News & Culture in Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill and Points Nearby
January 25, 2021
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News + Views

Brooklyn Greenroof

By Alexandra Glorioso
Inger Yancey of Brooklyn Greenroof in Brooklyn Heights
Photo by Joshua Kristal

In a room where 40 sewage- and storm-water-runoff-minded individuals had questions, one woman had answers.
I attended the city’s “green infrastructure” meeting at PS 58 The Carroll School back in spring. Many locals asked, “Can my Brownstone support a green roof?” “What are the tax incentives to do this?” and “How will this help the storm water problem in our area?”
Inger Yancey had the answers, then and now. The red-headed Brooklyn architect wants to blanket brownstone black top roofs with a sea of green, and to reduce the local energy bill by 20 to 30 percent. With her help, you might get an NYC tax break for your trouble.

And yes, it’s true, a green roof can cut a person’s carbon footprint by half.

Succulents need little rain and sit fat with water, cooling your home.

Yancey moved to Brooklyn Heights six years ago to send her sons to St. Ann’s; the school her husband attended.
“I was blown away when I moved to New York City and saw how little green infrastructure there was,” Yancey says.
With undergrad and grad degrees in architecture from UC Berkeley and Harvard, Yancey launched her firm, Brooklyn Greenroof, in 2008, specializing in, yes, planting green roofs, but also installing solar panels, for a double-whammy energy saving effect, and helping residents win a NYC tax break to help cover costs.
The 50-year-old rides her bike to our interview, at Tazza, on Hicks Street.
According to Yancey, there is a “synergistic” effect when a green roof underlies an array of solar panels. The plants on the roof reduce the roof temp from as high as 150 degrees to no hotter than 85. When solar panels operate in a cooler environment, they are 20 percent more efficient, Yancey says.
Yancey has found a niche in Brooklyn, where the housing stock poses particular environmental inefficiencies, she says. For one thing, the primary housing stock consists of three and four story flats that are black topped, heating the house.
“It just hit me one morning,” Yancey said. “I woke up and saw all those roofs covered in a blanket of green.”
Yancey works as an “expeditor,” helping to navigate the city bureaucracy while installing green infrastructure and applying for tax breaks.
In May, Yancey won the first NYC Green Roof Tax Abatement for a single-family residence, for her client in a brownstone on Garden Place in Brooklyn Heights.
And in June, Yancey was in the running for a big city grant for an entire block of Carroll Gardens, along Sackett between Smith and Hoyt, in order to build several different “green” infrastructure improvements there in conjunction with homeowners, including green roofs, rain barrels, storm water retention cisterns, permeable pavement and enlarged tree pits. The group didn’t get the grant, but Yancey says the efforts will continue.
There are three types of green roofs: intensive, extensive and urban agricultural. Every green roof that Yancey creates has a root layer on the bottom, followed by a water-rentention layer, and finally a drainage mat/filter fabric. On top of these layers is roughly four inches of growth for extensive green roofs and six inches to six feet for intensive green roofs, and urban agriculture roofs.
Extensive green roofs, with just four inches of plantings, are the most common and can be built on nearly any brownstone.

Intensive green roofs and urban agricultural roofs require more structural support. New office buildings sometimes build intensive green roofs into their plans. Restaurants have adopted urban agricultural roofs because they allow them grow fresh veggies that are otherwise expensive to ship.

Green roofs are Mayor Bloomberg’s answer to New York City’s storm water problem, in which rain picks up pollutants and raw sewage and floods into drainage areas, such as the Gowanus Canal. If we can capture rain before it floods, we can avert our sewage runoff problem.
Green roofs absorb rain, keeping drains from overflowing. An average roof costs $8,000, while a green roof costs at least $16,000. However, green roofs last twice as long as regular roofs, don’t ever need to be replaced and only need to be watered if there is no rain for six consecutive weeks.

In 2008, New York offered one of the first tax breaks for green roofs in the nation, shaving 25 percent of the cost for the cheapest green roof.

It’s sort of a Catch 22, however; you don’t need a permit to build a green roof. But, if you want the tax break, you do need a special permit.

The job of “expeditor” is relatively new in NYC, and entirely needed to navigate a byzantine bureaucratic system. Problem: An expeditor can cost twice as much as the tax abatement. If you hire Yancey, your cost of installing the roof includes her work as an expeditor.

“I really want to help average people get green roofs,” said Yancey.
Richard Weisfeld, owner of Antarctic Construction in Gowanus and fellow green roof professional, worked with Yancey to install his green roof. She supplied the materials and early maintenance; he supplied the labor.
This June was one year for Weisfeld’s green roof, which buds little green and red leaves everywhere.
Weisfeld said green roof incentives have a long way to go in New York. In Washington D.C., he says, residents get a $7 per square foot abatement (compared to NYC’s $4.50 break).
Like Yancey, Weisfeld says the high cost to install green roofs in NYC is a barrier.
“A major installation, like for Ikea, would get a $40,000 abatement, where the [home] owner would only get a $4,000 abatement,” but the costs are about the same, he said.
Yancey has done roughly 50 green roof proposals in the three years since she opened Brooklyn Greenroof. Because there is such a level of bureaucracy and costs involved with these projects, only six roofs out of these 50 proposals have been built; five more are in the works.
Back in 2008, only one other green roof company was competing with Yancey. Today, there are about five, and several architecture and urban design firms include green roofs in their plans.
“People from Brooklyn are forward thinking,” said Yancey.
Yancey works with Brooklyn’s only solar company, Aeon Solar, to install solar panels. She’s in contact with Wind Analytics; as soon as urban wind technology is available, she is going to include it in her services.

“I wanted to find a way to help people painlessly, easily, and quickly cut their carbon footprint in half,” Yancey said.

Brooklyn Greenroof
Owned by Inger Yancey, Brooklyn Heights

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