Living walls are a trending method for improving the indoor health of buildings. They enliven the atmosphere, provide thermal protection to save on HVAC costs, and above all, enhance air quality.
How does indoor greenery improve air quality? Plants use their superpowers to boost oxygen levels, remove unwanted gases such as VOCs and carbon dioxide, improve humidity by adding moisture to dry spaces, and reduce airborne particulates. They can also be designed to operate above and beyond by growing edibles or treating grey water.
For LEED projects, living walls are a popular strategy for achieving Innovation in Design credits. But beware – there’s no point in growing plants on the wall simply for looks. A green wall must function to provide environmental benefits against a baseline and raise the bar for standard sustainable design practices.
This can be measurably achieved by incorporating an indoor air biofilter into the building’s air handling system and hooking it up to the building automation or energy management system. Ambient air is actively forced through the growing media, whether it be soil-based or hydroponic, and biofiltration removes pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde to produce cleaned air (a combination of CO2, oxygen and water) that is dispersed by fan into the HVAC system’s clean air return stream.
Although living walls are mostly self-sufficient, maintenance is required for pest management, replacing worn out greens, and checking for irrigation glitches. Maintaining these towering vertical gardens can be viewed as a daunting challenge or an inviting side hustle for climbers and boulderers as some designs extend an impressive 80 feet upwards.
Ultimately, integrating this kind of plant technology into our built environment serves to reconnect indoor occupants with nature. And since we spend roughly 90% of our time indoors, there is strong incentive to bring in the green for improved wellbeing of both buildings and communities alike.