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In today’s commercial interiors, there is a huge focus on creating buildings, which offer “clean air.” As a result, the aesthetic appreciation and overall energies people glean from being surrounded by lush green indoor plantings… are really just by-products to what is even more important: having healthy, air inside. Indoor air is often filled with gaseous contaminants that arise from building materials, furnishings, activities that occur within the space and the occupants themselves. These contaminants can accumulate, harming the wellbeing of those inside the structure.
Birgit Siber, B. Arch OAA RAIC LEED AP, a Principal at Diamond Schmitt Architects of Toronto, one of the first people to fully comprehend what is now referred to as the Living Wall Biofilter, stated, “When specifying a living wall, it (of course) must be naturally beautiful, it must be good for the environment, it must be able to eliminate VOC’s… and, provide white noise.
“Many buildings suffer from ‘sick building syndrome,’” Ms. Siber continued. “A well thought-out commercial building design can actually make the lives of those inside much better. People function better when breathing clean, fresh air. Productivity in the workplace increases. And because there are very few people who don’t appreciate nature’s visual benefits, a large-scale living wall offers visual stimuli unsurpassed.”
Nedlaw Living Walls of Breslau, Ontario is the leading manufacturer of this still-not-yet-understood-and-accepted product category. Ms. Silber began working with inventor, Dr. Alan Darlington, years ago. “His approach was totally scientific,” she stated. “His original designs for a living wall included large scale, expansive walls with highly functional, hydroponic watering systems. Not only did plants included on these walls cleanse the air… they humidified it, as well.”
Note that it’s not the plants but the microbes growing in association with the plants (on their roots, surrounding media and in the water) that are actually cleaning the air. Although these same microbes exist in the soil of typical potted plants, they are encased in soil and further encased in a plastic pot and thus, have little opportunity to impact indoor air quality.
According to Dr. Darlington, “The living wall “biofilter” combines biofiltration and phytoremediation within a hydroponic plant wall. Behind the scenes, a pump constantly circulates water and nutrients from a well-positioned reservoir. The water then trickles down the wall through porous synthetic root media in which plants are rooted.
Air from the occupied space is actively drawn through the plant wall by either building existing HVAC system or onboard fans… and then, returned to the occupied space. When dirty air from the space comes in contact with the growing (rooting) media, contaminants move into the water phase where they are broken down by the beneficial microbes.”
Many research projects over the years have continued to prove that greening the commercial workspace reduces the stress levels of people inside, increases their productivity and reduces absenteeism.
To avoid the buildup of harmful pollutants, buildings are ventilated with new outside air. This air must be heated in winter and cooled in summer, which can represent over 30% of the overall energy consumed by the building. A Nedlaw Living Wall Biofilter (when integrated into a building’s HVAC system) can replace a significant portion of this entire fresh air intake. And because the returned, clean air is already at the right temperature and desired humidity, it does not need to be conditioned.  By avoiding the energy expense of heating, cooling and conditioning outdoor air, these biofilters can potentially pay for themselves in as little as 3-5 years.


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