Living Wall Design Checklist
Furbish’s BioWall is a vertical ecosystem. The BioWall Design Guide focuses on interior BioWall applications, but we also offer exterior applications on a case-by-case basis. The Design Guide provides detailed information about the BioWall system so that architects and building owners can easily integrate BioWalls into their buildings, including coordination with other trades, such as wall and floor finishes, electrical, and plumbing.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m interested in a BioWall, but I’m not sure where to start.
You are in the right place! Use the checklist at the top of this page. Select a configuration (and from there you can download details and specs), plan where to site the controller, decide on a planting theme, and plan for stewardship. Call us at any time along the way.
Who does the planting design?
It takes a village. The typical process is that the client or designer lets us know what sort of aesthetic approach or theme they prefer; we often facilitate that process. Then after selection of an aesthetic direction, we select plant species that are best suited to the project’s microclimate. This is often an iterative process. We collaborate: we try to accommodate client requests as best we can while standing behind horticultural performance of each design.
To start a planting design: 1) Check out the Gallery of BioWall Planting Design Ideas. 2) Let us know which ideas appeal to you. We’ll use that as a starting point. 3) Have a sense of how far from your living wall the plants can reach. 4) We’ll prepare some alternate planting designs for your selection. Please note: Planting design is usually done as a construction phase submittal.
Can Furbish design my BioWall for me?
Yes. This Design Guide is a tool to better allow us to collaborate with owners and designers, but we still do many BioWalls as design-build efforts.
Can I visit a BioWall?
Yes, there are BioWalls in a few publicly accessible lobbies, casinos, and retail stores. There are many more BioWalls in non-public spaces, but we occasionally arrange tours for prospective customers. Call us for more information.
Can BioWalls go around curves?
Yes, check out curves on the configuration page.
Where can I find construction details and specifications?
Go to configuration, select a configuration, then download the corresponding details (AutoCad and PDF available) and specs (MS Word). If you don’t see what you are looking for, or if you have questions, let us know: we can help! Please note that the details and specs available for download work in most applications, but often require some customization. We can assist with that.
Purchasing and Installation
Is a BioWall fully grown in upon installation?
Pre-grown: Yes. Mature: No. We typically grow BioWall panels for 8 weeks before shipping to the jobsite. This is long enough for most species to cover about 95% of the wall, and most species will reach approximately 4-6 inches from the wall at the time of installation. The overall appearance upon installation is full (and photogenic), but not “mature”. A more mature appearance should emerge within approximately 3 months, as plants put on substantially more size, fill niches, and as larger plants reach farther from the wall than their smaller brethren.
How much does a BioWall cost?
As with any construction, a number of factors influence cost, including logistics and economy of scale. A 300 to 1,000 SF BioWall with simple detailing and good access may cost around $150-$200 per square foot, fully furnished and installed, with 2 years of stewardship. The per-square-foot cost of smaller walls will likely be higher, and the unit price for larger walls will likely be lower. As with any construction, complexity of detailing often increases cost.
What is the lead time for a BioWall?
As each BioWall is made to order, we usually advise allowing 12 weeks from issuance of purchase order to installation. This allows up to 4 weeks for field measurements, planting design, and shop drawing preparation, review, and approval. Then we fabricate panels to project-specific dimensions, plant the panels, and grow the panels for approximately 8 weeks before shipping to the jobsite.
Who installs BioWalls?
Furbish, interior plantscape companies, carpenters, general contractors, landscape contractors, etc. Installation is simple, and several different types of contractors have installed BioWalls.
How long does it take to install a BioWall?
For the most part, BioWalls are prefabricated (we fabricate and grow panels in Baltimore; we fabricate controllers in Baltimore; troughs are usually made near the jobsite) so minimal construction takes place on site.
BioWalls are usually installed in 2 steps:
Rough-In: Install the trough, edging, waterproofing, and controller. Ensure that all utility runs (by the plumber and electrician) are properly install. This might take a few hours to 2 days for a large job. Rough-in can be done at almost any point after the building wall is in-place.
Vegetation: Hang the vegetated panels and commission the system. This might take a few hours to a day for a large job. Vegetated panels should only be installed after the space is broom clean, and free of noxious dust (drywall dust is particularly hazardous). In new construction, this usually means vegetated panels are hung after the heat and A/C are working, during painting and carpeting.
As a general rule, plan on 2 days on site per 500 square feet of BioWall.
Does plant species selection affect BioWall pricing?
Not significantly. Well over half our most common BioWall plants are the same price. Some accent plants, such as orchids, are significantly more expensive. Most of the time, plant selection has negligible impact on the overall cost of a BioWall.
Where are BioWall plants grown?
Increasingly on Furbish’s compound in Baltimore, though we still order several tropical plants from Florida. We propagate BioWall plants in an interior, climate-controlled, artificially lit environment that most closely resembles the final destination for so many BioWalls. This not only reduces shipping costs, this dramatically minimizes transplant shock of plants moving from a sunny Florida greenhouse to an air conditioned office, for optimal success upon installation.
Who maintains BioWalls?
