I love the idea of living walls. Though, probably not for the same reasons as many “green” enthusiasts. In reality, it just makes practical sense to build an outdoor living wall, whether it’s for the home or business.
Most of the benefits can translate to saving quite a bit of money in the long run. And everyone can get behind that aspect.
Today, I’ll go over some of the realistic reasons why you’d want to build a living wall and what kinds of plants you’ll use. This is a bit different from indoor living walls, but some of the same benefits apply.
What is an Outdoor Living Wall?
An outdoor living wall is an external wall that is covered with plantlife. This gives the building an appearance of being “alive” while offering several key benefits.
Building owners often use various types of plants to display a design as different species deliver diverse colors. The idea is to promote a more “green” appearance while improving the mental state of those in the area.
This is because studies show plants improve aspects of the human psyche. Not to mention improving physical health.
The care of an outdoor living wall depends on the plants that are used. However, most are created with self-sustaining plants and practices. So, you could theoretically build one and not worry about watering or trimming it up every weekend.
This also depends on the area you live in. Don’t expect to maintain a living wall out of ferns year-round if you live in Colorado.
6 Reasons to Consider Building an Outdoor Living Wall
One of the most common reasons I see all over the Internet for building a living wall is to promote a sustainable atmosphere. But, there are several key benefits to adding one, if not more, to your building.
Practical benefits for installing an outdoor living wall include:
- Reducing the Dust
- Providing Added Insulation
- Creating a Sound Barrier
- Reducing the Impact of Vandalism
- Improving Local Air Quality
I’m sure there are more. However, I always look at the more practical and factual side of things. For instance, not everyone is going to care about improving biodiversity.
Yes, biodiversity is an important factor. However, biodiversity also depends on using specific plants. Bees don’t create honey from ferns.
1. Keeping the Dust Down in the Home
So, it’s pretty common knowledge that some plants can scrub dust from the air. This can result in fewer trips to the store for a Swiffer duster. But what about preventing it from the outside?
After a few experiments, I’ve found that homes with more plants in the yard experience less amount of dust in the house.
Now, does this mean that lining your house with green shrubbery will prevent you from needing to dust occasionally? Absolutely not. However, an outdoor living wall will contribute to fewer particulates making their way into the home.
2. Insulates the Home…ish
One key benefit of having a living wall is how it acts as an extra layer of insulation. Especially during the summer when the sun is beating down onto the building.
There’s a reason why rooms shaded by trees are much cooler. Lining the outdoor walls with plants offer the same kind of protection from the heat and UV light.
Which, coincidentally, saves on repainting your walls or replacing vinyl siding from sun damage.
This means you’ll spend less money on electricity as the HVAC unit doesn’t have to work so hard to keep the house cool.
But what about the winter months? Well, that totally depends on the types of plants that are used. I’ve seen studies where houses using vining plants that die but leave their stems behind on the wall improve temperatures of the home in the winter by five to 10 degrees.
Not to mention how the construct of adding an outdoor living wall adds to the surface of the wall itself…making it much thicker and resilient to temperature drops.
3. Helps Promote a Sound Barrier
Covering the outer walls of your building helps promote a sound barrier, which is incredibly useful if you live near a busy street or freeway. It becomes more of a muffled annoyance if the plants are thick enough.
Most people will create noise barriers with certain trees or shrubbery. However, many are finding the practice useful as part of their establishments or homes.
This won’t make your house sound-proof from the outside. But it will improve noise pollution within the home.
4. Reduces Vandalism and “Tagging”
Graffiti is far more prevalent than it needs to be. And adding an outdoor living wall discourages vandalism of many kinds. For one thing, it’s hard to spray paint a plant and expect the “artwork” to remain for a long period of time.
It’s also less likely that a “tagger” is going to add his or her initials to something that is alive and not necessarily a blank canvas. Most graffiti happens on walls that are a solid color, like a blank slate.
