GREEN CHURCH IS “GREENER”

     The ceiling is painted, the pine panelling is going up and the interior is starting to look all but finished in some areas. We picked up the loft timbers last week and they will be assembled in the next two weeks. When that part of the project is completed, the interior will take on a stunning appearance. In the meantime, we are moving on to some of the features to be installed in the church. With air quality high on that list, an HRV is a must, most especially in a building this air tight. Realizing that there are also natural alternative methods of cleansing the air, I’ve begun the search for additional methods of air purification.

    While I have been aware of “living walls” for some time and Donna and I have had some “discussions” on this subject, she is not yet sold, even as she realizes their air quality advantage. Her resistance is to the necessity of extra lights, motors and timers to accommodate the addition.  She objects to both the cost and the additional mechanics.

     I have been asked is, “What is it” and “Why do this?” A living wall is simply an indoor vertical garden. It can be made up of multiple rows of small planters or it can use felt panels that allow the growing medium to expand their root patterns. Along with the obvious beauty and lushness that a wall such as this brings, purifying the air in “sick buildings” is making them more popular.

     The term sick building is applied to a building that lacks air exchange, was built too tight and suffers the effects of off gassing of the building materials, as well as some of the new furniture, making it unhealthy for human occupancy. While in most cases, the introduction of a mechanical ventilation system corrects these problems, the issue here is that it takes a lot of electricity to operate these air exchange systems.

    In 1989, NASA did a study to find a way to purify the air in the space station and found that some of their results could be applied to modern commercial and residential buildings. While everyone knows that plants convert carbon monoxide to oxygen, this study showed that gasses like formaldehyde and benzene, for example, were removed by some of the 19 different common house plants used in the study. Even though the off gassing registered in relatively low levels, anyone that is air quality sensitive notices it. Benzene is often found in paints and some household cleaners; formaldehyde is used in building materials like particle board and some foam insulation. Plants like English Ivy, mums, peace lilies and daises “scrubbed” the air of benzene, while bamboo, peace lilies and green spider plants did quite a job on formaldehyde. The study was so convincing that they produced a list of these plants. Among the plants that also did an excellent job were selloum, heartleaf and elephant ear philodendron, weeping fig, golden pothos, Chinese evergreen, bamboo, snake plant and a number of the dracaena family, including the red-edged and warneck plants.

    The study concluded that a smaller home, under 2000 sq. ft., with 15 different varieties of these plants actively growing in larger containers, pots over six inches in diameter, had significantly improved indoor air quality.

    The current living space at the church is, by footprint, not large. In fact, it’s only 1200 sq. ft., which is why a 540 sq. ft. loft addition is planned. With the high ceilings and the installation of large fans to move the air, it’s a perfect set up for a living wall. While I enjoy plants, I admit to being limited in knowledge and am proposing a series of copper trays about 4 feet wide and 6-8” deep, installed vertically, to hold a selection of the recommended plants. I am going to build a white cedar frame, six foot high and four foot wide, and outline it with a wide cedar trim to give it the look of a large, very large actual picture frame. The bottom tray will be wider than the others at close to a foot and it will sit on a platform. In this, I hope to grow ivy that will intertwine the lattice liner which will form the backing of the installation. In our travels looking for decorative features, we happened on a stunning eleven foot long, curved oak pew from the United Church in Franktown and it will sit below the living wall.

     The back of this free standing, living wall will be 3-4 inches off the actual wall. It’s being built in this manner for a simple reason. As the contaminated interior air must circulate to be effectively purified, moving it through the plants is the ideal method to absorb the toxins. This design can be referred to as a biofilter. There are very large living walls in offices and commercial buildings where there is an elaborate fan and duct system moving the air. In our case, this free standing, living wall will have a small fan midway behind the actual unit, hence the necessary 3-4 inch gap between the wall and the unit. The fan will slowly move the air through the lattice backer, up and out the top, where I anticipate the steady air movement, created by the ceiling fans, will circulate this “refreshed” air. The church has ample natural light, but no direct sun light in this area, so some form of artificial lighting will be needed. The top of the living wall will have a hood so that energy efficient grow lights can be installed. These lights will be on a timer so that the plants get adequate light supplement and still be as energy efficient as possible.

    There-in lays Donna’s resistance. My hope is that she’ll come around since we are using the energy of the sun. In any case, along with “air scrubbing” plants, I expect Donna, once she is fully sold on the idea, will want to try some herbs and I understand these can be grown effectively in a living wall of this design. It’s no secret that indoor plants have a positive effect on humans, are aesthetically pleasing and peaceful. Now our plants can help clean the indoor air, too. If you have missed any of the articles on the progress of our project, you can catch up at www.alltechgreenchurch.ca