Benefits of Indoor Plants

You don't have to be an environmental psychologist to understand that plants look attractive. But dig a little deeper beneath their beauty and you'll discover the facts - the benefits of indoor plants go far beyond the aesthetic.

Recent research has shown that indoor plants significantly improve a whole range of aspects of our indoor environment.  The benefits cover a spectrum from physically cleaner air to direct beneficial effects on psychological health, task performance, illness reduction and productivity.

The findings are important since, in New Zealand over 70% of us live in urban areas, where we spend an amazing 90% of our time indoors, so the quality of the indoor environment is crucial to our wellbeing.  

Recent research tells us that indoor plants are good for buildings and people in a variety of ways. Plants play a vital role in providing a pleasant and tranquil environment in which to move, work or relax. Indoor plants can also help health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace.

Scientific studies from research in Australia and around the world, reinforces the positive effect living plants can have on the health and well being of people who work in buildings.

Research shows that indoor plants:

  • Help improve indoor air quality
  • Help reduce sick building syndrome
  • Help improve well being
  • Help improve productivity and performance
  • Help to lower stress and negative feelings
  • Help to reduce noise
  • Improve business image with potential clients
  • Contribute to fulfilling at least 75% of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Criteria

Indoor Plants Help Improve Air Quality

Many people do not know that air pollution is almost always higher indoors than outside, even in the city centre, and air-conditioning systems are almost never designed to remove outdoor gaseous pollutants from air drawn into the building.

As polluted outdoor air moves indoors, it mixes with more indoor contaminants from unflued gas appliances and VOCs outgassing from plastic,synthetic (i.e. petroleum-derived) furnishings, finishes, solvents, etc.  

Researchers from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) have carried out laboratory and real-world office studies on the ability of indoor plants to reduce VOCs, CO2 and CO.  They have so far laboratory-tested 11 indoor plant species for VOC removal.

After a week of acclimatisation to exposure to any test VOC, all plant species worked equally well to remove VOCs within about 24 hours. They also work equally well in light or dark (24/7).  Researchers from the UTS say this is because it is primarily the potting mix microorganisms that remove VOCs. The plant contributes to the process by nourishing its root-zone microbial community (as any plant does).  

In essence the plant system - leaves, roots and potting media - take VOCs from the air such as benzene and formaldehyde released by furnishings, carpets, photocopiers, printers and many modern building materials. They also contribute oxygen back into the environment.

In summary, indoor plants have a significant impact on improving air quality in buildings, as:

  • Indoor air is almost always more polluted than outdoors. In particular, indoor air generally has more:
    • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) Emitting from plastics/synthetics, in furniture, fittings, computers, printers and more, cause loss of concentration, headaches, eye, nose and throat problems.
    • CO2 (us breathing), causes drowsiness, heavy-head, lowered concentration.
  • Overseas findings show that indoor plants can reduce:
    • Nitrogen and sulfur oxides
    • Air toxics
    • Particulates
    • Ozone
  • The UTS Research, conducted over the last 15 years, has shown that indoor plants can reduce:
  • VOCs:
    • Can reduce by over 80% to below 100 ppb (Aust. Office Max. 500 ppb)
    • If VOC loads go up, so do removal rates
    • All plant species equally effective (the process depends on symbiosis with normal potting-mix bacteria)
    • Works day and night (24/7)
    • And 20 cm pots are as effective as 30 cm pots
  • CO2 (Carbon dioxide)
    • Reduce by 10-25%
    • Exchanged for equal amount of O2 (oxygen)
    • The more foliage the better for CO2 removal
    • Optimise CO2 reduction by placing plants according to their recommended light requirements
  • CO (carbon monoxide)
    • Reduce by up to 90% 

Plants Can Help Reduce Sick Building Syndrome

Another key study was carried out at the offices of the Norwegian State Oil Company by Tove Fjeld. She examined the effect of indoor plants on health and discomfort among a group of office workers. Data about 12 different symptoms were collected, including fatigue, headache, dry facial skin and dry skin on the hands, coughing, and eye irritation. After this time, half of the group were provided with a selection of common interior plants and half had none.

Over three months, considerably fewer health problems were reported by those people with plants. Fatigue and headache fell by 30% and 20% respectively, hoarseness and a dry throat fell by around 30%, coughing by around 40% and dry facial skin fell by around 25%.

Noise reduction

Ambius's own research conducted in the UK and those conducted by Peter Costa of South Bank University in London, have demonstrated that plants can be effective at reducing background noise. Species selection and positioning are crucial to achieve these effects.

Indoor Plants Help Improve Business Image With Potential Clients

Surveys show plants in the foyer and office spaces give the perception that the company is:

  • Trustworthy
  • Warm and welcoming
  • Stable and balanced
  • Well-run
  • Patient and caring
  • Concerned for staff welfare
  • Comfortable to work with
  • Prepared to spend money on added beauty
  • Not mean
  • Providing a healthier, cleaner atmosphere

Indoor Plants Contribute To At Least 75% Of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) Criteria

IEQ criterion Indoor Plants
Air pollution mitigation Reduce all types of urban air pollution
Low Emitting Materials Absorb toxic emissions - VOCs etc
Ventilation effectiveness Increase effectiveness - remove CO2/add O2
Lighting OK for Plants - OK for staff also
Noise Absorb & buffer noise
Views Add aesthetics & calming greenery; lower stress
Thermal comfort Not directly influenced but tend to stabilise humidity in human comfort zone, so could have unquantified effects here  
Systems controllability Not directly influenced but stabilisation of temperature and humidity could lower air-con. energy consumption

Interested in finding out more on this topic?

Ambius resources offering further information on the benefits of indoor plants:

To learn more about the benefits of interior landscaping, visit our specialist Plants in Buildings web site.

0508 262 487

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