Increasingly architects, designers, city planners and other practitioners are promoting living walls or green walls as a sustainable building practice. Not only can they be very attractive to look at but they are also good for the environment and can lead to improved health for both animals and humans.
Green walls improve air quality as the plants in the wall breath in carbon dioxide that is already in the Earth’s atmosphere. Says Freshome, “Pollutants exist all around us, both outdoors and indoors. Toxic fumes infiltrate the air we breathe through our air systems and ductwork and can cause what we commonly call “Sick Building Syndrome.” Green, or living walls, can significantly clear up the toxins.” The more plants that are planted in a green wall the more carbon dioxide that can be consumed.
The plants in a green wall help protect the building they are on. Essentially, they act as a climate control and can help protect it against dramatic temperature fluctuations as the plants act as natural insulation. The plants help shield a building’s walls from rain, hail, snow, wind, harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and other extreme weather conditions. This helps keep a building cooler during summer months and warmer during winter months. By not being directly exposed to harsh weather conditions the walls are also less likely to corrode or rust.
Also, sometimes referred to as vertical gardens, green walls also help to save energy. If a building is naturally kept cooler or warmer by the green wall there is a reduced need to use energy for heating or cooling purposes. With each additional plant added to a green wall, energy consumption is reduced. If a building’s energy is generated from fossil fuels this helps reduce its reliance on unclean energy sources and is better for the environment overall.
Green walls can also lead to improved health conditions. Freshome notes “Plants offer instant stress relief by softening the environment around us. They reduce noise and eliminate pollution. In workplaces plants have been shown to increase productivity, in the home they increase tranquillity. They ease stress and fatigue, and offer energy rich oxygen.”
A high-profile example of an actual green wall is at the Musée du Quai in Paris, France. CNN reports that 170 different plant species have been used to cover a surface of 8,600 square feet. It says that “The mass of leaves and flowers seems to be swallowing the building … [and] the amazing spectacle is one of the largest in a growing number of “plant walls” or “vertical gardens” that are taking root across the world, as architects search for environmentally friendly ways to create sustainable buildings.”
In 1989, the National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA) conducted a study in which they determined the most suitable plants for use in living walls. The study was commissioned in order to create a breathable environment for NASA orbiting space stations. According to the EcoLogic Design Lab, Dr Bill Wolverton, one of the scientists involved in the study, “Discovered that houseplants are the best filters of common pollutants – chemicals released by furniture, carpets, synthetic and treated building materials, photocopiers, etc., leading to a host of disease, respiratory and allergic problems.
The study also recommends that one should “Use 15 to 18 good-sized houseplants in 6 to 8-inch diameter containers to improve air quality in an average 1,800 square foot house. The more vigorously they grow, the better job they’ll do for you.” The five plants most recommended for use in green walls are heartleaf philodendrons, elephant ear philodendrons, cornstalk dracaenas, English ivy and spider plants.
Green walls can come in all shapes and sizes and can be even be complemented by rooftop gardens which provide many similar environmental and health benefits. They can be on all types of buildings including administration and government ones, businesses and residential homes and apartments. Depending on the size of the wall and the plants involved in constructing it, green walls can be a low-cost, easy to construct or install solution which concerned global citizens can implement to contribute to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner, healthier living.
Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on October 24, 2017.