financing recommissioning to ensure the long term function of the building.

  2. Lynda Jones

    This is really interesting as I am just investing in a new building with a green wall. I think most of what is suggested in this article would also apply. However, I am wondering if there is anything that makes a green wall different (apart from its direction of course!).

    • Pip Hildebrand

      Hi Lynda,

      Thanks for your comment and apologies for the delayed response. You are quite right that many of these factors can be applied to green wall management. If you'd like to find out more about specific green wall requirements please feel free to shoot us an email.

  3. Sylvia

    The average life of a roof is approximately fifteen years.
    For a homeowner, commercial building owner, even Homeowners Associations the roof damage insurance claim
    process can be an overwhelming experience. Roofing contractors, especially roofing contractors Salt Lake
    City, should have evidence of their liability insurance.

  4. Robert Barmore

    Great article.

    As a manufacturer of a PANEL for rooftop pedestal paver heating and cooling system, we can attest to the fact that when a rooftop garden and terrace that is temperature controlled, the roof will last longer than an unprotected one. It will add a 4th dimension to the space, comfort, safety and utility while reducing the urban heat island effect.

  5. Danka

    We are working on several inner city projects and all indications are roof top as well as vertical gardens are an asset.
    But concerned that this will put off the buyers due to on going maintenance. I can't see how this compares to hard surfaces that will out last greenery by a long way.
    Really keen to use green roof tops but also cautious. No one has been able to give me a clear indications of what the revivification may be long term.