An environmental cost-benefit analysis of alternative green roofing strategies

Reshmina William, Allison Goodwell, Meredith Richardson, Phong V.V. Le, Praveen Kumar, Ashlynn S. Stillwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Green roofs and cool roofs are alternative roofing strategies that mitigate urban heat island effects and improve building energy performance. Green roofs consist of soil and vegetation layers that provide runoff reduction, thermal insulation, and potential natural habitat, but can require regular maintenance. Cool roofs involve a reflective layer that reflects more sunlight than traditional roofing materials, but require additional insulation during winter months. This study evaluates several roofing strategies in terms of energy performance, urban heat island mitigation, water consumption, and economic cost. We use MLCan, a multi-layer canopy model, to simulate irrigated and non-irrigated green roof cases with shallow and deep soil depths during the spring and early summer of 2012, a drought period in central Illinois. Due to the dry conditions studied, periodic irrigation is implemented in the model to evaluate its effect on evapotranspiration. Traditional and cool roof scenarios are also simulated by altering surface albedo and omitting vegetation and soil layers. We find that both green roofs and cool roofs significantly reduce surface temperature compared to the traditional roof simulation. Cool roof temperatures always remain below air temperature and, similar to traditional roofs, require low maintenance. Green roofs remain close to air temperature and also provide thermal insulation, runoff reduction, and carbon uptake, but might require irrigation during dry periods. Due to the longer lifetime of a green roof compared to cool and traditional roofs, we find that green roofs realize the highest long term cost savings under simulated conditions. However, using longer-life traditional roof materials (which have a higher upfront cost) can help decrease this price differential, making cool roofs the most affordable option due to the higher maintenance costs associated with green roofs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalEcological Engineering
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • Cool roofs
  • Ecohydrology
  • Energy costs
  • Green roofs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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