Message - Re: Research on green apartment

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Posted by  Jim on July 15, 2003 at 10:22:16:

In Reply to:  Research on green apartment posted by Architect on July 14, 2003 at 13:30:55:

If by 'green' you mean ecologcally sound, health-promoting environment, then you are certainly doing the right thing. Plants do indeed make living (and working!) spaces much better: healthy both physically, and psychologically! The problem, of course, is to design an apartment or any other spece with such Green provisions that will largely sustain themselves. Are there any plants that will grow for many years without ANY human attention? No, there are not. The 'indoors' will always be much different from the 'outdoors' in that the exterior mechanisms of continuance of the greens (plants) do NOT operate indoors in full measure. I am a horticulturist with a special study of buildings so I know whereof I speak. You will need to make the growing conditions as good as possible, but the client/owner/tenants will still need to know something about the individual plants that you (or others) select so as to know how to take care of them. True, you could avoid this somewhat by having an against-the-wall, glass enclosed mini-atrium space that also has a door on the outside wall through which a plants technician (gardener) could open with a key occasionally to do SCHEDULED maintenance -- SCHEDULED so that the tenant will know when someone is coming into view of their home while maintaining the plants inside the glass mini-greenhouse. With such arrangement, there would be no access to the apartment from inside the mini-atrium/greenhouse, the interior glass being either sealed closed or locked from the other side with a different key. You might also provide rods for draperies to cover the INTERIOR glass for the tenants to close off the light or to keep privacy when the gardener is inside the glassed-in area. An inner rod supplied with a black plastic material will stop all light, and the provision of an outer rod will allow the tenant to place decorative draperies over the black plastic ones.

Of course, if your only interest is in cleaning the air, and not also in providing beautiful green spaces in the apartments, then you could just build a basement or rooftop room that contains LOTS of plants and also receives the exhausted air from the building's central air system, if any, and recirculates it to the apartments as the whole or partial supply of fresh air. Obviously, for this to work, would require a well-designed green house as well as duct and fans system. It would NOT be cheap. In fact, the plants would be the least of the cost, but it would require a horticulturist as planner in conjunction with a sympathetic HVAC man working with you to obtain the best trade off in Cubic Feet per Minute verses the safe maximum wind draft to the plants over a field (racks?) of plants sufficient to remove the anticipated load of carbon dioxide from human exhalation as well as the anticipated synthetic outgassings of the materials in the new building. There would be the temptation to use TOO FEW plants to save money, not realizing that they are living things that will help us, but also have their own needs to be maintained. Failure to plan adequately for such care and conditions will mean certain failure in the long run, and loud complaints from the owners.

First and foremost among the needs of such plants is LIGHT, and I say again LIGHT. It is light that powers plants, and the type, intensity and duration of light that promotes growth, and plants MUST always grow; they cannot stay in a state of stasis for long! Next, they need the proper NUTRIENTS to support growth, and these can be supplied by an enriched synthetic soil (synthetic soil does not supply deleterious microganisms) or by 'potting soil' that is suitably reworked for your purposes. You CANNOT use regular, outdoor soil, no matter how cheap it is to use; it would import many problems!! Lastly, but very importantly, the plants will need proper watering, AS WELL AS good drainage of that water, a factor often overlooked since plumbing is expensive. You should provide a minimum of a tap water outlet at each planter, but you would do much better to design a special water system to each planter to provide demineneralized (NOT SODIUM SOFTENED!), lightly fertilized water in such a system from a central pressurized supply in a back area. If you are intent on not depending upon professional gardeners, and do not trust the tenants to water wisely (watering is a learned 'art'), then you must provide drip watering hoses on top of the soil connected to a 7-day timer that provides approximately a half hour of water every other day, assuming that you have also been wise enough to plan for a drain at the bottom of each planter. Such drains WILL clog in time due to silt being washed down, but you can mitigate the hassle with that by using floor-mounted traps with easy access from the back side of the planter. These will have to be sucked out periodically. You should also use a landscaping synthetic fabric over the drain grilles to keep out as much soil/silt as possible. Aside from the previous factors: LIGHT, FERTILE SOIL, and WATER, the next most needed part of care is the correct temperature of FRESH air. In your case, the circulating air from apartments should be enough as long as a good sized grille is present at top and bottom of any in-apartment enclosures you intend to create.

