Find out if your next vegetated roofing project is eligible for incentives

Why cities are promoting vegetated roofing

With the threat of polluting communal waterways and releasing greenhouse gas emissions, vegetated roofing has become a widely discussed concept. Cities around the world have begun taking steps to eliminate environmental hazards and build more efficiently by encouraging green building technologies. Stormwater management, the urban heat island effect and poor air quality are driving factors in this movement.

So, what is the big deal about stormwater management? Stormwater management aids cities in eliminating the amount of pollution that reaches local waterways and reducing treatment plant volume. When heavy storms run through cities, not only does it drive pollutants and garbage from the impervious surfaces (roads, parking lots and roofs) to the local water sources, it can overflow the city’s sewage treatment plants causing accidental release of human waste into rivers and streams. By installing vegetated or blue roofs, these situations can be minimized significantly or completely avoided.

The urban heat island effect is no new topic to cities around the world. When the sun beats down on a dark, hard surface, the temperature in the city begins to increase. Vegetated roofs help to combat this process with the natural evaporation cycle. The light is absorbed by the plants rather than released into the atmosphere as heat energy. Just one more reason cities are looking to build greener.

Lastly, the people in the cities are huge driving factor for green building. By installing vegetated roofing, the plants will capture airborne pollutants and filter harmful gases out of the air. This will then begin to improve the air quality in the city and can even potentially decrease the volume of CO2 that is released in the air.

But, vegetated roofs are expensive

When designing or installing a vegetated roof, you may wonder, “why spend extra money on this style of roofing?” Well, not only do vegetated roofs help protect the integrity of the roofing membrane and provide environmental benefits, many cities and states are beginning to provide incentive programs for green building. Additionally, there are policies and organizations at the federal level that want to encourage and entice you to build with environment and energy efficiency in mind. 

If a vegetated roof doesn’t fit your budget, a blue roof is an environmentally conscious and energy efficient alternative. Blue roofs offer a cost effective solution to stormwater management. The main difference between the roofing styles is that a blue roof provides similar benefits of slowing down rainwater discharge, but without the need for vegetation.  

Federal legislation incentives

Although the United States does not federally mandate that vegetated roofs are installed, there are policies and organizations dedicated to rewarding those who choose to go this route. These policies and reward programs range from tax incentives on new construction, to stringent guidelines on LEED requirements and everything in between.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 is the most notable incentive offered through federal legislation. This act offers tax incentives of up to $1.80 per square foot for buildings that provide improvements in sustainability and energy efficiency.  The tax incentives of this act are not only limited to vegetated roofing, but can also include various other innovative technologies that decrease the effects of greenhouse gases.

The United States General Services Agency (GSA) is making strides to support sustainable and energy-efficient buildings by regulating the construction on federal buildings. The GSA now requires that all newly constructed or substantially renovated federally owned buildings must obtain a LEED Gold certification.

The U.S. Green Building Council is one of the leading organizations dedicated to improving and advancing green building technology in our country. With the development of the LEED certification program, a rating system for building sustainability, the U.S. Green Building Council has set the standards for environmentally friendly buildings. Among other things, this organization dedicates its time to researching and improving the environmental impact of our buildings. 

Cities and state incentives

Many states and regions have taken it upon themselves to prevent the effects of stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect by implementing local incentive and penalty programs. Cities from Indianapolis, Ind. to Los Angeles, Calif. are beginning to adopt environmentally conscious programs. Some incentive programs offered at the state and regional level offer monetary rebates per square foot, grants, and tax abatements. 

Some of the top cities in the United States that are participating in incentive programs include, Chicago, Ill., New York, N.Y., Washington, D.C., and most recently added, San Francisco, Calif. Each city’s programs offer different benefits and requirements, but all are taking steps to a more environmentally and energy-efficient city.

Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is leading the way for vegetated roofing incentives in the United States. The city offers multiple grant programs to promote environmentally conscious building, including, the Green Roof Improvement Fund, the Green Roof Grant Program and the Cool Roofs Grant Program. All of these programs offer grants for vegetated roofing projects.

The Green Roof Improvement Fund is designed to offer grant money for the installation of vegetated roofs on existing buildings located in Chicago’s Central Loop TIF District. The program offers a 50 percent grant match, with a maximum grant of $100,000, simply for improving the roofing system currently on the buildings in this area.

The second grant program Chicago offers is the Green Roof Grant Program. Targeted at residential and small commercial projects, this program offers a grant of $5,000 for qualified projects. Additionally, the Cool Roof Grant Program is designed for residents and small business owners who choose to install roofs that meet cool roof standards. 

New York, New York

New York is another top player in the vegetated roofing movement. The state of New York provides numerous programs that offer approximately $250 million in incentives for energy-efficient building per year.  These programs are offered at the local level.

In 2008, legislation passed in New York City provides a one-year tax abatement of $4.50 per square foot. This legislation allows for up to $100,000 or the building’s tax liability, whichever option is a lesser value. Amended in 2013, this incentive program is valid until March 15, 2018.

Washington, District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., offers numerous residential and commercial programs to encourage green building. Starting with the Green Building Act of 2006, Washington, D.C., was one of the first cities to begin to regulate green buildings. This act states that all nonresidential public buildings within the District must meet at least a Silver certification level in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED standards.

Another notable program in the city of Washington, D.C., is the Green Roof Rebate Program. This program offers base funding to all property types and sizes of $10 per square foot and up to $15 per square foot in buildings located in specific subwatersheds.

San Francisco, California

San Francisco is the most recent city to make headlines in the world of vegetated roofing. As of January 1, 2017, San Francisco was the first United States city to mandate that new construction projects require solar or vegetated roofs. This mandate requires that between 15 percent and 30 percent of roof space is either vegetated or solar.  This new ordinance makes San Francisco one of the top cities for green building in the United States.

The future of vegetated roofing

The vegetated roofing movement continues to grow, and it is likely that we will begin to see more and more cities and states incentivizing and requiring green building. Understanding the regulations and incentives that are offered in your city will help you thrive in the age of vegetated roofing. San Francisco was the first major city in the United States to begin mandating solar and vegetated surfaces, but it is expected that many other cities will begin to follow suit. Now is the time to immerse yourself in the concept of green building and continue moving toward energy-efficient buildings.


“Planning Department.” San Francisco Better Roofs | Planning Department. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Green Infrastructure Funding Opportunities.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 13 Jan. 2017. Web. 25 May 2017.
“About Green Roofs.” Green Roofs for Healthy Cities. Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Incentives.” Building Green DC, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Financing & Incentives.” GBEE – Financing & Incentives. NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, n.d. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Green Roof Improvement Fund (Chicago, IL 2006).” Building Energy Codes Program. U.S. Department of Energy, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Sustainable Design.” GSA Home. U.S. General Services Administration, 22 May 2017. Web. 25 May 2017.
“Summary of the Energy Policy Act.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 07 Feb. 2017. Web. 25 May 2017.


Dig deeper into vegetated roofing

Looking to fully understand the three system options? Or how a vegetated roof can prolong the life of your underlying roofing and waterproofing membrane? We have resources to help you gain a better understand of all of these topics!

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