A Breath of Fresh Air – Houseplants and Your Air Quality

It’s fair to say that most Canadians spend the majority of their time inside, be it in the workplace or at home. As winter descends upon us and days grow shorter, our opportunities for fresh air consumption tend to decrease significantly.

That’s especially true if you live in a newer home or work in a modern office building. Today’s buildings are certainly smarter than their counterparts of yesteryear, but there’s a flipside to all of that airtight efficiency: more often than not, it comes at the cost of air quality.

We’ve all experienced the dry throat, itchy eyes, and chapped skin often associated with indoor air, but the consequences of long term exposure to poor quality air are sometimes much worse.

At Work:

Warmth, comfort, and efficiency are all basic expectations of the modern workplace. New buildings are designed to promote efficient heating and cooling through the use of air conditioning, non-operational windows, and improved insulation practices and materials. In theory, the reasoning is sound. In practice, the result is a building whose air quality is almost solely dependent upon mechanical ventilation systems.

Toss in carpeting, paint, manufactured office furniture, electrical and computer equipment, and personal hygiene products, and the result is a gaseous brew of recycled, chemically tainted air, and we’re breathing it in for hours at a time on a daily basis.

At Home:

Like modern office buildings, today’s homes are built to exacting standards. They’re wrapped, sealed, and finished off with airtight doors and windows. All of this means lower heating and cooling costs for the homeowner. It also means lower air quality.

Air exchangers provide us with some fresh air and humidity control, but much of what we breathe is laden with airborne chemicals originating from personal hygiene and household cleaning products, computer and mechanical items, carpeting, upholstery, and furniture.

Your Air, Your Health:

It’s an unfortunate reality that polluted indoor air is a facet of modern life. Low air quality and air contaminated by volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been linked to numerous health problems. At its worst, it can result in sick building syndrome, a debilitating condition often associated with poor ventilation. The symptoms are diverse, and include headache, exhaustion, dizziness, nausea, congestion, skin irritation, sneezing, sore throat, eye irritation, general achiness, chest pain, changes in heart rhythm, respiratory problems, diarrhea, bloating, gas, inability to focus, memory problems, and mood changes.

In his 2009 TED talk, How To Grow Fresh Air, Kamal Meattle – who became allergic to Delhi’s air – explains that his reduced lung capacity was actually killing him. He describes a groundbreaking “green office” project in which he became involved, and the practices he implemented are ones you can use at home or in your office. (Click the link to view a short video of his talk, “How to Grow Your Own Fresh Air”)


A Surprising Solution:

Happily for everyone, there’s a way to counter the often dangerous effects of poor air quality. The solution is as simple as it is beautiful, and amazingly, it doesn’t come with an exorbitant price tag. It is, in word, houseplants.

The addition of interior plants is a natural way to significantly reduce the indoor pollutants we breathe. The specific plants recommended by Kamal Meattle are the areca palm, which removes carbon dioxide and converts it into oxygen;   mother-in-law’s tongue, which also converts carbon dioxide into oxygen, but does so at night (he recommends this plant in the bedroom); and the money plant, which removes formaldehydes and other volatile chemicals from the air.

With these three plants, Kamal Meattle claims you can grow all the fresh air you need.

Vertical Oxygen, a leader in building vertical walls in Calgary homes and offices, knows the value of plants and how much they can aid your health. They can help you put these three plants, and more, into your home in a low maintenance, easy to grow way. This ensures that you can have healthy air wherever you are, all year round.

Not only are indoor plants are proven to remove airborne contaminants and control humidity, they are shown to have a positive effect on our general wellbeing. The natural beauty of indoor plants improves the esthetic of our surroundings and heightens perceptions of spaciousness and elegance. Plants are also shown to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, and thanks to the concentration-boosting surge of oxygen they provide, plants can actually improve your productivity.

What plants are best?

In addition to the three plants mentioned by Kamal Meattle, some plants recommended by House of Plants for cleaner, fresher air are:

Kentia Palm – My personal favorite. These palms are elegant, graceful, and clean-air work horses. They releases moisture into the air, which is an absolute must for Calgary’s dry climate, and also remove airborne toxins. The Kentia Palm instantly creates a refined esthetic in whatever room it graces. Place one by your computer desk to help boost your concentration!

Philodendron – If you have a shady corner, the beautiful philodendron is the ideal plant for you. This pant is shade-tolerant and dramatic, and brings lush life to otherwise dull and places. Treat this plant right and you’ll be rewarded amply – the philodendron is shown to be particularly adept at removing formaldehyde molecules from the air.

Boston Fern – Ferns, with their feathery fronds and fresh color, are one of the loveliest houseplants. They look beautiful displayed on a table or hanging in a basket. Think about where ferns grow in the wild, and you’ll get a pretty good idea of how they like to be treated. Keep them misted and watered and in partial shade. Ferns are fantastic at removing air pollutants, especially formaldehyde, and those leafy fronds boost humidity – another plus!

Rubber plant – If you were born without a green thumb, consider the rubber plant. This guy is tough, and it will even tolerate low light and cool temperatures, making it ideal for our indoor spaces this winter. Again, the rubber plant is great at removing formaldehyde, and the most effective at removing chemical toxins from the indoor environment.

Whatever plants you choose, the benefits of bringing greenery into your home and office space are well worth the minimal care most of them require.

If you’d like to see the entire list of clean air plants recommended by Vertical Oxygen, follow the link below. All of the plants listed are recommended for both home and the workplace, and will provide you with ample fresh air no matter what your environment.


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