Intensive vs Extensive Green Roofs on External Storage: Which is Right for You?

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All new developments within England will, come January 2024, have an obligation to deliver measurable Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG), which mandates a minimum 10% net gain. Alongside living walls and vegetated drainage systems, green roofs are currently the most effective solutions for delivering BNG on land developments.

External storage systems can be designed to incorporate either extensive or intensive green roof systems, however, as the quantity and variety of green roofs has increased, so too has the diversity of green roofs available. As a result, the differences between an intensive green roof and an extensive green roof are not as distinct as they once were.

Intensive v Extensive

Whether a green roof is described as extensive or intensive depends on certain key aspects, predominantly the substrate depth and plant types used. An extensive green roof usually has a shallow layer of substrate, typically less than 200mm, and covers a large area, while an intensive green roof has deeper layers of substrate, but are confined to smaller areas.

Extensive green roofs are more a common installation and provide a light-weight, low maintenance solution, and they are chosen mostly for their ecological benefits and opportunities to encourage biodiversity. As the name suggests, intensive green roofs tend to require more intense landscaping requirements and are suited to structures with a visible presence in the surrounding area.

Plant Types

Plant types define the green roof type. Alongside the overall intention of the installation, such as whether it is implemented to sustain local biodiversity, or to improve views from surrounding buildings to create a more pleasing environment, they help to determine whether an intensive or extensive roof is best suited to a specific project.

Specifying Green Roofs on External Storage

With the potential to reproduce varied ecosystems in environments eroded by urbanisation, specifying a green roof system on external storage helps to establish a consistency of design, reducing visual impact by enabling the specified structure to blend in and soften the urban landscape.

External storage units can be designed to incorporate either extensive or intensive green roof systems, and are available as sedum only, and sedum and wildflower.  The lower height from ground level and uncomplicated construction of these structures help to ensure that both original build and ongoing maintenance costs are reduced.

Specifying a green roof system on external storage can help secure additional BREEAM accreditation or Sustainable Housing Code value, while ensuring BNG targets can be attained without the complexity of design and construction processes commonly associated with a bespoke build. When considering whether intensive or extensive green roof types are best for securing BNG targets, the biodiversity metric utilises a specific criteria that assesses the distinctiveness, condition and strategic significance of a unit.

More basic sedum roof types can contribute to BNG but tend to score lower in terms of distinctiveness in comparison to intensive green roofs with more diverse plant life. Intensive green roofs are classified as high maintenance and should have a minimum 50% native and 30% non-native wildflowers, with 70% of the roof area consisting of soil and vegetation, including any water features. Achieving a ‘Good’ condition for a green roof will depend on whether it is combined with elements of additional habitat.

Determining the Right Choice

Integrating green roof systems into external storage units is a natural fit, helping support both sustainable development and environmental principles simultaneously. Determining whether to specify an intensive or extensive green roof will largely depend on the green roof’s primary purpose, such as whether to sustain biodiversity, enhance on-site design, or reduce energy consumption.

In terms of working towards BNG, new developments will typically score higher for utilising biodiverse green roofs over simple sedum blankets. While extensive green roofs offer a lightweight, low-maintenance solution with a shallow substrate depth that is suitable for promoting biodiversity, intensive green roofs feature deeper substrates and more diverse native and non-native wildflower species. Combining these with elements of additional habitats is key to achieving a ‘Good’ condition