Green Roofs And Living Walls: Incorporating Natural Elements Into Sustainable Homes


Photo©Yevhenii Sokolov/123rf

Sustainability is no longer just a trend but a lifestyle for many. People have moved toward more eco-friendly methods and products, and one place this increasing demand is apparent is in house design.

Passive house design allows home and building owners to reduce energy use, minimize their carbon footprint and become more environmentally responsible. A sustainable architecture concept that maximizes heat, air and natural light to provide thermal comfort inside any space, architects use various passive design elements to reduce the need for electricity to warm or cool interiors while increasing air circulation.

Here are some components to achieve a passive home design.

  1. Natural ventilation considers the dwelling’s different openings, such as windows and doors, including how air moves around the space to replace stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air.
  2. Natural lighting seeks to use sunlight for interior lighting wherever possible, including leveraging the reflective properties of exterior glazings to reduce the demand for artificial lighting.
  3. Building orientation refers to the optimal direction living areas should face to harness thermal gain for passive heating. Contractors consider the location, landscape and openings when deciding on the appropriate building orientation.
  4. Insulation includes the ability of a home or building to collect and trap the warm and cool air inside during winter and summer.

Examples of these four components include having more open spaces and using windows, skylights, large overhangs and triple-glazed windows.

Passive Design Strategies

Biophilic design, thermal mass, phase-change materials and various solar technologies are also expanding to support passive design techniques as technology advances. Here are ways to make a home sustainable with passive design.

BIOPHILIC DESIGN. Biophilia is a Greek word that translates to “a love of living things.” Biophilic trends acknowledge the innate need of humans to be with nature. Architects and designers adapt biophilic design into new building construction to mesh modern and natural environments. Converting an area into green space and incorporating natural elements, like plants and water features, lets designers bring the calming effect of nature indoors, whether it’s in a rural location or the city.

GREEN ROOFS. Also known as vegetated roofs or living roofs, green roofs feature a growing medium and a blanket of vegetation. They can be installed on any type of building, including homes, and typically include an irrigation system, waterproofing and anti-root membrane. Green roofs mainly help with insulation. Unlike traditional roofing that absorbs heat, vegetation roofs reflect it, lowering the temperature indoors and skipping the need for cooling systems. This saves energy.

Green roofs also support wastewater management during rainy or stormy seasons. Wastewater flows to the sewage system with traditional roofs, whereas green versions retain 50%-80% of water, which evaporates or is absorbed by the vegetation later.

The types of green roofs vary mainly on the soil depth, plant options, dry weight and maintenance requirements. Extensive green roofs require planting moss, grass and sedum in 2 to 5 inches of soil with a total dry weight of 10 to 25 pounds.

Converting to green roofs can be a DIY project. It’s all about understanding how to layer the materials properly. Here are the steps.

  1. Cover the bottom layer with a root-proof and waterproof membrane. Doing so ensures roots and water don’t reach your roof.
  2. Add planted trays. You can preplant grass, moss or sedum on polypropylene trays or buy them at a store.
  3. Connect planted trays so they line and fit well on the roof.
  4. Cut the last full tray that doesn’t fit on the roof’s edge.
  5. Remove the soil elevator if there’s any that comes with the purchased tray plants.
  6. Fit the remaining modules and retain enough walking space to work on the plants.
  7. Water the trays to settle the soil.

LIVING WALLS. Also known as plant walls, green walls or vertical gardens, living walls are attached or freestanding walls covered in plants. They typically have built-in irrigation, like hydroponic systems, to support living plants on a vertical surface.

Like green roofs, living walls provide appropriate insulation during cold and hot months and encourage less energy consumption when regulating interior temperature. This passive design brings nature closer to urban areas, positively affecting people. According to one study, green walls improve office workers’ skin quality and enhance their immune systems. They also help employees become more productive.

You can easily add a living wall as a DIY project even without irrigation. Follow these steps.

  1. Find the right wall.
  2. Use a membrane that will serve as a divider between the freestanding and garden walls.
  3. Secure vertical planters on the wall using screws. You can buy them at a gardening store near you or online.
  4. Choose your favorite plants to style the living wall. Succulents, cactus and pothos are excellent choices for aesthetics.
  5. Fill the pots with soil to pot the plants.
  6. Place the containers in the planters.
  7. Water the plants manually as often as they need.

Making decisions with passive home design that support sustainability benefits you, the community and the planet. One way to be sustainable is by strategically designing your home to support green efforts. Installing vegetated roofs and living roofs helps you reduce the need for mechanical heating and cooling, as well as enjoying the benefits of bringing nature into your living space. It’s cost-effective for the long term and makes any space sustainable for years to come.

Rose Morrison is the managing editor of Renovated, and has been writing in the home living industry for over five years. Her work has been featured on The National Association of Realtors, the American Society of Home Inspectors and other reputable publications.

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