Archive for Building Biology

Interior Design: Interior Plants

I grew up in a home where my parents enhanced our interior living spaces by bringing in the vibrancy of our outdoor gardens. My father had built a rock bed in our family room to have the cluster of potted plants sit in (although I think it was also meant for catching the bird droppings from our caged finches). I wish I had an image to share, I don’t recall the names of the plants, I just remember tree-like plants, cacti, and seasonal flowering plants and perhaps a fern or two or maybe it was a spider plant that made me feel – even in the dead of a Rochester, NY winter – the life, color and warmth that these plants provided.

When I moved to my first apartment with my husband, we incorporated all of his plants that he had collected from his places of residence, including some from his parents home. I do remember that we had many spider plants, they were indestructible! Once we acquired our first cat that decided the dirt in the base of the planters would make a perfect liter box, we removed live plants from our living environments. We didn’t have plants until we owned a home – and those were outside in the gardens! (We still do not have any interior plants, only the occasional vase of flowers on the table) Currently, between the design of our home and the lack of direct sunshine on the first floor and the additional two cats and dog – we maintain exterior garden beds for our flowering plants, shrubs and enjoy the sugar maple trees that line our property.

I got a call from a client the other day asking me if I had any advice about bringing in the plants they had maintained throughout the summer on their back deck and front porch and creating a space for them inside of their home. It got me to thinking… I can name only two clients in the past ten years that have plants in their homes! Again, an occasional vase of flowers or a small counter top plant may have been spotted, but nothing like the “jungle” that I was familiar with in my childhood home. I had never been asked to design for or with interior plants. I wasn’t quite sure how to guide them. Here are some of my thoughts that I shared with them.

I first gave them the name of an old acquaintance to contact: Susan Harvey of Susan’s Interior Plantscaping, Inc.. I had met Susan about 9 years ago at a networking meeting. She has a great business and I mostly thought of her as a resource for commercial clients. Corporate office, lobbies, restaurants, hotels and such. I had been in touch with her several years ago when I was contacted for services of redesigning a large corporate lobby. But now, I thought she also might be able to provide some guidance for this client. She could be consulted to assist my client with the variety of their existing plants and the needs of each plant in an interior setting. To be honest, my main thought was that the plants might need to be repotted into coordinating planters to match the interiors I had designed for them.

I now am planning to share with my client the article I came across this past week while reading my Natural Home & Garden magazine: Living Design: How to Decorate with Plants. (click on the title of the article and it will bring you to the article on-line) My take away from the article was:

  1. “Consider using houseplants to accentuate areas of architectural interest in your home”
  2. Plants help purify indoor air. Ask local garden center if they spray their plants with pesticides; if possible choose a grower that does not. It turns out that the pesticides are what emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds). Not helping your interior air quality at all!
  3. Purchase planters made of natural materials such as clay and ceramic and not plastic.
  4. Don’t think of plants as an afterthought – they can be an integral part of the design.
  5. Repeat colors or forms from your exterior plants in your interior plantings to connect both of your environments.
  6. Know how to best care for your plants to make them flourish and last for many years.

I also consulted a book I had purchased a few years ago entitled: Homes That Heal and those that don’t  by Athena Thompson. She speaks about research that NASA had conducted in the early 1980’s about indoor air quality and how plants can affect this. There are several plants that can be used in our environments that can clean the air in a sealed space containing pollutants of ammonia, formaldehyde and benzene. These are products that are often found in our cabinetry, carpeting, flooring and wall coverings. Below is a list of the top fifteen houseplants recommended by NASA:

1. Philodendron scandens `oxycardium’, heartleaf philodendron
2. Philodendron domesticum, elephant ear philodendron
3. Dracaena fragrans `Massangeana’, cornstalk dracaena
4. Hedera helix, English ivy
5. Chlorophytum comosum, spider plant
6. Dracaena deremensis `Janet Craig’, Janet Craig dracaena
7. Dracaena deremensis `Warneckii’, Warneck dracaena
8. Ficus benjamina, weeping fig
9. Epipiremnum aureum, golden pothos
10. Spathiphyllum `Mauna Loa’, peace lily
11. Philodendron selloum, selloum philodendron
12. Aglaonema modestum, Chinese evergreen
13. Chamaedorea sefritzii, bamboo or reed palm
14. Sansevieria trifasciata, snake plant
15. Dracaena marginata , red-edged dracaena