LIGHT: in the case of indoors planters not having direct outdoor windows, you will have to provide for electric lights ON TIMERS to flood the area with sufficient light of good quality for plants. If your planters are to be almost floor-to-ceiling, most lights will be too weak to penetrate the taller plants to also illuminate the lower growing plants, so you will have to provide fluorescent tubes on the inside of the mullions (thus the mullion blocks the glare of the tube from one's eyes) to illuminate the entire height of the plants, as well as provide down-lights in the ceiling -- sealed on the ceiling level to keep them free of the moisture that will rise to them by convection or spraying from periodic washdowns of the foiliage. Such ceiling lights at the top of the mini-greenhouses could be HID types such as Metal Halide, or if the fluorescents are a cool white color, the HID could be a High Pressure Sodium to introduce the balancing red light that the flowering plants (if any) more especially need. Glare-reducing deep aluminum leaf grilles may be needed to keep spill light out of the apartment. The heat generated by the lights must be considered in your temperature computations, since the plants will not do well if the temperature is allowed to exceed 90 degrees Farenheit. Likewise such tropical plants as are recommended on the site and in the book I describe below, will not survive at temperatures below 40 degrees F., and will stop growing and shed leaves at much below 60 degree. So, if the planter is to be against an outside wall, you must consider insulation and the exposure direction and calculate heat loss by conduction of leaves someday touching the wall, convective loss as the air moves by convection, and radiative loss depending upon the type of glass used and its square footage verses the generated heat of the water, plants, and the lights in addition to the regular heat of the HVAC systems. For this reason it is unwise to use incandescent spotlights thrown upon the plants; they use 94% of the energy going into them to generate heat, and that heat can easily 'cook' the plants. For this reason, those so-called Plant Growth INCANDESCENTS are not at all good for plants, not to mention completely uneconomical.

The web site below will take you to much more information on the subject, and the book: "How To Grow Fresh Air: 50 Houseplants That Purify Your Home or Office" by Dr. B.C. Wolverton will be very informative as to choice of plants and many other factors to consider. It is at most public libraries, and for sale for $14 at
He also has a web site at:

Really, your best bet would be to subcontract a man like him or a horticulturist from a university extension that has done some research in this area to act as consultant. If such a man can also draw up some sketches of what you need, so much the better. Don't make the mistake that some architects that have designed the atrium hotels have made, and reduce the light by using insulating fiberglass panels to save on the air conditioning load, only to find that the light is so reduced that the plants do not live long, and there is constant expense in replacing them, though you must make provisions in your designs for large equipment to enter to replace trees and other large plants, all of which will eventually die. Plants do not live forever regardless of quality of care, and pvovisions for both maintenance and replacement should always be designed in. This means that aluminum framed glazing should have non-ferrous piano hinges installed along their entire hinge side so as to carry the weight without buckling in time. Neoprene gaskets should also line all edges of glazing sections to keep desireable air in, and insects and undesireable air out. Also, the glazing must be SAFETY (either tempered, or windshield quality of LAMINATED glass, which is the best all around).

If a mini-atrium/greenhouse is to have outside windows NOT facing North, then sun control is mandatory. That can be accomplished by insulated glass blocks, thermopane windows with automatically controlled venetial blinds between the panes, or the like to control the amount of sun at any one time during the day AUTOMATICALLY. Small atriums/terrariums can easily overheat in direct sun, and tropical green plants do NOT need direct sun to grow, and will often burn their foilage in it. (You see, most all tropical plants introduced to the trade, are deliberately chosen form the tropical forest floors where there is deep shade provided by the tall trees overhead; hence, sunlight is not only not needed, but can be deleterious to these plants.) For these and many reasons you will need some long conversations with a guy specializing in tropical plants who will understand your drawings and can advise you on potential problems. Best Wishes.

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