Clear The Air Energy Blog Rotating Header Image

When The Grass Is Greener On The Inside

Tim Woodward, SCMP – Updated on Jan 09, 2009

When she renovated her home in Idaho, Jeri Rutherford found a way to go green – literally. A 170 sq ft dining-room addition has helped cut her power bills by up to 20 per cent. And it brought a lush, if small, island of greenery to her home. “I love the tropics and the fern grottos of the California redwood forest,” she says. “I know I can’t be there all the time, so I wondered how I could bring those places into my home.”

The result is a living wall and floor with plants that clean the air. Paired with a whole-house fan and a heat well that releases hot air through a skylight, the plants help cool the entire house. “Plants transpire and evaporate water, which cools the environment,” Rutherford said. “I have 170 sq ft of natural refrigeration.” The plants also clean the air of pollutants, she says. “And the fan circulates cool air from downstairs and outside when the downstairs windows are open. It changes the air in the house every 13 minutes. Now, the air conditioning comes on at 2.30pm on hot days instead of 10 in the morning.”

In winter the plants and soil act as an insulator and moderator of temperature. But the best part, she says with a straight face, is her morning coffee. “I like to sit with my shoes off and drink my coffee with my feet on the moss of the living floor,” she says. “When we have [temperature] inversions and it’s nothing but grey outside, that’s where I’ll be. In my fern grotto with my feet in the moss.”

Rutherford’s power bill was down 20 per cent from the previous year for the first month she was using the addition. The savings the second month were 5 per cent. The difference, she says, was that she was travelling during the second month and not home to open downstairs windows or turn on the fan to ventilate the house. Average savings are expected to be about 10 per cent. “Eventually, I’ll have a computer to turn on the fan and open the windows and skylight when I’m not home,” she says. “That should save even more.”

But it’s not just about savings. Rutherford says the plants almost double the humidity in her home, providing relief from sinus problems and dry skin. A friend jokes she has saved US$50 a month on moisturising lotions. “And the house smells lovely,” she says. “It’s like being outside when you’re inside.”

The 1.2-metre by 3.6-metre living wall has 350 plants growing from a layer of Miracle-Gro. Blossoming plants in the wall and ground cover on the floor, rooted in soil supported by a fibreglass bowl, provide what she describes as “an ever-changing palette of colour.”

Some plants are edible, including basil, strawberries, chives and oxalis. Bugs? No problem. Extending the green approach to pest control, Rutherford has a live-in gecko and praying mantis. The idea came to her on a bike ride.

“I was thinking about how I could bring a bit of the world I’d seen in my travels into my life at home,” she says. “That’s when I got the idea for a living wall. When I saw the research on natural cooling and cleaning the air, it was a no-brainer.”


Comments are closed.