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Green roofs start to sprout on urban homes

Low-maintenance sedum cuts energy costs as well as greenhouse gases. Roofs are costly, though.

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Rooftop garden: Karen Weber of Boston looks over sedum in a display.

Tony Azios

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Every time it rained, Majora Carter cringed. "I lived in mortal terror whenever I thought it was going to rain," Dr. Carter says, remembering how the rainwater seeped from the street into her Bronx brownstone.

Then she and her husband, James Burling Chase, realized that the source of the problem wasn't on the ground, but on the roof. The stormwater system in their neighborhood backed up so quickly that the water rushed straight from their roof to the street – and into their home.

They decided to try a new strategy to fix an old problem: a green roof.

Now, after a substantial renovation, their flat roof has come alive – literally. Flowers and baby sedum are anchored in a thin bed of soil and gravel covering the roof. Golf-ball-sized stones frame this rooftop oasis.

Now their roof will retain about half the rainwater that falls on it, once the sedum matures in about two years. But besides finding a practical solution to a recurrent problem, Carter and Chase wanted a tangible way to show they were "walking the walk" when it came to their environmentalism.

Their home is the first in New York to feature such a roof. Green roofs have taken root on numerous commercial buildings across the country, but now people are exploring the possibility of planting a little shrubbery atop their own homes.

Karen Weber, founder of the green-roof promoting organization, Earth Our Only Home, says there are numerous benefits to green roofs:

•Energy savings of 10 to 60 percent, as the greenery acts as another layer of insulation from heat loss in winter and cooling loss in summer.

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