Many people will also use plants to hide vandalism on walls, which further discourages people from painting because it’s no longer visible.
5. Helps Improve Air Quality
According to a study found at NCBI, green walls have a very slight ability to reduce particulate matter, PM, from the surrounding area. But, the study did show the significant benefit of reducing noise pollution.
However, plants remove carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis. So, at least on some level, an outdoor living wall does improve air quality.
While I do trust some scientific papers, I also know from personal experience how external plants make a difference in how I breathe. And areas that are more green are much easier to handle.
Not to mention the study I mentioned only focused on a couple of types of PM models. More study is required for various kinds of airborne substances.
I guess take this point however you like. The bottom line is that plants do produce oxygen while consuming airborne elements during photosynthesis. The amount this produces is often up for debate.
6. They Just Look Nice…to Many People
Plants have a way of boosting the spirits and improving the morale of workers. And I’ve said before how having plants in my office makes a huge difference in my production levels.
An outdoor living wall is often marveled by people passing by as an attractive feature. But is that because plants are appealing to the human eye, or because it’s not often you come across a bank covered in bushes?
Personally, I love the site of nature…especially in the city. So, seeing an apartment building, even with one outdoor living wall, is an attractive feature.
Do Artificial Living Wall Panels Promote the Same Benefits?
A simple Google search will show you a very long list of outdoor living wall kits that are artificial. Most are UV resistant, which means you won’t have to worry about sun damage.
But do they offer the same benefits as a wall made with living plants?
Well, if we go by my list, only 50% of the benefits would apply. For one thing, vinyl plants don’t perform photosynthesis to convert CO2 to oxygen.
However, they may provide the same temperature control and visual appeal during the summer months. And, they might prevent tagging and graffiti. That is, until someone figures out they are plastic plants and goes at the wall with a can of paint.
A bright blue fern jutting out from a green background would be something I’d probably do…40 years ago.
As for noise pollution, that is something that might need testing. Plastic plants don’t reflect sound the same way living ones do. And this actually gives me an idea for a case study.
Realistically, though, artificial outdoor living walls would probably have 3 practical benefits:
- Visual appeal
- Reducing heat and UV damage to houses and buildings
- Covering unsightly tagging and graffiti
And at $125 for a 29×29 inch square of artificial living wall at Home Depot, it’ll probably be a while before I test the sound-reduction quality of plastic plants.
What Kind of Plants Go on an Outdoor Living Wall?
Building a real live plant wall requires a bit of planning. You can’t assume that you can simply add potters to your outdoor walls, plant a few daisy seeds, and call it good.
For one thing, your geographic location will play a major role in what is used.
For instance, ferns thrive in shady, higher-humid, cooler areas. Succulents, such as spiral aloe and haworthia, do better in partial sun and less water.
If you’re thinking about building your own outdoor living wall, look to see what plants are indigenous to your area and which ones thrive best.
You could even go so far as to plant fruits and vegetables as living walls. Though, you’d want to use edibles that thrive in sunlight.
Some of the better edibles to use as an outdoor living wall include: lettuce, herbs, tomatoes, and strawberries. However, strawberries are exceptionally prone to various bird attacks. And adding a net to your wall to protect your berries may make it unsightly.
But, whichever plant you decide to use, consider the water source. Some plants demand more water than others, and you need to make sure you’re not planting something that is going to die off shortly after you set up your wall.
Taking a “Green” Home to a New Level
There’s no doubt that outdoor living wall plants take greening a home to a higher degree. As many will attribute the construct as a sustainable and eco-friendly development, there are several practical reasons to consider adding one.
Whether you want to save money on energy bills or promote a more natural-looking home, a living wall serves a real purpose.
The hardest part is building a real wall that doesn’t drive up your credit card debt.
Michael has been interested in the practicality of living green for quite some time. He works closely with GreenGeeks Web Hosting as the Content Marketing Team Lead and an author of various articles.