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Improving air quality inside your home with plants
Old 08-31-2016, 09:41 AM   #1
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Improving air quality inside your home with plants

I've always loved having plants and now that I'm not living out of our car, we can actually have some greenery. I saw this TED talk by Kamal Meattle on using plants to improve the air:

https://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meat...ir?language=en

I figure, if I'm going to get plants anyway might as well get ones that are the best at improving air quality.

Has anybody done this (explicitly get plants to improve AQ)? How do you monitor in a quantitative sense if AQ is actually improving? What do you do when you go on a month long trip?

FYI the three specific plants he recommends are:

- areca palm / Chrysalidocarpus lutescens
- Mother-in-law's tongue / Sansevieria trifasciata
- Money plant / pothos / Epipremnum aureum
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Old 08-31-2016, 09:51 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by photoguy View Post
I've always loved having plants and now that I'm not living out of our car, we can actually have some greenery. I saw this TED talk by Kamal Meattle on using plants to improve the air:

https://www.ted.com/talks/kamal_meat...ir?language=en

I figure, if I'm going to get plants anyway might as well get ones that are the best at improving air quality.

Has anybody done this (explicitly get plants to improve AQ)? How do you monitor in a quantitative sense if AQ is actually improving? What do you do when you go on a month long trip?

FYI the three specific plants he recommends are:

- areca palm / Chrysalidocarpus lutescens
- Mother-in-law's tongue / Sansevieria trifasciata
- Money plant / pothos / Epipremnum aureum
I like the idea of the Money plant - it has a dual purpose!!
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:25 AM   #3
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According to DW's banter yesterday, and her "cha-ching!" comment, a peace lily is supposed to be an awesome cleaner of many terrible sounding gasses. And they need very little light and she's not been able to kill ours...we've had it for years. She's had to drive plants over to here dad's for our longer trips.
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:32 AM   #4
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I've got to scoot now, but look forward to seeing any actual numbers he's got when I can review this. Plants have very tiny gas exchange amounts compared to a human or other animal, so they don't, for instance, change the O2/CO2 balance in a home with people unless it's got as many plants as a greenhouse. Also, a typical home exchanges air with the outside world at a rate of several times >per hour<, so it will be interesting to see hard peer-reviewed data indicating a reasonable number of plants can have a meaningful impact in a real home. People with allergies to mold are often advised to get rid of their houseplants due to the allergens generated in the potting soil. Thanks for the link.
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Old 08-31-2016, 10:52 AM   #5
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photoguy, Did you notice how many plants and the size of the plants you'd need per person? Also the leaf cleaning requirements every day and taking the plants outside...what was that every 3 months. If you go away you have to have someone water all those plants. Not sure you'd have room for furniture due to all the plants. You'll have enormous planters and every year (sometimes twice a year) you'll have to renew the soil and divide the plants for optima growth/health. If you are in a climate where your house is closed up over the winter and you don't have proper lighting, you get nice big plants that can yellow and drop most of their leaves. Plants are a lot of work; get an air cleaner if you need one.
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Old 08-31-2016, 11:43 AM   #6
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I've got to scoot now, but look forward to seeing any actual numbers he's got when I can review this. Plants have very tiny gas exchange amounts compared to a human or other animal, so they don't, for instance, change the O2/CO2 balance in a home with people unless it's got as many plants as a greenhouse. Also, a typical home exchanges air with the outside world at a rate of several times >per hour<, so it will be interesting to see hard peer-reviewed data indicating a reasonable number of plants can have a meaningful impact in a real home. People with allergies to mold are often advised to get rid of their houseplants due to the allergens generated in the potting soil. Thanks for the link.
Very good points. I'll try see if I can dig up the study. I also found this link about a NASA study:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASA_Clean_Air_Study

I guess there are other pollutants the plants will filter so a straight calculation on O2/Co2 might be missing some benefits.

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photoguy, Did you notice how many plants and the size of the plants you'd need per person? Also the leaf cleaning requirements every day and taking the plants outside...what was that every 3 months.
Yeah it seems like a lot (4 of this, 8 of that etc) but later in the talk, he lists a building with only 4 plants per person. So maybe the former set of numbers is for meeting your entire O2 needs whereas the second (4 plants/person) is for a lessor but still measurable benefit? Also my air is not as polluted as delhi.

I'm definitely not cleaning the plants daily or taking them outside.

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If you go away you have to have someone water all those plants. Not sure you'd have room for furniture due to all the plants.
I know there are some clever ways of watering plants automatically when one is gone. E.g. gelled water, upside water bulbs, wicking water from a higher source. But i've never tried these so I don't know how they work in practice.

In the past I mainly had succulents which weren't a problem.

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You'll have enormous planters and every year (sometimes twice a year) you'll have to renew the soil and divide the plants for optima growth/health. If you are in a climate where your house is closed up over the winter and you don't have proper lighting, you get nice big plants that can yellow and drop most of their leaves. Plants are a lot of work; get an air cleaner if you need one.
I don't really have any serious air concerns, I'm by the coast anyway. I just thought it would be interesting and wondering if there might be some marginal benefit at the number of plants I would normally have.

Also I think it would be cool if there was some way I could actual track improvement (no matter how small).
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Old 08-31-2016, 12:18 PM   #7
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I enjoy having many indoor plants as air cleaners, pretty ways to brighten up a room and greenery itself is supposed to be good for happiness levels. I have several fern plants in the interior of the house. They seem to do well without needing a lot of sunshine as our window spaces are getting filled up with plants that have high sunshine requirements.
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Old 08-31-2016, 12:51 PM   #8
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Seems like it would have a minimal impact on air quality. Most houses aren't sealed to a vacuum anyway, so you're automatically mixing inside air with outside air. And if you use a dryer, you'll suck some air out of the house in the process (leading to air infiltration elsewhere).

