Indoor air quality management

Oversize planters

As much as I would like to claim the article below as my own, I read it in an industry newspaper.  It was written by the paper’s publisher.  I think it’s an interesting view on what we see in houses today.  Sometimes, an easy solution like opening a window or buying a plant can make your life better.

Another site has made a TL;DR (too long, didn’t read) here.


Indoor air management: Plants and air quality

Houses, condo units, apartments and office buildings are far more airtight than they ever were. So where we live and where we work need air management. Those needs have become greater than ever before. It could be argued that with so many computers, big screen entertainment systems and all the communication technology, many people are spending more time indoors than ever before.

It is a dramatic change from a time just 60 years ago when there were no condo buildings in our cities and very few apartment buildings. We used to have duplexes, triplexes and flat rentals. Those units are still with us, we just don’t have those words in our language as much.

Back in the day, the wind would whistle through many of these units behind rattling windows and poorly insulated walls. This was before we used terms like thermal pane glass. This was also before the range and weight of pollutants in the air were as great a worry as they are today.

Today we live behind walls and doors that are so air tight they ironically are making the air inside as great a worry as it is outside.

We have a proliferation of machines now that claim to clean the air in our houses and offices. There are also machines that generate things like negative ions in our air that allegedly give us good energy. All of this is on top of the machinery involved in cooling, warming and exchanging the air. As much as people extol the virtues of all these air conditioners and air management systems, there are just as many people who express grave concern about the value of these clean air and coolant devices. Who are we to believe?

A quick search of the Internet revealed that there are some powerful scientific and engineering minds working on challenges of the air inside of our homes. I was astounded to find that a major study was undertaken by the National Aeronautics and Space Agency in the U.S. It makes sense when you think about it that there is a part of NASA that is concerned with the air inside an airtight environment. As in spacecraft. So what system did they come up with? What machinery do they recommend?

They concluded that one of the best ways to make the air healthy seems to be the most natural: Plants.

The most difficult thing about the results of the NASA study is that there is not necessarily one plant that is the best overall. You really have to consider all the plants recommended to determine which one best fits your situation. For example, all plants absorb carbon dioxide and emit oxygen. However, some plants are specifically good at eliminating formaldehyde, others are good at fighting other harmful elements in the air. There are also other considerations such as the soil in which indoor plants are potted. Some potting mixes have micro enzymes that remove benzene from the air. Other plants that do as well.

One the most important parts of NASA’s study, at least to pet owners, is the identification of which plants are toxic to animals.

You really have to look through the list to determine which plants are right for you and your lifestyle. If you are in a condo next to a major highway, I would think the one that removes benzene would be the most important. If you live in the country, perhaps another kind of plant would be the most useful.

I live in a co-op apartment in downtown Toronto so a quick look at the list tells me that English Ivy would be a good choice to eliminate formaldehyde, trichloroethylene and benzene. However, it is toxic for cats and I have one, so either I figure out a way to keep it way up high away from the cat or do not get one of these plants at all. There are many choices and many things to decide when looking through this list.

The greatest thing that NASA did with this study was to make it available free of charge to everybody. I am very grateful to them that in this day and age of trying to make profit from important information, they just give this away. Just Google NASA plants or look in Wikipedia under NASA Clean Air Study.

Written by Heino Molls, publisher of REM. March 2016 issue.

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