Green-roof skeptics

The insurance industry’s business model is risk-aversion, so I guess it’s no surprise that new developments in green architecture are meeting some skepticism from the actuaries on the west coast:

B.C.’s insurance industry and homeowner protection office, gun-shy after the province’s leaky-condo debacle, has temporarily put the brakes on the burgeoning green-roof industry.

The plans of dozens of developers poised to put green roofs on their condo buildings — the Olympic village being the most prominent among them — are now in limbo after the province’s Homeowner Protection Office sent out a letter to all municipalities warning that local insurance companies are mostly unwilling to insure green roofs on multi-unit residential buildings that will be sold as condos.

“I don’t know what the B.C. industry is talking about,” says Steven Peck, president of the Toronto-based Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.

“It’s just unfounded. And strange. One of the foremost green-roof research facilities in North America is in Vancouver, but it seems to me the insurance industry in B.C. has a lack of technical sophistication.”

Peck was referring to the B.C. Institute of Technology’s Centre for the Advancement of Green Roof Technology.

Peck said millions of square feet of green roofs have been installed in countries like Germany, while green roofs are booming in North America, with no signs of problems beyond what any roof might have. He said insurance companies in Germany actually give buildings with green roofs better rates because of the reduced fire risk.

The Lower Mainland’s leaky-condo problem was a gigantic fiasco that justifies a certain gun-shyness on the insurance industry’s part. Builders trying to squeeze a lot more people into limited space and adopt the open architectural styles of the U.S. Southwest cut corners and built buildings that weren’t properly sealed against British Columbia’s rain and damp. Fifty thousand units affected, $1 billion in repairs, and new and permanent suspicion on the part of condo buyers would make anybody worried about a repeat.

But it’s a shame that insurance companies would hold back developments in a reasonably mature field like green roofing. Imagine what they’ll make of green walls. Whichever of the companies is willing to acquire the expertise to assess these things and write policies covering them stands to make a killing.

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One response to “Green-roof skeptics

  1. Don’t forget all of the work being done in Chicago with green roofs!

    I have read a considerable amount of information about green roofs and found a great series on Dongtan, and eco-city being built outside of Shanghai. The series is found at http://www.cleanerairforcities.blogspot.com

    Regarding the insurance issue, like anything, do it right the first time!

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