Toronto is breaking new ground
on the rooftops of new buildings.
The city requires most large commercial and residential buildings
to create a green roof or pay a penalty. It’s the first such legislation in
The municipal bylaw is “novel,”
said Dianne Saxe, founder of Saxe
Law in Toronto. “It’s about restor-
ing a little bit of the ecological
functions we’ve taken away.”
The large, flat roofs create heat
island effects that drive up temper-
atures, lead to severe problems
with storm water and result in
high energy use, she said.
Green roofs, which are designed
to allow certain types of vegetation
to grow on them, addresses all of
those issues — and more. “There is
a package of benefits,” said Jane
Welsh, Toronto’s acting program
manager for environment.
One of those, she said, will help
building owners rent and sell their
properties, a fact that may help to
outweigh the outlay of cash
required to create a green roof.
“They can promote their building.
There is cachet in this.”
Indeed, Saxe said, “once you
make it green and beautiful, people
want to be there.”
Apart from the aesthetics, there
are some cost considerations: a
2005 report by the City of Toronto
says green roofs yield annual
energy savings of 4. 15 kilowatts per
square metre. For the city as a
whole, that would amount to an
estimated $21 million a year.
(According to Green Roofs for
Healthy Cities, a non-profit indus-
try association based in Toronto,
the installation cost is the equiva-
lent of upward of about $250 a
The Toronto bylaw, which has
been in effect since Jan. 31, 2010,
spells out how much of an existing
roof must be green. New residential developments with a gross
floor area (GFA) of at least 2,000
square metres and at least six storeys are required to comply.
“The size of the required green
roof ranges from 20 to 60 per cent
of the available roof space and is
determined by the total GFA of the
development,” said Gabriela Levrero, principal researcher with Tarion Warranty Corp., regulator of
Ontario’s new-home building
industry, in Toronto.
Creating a green roof — which
under the Toronto bylaw requires
at a minimum a root-repellent system, a drainage system, a filtering
layer, and plants — will cost
developers money, a fact that many
raised during consultations before
the bylaw came into effect.
Sometimes a nudge is necessary. “There is a built-in incentive
to build things cheap,” Saxe said.
“The green roof requirement
It starts making sense
for lawyers to advise
their clients about this
and if [their] building
can be redesigned.
encourages people to perform a
positive environmental act instead
of a negative one.”
What the bylaw does not do is
compel developers to build a green
roof. Instead, they may opt to pay a
fee — $200 per square metre —
that goes to a grant program for
green roofs, said Welsh. The legis-
lative authority for Toronto’s two-
year-old bylaw came from the
provincial government and
includes changes to the Ontario
Building Code (OBC), she added.
“No other municipality in Ontario
But certainly other centres are
watching closely to what is going
on in Toronto. “We’re seen as a role
model. There is a lot of interest in
this,” said Welsh.
In addition to green roof
requirements, communities are
finding ways to deal with the
environmental problems posed by
a flat, bare roof. Last year, Kitch-
ener, Ont., for instance, put in
place a storm water user fee for
property owners. For larger build-
ings, Saxe said, “the annual fee can
“I expect more municipalities to
follow Kitchener’s lead,” she said.
Of course, a green roof bylaw
can be a hard act to follow since it
is relatively new to many developers. “The difficulty encountered by
municipalities in this method…is
the lack of prescriptive require-
ments and guidelines for green
roof systems, which are becoming
a popular feature in sustainable
building designs,” Levrero said.
“The lack of available guidelines
and standards makes compliance
with the OBC a complex task for
municipalities and designers alike,”
Still, Toronto’s rooftops are
turning from grey to green. “We
have approximately 140 new buildings with 160,000 square metres
of required green roof area planned
since Feb. 1, 2010, and 25,000
square metres voluntarily provided,” Welsh said.
Changes to the bylaw have
already been made — and more
are planned. Industrial buildings,
typically smaller and expansive,
cannot necessarily support a
regular green roof. So the legislation has been amended to allow
these owners to create what is
called a cool roof, which effectively reflects the sun’s energy
from the surface. “This is as close
as you can get to the benefits of a
green roof,” Welsh said.
Schools are also about to get a
break from the green roof bylaw,
she said. “In March, we will move
forward with a proposal to allow
them to build an alternative.”
Whatever the legal require-
ment, the environmental issues
posed by large, open roofs are not
dissipating. That makes the issue
one lawyers should take a close
look at. “It starts making sense for
lawyers to advise their clients
about this and if [their] building
can be redesigned,” Saxe said. n
Chicago’s Millennium Park is
believed to take top honours as
the world’s largest — and most
renowned— green roof. The
24.5-acre roof — actually a
public park — sits atop two
parking garages, a transit centre
and a 1,525-seat theatre
centre, and boasts more than
900 trees and plants, landscape
art, statues, fountains,
restaurants, and even a skating
rink. Opened in 2004 by then-
mayor Richard Daley, the green-
roof initiative cost the city
roughly US$475 million.
■ Largest green roof
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