We work with a network of interior plant specialists to maintain BioWalls throughout the US. Furbish maintains several BioWalls near Baltimore and DC. We have a few customers who choose to maintain their own BioWalls, and we work with a few schools who participate in BioWall maintenance with assistance from Furbish.
How much should I budget for annual maintenance?
There are many variables: location, ease of access, time of day access is allowed, client expectations, warranty selected, quality of lighting, etc. Call us for more information.
Can plants be exchanged on a BioWall?
Yes. Most BioWalls are planted with “permanent” plants; i.e. some minor infill might be required now-and-then, but the plants on the wall are usually intended to stay in place for the long term. If a client wants an area of the wall replaced to add color, diversify texture, etc., that is very possible. However, if seasonal rotations are desirable (i.e. the client wants to change an area at least once a year), then we can plan for that in select locations that are designed for rapid and frequent plant rotations. On the other hand, if a client wants the entire wall to rotate plants frequently, we might steer you to another product, as BioWall’s primary focus is on durable, reliable, permanent plantings.
How do you handle pests? Are pests a problem?
BioWalls generally have very few pest problems, partially due to their hydroponic nature, but no plant is fully immune to pests. Our first line of defense is ensuring that all technicians – Furbish employees and our network partners – look for and recognize harmful insects or pathogens, as early detection is the best treatment. If pests are detected, we react quickly, starting with the least invasive methods possible. These methods include mechanical removal (yes, manually picking off bugs), mild horticultural oils, and beneficial predators (yes, that means releasing good insects to eat the bad insects, which is not noticeable, does work, and does not cause other problems). We use pesticides only as a last resort, only after permission from the client, only for the briefest time period possible, and only if conditions warrant. With the proactive approaches above, we very rarely use pesticides, and we have very low pest pressure.
Physical and Ecological Properties
How much do BioWalls weigh?
Not much. Our most conservative estimate is 5 psf, with very large plants and a fully saturated substrate. This is about the same weight per square foot as two sheets of 5/8-inch drywall.
How thick are BioWalls?
Very thin. The full depth of material from the building wall to the face of the fiber media is approximately 1.5 inches thick, but we round up to 2 inches to account for some bulge of root masses. See panels on the configuration page for more information.
Our standard edging is 3 inches from building wall to farthest reach of edging (though other edging may be used). See edging on the configuration page.
Beyond the edging, all the distance from the wall is foliage. Each plant species indicates anticipated leaf reach; we recommend planning for at least 6 inches of foliage reach; typical is about 12 inches of reach, but sometimes we incorporate species that reach over 2 feet from the wall. The plants page indicates the approximate reach of each plant from the wall.
Is Legionella a concern?
Legionella, also known as Legionaires’ disease, is less of a concern with BioWalls than it is with a common showerhead. We know of no documented cases of the presence or transmission of Legionella due to a BioWall or from any other living wall system. Legionella is generally harbored by stagnant water above 68 degrees F.; even in our wet trough configurations, the water is never stagnant. Legionella is best transmitted via vapor or mist; BioWall does not utilize vapor or mist. A few BioWalls in sensitive environments are routinely tested for Legionella, and no Legionella has even been discovered. With adequate maintenance, Legionella should be of no concern. Contact us with concerns.
How much water do BioWalls use?
As little as possible. The amount of water use varies significantly with environmental factors. Brighter light generally produces happier, healthier plants, but brighter light can also cause BioWalls to consume more water. Moving air, or dry air can lower humidty around the BioWall, and also increase the need for water.
Our remote monitoring system allows us to track actual water use of any BioWall, but for planning purposes: At the low end of the spectrum, a BioWall might use around 0.03 gallons per square foot per day. For a 300 square foot BioWall, this is about 10 gallons, or likely less than you used in the shower this morning. A mid-range estimate might be around 0.07 gallons gallons per square foot per day. For a 300 square foot BioWall, this is about 21 gallons, or a little less than one load of laundry. At the high end of the spectrum, in a bright, sunny atrium, water usage might rise to 0.1 gallons per square foot per day. For a 300 square foot BioWall, this is about 30 gallons, about the volume of a bathtub.
Explain “Open Loop” versus “Closed Loop”
Open Loop is our standard hydraulic option, which judiciously uses domestic water to irrigate plants. Any excess goes to drain. Though this option does not recirculate, open loop is the more water-miserly option. See question above regarding water usage.
Closed Loop is our recirculating option, generally only used if a drain if not available. Recirculation poses a number of challenges that we can avoid by selecting Open Loop. Challenges include:
- Chemistry. Domestic water contains a number of impurities that can accumulate and damage the living wall, particularly chlorine and fluoride. In a Closed Loop configuration, these impurities come in with the water, then water is used by plants or evaporates, and only the impurities are left behind (accumulation).
- Filtration. Why don’t we just filter out the impurities? We could, and we have. But the only method currently effective at removing enough chlorine, fluoride, etc., is reverse osmosis, which uses approximately 7 gallons of domestic water for every 1 gallon of filtered water produced. Recirculating systems still require periodic flushing or water exchanges. So, all told, every study we have done comparing actual water usage of our Open Loop and Closed Loop configurations shows that Open Loop uses much less water.
