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TCU Magazine

Environmental science graduate students Jon Kinder and David Williams are studying plants for green roofs.

By Kathryn Hopper

Jon Kinder and David Williams, graduate students in environmental science, are working on finding just the right mix of plants to take their "Prairie Scape" to the next level.

The roof level, that is.

They are involved in one of the hottest eco-construction trends: "green roofs" planted atop buildings. The concept can be costly up front, but can save money by lowering the roof temperature and keeping down utility costs. Kinder said the temperature of a green roof can be 30 to 40 degrees cooler than asphalt and tar surfaces, plus, if enough buildings have them, they even lower temperatures citywide, combatting the additional 5 to 8 degrees dense development can add to a sweltering summer day in urban areas.

Under the direction of environmental science professor Tony Burgess, the two students are carefully monitoring their test plots, located at the Fort Worth Nature Center and Refuge. They are investigating which plants perform best and how the plants enhance the existing ecosystem.

"We're actually providing habitat instead of taking it away," Kinder said.

Williams focuses on how the soil type and amount affects the plants, while Kinder monitors plant growth and species, which includes native grasses, perennials and cactuses.

"Our hope is that we will not only spur commercial interest, but also start a grassroots, do-it-yourself movement toward green roofs," Kinder said.

While TCU doesn't have plans for a green roof, their research will be used by the Botanical Research Institute of Texas and the affiliated Owners Group, which are designing a 20,000 square-foot green roof for its new building adjacent to the Fort Worth Botanic Garden.

The students are looking forward to the hot days of August to see whether any plants will survive the Texas summer without water.

You don't want to be watering your roof if you can avoid it, Williams said.

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Read the TCU Daily Skiff's story about green roofs.