Here is Athena’s top ten houseplant recommendation:

  1. Bamboo palm (Chamaedores seifrizii)
  2. Rubber plant (Ficus Robusta)
  3. English Ivy (Hedera Helix)
  4. Dwarf Date Palm (Phoenix Roebelenii)
  5. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata “Bostoniensis”)
  6. Peace Lily (Spathi Hyllum)
  7. Corn Plant (Dracaena Fragrans)
  8. Kimberly Queen (Nephrolepis Obliterata)
  9. Florist’s Mum (Chruanthemum Morifolium)
  10. Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera Jamesonii)

I also realized that I have seen many interior photographs of kitchens with potted herbs growing on the window sills. Were those plants placed in that location just for the photo or can one really grow herbs on a window sill? Again, I turned to my Natural Home & Garden magazine and there was an on-line article regarding herbs. Four Easy herbs To Grow for an Indoor Garden. Not all herbs can survive let alone grow next to the chill of a pane of glass. This article shares which are the hardiest as well as some recipes.

I am not an expert on interior plants, but I do know that plants can greatly improve our indoor air quality as well as add significant texture, color and visual stimuli to our interiors. If this blog encourages you to purchase some interior plants, please choose organic and locally cultivated varieties. As always, if you have any thoughts or questions you can email me at design@lmkinteirorsltd.com.

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Creating healthy and healing environments

My intention last month was to read a book I had recently purchased and then share my findings on my blog. I would be travelling with my daughter to Washington, D.C. for 10 hours each way. It would be the perfect opportunity to spend time reading, snoozing, munching and just looking out the window while listening to my iPod. Well, I was able to do everything but the reading. I realized I get car/bus sick.

So, here we are a month later, work has been busy (fantastic), and I still have only gotten about 1/3 of the way through the book. I decided that I would share what I have learned regarding the subject matter. The book is entitled, Homes that Heal and those that don’t (how your home may be harming your family’s health  by Athena Thompson. I learned of this book through a series of conversations with various people. www.homesthatheal.com

A friend from high school posted a comment on Facebook about how impressed he was to see my involvement in “greening” my interior design business. He asked if I had heard of the movement known as Bau-Biologie or Building Biology. I admitted I had not heard of it and began my research.

Definition of Building Biology:

Bau-Biologie® is the holistic study of the man-made environment, human health and ecology. The intrinsic aspect of IBE is to hold nature as the golden principle. Bau-Biologie®, or Building Biology, is not a narrowly specialized subject, but is a living subject that brings together fields of study that are otherwise only taught in isolation. IBE was started in North America in 1987, with a mission to raise awareness that buildings can abide by the laws of nature. The principles of Bau-Biologie, or Building Biology, & Ecology are based on the premise that what is healthy for the occupants (biologically compatible) will also be good for the environment (ecologically sustainable). These principles which emerged in Germany due to problems with post-war housing construction are relevant today. After World War II, new houses were quickly built in Germany to accommodate the growing population. Studies of these new houses found a pattern of illnesses not characteristic of the population, but characteristic to the commonalities of the living environments. The new housing, being quickly built, and unable to properly air out (“outgas”, or “offgas”) provided for an environment where the occupants were the recipients of every volatile organic compound (VOC) emitted from the construction materials. Along with this, other irritations became manifest because of the electrical systems. These two major irritants set to work simultaneously, and enhanced effects arose.

From these discoveries a study began among a few individuals to catalog and characterize the offending components. What emerged was a Standard of Baubiologie Method of Testing, with recommended threshold guidelines for sleeping areas (the space where and when one is most susceptible to biological irritation and damage). A small group of individuals was formed among whom Dr. Anton Schneider, Wolfgang Maes, and the Institut für Baubiologie und Ökologie Neubeurn (IBN) started a training system to educate those that were willing.

