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The Many Benefits of Living Walls

A Brief History

Humans are naturally attracted to nature, so the recent interest in living walls, living roof and plants is logical.  Humans have spent thousands of years walking around in nature looking for food and building shelters. Today, we spend significant time inside and more than half of the world’s population lives in an industrial city where concrete structures dominate. 25 years ago, Patrick Blanc, a French botanist and designer, invented the concept of the vertical garden as we know it today. Over the past couple of decades, to combat the growing population in cities and the threat of climate change, we have seen a growth in interest in greening our environment starting with green roofs. Now, living walls are some of the most popular ways to incorporate plants and greenery indoors and out!

The Benefits

Jimmy Dick, EQR's Business Development Manager and a licensed GRP (Green Roof Professional) was first introduced to a green wall or living wall while working at the Furbish Company which installed one of Dr. Alan Darlington’s bio-filters or green walls at Biohabitats in Baltimore, MD.  Dr. Darlington was working on cleansing air for NASA. The Biohabitats wall measures approximately 80 square feet and filters indoor air for the entire office.  It removes volatile organic compounds (VOC’s).  The wall at Biohabitats is a great example a living wall where form and function is at it’s finest.  The plants are able to filter indoor air because they are grown hydroponically.  Therefore, the microbes which live on the plants roots clean the air by eating air contaminants, otherwise known as biofiltration. 

In the end, the living wall plants are aesthetically appealing and functional filters.  No need to toss an air filter into the trash can or landfill.  A NASA study shows that potted plants remove a small amount of certain chemicals from the air.  A 1,500 square foot home would need 400 large plants to remove most of the tested chemicals, something that is not practical.

Jimmy stated that, "While I was an adjunct professor in 2012, teaching a class on green roofs and walls, I found upwards of 20 companies that marketed a green wall product of some form or fashion." This proves how popular the green infrastructure technique was becoming. The problem is that almost all green walls are soil based, which means there is little to no filtration happening.   

There is a lot of research showing other benefits, such as quicker healing times for patients in hospitals who have a view of trees or nature. Studies also show that exposure to our natural environment can improve human health and well-being  as well as increase employee morale, productivity and employee retention. Also, vertical gardens, when used indoors can help improve air quality because plants remove carbon dioxide and produce oxygen-rich air, cleaning harmful pollutants from our air. Again, thr best way to filter your air indoors using a vertical wall is growing your plants hydroponically.

Additionally, the benefits of vertical gardens apply to the building itself. When vertical gardens are used on the exterior of buildings, they offer an additional layer of insulation which helps to reduce the overall temperature of the building. This saves you money on energy costs!

Designing your Living Wall

There are a lot of things to consider when looking to design a living wall, such as light and water requirements, soil types, electricity, growth habits of selected plants, temperature fluctuations, maintenance and costs.  Costs are considerable as well.  An initial investment of $250/sf is not uncommon.  One must consider increased electricity and water requirement usage when contemplating a green wall. Additionally, using green walls to hide mechanical equipment or other undesirable sights is also common when designing your living wall. The concept is still in it’s infancy, so cost should come way down, and benefits should increase.  

Amazon has hired one of the industries young leaders, Ben Eiben to install several living walls in their corporate headquarters in Seattle. There are many companies in this space with varying ideas of soil-based living walls. Some people will use cut PVC pipes to install plants and soil placed in pockets and hung on walls.  It is important to remember that plants will need maintenance and to be replaced as needed.  It is also good to keep in mind that some plants  will do better than others.  So make sure you do your research!

Our Living Wall

Jimmy recently installed a vertical garden (pictured right) at our headquarters in Millersville, MD.  We planted Fern Club Moss, Calathea, Tillandsia, Schefflera mini Arboricola, Prayer Plant, Spider Plant, assorted Foliage, and Croton amont other plants. The vertical garden that we built in our office wasn't designed to filter air, but we hope that the next one will. 

Let us know if you have a living wall in your office and how you like it! Let's all get sustainable together. 


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