KMCC boasts Air Force’s largest green roof

The Kaiserslautern Military Community Center on Ramstein is a great resource, not only for our local community, but for those stationed at far flung installations who come to our area for everything it has to offer. Travelers find all the conveniences of home. Shoppers can visit a myriad of vendors and find most everything they need under one roof.

The KMCC’s 844,000 square feet of floor space also houses services, dining facilities, local community information, banking, lodging, and entertainment that help us navigate a foreign country and provide a little taste of home. But, among all the hustle and bustle of your next shopping trip to the KMCC, know that there is a silent environmental champion up on the roof that you might not have noticed. It is the largest green roof in the entire Air Force, covering nearly 10 acres.

As the name suggests, green roofs are made of plants. There are two types of green roofs, those that can sustain larger plants like shrubs or small trees and those which require minimal maintenance and grow low lying grasses or sedum. The roof of the KMCC is a mixture of both types. A typical green roof comprises a waterproof membrane, followed by a root barrier and a drainage layer. Next is the growing medium, which can be an engineered soil or even man-made fiber materials, and finally, the plants.

Green roofs have been around for centuries (think Viking huts and sod roofs on the American plains), but their popularity has surged in recent years as a means to “go green.” Green roofs are an excellent way to promote sustainability, mitigate storm water runoff, reduce energy consumption, combat global warming, and increase green space.

Our host nation, Germany, spearheaded the modern movement toward green roofing. It gained popularity as a way to prevent storm water from flooding aging sewer and storm water systems and took off from there. This is the primary advantage of the KMCC green roof. Water on a paved surface doesn’t get absorbed and flows quickly to the storm water system.

The more paved surfaces, the harder it is for the system to avoid overflow; moreover, it is not feasible to upgrade an extensive storm water system or treatment facility for a single construction project. A green roof can be a big help in this situation. The plants and soil absorb, filter, slow, and store the storm water rather than sending it directly to the gutter and out to the drainage pipes. In fact, a green roof retains between 60 and 100 percent of precipitation, depending on intensity and duration, while a normal roof might retain about 5 percent or less. Additionally, the green roof helps to conserve energy by acting as an insulating layer, shielding the roof from extreme temperatures and weather, and soaking up the sun’s heat and providing evaporative cooling in the summer.

This can reduce heating and cooling demands inside the building by 20 to 40 percent. We all know that plants help to remove airborne toxins and replenish oxygen, which means that air at the KMCC intakes is fresher. Inside, we enjoy better air quality. And, because some portions of the roof are visible from inside the KMCC, it is also aesthetically pleasing.

The green roofing movement is taking off back home in the U.S. as well, but is still cost intensive in smaller applications. However, there are a few federal financing options and some cities establishing grant programs and tax incentives to overcome the initial investment challenges. If this trend continues, we might be looking at some great opportunities in the future. In the meantime, we can exploit what we know about plants to “go green” on a much smaller scale.

For example, keeping indoor plants at your home or office can provide many of the same benefits of the KMCC’s giant green roof. Indoor plants increase the humidity in the room, thereby increasing perceived warmth and combating uncomfortably dry indoor air in the winter. They soak up sun in the summer, and they are efficient air purifiers. Also, they are a great place to dump the leftover ice from your drink or toss the stagnant water from your pet’s dish. Before you know it, you are saving water too. Owning an indoor plant goes way beyond decor. October is Energy Awareness Month, and if we each commit to making small changes, our community has the potential to be a leader in the global effort to save.

(Courtesy of 86th Civil Engineer Squadron)