- Is a net-0 water use living wall possible? Yes, NASA has done work related to this, but it is at a scale that involves natural filtration far beyond any project we have seen. So we do not recommend recirculation for most commercial projects.
How effective are BioWalls at air filtration?
BioWalls – like most living walls – filter indoor air passively. I.e. plants naturally filter air as air interacts with plant roots and leaves. Some other living wall systems utilize active air filtration, which utilizes some sort of mechanical system (such as fans or ducts) to force plants to filter air more aggressively than they do in passive systems. There is great evidence that interior living walls improve indoor air quality, but there is minimal evidence that living walls – even active systems – are effective enough at air filtration to fully replace mechanical filtration used by most HVAC systems. Click here, here, here, here, here, here, here, or here to read other articles on the topic.
We are optimistic that the filtration capacity of living walls will increase in the future, and we are working to make future reality.
I see BioWall is hydroponic. Hydroponics sound scary and complex.
Be not afraid! There are two general categories of living walls: soil-based and hydroponic. The former uses some sort of container to hold soil vertically, and plants grow in soil, just like potted plants that you are probably familiar with. Hydroponic systems – such as BioWall – utilize a soil-less media to achor, irrigate, and fertilize plants. Both types of systems have merit. Hydroponic systems – such as BioWall – have some favorable characteristics that we find particularly appealing:
- Clean: No dirt going into or out of your building
- Focus on foliage: Hydroponics are generally capable of delivering greater density, health and vigor of foliage than are soil-based systems, as plants don’t need to expend much energy searching for nutrients: hydroponics deliver nutrients directly to the roots, and plant tissue development shifts more toward foliage.
- Durable: Hydroponic media never depletes or deflates.
- Lightweight: Hydroponic media weighs very little, which affects structural considerations, speed of installation, delivery logistics, etc.
- Thin: BioWall requires so little thickness because it is hydroponic.
- Pests: Hydroponic media generally has much lower pest pressure than soil.
What is the worst that can happen to a BioWall?
When we first started with living walls, a lot did go wrong, and we have always upheld our commitment to our clients to make their living walls amazing, and along the way, we have created the system we now know as BioWall. BioWall is a much stronger, more reliable, robust system today than if we never had any catastrophes. As of 2015 we entered the 3rd generation of our BioWall product, which we believe to be the best on the market.
Here is what we do to maximize success:
- Quality control during design. This Design Guide incorporates many lessons we have learned. By following the checklist above, nearly all rookie mistakes can be avoided.
- Quality control during construction and commissioning. We don’t just deliver product to the jobsite. We ensure that each of our installers is trained in key aspects of BioWall installation. One of our trained technicians inspects each jobsite before construction, at rough-in, during vegetated panel installation, and at completion. Our on-staff technicians commission each BioWall. Each of our technicians is actively involved in installing and maintaining BioWalls (we even work with other systems to round out our knowledge base). Furbish is not just a living wall product company: hands-on expertise is included with every BioWall purchase.
- Ensure access. A person should be able to safely put his or her hands on any part of the living wall. This is one of the first things we look for when considering whether to take on a project. On short walls, this can easily be done from the floor level or a ladder. On tall or difficult-to-reach walls, an OSHA-compliant installation and maintenance access plan must be in-place before the BioWall installation begins. If equipment (such as a cherry picker, manlift, or tall ladder) is required to access the BioWall, plan for on-site equipment storage, and plan the access route between storage and the BioWall.
- Ensure lighting. No single environmental factor has a greater effect on the overall success of a living wall installation than lighting. We are happy to assist with lighting design. We hope all the lighting designers out there find our horticultural lighting calculations page to be useful.
- Be realistic with planting design. We can do a lot with plants! There is a tremendous variety of color, texture, size, and general personality available that work great in BioWalls. But plants are living organisms that have horticultural needs in order to thrive, so there are limitations. With enough time, effort, and money, anything is possible, but most of our clients have finite resources, so we try to steer toward balance. This means that a high-light-requirement plant needs to go in a high-light location, etc. We can work magic, but not miracles, so sometimes we have to say “no” to specific planting requests in order to say “yes” to success.
- Remote monitoring. Remote monitoring. Remote monitoring. We monitor all the vital signs of BioWalls, and we are alerted if any key variable falls out of parameter. Loss of power? We’ll see it, and we can react. We might need to switch the irrigation to manual until power is restored. Loss of light? If the wall depends entirely on artificial light, we have about 3 days to get a plan into place with the client in order to prevent losses. Leak? We’ll see it right away, and can shut down the wall remotely. Got monitoring? We’ve got you covered!
No company can assure that any given building system will function perfectly all the time, but robust remote monitoring and tight quality control processes make BioWall the most reliable living wall system available.
Why don’t you capitalize component names?
Do you mean why do we write “controller” versus “Controller” and “edging” versus “Edging” or have catchy names for each component? We offer BioWall as a complete system. Individual components are not for sale. So we refer to the components in as plain English as possible. Just remember one name: “BioWall.”