One of the architects, Helmut Ziehe, took the program and its possibilities to the USA. In 1987, he founded the International Institute of Building Biologie and Ecology (IBE) which presently offers seminars across the U.S. Two certification streams are available, the Building Biology and Environmental Consultant (BBEC), and the Building Biology Practitioner (BBP).

The three groups of most sensitive individuals that reap the greatest benefits are: infants, the elderly, and the immune-compromised. Some people become environmentally hypersensitive, and although conventional medicine suggests that the problem(s) may be psychological, there is growing acceptance that there is an environmental cause. http://buildingbiology.net

According to Wikipedia:

Building Biology (or Baubiologie as it was coined in Germany) is a field of building science that investigates the indoor living environment for a variety of irritants. Practitioners consider the built environment as something with which the occupants interact, and believe its functioning can produce a restful or stressful environment. The major areas focused on by building biologists are building materials/processes, indoor air quality (IAQ) and electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and radiation (EMR). Building Biology is a holistic approach to the built environment. It is concerned with the interaction between the built environment and the health of the occupants. This can be in residential, public, or commercial buildings.  There are 25 Principles of Building Biology, which govern the decision making of Building Biologists.

The 25 Principles of Building Biology

© Institute of Building Biology + Ecology Neubeuern IBN

Natural Location

  1. Building site without natural anomalies or human-made disturbances
  2. Residential homes away from sources of emissions and noise
  3. Human-oriented housing with sufficient green space
  4. Personalized and family-oriented housing or settlements

Balanced Electromagnetic Radiation

  1. Lowest possible interference with the natural balance of background radiation
  2. Without exposure to human-made electromagnetic and radiofrequency radiation
  3. Lowest possible level of radioactivity in building materials
  4. Natural color selection, daylight exposure, and shielded full-spectrum lighting

Clean Indoor Air

  1. Without outgassing toxins, but with a pleasant or neutral smell
  2. Lowest possible levels of fungi, bacteria, dust, and allergens
  3. Good indoor air quality with natural ventilation
  4. Natural regulation of indoor air humidity through humidity-buffering materials

Thermal Comfort

  1. Low total moisture content of a new building that dries out quickly
  2. Well-balanced ratio between thermal insulation and heat retention
  3. Optimal air and surface temperatures
  4. Heating system based on radiant heat

Healthy Design

  1. Natural and unadulterated building materials
  2. Best possible drinking water quality
  3. Human-oriented noise and vibration protection
  4. Application of physiological and ergonomic findings to interior and furniture design
  5. Consideration of harmonic measures, proportions, and shapes

Environmental Protection, Energy Efficiency, and Social Responsibility

  1. Causing no environmental problems
  2. Minimizing energy consumption and utilizing as much renewable energy as possible
  3. Building materials preferably from the local region without promoting exploitation of scarce and hazardous resources
  4. Building without causing social burdens

According to Paula Baker- Laporte:

considered one of the top ten green architects in the U.S. and a certified Building Biologist: “The natural building movement championed by the theories of Building Biology and a small but growing sector of environmentally concerned builders, designers and homeowners is gaining momentum. I believe there is a synthesis at hand between the two seemingly opposite approaches to healthy building. A natural home equipped with all the amenities of modern life faces many of the same indoor environmental qualities as does a sealed construction, and ventilation systems are becoming more common in natural buildings. On the other hand manufactured, code pre-approved permeable wall systems such as aerated autoclaved concrete are being introduced in to the mainstream market place. Straw bale construction has now been tested and codified in many locations. More and more construction products now advertise being “environmentally friendly” and “non-toxic”. Green building rating systems that reward healthier building practices are springing up all over the country. Regardless of the starting point we are moving towards healthier homes that are freer of toxic chemicals, more energy efficient and kinder on the environment.”      http://www.healthyhouseinstitute.com/a_968-Building_Biology_and_the_Healthy_House http://bakerlaporte.com/index.htm

Carol Lloyd, on special assignment to San Francisco Gate:

“Bau-Biologie originated during the 1970s as a way of researching the factors involved in healthy and sick buildings and educating the public on ways to improve the healthfulness of existing buildings and future construction. In Europe, Bau-Biologie is an established discipline distinguished by research laboratories studying the issue and a well-known profession of healthy-home inspectors hired by homeowners and business owners alike.

