Covering Green Roofs: Insurance is More Than Just Shingles

Covering Green Roofs: Insurance is More Than Just Shingles

April 13, 2009 17:47
by J. Wylie Donald

I am heading next week for the Orange County Convention Center for the annual convocation of insurance professionals that is RIMS. We will be there just a few weeks before the Green Cities Convention at the same locale. In the meantime, maybe I could mix the two subject areas and see what comes out - like, what are the insurance issues associated with a green roof?

A green roof (aka vegetative roof, eco-roof, living roof) is a roof made of vegetation and a growing medium, overlain on a waterproof membrane. Some roofs are meant to be visited and act as gardens. Others, so-called "extensive" roofs, are pretty much left alone save for an annual application of fertilizer and some weeding. The benefits of green roofs are asserted to be a reduction of heating and cooling costs and stormwater runoff, dissipation of the "heat island" effect, absorption of sound and creation of wildlife habitat.

I turned to Westlaw to assess what kinds of problems building owners with green or vegetative roofs had turned over to their insurance carriers. I was pleasantly surprised when six cases showed up on Westlaw, only to be disappointed when the "hits" were about cases where roofs were literally green (plus an unfortunate case involving one Martha Green Roof).

Can we nevertheless anticipate the problems? Ignoring issues that might arise because the roof was not built according to plan, or the structure was not properly designed, what coverage concerns are there going to be if, for example, the building burns? First, and most obviously, most property policies either exclude landscaping or have a tiny sublimit. To avoid arguments about what is a roof and what is shrubbery, specific coverage ought to be purchased or an endorsement manuscripted.

Second, the cost to replace the green roof is likely to be more (perhaps substantially more) than the cost of a standard asphalt roof. What are the terms of the replacement coverage?

Third, as noted, green roofs provide heating, cooling and stormwater managment benefits. Will your extra expense coverage pay the extra heating or cooling costs while the roof is revegetated? Perhaps more significantly, if your premises are now in violation of stormwater requirements, will your policy cover those expenses?

Other issues that might surface are business interruption (if it takes longer than usual to put the green roof back in service, will that affect the restoration period?) and debris removal (if segregation and recycling are required, will that be paid for?). It seems apparent that coverage will not be simple.

Fortunately, insurance companies are stepping up to the task. By way of example, Fireman's Fund has developed its GreenGard program, which covers green construction, green renovation and green re-building. FM Global has brought its property expertise to bear and has identified appropriate designs and construction and maintenance techniques. Travelers and Liberty Mutual have endorsements to protect green roofs. Other insurance companies are also increasing their offerings.

It is a good thing that more and more green roofs are going to be covered. Particularly since more and more of us are going to be covered by green roofs.

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