Air Quality Ideas
Green Walls PDF Print

Green Walls

The use of vertical gardens as an aesthetic method of improving air quality and keeping buildings energy efficient is not a radical new idea. The hanging gardens of ancient Babylon and the ivy found on classic buildings throughout the western world are great examples of this wonderful green housing idea.


Green walls have several applications and can be used externally or internally, and on residential or commercial projects. For the purpose of this article, the residential and external green walls will be the focus as they are both beneficial to the environment and cost effective for homeowners. Green walls are vertical gardens that attach to the sides of existing walls. The plants within the panels are pre-planted and remain in vertical positions because they are anchored anywhere from 2 to 4 inches into the soil within the panel. Several varieties of local plants can be used in the green wall, but those that require less water and little upkeep are recommended. (Alive Structures)


Green walls can improve the air quality around a home by acting as a natural air filter. The plants located in the wall absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen in return. This helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gas located in the environment and makes the air cleaner around the home. This is especially beneficial to those who live in urban environments with little plant life present and an abundance of vehicle and industry emissions. Green walls are great for backyards and patio areas where homeowners spend lots of time doing outdoor activities. (Alive Structures)

Energy Saver

Green walls attached to the existing wall of a home can also help reduce energy consumption and costs. The thick layer of soil and vegetation on the exterior of the house acts a layer of insulation that can help keep the building cold in the summer and warm in the winter. Green walls act as a great natural method for driving down the utility costs of owning a home. Additionally, the insulation of the wall can help block harmful UV rays and sound waves from entering the home.(Alive Structures)


Green walls are not just great for your bank account and the environment; they are also a great accent to your home. Green walls can liven up your backyard view, or give neighbors something pleasing to admire. The presence of lush vegetation arranged in beautiful patterns and designs are sure to impress and provide a change of pace from the standard brick or vinyl wall.


As more and more builders and homeowners look for new and efficient techniques to build more eco-friendly houses, ideas like green walls are gaining a lot of popularity. With this popularity has come some very practical and easily accessible ways to utilize the method. Green walls can now be purchased in individual pre-planted panels that interconnect for easy installation and maintenance. For those concerned with mold or irrigation issues, panels are hung so that they do not come in contact with the house's walls. This ensures that air flows around the home and water is contained within the green walls. Green walls are becoming a very popular cost saving and visually pleasing home building option. (Examiner)


In short, green walls are very sensible way to save some money and improve your local environment. They provide a beautiful and practical solution to improving the air you breathe and allow you to conserve the amount of energy and money needed to ensure your house is comfortable to live in.

I would like to thank Tyler Morgan from Artistic Garden Stone Works for his insight on this article.


Air Filtration Devices PDF Print

Managing the quality of indoor air is a constant concern in every household.  Some of the most important reasons for clean air are:

·         Removal of particles that contribute to allergies
·         Removal of particles that cause staining of fabrics
·         Improved efficiency in the operation of mechanical heating and cooling equipment

Whether you have a sophisticated mechanical system or a basic one, you have some sort of filtration mechanism at work. Each filtration system is ranked with a Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating.  The rating system is ranked from 1 to 16.  The higher the MERV rating, the more effective the filter is at removing particles from the air (FilterAir).

I will begin with a discussion of disposable panel filters that are used in residential situations and then progress to some more advanced filtration systems that are used in commercial applications. (FurnaceFilterCare).  I will finish by discussing some electronic filtration systems that have a high MERV rating and can be used for residential homes.  As you might suspect, the higher the MERV rating the greater the cost for of the system.

Disposable Panel Filters (MERV 1-4):

The standard panel filters that are used in many residential systems have limited effectiveness in their ability to remove contaminants from the air.  The exposed surface area of these filters is small and therefore the ability to collect contaminants is reduced.  Most of these basic filters will not remove any particles less than 10 microns in size.  The thicker versions of these filters can increase the MERV rating as high as 4.  For those without severe allergies, these filters may be sufficient.  However, most homeowners should consider upgrading their filtration systems to higher MERV levels.

Expanded Surface Pocket Filters (MERV 10-14):

These pocket filters are made with multiple layers of synthetic material in the form of deep pockets that increase the exposed surface area for maximum contaminant extraction.  These filters require high volumes of air and are used in commercial and industrial applications.  The depth of the pockets is directly proportional to the MERV rating of the filter.  The deepest pocket filters are more commonly used in laboratory environments and clean rooms (AirGuard).

High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) Filters (MERV 14-15):

HEPA filters are a type of high efficiency filter that are constructed differently than pocket filters.  These filters are made of curvy mats formed with fibers that lay in a random woven pattern.  These filters can remove 99% of particles that are .3 micrometers in size.   Particles are trapped in HEPA filtration systems by 3 methods (Wikipedia):

·         Interception -  particles are trapped when they pass by and adhere to the fibers in the filter
·         Impaction - particles impact the filter fibers as they travel through the curvy contour of the filter
·         Diffusion - the smallest particles .1 micrometers collide with gas molecules and are trapped

HEPA filters are used primarily in commercial and industrial environments.  They are also widely used in demolition and high dust construction areas as temporary filtration systems.  For remodeling work in residential environments, consider renting a portable HEPA filter to keep occupied areas free from construction dust and pollutants.

