Green Roof Brightens the View for Patients at VA Hospital

At the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, a modular green roof system was installed to improve the quality of life for patients in the extended care wing.

At the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center in Charleston, a modular green roof system was installed to improve the quality of life for patients in the extended care wing.

Michael Whitfield was fascinated by the concept of green roofs, but he didn’t encounter many of them near his home in Charleston, S.C. He knew green roofs benefitted the environment, extended the life of roof systems and were aesthetically pleasing, so he was sure he could tap into the market in the Southeast as a green roof installer. When he couldn’t find a modular green roof system he liked, he designed his own. Whitfield is now the president and CEO of Green Roof Outfitters. Founded in 2009, the company manufactures components for green roofs installed all over the country. The company also installs green roofs itself, as was the case with a nearby hospital project.

After reading research studies that showed hospital patients recovered more quickly and needed less pain medication when they had a natural setting to look out on, Whitfield was inspired. He checked with local hospitals to see if there were areas that would be good candidates for green roofs. When the PR person at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center expressed an interest, Whitfield passed along the research material.

Months later he got a call asking him to submit a bid. While the hospital’s budget did not allow for a green roof to be installed on the entire building, there was a section of the roof that could be worked on right away. It was a 3,000-square-foot area on a wing for extended care patients, who looked out on a white TPO roof. “We put a green roof on that whole strip outside their windows so the patients would have something nice to look at,” Whitfield says.

Roof Materials

Construction took place on a weekend, when traffic would be lighter. A crane was used to load the material on the roof, including 4-inch-deep trays for the extensive modular green roof system and 2-inch-thick rubber pavers to go around the perimeter. Plants in the pre-grown mats included different varieties of sedum. Chives, prickly-pear cactus and other perennials were added later.

Green Roof Outfitters partners with growers around the country to provide pre-grown mats. Different varieties of plants are used in different parts of the country, but in most markets the company has had success with a blend using approximately 14 different varieties of sedum.

Whitfield believes the proper combination of plants is essential. “Two buildings that are right next to each other could have different microclimates, so you don’t know exactly what is going to work perfectly there and what is not,” he says. “We mix these plants with a variety—some do better in shade, some do better in sun. With the different tolerances they have, the strongest will survive, so we will always have something there. Many people make the mistake of planting one species they like with a certain pattern or color. But if you plant one species—a monoculture—and it doesn’t like it there, you’ll have a totally dead roof.”

Roof Report

The system does not require slip sheets for installation, but some roof manufacturers require them to maintain the warranty on the existing roof. In this project, a layer of 40-mil EPDM was placed on top the existing TPO roof. “We laid the modules on top of that,” says Whitfield. “We have rubber paver walk pads, which have feet on the bottom for drainage. We put those around the outside so we could have a nice-looking barrier and a walking area for the maintenance guys.”

Michael Whitfield was on hand to oversee the project at the VA medical center.

Michael Whitfield was on hand to oversee the project at the VA medical center.

“Many people don’t know this, but a green roof can help the roof last 200 percent to 400 percent longer by preventing UV degradation,” Whitfield says. “It shades the roof and protects it. During the day, exposed roofs get superheated in the sun, and cool at night, so they are constantly expanding and contracting. A green roof system keeps it at a constant temperature.”

Another benefit can come from creating functional space on the roof. “We wholesale a lot of systems that combine a green roof with pavers to add usable space,” he says, “We can supply ipe wood pavers or other pavers in different configurations on our pedestal system to make walkways and patios.”

Depending on the environment, an irrigations system is a common option. “Green roof are a low-maintenance systems, not a no-maintenance systems,” notes Whitfield. “We incorporated irrigation channels into the new design of our modules, so you can put in irrigation during the installation or after it is completed.”

Another change is a smaller module. “Our modules used to be 2-feet-by-2-feet, but they were really heavy for the roofers,” he explains. “Our new modules are half the size—one-by-two—so they are much easier to handle and put in place.”

As they become more comfortable with green roof systems, roofing contractors are finding out they can be a valuable add-on with roofing projects. “Once roofers are on the site with all of the equipment and labor, why not make double the money by installing roofing and a green roof?”

No special training is needed to install this tray system. “It’s easy to install,” Whitfield notes. “The modules come fully vegetated, 40 to a pallet. You just pick one up, put it down, and repeat. It’s like laying down dominoes, honestly.”

The modular system is also easy to move if roof maintenance is necessary. “Our system is so flexible,” he says. “If you need roof maintenance, you can just pick up a couple of trays, move them and move them back. This is such an easy, modern way to do it—and it’s very affordable.”


Green Roof Manufacturer and Installer: Green Roof Outfitters

Photos: Green Roof Outfitters

About Chris King

Chris King is the editor in chief of Roofing magazine. He has covered the construction industry for more than 20 years, previously serving as editor of Roofing Contractor, managing editor of the Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, and associate editor of Plumbing & Mechanical. He can be reached by email at

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