The latest trend in buildings is to install green walls. These walls can come in many shapes, sizes and varieties. However, when poorly maintained they can pose a fire risk and danger to the Australian public. Unlike other countries, Australia is yet to catch up to updated building laws and fire safety procedures for the green wall pheneonem.
Fire safe green walls
Green walls are growing in popularity, but their safety has come under question, especially for living walls. In 2012 a fire in Redfern raised the alarm not just on the need for fire tested green walls, but to ensure proper policies and regulations were in place. The living green wall at the bar came alight after a burning candle came too close to its proximity. The obvious thing to note here is that anything that could ignite a fire (like a candle), should not be near a green wall in the first place!
Plants and greenery are often seen as fuel for a fire. However, according to European Fire studies the vertical garden and green walls are quite fire safe if they are maintained. The key is to ensure that they are regularly trimmed back if a living type of wall. Also, that they are regularly watered.
As more people call for sustainable measures and the green wall trend continues, builders and developers will look to add more of these fixtures to apartment blocks, commercial properties and in their landscape designs. Although, with this comes added costs, that those in the industry may look to cut back or avoid. Hence, why some experts are saying that there needs to be laws within Australia that protect people from practices that may be deemed unsafe.
For builders and developers, solutions like artificial greenery have started to gain their attention. This is because the artificial green walls and vertical gardens do not require maintenance, posing less of a financial burden. That said, fire safe green walls are also in their interest.
Fire safety tips to maintain a living green wall
If you have a living green wall, make sure to follow some of these basic rules to keep you and others around you safe from fire hazards or risk.
Check that the irrigation system works
If the system fails, how will you know or what safeguards have you put in place? One of the common problems with a living wall garden is if the area becomes dry. This makes the area more likely to be dangerous if it was to be ignited. Regular checks or maintenance should be put in place to ensure that water irrigation does not stop or break.
Regularly maintain the plants
Trim and maintain plants. Any dead materials that are left on or near the plant will not help if the area comes alight. Record a schedule of maintenance to remain accountable for fire safe green walls. If you are a landlord or sell the property, ensure new owners are aware of this requirement too.
Keep fire hazards away from your plants
Electrical appliances, wires or simple items in the home like a burning candle can all present a danger to your green wall. As you would not put an electrical appliance in water, keep your green wall away from other items that could ignite if there was a power outage or glitch. When designing a home or space, give the wall a structure that could help avoid a fire risk. This is particularly important for spaces that are sold or rented to other people, who may not be aware of the need to be fire safe – especially in metropolitan areas where the perception is they are safe compared to the bush.
Use low combustible materials
Reduce the risk with a fire tested green wall or safe materials. For example, the use of soil within a green wall fire protection system can help to dampen the area further, dependent on the type of plants and your setup. Succulents are also said to be a less risky option for living walls. And whilst recycled plastic materials and wooden frames have a low burn rate, you can always opt for stronger fire proof materials such as fire tested stainless steel frames to hold up the structure of your vertical garden.
Fire safety for artificial greenery
As builders and developers look for affordable or maintenance free options, artificial greenery is also top of mind. Of course, unlike living walls the faux variety comes without the need of a full suite irrigation system or to trim back plant growth. The walls remain green all year round. However, alike most materials – an artificial green wall does pose some fire risk.
At this point in time in Australia there are no fire standards for artificial plants and fake green walls. And there is little to no regulation of the living walls, unlike overseas. That said, there are building codes and regulations that operate within Australia that refer to flammability, smoke and other fire related characteristics. There is also heightened interest for fire safety in buildings after the Grenfell Tower incident involving plastic-filled aluminum panels referred to as cladding. This continued when government buildings in Australia were found with similar materials.
Whilst artificial plants and green walls are not said to be dangerous to Australian households and businesses, you may decide (along with independent advice) that investing in fire retardant green walls is an option suitable for your property or environment. Designer Plants released a new range of fire tested green walls this year, a new generation of greenery known as “Select”. The artificial plants have been tested independently for fire and ignition.
Fire safety requires common sense
In addition to the tips provided in this post as a suggestion only, we recommend that common sense is applied when it comes to your and others safety in the home or space you live in, or are designing for.
For additional resources on fire safety and advice, refer to your local fire body or state authority, and please note this written piece is not to be taken as advice or assurance as to the suitability of any product, nor is it to be relied upon with respect to any building works.