Wall Flowers: LiveRoof's "Living" Green Wall System Could Turn Your Wall Into a Vegetable Garden

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Indoor living walls are popular in homes and businesses throughout Europe, Australia -- even Mexico.
In the not-too-near-future, your next home or office lobby may not be painted, or even decorated with wall paper. It could be alive.

Alive with plants, of course. But before we go planting gardens indoors, perhaps we should start with "living" exterior walls and roofs, first. Here, in South Florida, the idea hasn't taken root (sorry, I had to) the way it has in cities like Manhattan, Chicago, Seattle and Portland, where green building has become a popular trend.

When it comes to living roofs and walls on commercial buildings, the U.S. is still far behind many countries across Europe, where green roofs and walls -- both indoors and out -- have been in use for close to 30 years. Taking the trend one step further, cities like Toronto, Canada and Copenhagen, Denmark have started specific mandates for the installation of green roofs on most new construction.

Why? Turns out growing a garden on your building can save a lot of money -- and the environment.

French botanist Patrick Blanc is often credited for developing the vertical gardening concept in the late '80s when the first green wall was built at the Museum of Science and Industry in Paris in 1988. However, it was actually American Stanley Hart White who patented the green wall system in 1938 during his tenure as a professor of landscape architecture at the University of Illinois. Even so, it took more than 60 years before the first commercial building installed the first green wall in the U.S., and the practice has yet to be more widely used stateside.

Although considerably more expensive to install over a standard asphalt or shingle roof, living roofs and walls offer major environmental and economic advantages, effecting things like storm water runoff and energy costs, while simultaneously helping to cool overheated cities and even clean smog-polluted air.

As many European cities compete for the title of having the "greenest rooftops," today the U.S. has only a few large-scale commercial projects to boast, a list that includes a 2.5-acre garden strip on the roof of the U.S. Postal Service's Morgan Processing and Distribution facility in midtown Manhattan. The New York Times reported that since the roof was installed in 2008, the building's storm water runoff into the city's municipal water system has been reduced by as much as 75 percent in summer, and 40 percent in the winter. Meanwhile, the U.S. Postal Service estimates a $30,000 annual savings in energy costs thanks to its living roof.

Turns out transforming an ordinary wall or roof into a vertical garden is not only eco-friendly -- it's also a big money-saver. That would be especially true here in South Florida, where -- come summer -- all those heat-regulating plants will mean less air conditioning.

But even though a living roof can be an eco-friendly, money-saving investment for any business or home, many states across the U.S. -- including Florida -- have strict building codes that make them difficult to implement. According to Michigan-based Hortech, creator of LiveRoof and LiveWall -- one of only several U.S.-based living roof and wall systems that do professional installation of their products -- Florida's building codes (and similarly Miami-Dade and other county-level building codes) have not yet established parameters for green roofs to be evaluated, which limits their product's use.

To expand options for those unable to install a living roof system, Hortech decided to create a vertical garden unit known as LiveWall in 2008. The idea behind the new product was simple: provide consumers with a wall-mounted unit they could use almost anywhere, would be easy to install, and even easier to maintain.

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