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Living roof grows curiosity

When a fallen tree damaged Reginald and Angela's tile roof, they began growing a new one
by: Vern Uyetake Reginald Dechard of Lake Oswego is growing moss on the roof of his home both for aesthetic reasons – because “everyday will be a new piece of art” – and for functionality, to keep his home cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

When a large tree fell on Reginald and Angela Dechard's Lake Oswego home in April, the couple had no idea the fallen timber would root a new, natural four-month project.

Before, the roof of their 1960s Northwest-modern style abode near Westridge Elementary School featured terracotta tiles.

'We'd break tiles even when we went up there to fix some broken ones,' Reginald said.

While searching for new roof options, the couple - he is a fine artist and she an interior architectural designer - searched for something sustainable, unique and cost effective.

'I read an article in 'Sunset' magazine about these green roofs - living roofs,' Angela said.

Although only halfway completed, the Dechards new, modular roof is made up of 4-inch deep trays holding soil and plants atop layers of stormwater retention fabric, insulation and membrane protection. The couple collected supplies for the project from local nonprofit organizations, Craigslist and plant shops and donated their old roof to Habitat for Humanity and S and H Landscape Supplies and Recycling.

The price of the 700 pallets that cover the front slope of their roof?

'Zero,' Reginald said. 'Nurseries just gave them away. It was like a treasure hunt, but I need 1,600 to do the whole roof.'

He also collected 200 wooden, stackable pallets from Craigslist - such as the ones used to lift items on a forklift or when shipping items overseas - to build a stairway to the roof.

'People were just giving them away for free,' Reginald said.

'It was like a production line,' Angela said. 'Reggie took the pallets and stacked them and braced them together. Between that and what we were doing on the roof, people would drive by with (faces like), 'What are they doing?''

And since the former roof - supported by two long I-beams inside - carried a heavy load, swapping tiles for plants and soil worked, as verified by their neighbor, a structural engineer. In fact, the project to cover the Dechards' roof with plants became a community cause, utilizing the talents and thriftiness of many.

'Our neighbors said, 'What are you doing? We're trying to get rid of our moss,'' Reginald said.

And so the moss collection became a grassroots movement, with neighbors and friends dropping by with their plumpest clumps of the flowerless plant.

'We planted the moss in trays,' Angela said, 'and did experiments in our backyard to see how it grew.'

'It grows like pillows,' Reginald added.

But before installing the plants, the couple insulated its roof, purchasing 'rigid, foam insulation taken from a building' from a roofing company.

'The top of the roof has decking, then insulation, another sheet of decking and a waterproof PVC membrane,' Angela said. '(Rain) drains down through a drainage mat we got from Habitat for Humanity.'

Plants within perforated trays sit on top of the layers, and a water misting system was installed to keep plants watered during warmer months. The couple removed part of its front deck railing to be used as a pathway atop the roof, making the plants easier to access.

'This roof will last longer than me and Angie will be alive,' Reginald said. 'And that fact that we did it ourselves (is cool).'

But, in addition to its unique look, the roof's tray system will enhance the home in a variety of ways by:

n enhancing energy efficiency within the home by absorbing warmer temperatures (UV radiation) before they reach the house's interior or are reflected off the building;

n simplifying roof repairs;

n beautifying the landscape;

n lowering the noise heard when raindrops hit the former terracotta tile roof;

n purifying and reducing stormwater runoff.

'You can hear it when it's draining,' Reginald said. 'This moss is going to hold that water so less is going to drain.'

When raindrops hit most roofs, it is shuttled directly into a gutter drainage system before entering a sewer or storm drain, but the Dechards' roof will allow plants the opportunity to absorb the water first.

Their vegetative roof - at approximately 2,600 square feet, Reginald said - will also provide a natural environment for insects, birds and other animals.

'When you drive up, the very first thing you see is the roof,' Reginald said of his sloped lot and house tucked on a hill. 'It's a canvas piece. It's just an abstract piece of moss that's going to grow and be beautiful. Everyday will be a new art piece.'

And for the artistic couple, the aesthetic benefits are just as important as its functionality.

'The moss everyone has brought us is so pretty. It's like a blanket,' Angela said, noting that they still have to complete the backside of their roof. 'When this is all done, I might just crawl up there and take a nap.'

To view a video of the Dechards installing their green roof, visit www.youtube.com/watch?vHtwGav7zihA.