When I complained that when we’d first moved into the house, which features refinished floors, new carpet, and new double-paned windows, I sometimes went upstairs and felt as if the whole second floor were filled with poison gas, the building biologist I had hired hardly seemed surprised.

“You’ve got a classic situation with a tight building,” he explained. “If a building isn’t getting air in, then all the chemicals in your home just stay there, and you have to dilute it. You can do that with an expensive ventilation system, or you can do it the old-fashioned way — by opening the windows.”

And even though I didn’t go in for a lot of laboratory testing, just seeing my home through the building biologist’s eyes allowed me a glimpse of a more holistic understanding of our relationship with our built environment. Seeing the whole as a system changes everything. For instance, he recommended running the ceiling fan for 10 minutes after showers and the hood fan while cooking to prevent mold growth. But that practice, he noted, would trigger another need: to replace the air that is being sucked out. “If you don’t allow the fresh air to come in, the fans end up sucking air from attics and crawls spaces and places where you’d rather not be breathing,” he said. “Thus, when you turn on a fan, you should also open windows.”

Likewise, it’s not simply the original off-gassing of my carpets that presents health concerns but the fact that synthetic fibers in carpets bond with many pollutant molecules. Without suggesting I rip the carpet out tomorrow, he observed quietly, “If it’s a pollutant, it will probably bond with the carpet, and if it’s on the carpet, it will go in your child’s mouth.”

By the time he described the presiding metaphor behind Bau-Biologie — that every building is a living organism — I realized I would never look at buildings in quite the same way again.”

Matthew Waletzke, a Certified Building Biology Environmental Consultant (BBEC):

Neighborhood Environmental Site Evaluations – Some of the most dangerous or costly hazards exist outside and can contaminate a home through pathways to human contact such as vapor intrusion, soil and groundwater. Even if an area appears pristine it does not mean that issues are not present. This report will help to protect you and your family’s health, ensure a sound investment and understand nearby risks.

Healthy Bedroom/Nursery – The rooms that we sleep in are by far the most important when it comes to our health. Not only do we spend almost one third of our lives in this environment but it is also a time when our bodies are most vulnerable to outside stressors. Those stressors can come in the form of electromagnetic radiation, allergens/bioaerosols from the air and even from the beds that we sleep on. Expectant parents should be especially concerned when setting up a nursery as newborns and children are much more susceptible to these stressors.

Electro Magnetic Radiation (EMR) – EMR is a much misunderstood subject and is also a much understated subject when it comes to our health. There are many common symptoms which have been linked to EMR, including fatigue and difficulty sleeping to much more serious conditions as fibromyalgia and other various autoimmune conditions. Through this evaluation, you will find where high EMR exposure exist both inside and outside of your home and how to eliminate or avoid them. In this evaluation we will discuss industry “best practices” related to use of common electronic equipment and cellular phones to keep your exposure to a minimum.

Moisture Intrusion/Mold – High humidity and moisture is not only uncomfortable for those living in a home but it also promotes the growth of biologicals, such as dust mites and molds. Controlling moisture intrusion into or onto building materials is the key to controlling many problems that adversely affect health, as well as, preventing damage to building materials. 

Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) – Indoor air climate has a seemingly limitless list of possible pollutants. Building materials, furnishings, mechanical equipment, occupants and occupant activities all create these pollutants. They can travel through the building as air flows from areas of positive pressure to those of lower pressure. We will identify how these air movements flow and pinpoint the source of pollutants.

As you can see, there is a great deal to read and learn about this subject. I will continue to read the book, seeking solutions to the issues and perhaps learning more about becoming certified as a building biologist. If you would like to learn more about this subject, please visit the websites I have highlighted or feel free to call my office at (978)335-1140 or send an email to design@lmkinteriorsltd.com.

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