GardenDrumPlant Life Balance: research findings for new campaign

Did you know your home could be making you sick? A study in Australia reports that volatile organic compounds are up to 10 times higher indoors than outdoors, and that plants are effective in reducing them. 

Plant Life Balance is a new campaign to get Australians excited and confident about using plants in their homes. It may sound strange, but just being in your house could be making you sick.

Research has found that in our homes there’s a range of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in carpets, paint and furniture that’s adding to bad health effects like restless sleep, poor productivity, depression, bad moods and increased allergies. A study funded by Hort Innovation has found that concentrations of many VOCs are up to 10 times higher indoors than they are outdoors.

Researchers from RMIT University and the University of Melbourne have found a rule of thumb based on articles, scientific evidence and assumptions, to help people improve their plant life balance.

 

To improve air quality, adding 1 medium sized plant to a medium sized room (4m x 5m) increases air quality up to 25%.

To improve wellbeing, 5 or more plants leads to feeling healthier and happier (direct benefits include improved mood and concentration and indirect benefits like productivity).1

Although many of us know that sharing our homes with plants makes us feel good, it’s hard to put actual figures on the benefits that indoor plants bring to our lives. “Our aim was to take the world of research and synthesise the knowledge into a scale of benefits provided by plants by grouping them into two categories: air quality and wellbeing,” said lead researcher, Dominique Hes from the University of Melbourne.

“We gathered over 100 global studies and collated them to a major research piece and worked out how many plants we need in indoor environments to improve our plant life balance. We found that indoor plants improve air quality by filtering out particulate matter, or air pollution and other airborne toxins caused by organic chemicals in things like paints and furniture finishes.”

Particulate matter is a widespread air pollutant, consisting of a mixture of solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. It includes things like dust, pollen, soot and smoke. Each of the articles in this group looked at a plant’s ability to absorb airborne pollutants, such as particulate matter, inorganic compounds such as carbon monoxide, and volatile organic compounds (being volatile means they can easily become vapours or gasses, which contaminate the air).

As much as possible the researchers used Best Available Scientific Evidence – BASEline – to determine the relationships between plants and health & wellbeing. Where the information was not adequate to contribute to the index, the expert panel estimated the most likely cause and effect relationships.

 

Based on the research, the expert panel recommended that the benefits of indoor plants could be grouped into two categories: increased air quality and enhanced wellbeing. Indoor plants improve air quality by filtering out particulate matter, or air pollution, and other airborne toxins caused by organic chemicals.

Wellbeing refers to feelings of relaxation, inspiration and positivity. The research found that indoor plants can benefit wellbeing, depending on the total number of plants, combined with the variety of the plants. For example, a big group of plants that looks complex, or has lots of different varieties of plants, is able to foster relaxation, fascinate people, and help them de-stress. It also found that while variety was key, it was also important to create a cohesive ‘look’ – or organised complexity within a group of plants – to optimise wellbeing.

 

Plant Life Balance has partnered with renowned horticulturist, author and award-winning designer Jamie Durie OAM, who says:

“The benefits of indoor plants go far beyond the aesthetic. The good news is, and research has proven, that when we connect people with plants, we quickly start to restore our health and mental wellbeing. What we also know is that by bringing nature indoors by design, where we spend a lot of time, it can have a great impact on our physiology and psychology.”

 

The Plant Life Balance App has been created using the research findings, and is the first virtual greening app in Australia. Using the app, you can take a photo of your space (indoor or outdoor) and rate its health. You can then drag and drop plants into your space and instantly see the health and wellbeing benefits of adding more greenery.

The useful thing about augmented reality is it can help visualise a scene and eliminates a large part of the uncertainty about how it will all look. The app goes a step further by having various ‘looks’ to choose from, so you can select a style you like and think will suit your place and then select the plants to create that look. You can even create a plant list to go shopping.

 

So, if you’re interested in styling your home, the health and wellbeing of your family, and using apps on your phone (or any one of those three), or you’re curious about how your place rates, give this app a go to find out how you can improve your Plant Life Balance.

Plant Life Balance App is available to download free from the App Store and Google Play from 30 October 2017.

 

¹ Benefits from plants are inherently variable and depend on a number of factors that haven’t been studied so far, e.g. plant health, species, VOC type and individual propensity.

 

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