A solidly engineered roof helps protect your house against the elements, of course, but the one installed over Sarah Jack and Scott Harris's eat-in kitchen does that and more. Planted with hundreds of low-growing succulents, the little flat-roofed extension off their 1925 Colonial Revival helps slow down and filter rainwater runoff. Residential green roofs such as theirs protect natural waterways from oily street residue by lessening the chances that municipal storm-drain systems will overflow. It also keeps the room below it warmer in winter and as much as 6 to 8 degrees cooler in summer, thereby reducing utility costs. The 140 square feet of plantings helps absorb air pollutants, too, and—at $13 to $45 per square foot installed—should last about twice as long as a conventional roof. For all these reasons, the Teaneck, New Jersey, couple felt good about springing for the eco-conscious home improvement. But they also value its aesthetic appeal. "The roof looks so lively and colorful," says Sarah. "It's definitely improved our view."

The LiveRoof modular system they chose is typical of residential models, consisting of plastic trays filled with a soilless engineered growing medium and fully mature sedum plants that can handle both deluge and drought. At 40 pounds each, the trays are heavy and meant to be installed by a certified contractor; R&S Landscaping did the job here. See how this roof went from bare to bountiful—plus the latest on DIY options.

Shown: Hardy sedums are most popular for green roofs because they thrive in a soilless growing medium and are drought tolerant. They just need a yearly trim and occasional fertilizer to look their best. Homeowners can choose from a palette of suitable plants. Sedum spurium 'Tricolor' is one of the most ornamental.
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    Tools List

    • 16-foot tape measure
      Tape measure
    • drill
    • concrete saw
      Concrete saw with masonry blade

    Shopping List

    1. EPDM

    2. Modules

    3. Engineered soil

    4. Sedums

    5. Aluminum edging