11/18/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Habitat for Humanity's First Green Roof

Habitat for Humanity International, with its Delta Airlines volunteers, brought nature to the skies with the construction of the organization's first green roof in the South Bronx on Wednesday. Amidst the barren rooftops in the area, this 2,400-square-foot space on top of the low-income Fox-Leggett Co-op Apartments will provide its residents with a sanctuary, as well as help them reduce their energy costs.

This green roof, also referred to as a "living roof," is an extensive system, meaning that plants are less than 6 inches in height. For this system, the organizers decided to go with plants from the sedum genus.

"These are tough plants; they're drought-resistant, and can survive in high temperatures, the cold, and in humid areas, and are low-maintenance, requiring no fertilizers and little water [for rain water is enough]," said Jim Costello, the wholesale nursery consultant of Pride Corner Farms, Inc."

While other green roofs may consist of some water-intensive plants, such as trees and vegetables, they are much harder to maintain and don't necessarily ease energy costs.

The sedum-covered roof will cool the building in the summer by 6 to 8 degrees, insulate the building by a few degrees in the winter, and reduce noise pollution, which help the LEED-certified building rack up some points for Gold standards. Also, they can directly absorb about 1-inch of rainfall. So, if every building in the city had green roofs, the sewer system would probably be controlled and we could swim in the rivers, Costello said.

"The green roof reduces energy costs for the low-income families they serve," said Josh Lockwood, executive director of Habitat for Humanity - New York City. "And they create a healthier environment, [considering that] there's a high incidence of childhood asthma in the area."

About a dozen Delta Airline volunteers, aided by a handful of AmeriCorps members, sweated through the green roof installation, which consisted of carrying and laying out the heavy plant trays (a square foot of sedum weighs about 30 lbs).

"I've never seen a green roof before; this is awesome," said Gail Grimmett, Delta's senior vice president of New York State, whose company partnership with Habitat for Humanity through Delta's Force For Global Good campaign has allowed her and her associates to zoom all over world to volunteer.

Barbara Vargas, a mother of two college students, and a secretary at the Bronx United Federation of Teachers office, who's purchasing a three-bedroom Habitat for Humanity unit, enthusiastically put in some required sweat equity hours for the project.

"Green is pretty new to me, but this green roof looks pretty nice," said Vargas, 41, who has lived in the West Farms neighborhood in the Bronx all her life. "It's going to be like your own private park."

Aside from the completely patched-up 2,400-square-foot space of sedum, residents can sit and relax in the patio area, which will feature a pergola with fragrant vine plants.

The total cost of the green roof was around $100,000. The hefty price tag included purchasing the plants, renting cranes, and ensuring that the building was structurally sound to hold the extra heavy load, according to developer Les Bluestone of Blue Sea Development, Inc.

While qualifying residents have been selected for seven of the 12 Habitat for Humanity units, a lottery process will select 38 more lucky prospective homeowners for the remaining units.

Families and homeowners are expected to move in the first quarter of 2010.

Habitat for Humanity and Blue Sea Development, Inc. hope to further green roofs -- that is, if finances don't hold them back.

Habitat for Humanity International's First Green Roof

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