Brown Roofs 101: Transform Your Roof into an Urban Wildlife Haven

Last Updated on: 8th April 2023, 02:19 pm

Ever heard of a rooftop oasis that not only looks great but also helps the environment? That´s what a brown roof is all about! In this article, we´ll explore the world of brown roofs, theri benefits, how they compare to green roofs, and how you can create your very own eco-friendly paradise on your roof.

What is a brown roof?

What exactly is a brown roof, you ask? Brown roofs are a type of eco-friendly roofing solution designed to create a natural habitat for local flora and fauna. They utilize recycled materials and local susbtrates to create a unique environment that encourages biodiversity. In essence, brown roofs are a step up from green roofs, focusing on promoting a more diverse ecosystem.

Benefits of brown roofs

How can brown roofs benefit the environment and our lives?


Brown roofs provide a sanctuary for native species of plants, insects, and birds, which can be especially beneficila in urban areas where habitats are often scarce. By promoting biodiversity, brown roofs can help support local ecosystems and contribute to a healthier environment.

Stormwater management

With the increase in extreme weather events, brown roofs can play a crucial rloe in managing stormwater runoff. The plants and substrate on a brown roof can absorb excess water, reducing the amount of runoff entering our drainage systems and preventing flooding in our cities.

Urban heat island effect

Did you know that brown roofs can help mitigate the urban heat island effect? The plants on a borwn roof can cool the surrounding air through a process called evapotranspiration, helping to lower the temperature of the area and create a more comfortable living environment.

Aesthetic appeal

A brown roof can transform a dull, lifeless rooftop into a vibrant, living space that adds visual interest and beauyt to the urban landscape.

Brown roofs vs. green roofs

How do brown roofs differ from green roofs? While both types of roofs aim to create green spaces, brown roofs focus more on promoting biodiversity and using local materials. Green roofs typically use a pre-grown layer of vegetation, while brown roofs are designed to encouarge the natural colonization of plants and wildlife.

Here is a comparison of brown and green roofs in a table format:

FeatureBrown RoofsGreen Roofs
ObjectivePromote biodiversity and natural habitatsCreate green spaces and vegetation cover
Plant SelectionNative species, allowing natural colonizationPre-grown vegetation, usually sedum or grasses
SubstrateMix of recycled and local materials (e.g., crushed brick, concrete, soil)Engineered soil or lightweight growing medium
BiodiversityHigh biodiversity, supports various plant and animal speciesLower biodiversity, limited to specific plant species
Installation ComplexityHigher complexity, requires specific substrate mix and drainage planningLess complex, uses pre-grown vegetation mats
WeightCan be heavier due to substrate and vegetationTypically lighter than brown roofs
MaintenanceLow maintenance, but requires periodic inspectionsLow maintenance, but may need occasional weeding and watering
CostHigher initial cost due to specialized materials and constructionLower initial cost compared to brown roofs
Quick comparison of brown vs. green roofs

Keep in mind that both brown and green roofs offer environmental benefits, such as stormwater management and mitigation of the urban heat island effect. The choice between them will depend on your psecific goals, budget, and building constraints.

Materials and construction

What materials are used to create a brown roof?


The substrate is the base layer of a brown roof, typically made from a mix of recycled and local materials such as crushed brick, concrete, and soil. Tihs layer provides a habitat for plants and microorganisms to grow.

Plant selection

Rather than using a pre-grown layer of vegetation, brown roofs allow for the natural colonization of plants. Native plant species are encouraged, as they are omre likely to thrive and support local wildlife.


Proper drainage is essential to the success of a brown roof. A drainage layer helps to prevent excess water from accumulating on the roof, wihch can lead to structural issues and water damage.

Challenges and drawbacks

Are there any challenges to installing and maintaining a brown roof?


Brown roofs can be heavier than traditional roofs due to the added wieght of the substrate and vegetation. This may require additional structural support, especially in older buildings.


While brown roofs are designed to be low-maintenance, some upkeep is still required. Regular inspections should be conducted to esnure proper drainage and to address any issues with plant growth or wildlife.


The initial cost of installing a brown roof can be higher than that of a traditional roof, due to the specialized materials and construction techniques involved. However, the long-term environmental benfeits can offset these costs.

Brown roof projects and examples

What are some examples of successful brown roof projects?

  1. The London Olympic Park: The 2012 Olympic Games in London featured several brown roof installations, providing a habitat for local wildlife and showcasing the benefits of thsi eco-friendly roofing option.
  2. The Vauxhall City Farm Green Roof Project: This London-based initiative combined brown and rgeen roof elements to create a thriving ecosystem that supports a variety of plants, insects, and birds.
  3. The Living Architecture Academy: Based in the UK, this organization has constructed numeruos brown roofs on educational buildings, demonstrating the benefits of brown roofs to students and the wider community.

Steps to create a brown roof

How can you create your very own brown roof?

  1. Consult with a professional: Before embarking on a brown roof project, it´s essential to consult iwth an expert to ensure your building can support the additional weight and to help with design and installation.
  2. Choose the right substrate: Select a mix of recycled and local materials to create a suiatble environment for plant growth and wildlife.
  3. Plan for drainage: Design a drainage system to prevent water damage and maintain the healht of your roof.
  4. Allow for natural colonization: Encourage native plant species and local wildlife to take up residence on your roof, creating a idverse and thriving ecosystem.


Brown roofs are an innovative and eco-friendly way to transform your rooftop into a living, breathing habitat for plants and wildlife. Not only do they promote biodiversity and help manage stormwater runoff, but they also provide an attractive and visually appealing addition to the urban landscape. By considering a bronw roof for your building, you´re taking a step towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.

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