Houseplants not only beautify buildings; they naturally purify the indoor air.
After reading the informative guide How to Grow Fresh Air, you will be quickly convinced to turn over a new leaf and make houseplants a more prominent part of your home decor. The living filters help clear the air of many of the airborne pollutants trapped inside today’s energy-efficient buildings. And what-better gift for family or friends than one that can help everyone breathe a little easier?
A silent problem, indoor air pollution is one of the top five environmental health threats in America and the main culprit in the rising incidence of asthma over the last decade, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Materials in the buildings themselves are the source of much of this pollution. Plywood, carpeting, paint, upholstery, wallpaper, ceiling tiles, and hundreds of other synthetic products release volatile organic compounds (VOCs)–such as formaldehyde, benzene, and trichloroethylene–into the air. Indoor levels of many chemical pollutants are 25 to over 100 times higher than outdoor levels.
Buildup of VOCs, a problem common to newer buildings with limited fresh-air ventilation, can be extremely irritating to people. Symptoms of “sick building syndrome,” as it is called, include allergies; fatigue; headaches; respiratory problems; and eye, nose, and throat irritations.
But nature may offer a beautiful solution. Dr. B. C. Wolverton, former National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) researcher, explains how houseplants can purify indoor air.
By releasing water vapor through their leaves, plants create convection currents in the air that draw VOCs down to the soil where microorganisms biodegrade them. Plants also absorb these airborne chemicals, breaking down some themselves while transporting others to the roots and surrounding soil for the action of the microorganisms. Cleaner, filtered air results.
During photosynthesis, houseplants take in carbon dioxide, which people exhale when they breathe, and then release oxygen back into the atmosphere. American and Russian studies have shown that astronauts consume about 2.0 pounds of oxygen each day while creating about 2.4 pounds of carbon dioxide. So houseplants also help to replenish indoor air with oxygen.
How to Grow Fresh Air ranks 50 houseplants on their ability to remove VOCs from test chambers, their ease of growth and maintenance, their resistance to insects, and their transpiration rate. At the top are three varieties of palms that rate highly in all four categories, but a diversity of houseplants fills out the rest of the list.
Wolverton believes houseplants are particularly useful in areas where someone remains for an extended period, such as at a desk or in bed, because they purify the air in one’s “personal breathing zone,” the six to eight cubic feet of space surrounding an individual.
Beyond the health benefits, the houseplants add natural beauty to the indoor setting.