I suppose if you live in an area where outside air quality is a recurring issue and you have a good seal on your house, there might be some small AQ benefit to large quantities of plants.
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Old 08-31-2016, 02:58 PM   #9
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I miss my plant room which has plenty of sunlight. Used to have several different plants including huge Aloe Vera. But that room now is a cat room.
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Old 08-31-2016, 03:17 PM   #10
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I had several plants, but the authorities weren't amused...
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Old 08-31-2016, 03:39 PM   #11
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Around 35-40 years ago, I had several unusually large Pothos plants in very high hanging baskets in our home. They went clear to the floor and had to be trimmed periodically so as not to touch the floor. They grow really fast. Other large plants that I had included a rubber tree plant and a big dracaena, and also I had half a dozen other house plants. I liked them and they did add a lot to the decor. I don't know if they added to air quality or not. I tend to air out the house now and then anyway, so the air inside the house and the air outside tend to be about the same in quality.

I don't have any house plants (or pets) any more, because they don't float my boat right now and are not set and forget. Maybe sometime later.
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Old 09-08-2016, 09:34 AM   #12
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I tracked down the study referenced by the TED speaker:

http://www.pbcnet.com/docs/why-pbc/C...ard-Report.pdf
(relevant section starts page 229)

Study is not great for various reasons, although I can understand that it's hard/expensive to do a well done study especially if funding is tight.

However, I'm very disappointed with the TED talk and whoever recommended the speaker for TED. I think he should have mentioned that he used a scrubber system and particle filter in addition to the plants. Frankly I thought they did some sort of vetting of the speakers they bring in. Makes me call into question other ted talks now.

Perhaps he did better follow-up studies and there's much more evidence supporting his approach, in which case I'll retract my comments.
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Old 09-08-2016, 09:48 AM   #13
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I tracked down the study referenced by the TED speaker:

http://www.pbcnet.com/docs/why-pbc/C...ard-Report.pdf
(relevant section starts page 229)

Study is not great for various reasons, although I can understand that it's hard/expensive to do a well done study especially if funding is tight.

However, I'm very disappointed with the TED talk and whoever recommended the speaker for TED. I think he should have mentioned that he used a scrubber system and particle filter in addition to the plants.
Thanks a lot for tracking this down and doing the follow-up post.

On a related note, here's a BBC site that does the math on the amount/size of plants needed to convert enough CO2 to O2 to make up for the breathing of one average person. It amounts to about 7 or 8 sycamore trees that are each 40' tall and weight two tons. That's would be a lot of potted ficus plants. Folks who believe their houseplants are increasing the ratio of O2 in their home may be kidding themselves.
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Old 09-08-2016, 03:26 PM   #14
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My understanding was the there were a few plants that we especially good at picking up volatile hydrocarbons and get ridding of them but the effects were small compared to opening the windows and getting rid of off-gassing carpet, furniture and paints.

As mentioned, I think there is some evidence that having greenery around and taking care of it will have a positive effect on many people.
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Old 09-08-2016, 05:03 PM   #15
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We have a couple of plants, got rid of one because it was taking up too much space.
However we are keeping the money tree.

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Old 09-08-2016, 05:36 PM   #16
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I was the proud owner of Charlie Brown's ficus tree for many years, but finally got rid of the poor, homely thing.

No indoor plants now, but I use essential oils and magic crystals. Plus, my living room furniture is aligned using feng shui, which means "aligned for best TV viewing"...
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Old 09-09-2016, 10:32 AM   #17
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On a related note, here's a BBC site that does the math on the amount/size of plants needed to convert enough CO2 to O2 to make up for the breathing of one average person. It amounts to about 7 or 8 sycamore trees that are each 40' tall and weight two tons. That's would be a lot of potted ficus plants. Folks who believe their houseplants are increasing the ratio of O2 in their home may be kidding themselves.
I like plants and will have them anyway. Mainly just curious to see if any species could significant impact on pollutant levels like formaldehyde at the numbers that would be in a typical house.

Regarding raising O2 levels, what would be the benefit of that even if it could be done? I can understand why you'd want to do the reverse (i.e. altitude training) to increase red blood cells/hemoglobin.
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Old 09-09-2016, 12:26 PM   #18
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We have a couple of plants, got rid of one because it was taking up too much space.
However we are keeping the money tree.
Say, that gives me an idea for a scam....
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Old 09-09-2016, 01:29 PM   #19
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Regarding raising O2 levels, what would be the benefit of that even if it could be done? I can understand why you'd want to do the reverse (i.e. altitude training) to increase red blood cells/hemoglobin.
I've heard people say that they like houseplants because they help the replenish the O2 in their home back to regular levels by converting the CO2 produced by the people living in the home. To make a difference like that they'd have to have a house that is remarkably tight and also have (literally) tons of plants. In such a place, I'd guess that the resulting water vapor in the air would lead to some other issues. Yecch.
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Old 09-09-2016, 05:56 PM   #20
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Well, this thread has been very helpful to me. Was searching on some articles about houseplants which are good at cleaning the air and found out that the common rubber plant which I have is toxic to cats. Can't have that. My cats are not allowed in the room where the plants are, but I really don't want to take that chance.
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