The University of Toronto’s Green Roof Innovation Testing (GRIT) Laboratory is paving the way for in-depth studies of green roof technology.
Earlier this month, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) crowned the GRIT lab as winner of the Award of Excellence (professional) in the research category for the 2013 Professional and Student Awards. The awards honor the best projects from America and around the world involving public places, parks, urban planning and residential design.
Part of the John H. Daniels Facility of Architecture, Landscape and Design, the GRIT lab was established in 2010 and is a state-of-the-art testing site for environmental performance of green roof technology.
While green roofs are popping up around the globe either in compliance with regulatory measures or to save on energy costs, little is known about them apart from their effectiveness.
“We know in principle that these things work, but can we make them work even better?” said Liat Margolis, the professor leading the lab’s research.
GRIT aims to find the optimal style of green roof for the Toronto area by monitoring its 33 miniature eight-by-four green roof boxes. Each of the test beds has a different plant community, watering schedule and care routine to test which works best for Toronto’s climate. Many of the findings thus far have been astounding. The surface on the roof hit 51 degrees Celsius one afternoon in August, but one miniature green roof was recorded as being more than 20 degrees cooler.
In Toronto, it became a requirement for every new building over 2,000 square metres to have a green roof from January 30, 2010 onwards. Extremely hot summer temperatures are normal in Toronto and the city traps much more hot air than surrounding rural areas. To mitigate the urban heat island effect, creating more effective green roofs seemed a logical path to explore.
The GRIT project responds to the desperate need of large cities to address the heat island effect, biodiversity and storm water management. With such a broad ranging project, results will no doubt be extremely useful in public policy and innovation in the green roof industry.
The 33 green roof test beds and three green walls were constructed from 2010 to 2012 to test the effectiveness of the various roofs, walls, and solar photovoltaic technologies. Equipped with 270 sensors connected to 5,000 feet of wiring, the test area also contains a weather station for recording temperatures, soil quality, water flow, evotranspiration and real time climate data, including temperature and wind collected at five minute intervals.
The lab is intended as a platform for research across a variety of disciplines including landscape architecture, biology, hydrology and building science, with government agencies, other academic institutions and industry partners also involved.
The research team’s website provides information on the current research and data being collected. A live feed of the roof is available, as are downloadable renderings of the material components, plant species and sensor equipment intended for use by industry, public and government agencies.
As green roofs continue to gain popularity, GRIT Lab's approach of finding the best conditions for a particular climactic area through intensive diversification and detailed research will undoubtedly be of immense value.