San Francisco Better Roofs

UPDATE (January 2017)

Effective January 1st, 2017, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to mandate solar and living roofs on most new construction. With the passage of this legislation, between 15% and 30% of roof space on most new construction projects will incorporate solar, living roofs, or a combination of both.

In dense, urban cities our rooftops are valuable space that can be used more efficiently to benefit our environment and our communities. Rooftops are 30% of San Francisco’s land area, and an untapped resource. This new ordinance will provide flexibility for the building designer, owner, and developer to choose the best combination of solar photovoltaic, solar water heating and living roof systems to maximize benefits based on location and building program. With the myriad of benefits that these technologies provide, the legislation would encourage a higher and better utilization of valuable rooftop space.

Link to signed legislation:

Better Roofs Ordinance Zoning Administrator Bulletin No. 11
The Zoning Administrator Bulletin will provide assistance with implementation for planners, the public, and designers with specifics on the ordinance and diagrammatic examples.

Green Roof



Get Project Updates

Subscribe to Updates

Only a small percentage of San Francisco’s rooftops are put to productive use. With up to 30% of the City’s total land area composed of rooftops, there is a huge potential for using these empty spaces to generate economic, social, and environmental benefits. Living roofs are one of a number of sustainable design approaches that take advantage of underutilized rooftop space.

The Planning Department has researched best practices, current green building process, and best site-specific solutions for the City to make living roofs a more viable option for existing and planned buildings. The Department will continue to work with other City agencies to explore how rooftop space can be designed to its highest and best use, including other strategies like solar, open space, and play areas.

Living Roof Manual

The Living Roof Manual focuses on best practices, guidelines, techniques and recommendations for designing and implementing living roofs that are climate-and needs-specific to San Francisco. Those interested in designing, installing, or advocating for living roofs are highly encouraged to consult this manual for advice and guidance.

Case Studies

Our team loves touring living roofs in San Francisco to learn more about different projects. We traveled to each of these projects to learn first-hand about the project details. Click on each to learn more! Do you know a living roof we can visit? Please let us know!

Cost Benefit Analysis

ARUP engineers analyzed the cost-effectiveness of meeting the Better Roofs requirement entirely with a living roof instead of solar for the alternative compliance path. The report was unique as its inputs and metrics were specific to San Francisco’s climate. Our Mediterranean climate and recent drought made the San Francisco report critical for accurate results.

The analysis was conducted with a living roof that uses 6 inches of lightweight media with native and adapted plants and two building types of similar size that are good candidates for living roofs: medium commercial and small multi-family. The costs and benefits of the living roof were compared to the costs and benefits of a baseline membrane roof with cool with coating that is a requirement for compliance with California Title 24.

The analysis found that a living roof provides net financial benefit to the building owner, while providing significant additional benefit to the tenants, and the broader community. The largest cost of a living roof – the one-time installation cost – is largely offset by the avoided one-time stormwater management equipment costs that would be incurred with the baseline roof. The largest potential benefits is added real estate value, which also accrues to the building owner.

To read the full report, download it here.

Interactive Map

Locations of Existing and Planned Living Roofs in San Francisco. Please email Kay Cheng ( if you have a project to be added or a correction to this map. Use the ( + ) and ( - ) buttons to control zoom.

Click here to view full-sized map in a new window.


Photo Gallery

Click on < or > to advance through gallery.
Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

We have started to compile some images of living roofs in our City, we hope they are inspirational. We encourage you to tour and discover innovative rooftops in San Francisco and invite you to send us your own living roof images to be showcased on the site.


To be added to the mailing list and kept informed of the project's progress sign-up for at our website (make sure to choose Project Updates: Living Roofs under Sign me up for:) If you are interested in installing a living roof but need more information, please contact us and we will be happy to help.

We also love learning about new living roofs in the City, if there’s one you think we should know about, please let us know! We are always open to new ideas and learning more about the best ways to better San Francisco’s rooftops.

Kay Cheng
Project Manager and Urban Designer
San Francisco Planning Department
(415) 575-9094

Anne Brask
San Francisco Planning Department
(415) 575-9078

Relevant Links

  • CitiesAlive Conference Green Roof Poster Cities Alive Poster
    The Planning Department created a poster representing a few different typologies of existing green roofs in San Francisco and their respective benefits for the CitiesAlive Conference in October 2013. Click on poster to view larger file.
  • Urban Forest Plan
    The Urban Forest Plan provides a strategy to create a more sustainable urban forest and a truly green city, including a future third phase of the Urban Forest Plan that will promote efforts aimed at green buildings and private properties.
  • SPUR Greener and Better Roofs
    Inspired by the CitiesAlive Conference in 2013, the SPUR Green Roof Task Force convened to develop a report promoting the implementation of a Green Roof Policy for San Francisco.
  • Green Roof Alliance
    A collaboration of industry professionals, government representatives, and communities to promote healthy and sustainable green roofs in California.
  • Bay Localize
    Bay Localize is an Oakland based organization that catalyzes the shift to a green economy.
  • Green Roofs for Healthy Cities
    A not-for-profit industry association working to promote the green roof industry throughout North America.
  • San Francisco Plant Finder
    SF Plant Finder recommends appropriate plants for sidewalks, private backyards, and roofs that are adapted to San Francisco’s unique environment.

Better Roofs in the Media