Providing a comfortable and healthy environment for building occupants is critical, as people spend more than 90% of their time indoors (Moschandreas, 1981). In the United States, buildings consume 40% of primary energy annually, and conditioning of residential spaces consumes nearly 50% of that energy (Energy Information Administration, 2009). During heating season, HVAC systems use energy to increase indoor air temperature while subsequently reducing RH. Without supplemental humidification, indoor RH may be as low as 10% in cold climates (Kalamees et al., 2009; Nordström et al., 1994; Reinikainen et al., 1991). Acceptable building humidity levels are governed by American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 55; upper limits on humidity are imposed to prevent mold and structural damage, but there are currently no building humidity lower limits. Therefore, many commercial and most residential buildings do not control humidities in the low humidity range (<40% RH) during heating season.
Low humidities can have adverse health consequences on building occupants (Sterling et al., 1985), such as increased eye irritation (McCulley et al., 2006) and skin dryness (Sunwoo et al., 2006). The survival of many pathogens and their transmission are sensitive to humidity levels, with increased transmission at lower humidities (Lowen et al., 2007; Shaman and Kohn, 2009; Yang and Marr, 2011).
Due to the impact of low humidity on building occupants and the desire to reduce building energy consumption, passive or low-energy humidification approaches are of increasing interest. Plants can influence the humidity of an interior environment through transpiration (water movement through a plant and water vapor emission from foliage) and evaporation (conversion of water to vapor at the surface of root medium), the combination of which is evapotranspiration. Many low-light plant species can grow indoors under existing lighting conditions (DelPrince, 2013; Manaker, 1997; Pennisi and van Iersel, 2012), reducing or eliminating the need for additional energy for lighting. Light can also be supplemented in interior environments to optimize plant longevity (DelPrince, 2013).
Researchers have examined the humidification effects of plants on indoor office environments (Lohr, 1992; Lohr and Pearson-Mims, 1996; Wolverton and Wolverton, 1996; Wood et al., 2006). Lohr (1992) studied the effects on plants in two offices with room temperatures of 22 °C: one office contained a variety of plants, including varieties of Peperomia (Piperaceae family) and chinese evergreen (Aglaonema sp.), and one control office contained no plants. The plants increased office humidity to 30% compared with 25% RH in the control office. Further work examined the effects of potted plants in a computer laboratory; humidity was not significantly altered, but particulate matter accumulation decreased by as much as 20% in the presence of plants (Lohr and Pearson-Mims, 1996). In a residential study, the presence of plants in a home increased RH by more than 10% and decreased airborne microbes by more than 30% (Wolverton and Wolverton, 1996). Peace lily (Spathiphyllum ‘Sweet Chico’) and dracaena (Dracaena ‘Janet Craig’) plants were field-tested in Australian offices during the heating season (Wood et al., 2006). The plants did not significantly influence room humidity but they reduced total volatile organic compounds levels.
Plant-based systems show potential for humidifying, removing indoor pollutants, and providing psychological benefits (Dravigne et al., 2008; Fjeld, 2000; Laviana et al., 1983). The majority of previous plant-based humidification research was field tests conducted in offices or residences. This study quantifies evapotranspiration rates from two common indoor plant species with different photosynthetic pathways in a controlled environmental chamber. The research objectives include 1) quantification of evaporation rates from a root medium, and evapotranspiration rates from variegated spider plants and green jade plants, at two indoor humidity levels; 2) evaluating the impact of the diurnal light cycle on transpiration for two plant species with different photosynthetic pathways; and 3) calculation of the plants’ potential impact on RH of a single interior bedroom, such as in a skilled nursing facility (SNF).
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