In terms of green projects, there are involved projects such as solar panels or rooftop windmills, wherein a return on investment can be calculated out to the penny, depending on the system, the geography, any rebates offered, and, of course, time. And then there is green that simply makes good financial sense right away.
For example, a homeowner could outfit their house with all new CFL or LED lightbulbs, or they could turn out lights in rooms they are not using. A new dryer might have an Energy Star logo and be more efficient than the one that came with the house, but hanging clothes outside to dry is free.
As a restaurant owner, Jim Weisgerber knows that saving money – especially in the summer, when cooling cost can be exorbitant – makes sense. So, he decided to install a green roof at the new Bethany Blues location in Lewes.
Green roofs are essentially rooftop gardens with special barriers and plants that – depending on region, climate, building and design – can do everything from saving on heating and cooling bills to aiding in sound insulation.
According to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a green-roof industry association, Environment Canada found that a typical one-story building with a grass roof and about 4 inches of growing medium would result in a 25 percent reduction in summer cooling needs. They found that field experiments in Ottawa, Canada, showed that a 6-inch extensive green roof reduced heat gains by 95 percent and heat losses by 26 percent compared to a reference roof.
The green roof at Bethany Blues has a thin filter, soil and plants in about four to six inches of dirt. Weisgerber said it will cut their heating and cooling bills by limiting heat transfer and should pay for itself in two to three years.
“If it’s 75 degrees outside, it’s about 140 to 150 degrees on the roof, and then all that heat transfers through,” explained Weisgerber. “The plants absorb all the sunlight, sweat it off, and the surface of the roof stays about that same as outside. There’s no heat transfer through the roof.”
Weisgerber estimates his Lewes location will use 5 to 15 percent less air conditioning because of the very “low-tech” green roof installation. He learned about it from friends who had installed one and decided it was something they wanted to try.
At the Lewes location, they planned the roof from the beginning of the new building’s design process, centralizing all of their rooftop equipment. During the design phase, they used an architect who specializes in green technology and architecture to make sure the roof was structurally sound, as the dirt and plants weigh a few tons. The soil was specially selected, and the plants need nothing but rainwater, to keep the green roof low-maintenance.
Matthew Peterson of Element Eco-Consulting – who worked with Bethany Blues on all aspects of the new building and green roof, including civil engineering, architectural design, landscape design and the interior design – said the green roof design aids in stormwater management, too, in addition to helping with cooling, so the overall environmental footprint of the project is further reduced.
“We’re excited. It was so much fun. We got to be there to help with the planting part of it and it was perfect. It rained right when we were done.”
Weisgerber also had help from American Hardscapes on installation day for the 1,500-square-foot project.
Although such European countries as Germany and Switzerland are at the forefront of green roof technologies, and some U.S. cities have massive displays – including the 450,000-square-foot green roof at the Ford Motor Company’s plant in Michigan – green roof technology is still is in its infancy in Delaware. Because there isn’t really one company heading the way or marketing the technology, for now, it is simply a low-tech way of saving some money and putting some oxygen back into the air.
“It’s so simple,” Weisgerber said. “Anybody can do it. There really isn’t a company making a lot of money doing it, it’s just a good idea.”
To further reduce their footprint, the restaurant also is implementing a recycling policy and may consider solar panels in the future. They also pride themselves on using the freshest milk products, sausage, vegetables and beer from local vendors.