Electronic Air Cleaners (MERV 12):

Duct mounted electronic air cleaners are designed for residential applications and are able to remove airborne particles as small as .01 microns.  These particles include dust, smoke, bacteria, dirt, lint and pollen.  The electronic components give a charge to the airborne particles.  Once the particles are charged, they attach themselves to the electrically charged collecting plates.  This provides a clear supply air stream.  This electronic cleaning system traps particles that are missed by ordinary throw away filters.  Most of these particles are involved in the soiling of walls, curtains and furniture.  These filters are extremely energy efficient.   The monthly cost of operation for one of these systems is less than a 60 watt light bulb (

Electronic Air Purifiers (MERV 15):

One step further than the electronic air cleaner is an air purifier.  These purifiers are available for residential applications and use a 3 stage electronic filtration system along with a mechanical filter to capture and kill airborne viruses, bacteria and even mold spores.  For those with severe allergies, this is the best possible equipment for relieving discomfort ( 


Whether you are dealing with a new or existing home, air filtration is extremely important.  The quality of the air you breathe is important to your health and well being.  To keep a high level of air quality, you must resort to some type of filtration.  If you are suffering from poor air quality in your home, consider upgrading your filtration system.  Discuss the best system for your needs with your local mechanical contractor.  Check out our resources page for recommendations.

Reducing VOC Exposure PDF Print

Many people do not think of Indoor Air Quality as a “Green” concept.  If you think about it though, reducing the contaminants in the air we breathe plays as important a role in our quality of life as decreasing the trash we generate or the energy we consume.  The more that we crowd our air with unwanted contaminants, the less clean, usable air we have left to breathe.  In a confined interior environment, the opportunity to find clean air to breathe is greatly reduced because of the limited space and the cleansing of the existing air.  If we can reduce the contaminants that are introduced into an interior environment, then we have less to purge in order to make the air “safe” for breathing.



Contaminants that are released into the air are called Volatile Organic Compounds or (VOC’s).  These are a large group of carbon-based chemicals that will evaporate at room temperature (Minnesota-Health).  Several important characteristics of VOC’s are:

·         Many  have a distinct odor, but not all do
·         The “strength” of the odor is not always proportionate to the level of risk
·         VOC’s react with other elements to produce ozone
·         Indoor VOC levels can be 10 times higher than outdoor levels

Common Sources:

There are many consumer products that release VOC’s into the air.  Some of the everyday sources are:

·         Paint
·         Adhesives and Caulk
·         Carpet
·         Solvents and Varnishes
·         Air Fresheners
·         Cleaners and Disinfectants
·         Fuel Oil for indoor heaters
·         Photocopiers
·         Smoking
·         Newspapers

One of the largest sources of VOC emissions is painting.  In fact, the only source of VOC’s that is higher than painting is automobile emissions.  The reason that paint is such a large source of VOC’s is due to the chemical process that occurs when painting.  The process is due to the connection of the three components of paint.  These are:

·         Pigment - give color to the paint
·         Binders - help the pigment stick to the wall
·         Solvents - keep the paint in liquid form until it is applied

Solvents are the largest contributors to VOC’s emissions.  The solvent evaporates quickly after the painting process so that only the pigment and binders are left on the wall.  It is important to note that the level of VOC emissions immediately following painting can be 1000 times higher than standard outdoor levels.  Even though VOC levels are high immediately after painting, we need to realize that they will continue to emit for years to come.  In fact, it is possible that only 50% of the VOC’s will be gone after the first year (Howstuffworks).


Exposure Problems:

Decreasing VOC levels is important because they have many adverse and harmful effects on our health (Minnesota-Health). 

Short term exposure can result in:

·         Eye, nose and throat irritation
·         Headaches
·         Nausea
·         Dizziness
·         Breathing problems

Long term exposure can cause:

·         Cancer
·         Liver Damage
·         Kidney Damage


We can limit the problem of VOC emissions by using products that are low in VOC content.  The area that we can have the most impact is with our paint products.  No-VOC paints have fewer than 5 grams of VOC’s per liter.  Low VOC latex paints must have levels less than 250 grams per liter while the majority has less than 50 grams per liter (TreeHugger).   It is important to remember that these measurements are taken before pigments have been added which can increase the VOC content by as much as 10 grams per liter (Howstuffworks).

When using these low VOC products, remember that they will not react the same as the high VOC products that you are used to.  Some common differences include:

·         Increased difficulty in applying the paint
·         Increased drying time between coats
·         Decreased color options because darker colors contain more VOC’s
·         Increased number of coats required


Using low VOC products is extremely beneficial to the micro environment in our homes and the larger environment around us.  The best way that we can reduce the emission of VOC’s after limiting the use of our automobiles is to change the paints that we are using.  Using low-VOC paints will significantly reduce our exposure to harmful chemical vapors and will increase our chances for a healthy body.  Reducing the use of other high VOC products such as cleaners, adhesives and caulk will help to improve air quality but to a much lesser degree.  In the end, every effort that we make, no matter how small, is important in our challenge to decrease our carbon footprint and sustain our planet for the next generation.


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