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Green Roofs on Malaysian Buildings: Obstacles and Feasibility

February 2, 2024

Civil engineering plays a crucial role in addressing economic challenges through infrastructure development, and the integration of green technologies has become imperative for sustainable and environmentally friendly building practices. Green roofs, characterised by vegetative coverings atop structures, offer multifaceted benefits, including stormwater management, energy efficiency, and the creation of green spaces in urban environments. While the development and implementation of green roofs have gained global attention, their adoption in subtropical and tropical regions, like Malaysia, presents unique challenges and opportunities.

Green roofs have shown promise in regulating temperatures, mitigating the urban heat island effect, and effectively managing stormwater in Malaysia's warm and humid climate. Despite these advantages, challenges such as high initial costs, lack of awareness, and maintenance issues need to be addressed for successful implementation. Various global studies, including those in China, Hong Kong, and Bangladesh, highlight common barriers to green roof adoption, such as insufficient policy support, high costs, and a lack of awareness among professionals.

In Malaysia, despite recognition of the benefits, the implementation of green roofs is in its early stages, facing barriers such as high costs, technical complexities, and limited local expertise.

High Upfront Costs

A recent study in 2023 found the foremost barrier is high or additional construction costs1. Survey participants expressed concerns about the significant upfront expenses associated with incorporating green roofs, particularly in a competitive building industry where cost-saving measures often take precedence.

While construction costs are a one-time expenditure, incorporating green roofs during the construction phase frequently entails additional expenses. These may include the installation of specialized materials, waterproofing systems, and irrigation infrastructure. Developers, builders, and property owners may view these added costs as a substantial financial burden.

Plus, given the competitiveness of the industry, stakeholders may instead choose prioritise cost-saving measures, potentially resulting in the oversight or exclusion of green roof initiatives from building plans.

The lack of immediate financial returns and limited awareness of the long-term benefits further contribute to the underestimation of the overall value of green roofs.

Increased Costs of Maintenance

Following closely is the barrier associated with an increase in maintenance costs. Respondents recognise ongoing maintenance expenses as a notable concern, encompassing activities like irrigation and pest control.

A preceding study found that 97% of participants concurred that the maintenance of green roofs is challenging and laborious. Lack of maintenance would result in issues such as leakages, mould growth, water ponding, mosquito breeding, the unwanted presence of animals, and building defects may arise. Consequently, these challenges can lead to a shortened lifespan of the roof and an increased load on the building structure.

The perception of maintenance costs as a potential liability results in neglect over time, diminishing the long-term benefits derived from green roofs. The immediate costs associated with maintenance may overshadow the eventual energy savings and improved building insulation.

Lack of Interests

The third-ranked barrier is a lack of owner or client interest. This barrier underscores the limited awareness and understanding among building owners or clients regarding the benefits of green roofs.

The third-ranked barrier is a lack of owner or client interest. This barrier underscores the limited awareness and understanding among building owners or clients regarding the benefits of green roofs.

A deficiency in awareness, education, and information regarding the advantages of constructing green buildings hinders its wider adoption2. Malaysians need a paradigm shift to consider more environmentally friendly options that reduce energy consumption. Initiating awareness is the crucial first step to ensure the enduring presence of greener buildings.

An emphasis on the importance of education, outreach, and advocacy efforts is needed to increase awareness about green roofs' environmental, economic in addition to aesthetic advantages.

Are Green Roofs Feasible?

The feasibility of green roofs is also influenced by the perception and practices of architects and communities. Field observations and case studies have been conducted to understand the implementation issues faced by architects in incorporating green roofs into building designs3.

Moreover, the role of the community in the substitution of green space toward sustainable development has been emphasised as a research challenge, highlighting the importance of community involvement in the feasibility of green roofs in residential areas4.

The advantages of green roofs have led to incentives and regulations in highly urbanised societies, such as Japan, Singapore, Germany, and Belgium5. However, challenges arise in the maintenance of green roofs, as the lack of proper upkeep can hinder their intended functionality6.

Additionally, the impact of green roofs on building energy in different climates is a subject of research interest, with studies indicating their potential to reduce rooftop heat exchange in moderate climates7.

Furthermore, the energy efficiency of buildings with integrated green roofs is confirmed in all climates, with the greatest contribution in hot and dry climates8. The potential for green roofs to reduce energy consumption of buildings has been well researched as well.

The barriers discussed above collectively underscore the intricate challenges associated with introducing green roofs in the Malaysian context, emphasising the pivotal role of financial considerations and perceptions in decision-making processes.

Addressing these barriers necessitates a strategic combination of financial incentives, targeted awareness campaigns, innovative construction practices, and collaborative efforts aimed at reshaping perceptions.

Reference

1Hamid HNA, Romali NS, Rahman RA. Key Barriers and Feasibility of Implementing Green Roofs on Buildings in Malaysia. Buildings. 2023; 13(9):2233. https://doi.org/10.3390/buildings13092233

2Bin Esa, M. R., Marhani, M. A., Yaman, R., Noor, A. A. H. N. H., & Rashid, H. A. (2011). Obstacles in implementing green building projects in Malaysia. Australian Journal of Basic and Applied Sciences, 5(12), 1806-1812.

3Zahir, M., Raman, S. N., Mohamed, M. F., Jamiland, M., & Nopiah, Z. M. (2014). The perception of malaysian architects towards the implementation of green roofs: a review of practices, methodologies and future research. E3S Web of Conferences, 3, 01022. https://doi.org/10.1051/e3sconf/20140301022

4Yuliani, S., Hardiman, G., & Setyowati, E. (2020). Green-roof: the role of community in the substitution of green-space toward sustainable development. Sustainability, 12(4), 1429. https://doi.org/10.3390/su12041429

5Mentens, J., Raes, D., & Hermy, M. (2006). Green roofs as a tool for solving the rainwater runoff problem in the urbanized 21st century?. Landscape and Urban Planning, 77(3), 217-226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2005.02.010

6Saharuddin, S., Khalil, N., & Saleh, A. A. (2019). Assessing practice and criteria for green roof maintenance on high-rise residential building in malaysia. MATEC Web of Conferences, 266, 01014. https://doi.org/10.1051/matecconf/201926601014

7Gunn, P., Gunay, H. B., & Geel, P. J. V. (2021). A multi-year comparative analysis of green and conventional roof thermal performance under temperate climate conditions. Journal of Physics: Conference Series, 2069(1), 012067. https://doi.org/10.1088/1742-6596/2069/1/012067

8Stamenkovic, G. M., Miletic, J. M., Kosanovic, M. S., Vučković, D., & Glisovic, M. S. (2018). Impact of a building shape factor on space cooling energy performance in the green roof concept implementation. Thermal Science, 22(1 Part B), 687-698. https://doi.org/10.2298/tsci170425205s

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