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Grass roofs are becoming popular energy savers around Milwaukee

Posted: 8:02 PM, Jul 11, 2018
Updated: 2018-07-12 01:02:42Z

High above some of Milwaukee's tallest buildings are gardens. These grass roofs as they're called are becoming more and more popular.

For more than 58 years the goats on the green roof at Al Johnson's restaurant in Door County have been a tourist attraction.

But forget about the four-legged friends. We're focused on that grassy roof.

Turns out that grass is a huge energy saver.

So companies, museums, libraries, you name it, are putting grass on their roofs, minus the goats.

The Milwaukee area has so many great parks, but now there are green spaces popping up high above the ground.

"It's a great idea. You get multiple benefits," said William Gonwa with MSOE.

From the ground, you'd never know there's a garden on the roof of MSOEs Grohmann Museum

Gonwa says it does so much more than look pretty.

"You have this evaporation, and evaporation causes cooling, so by having a green roof up here, you actually cool the roof," he said. 

That cuts energy costs. It also reduces sewer overflow.

"It's a specially designed soil to absorb as much water as possible," Gonwa said. 

MSOE has more than one green roof. A couple of blocks away is Viets Field- a soccer field on top of a parking garage.

"It's a great way to multipurpose this space in an urban environment. Where else do you have a soccer field in the downtown area?" Gonwa said. 

In 2001, when the Milwaukee Public Museum needed a new roof the museum put its "green team" to work.

"We had to replace the roof, so we thought what about a green roof. All the studies were done and it could handle the weight," said Ellen Censky with the Public Museum. 

Censky says the public museum's roof can hold 90,000 gallons of rainwater each year, so the roof needed plants that don't require a lot of heavy soil.

"So it needed to be something low growing, like sedums. Typically see sedums on green roofs," she said. 

And this isn't like the soil you have in your yard.

"With the wind up here, that would all just blow away. So this is a composite that eventually breaks down to the soil that you see," she said. 

The green roof also helps us breathe cleaner air.

"This is creating oxygen, its also filtering out pollutants because that's what these plants do," Censky said. 

From Chopper 4 you can see that Milwaukee already has several green roofs including Columbia St. Mary's, Milwaukee's Central Library, Rockwell Automation, MMSD, and the newest: Northwestern Mutual.

Its green area is three-fourths the size of Lambeau Field.

These garden roofs can only be seen from above but they help so many down below.

"We are a natural history museum and we are all about the environment," Censky said. "Not just telling people what can be done, we are showing people what can be done."

There are more than three dozen buildings with green roofs in the Milwaukee area from museums, apartments, to even the radio station 88-nine.

And that number continues to grow.