Developing a Common Understanding of Green Walls
Before I started writing this post, I asked a few friends what came to mind when I mentioned the term “green wall.”
Responses were all over the place, everything from “A wall painted green?” to “I don’t know, some environmental movement?”
To make sure we’re on the same page I thought we should start with a quick overview of the nomenclature.
Green Wall Lingo
Green walls and their applications are coming into vogue, but since they are still viewed as something of a novelty, the naming can seem unclear.
You’ll hear a wide variety of terms, such as green wall, green facade, living wall, biowall, vertical garden, and vertical vegetation used interchangeably to refer to any vertical space covered with plants.
There is, however, one significant difference to be aware of: green facades are comprised of plants with active climbing habits that are rooted in the ground whereas green walls (biowalls, living walls etc.) have media for plants to grow in that is actually part of the vertical surface.
History of Green Walls or Living Walls
The idea of living walls purportedly dates to around 600 BCE and the hanging gardens of Babylon, but times have changed a bit since then and people are creating new applications for green walls and improving on existing methods of installation.
Green Wall Benefits
Indoor and outdoor green walls offer a number of incredible benefits.
There are challenges, too (which we will address next week).
For now, let’s look at all the ways green walls can improve our living spaces.
Green Walls As Living Art
You probably could have guessed that this would be first on my list. Green walls are works of art. They contribute in many, less immediately obvious ways, but the visual effects are truly stunning.
There are few things as aesthetically pleasing as plants, and green walls give us a way to transform building faces of concrete and siding into beautiful sights.
This is one benefit that is nearly impossible to quantify, which may be an indication of its significance.
Art improves the human experience. Green walls look amazing and they have innumerable functional advantages.
What more could we ask?
Green Walls Reduce Building Maintenance
Even though I think concrete walls and the blank, unchanging faces of condominiums and apartment buildings are ugly, we still need ways of maintaining the buildings we live and work in.
The elements, like sunlight, rain, and temperature extremes, that will eventually damage buildings and degrade surface treatments are beneficial or inconsequential to green walls.
Green walls are capable of protecting structures and external finishes from the elements, which means those structures won’t deteriorate as readily.
This translates to fewer time consuming and costly maintenance projects overall.
Green Walls Bring Fresh Air
Every time I leave the city I’m amazed at how different the air feels and when I return, for about a day, I feel like I’m suffocating. Since we adapt so rapidly to our surroundings, most of us hardly notice the poor air quality around us.
On top of this, many buildings don’t circulate air properly, not to mention that the ways we cook, clean and heat our homes can often introduce a number of pollutants and VOCs into the air we breathe.
Green walls act as filters; they remove particulate (dust and pollen) and toxins (CO and formaldehyde) from the air and produce oxygen.
If an outdoor green wall is integrated properly during the process of designing and building a structure, it will also function effectively as a biofilter for the air inside.
Green Walls Increase Energy Efficiency
Though the effects of a green wall on heating and cooling costs will vary with the location, climate and the type of installation, green walls can do a lot to improve energy efficiency.
The wall acts like an additional layer of insulation, trapping air and serving as a buffer against winds.
Transpiration is the evaporative cooling system that plants use to control temperature (among other things) and it works to cool the surrounding air as well as the plant itself. With a single plant, the effects of transpiration are not noticeable, but indoor green walls with thousands of plants can help keep things cool inside.
Rather than wrap things up I’ll leave you with a list of additional advantages and a couple links if you’d like to see some incredible work by green wall pioneer Patrick Blanc.
- reduce storm water runoff
- increase property values
- act as a bold statement about your priorities or your company’s (it’s kind of a built in marketing technique, which is convenient to say the least)
- improve productivity (the research supporting this claim applies to indoor green wall installations)
- reduce noise, and
- help buildings/builders/owners to earn LEED credits and benefit from the associated government incentives
The Endless Potential of Green Walls
The applications for green walls are almost limitless and witnessing the progress from concept to reality is exciting and inspiring.
>>> This video gives a brief tour of a green wall in Barcelona. <<<
If you’d like to read more and see some amazing photos, take a look at Patrick Blanc’s website.
Fair Warning: there is a lot to this site and you could easily spend a few hours there. As you enjoy the pictures and read about the various projects, you might also develop a prejudice against unused vertical spaces like the walls of your garage and feel compelled to start a project of your own.