North Fork company installs environmentally friendly roofs, walls

10/13/2010 7:53 PM |

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO Anthony Caggiano and Melissa Daniels, co-owners of Plant Connection, with sedum plants that will be used in green roofs, environmentally friendly structures that cut air-conditioning costs for buildings and stymie stormwater runoff.

Forget about what your walls would say if they could talk. What if they grew tomatoes to toss in your salad or herbs to blend into sauces?
An international company operating out of Riverhead can make this happen.
Plant Connection on Sound Avenue grows and installs green walls and roofs that are covered with grass, shrubs, trees and vegetables. Not only are these planted architectural elements aesthetically appealing, proponent say they’re also an environmentally friendly way to prevent pollution and help buildings cut operating costs.
Plant Connections has installed an 11,000-square-foot green roof, planted with sedum and flowers, atop the New York Mets’ administrative buildings at Citifield. Their verdant walls and roofs were also displayed at Macy’s flower show this past spring.
The walls and roofs are planted and prepared at the facility’s greenhouses before being shipped to their final location, said co-owner Anthony Caggiano. The structural components have interlocking panels that consist of a water reservoir, water retention fabric, root stabilizer, growing media and vegetation. Irrigation systems made of recycled aluminum are also built into the walls and roofs.
The greens and vegetation for each piece must be carefully chosen to suit their final destination and ensure that all plants can coexist harmoniously.
“It’s pretty versatile because you can change the plants based on where you are and whether you’re inside or outside,” said co-owner Melissa Daniels.
The living roofs and walls deliver benefits to both environment and the checkbook. Plants on rooftops absorb sunlight, reducing interior temperatures during the summer months and lowering air conditioning bills.
“The farther south you go, the more sense green roofs make because of the savings in your air conditioning,” said Mr. Caggiano, noting that green roofs also help stave off pollution from stormwater runoff.
“We have all these black rooftops and all this polluted water running off the roofs, and green roofs solve all of these problems.” he said.
Green walls remove harmful toxins, he added, keeping a building’s interior space cleaner. The vertical plane also allows plants to grow in areas they may not usually be seen, such as small apartments.
“In the way of urban agriculture, [green walls] are a way to bring vegetables to an area you normally couldn’t have them,” he said.
Plant Connection has even installed green walls at a green pizzeria in New York City, where the chefs use herbs grown on their walls as ingredients in their pizza pies.
Living walls and roofs do require some maintenance. Irrigation systems must be checked weekly and shrubs must be trimmed and weeded every so often.
Green roofs first popped up in Europe about 30 years ago, and are most popular in Germany, where most of the research behind them took place. The green products came to the United States about 15 years ago and have been gaining popularity in recent years, especially with commercial buildings.
Plant Connection employs six at its Riverhead facility, does business with subcontractors in Canada and is beginning to expand to Europe.
Green roofs are less prevalent in older buildings. Newer buildings, which are mostly constructed with steel beams, are better able to withstand the extra weight of a planted roof. Installing green walls or roofs earns LEED certification points.
“We’re helping the environment by using green roofs,” Mr. Caggiano said.
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