I’ve always wanted a living wall, and my wife’s company is moving offices and considering installing one. So, I did a little research. I scoured the first 3 pages of Google results and wasn’t satisfied with any single source, here’s what I found:
Living wall costs are a combination of engineering, installation, structural materials, soil, plants, watering systems, maintenance and watering. Costs average $149 per square foot but are highly variable, ranging between USD $70 and $260 per square foot. Size of the wall is a major factor in cost. The cost can increase if building alterations, plumbing, drainage, or electrical are required. It’s important however to look not just at costs, but benefits as well.
Breakdown of costs to consider for a living wall:
- Building improvements ( structure, plumbing, electrical)
- Organic materials: Plants and Soil
- Warranty (this actually reduces cost!)
An important note here: living wall costs vary considerably by location, type, and size. This article guide will give you a ballpark without having to go back and forth by phone or email.
A lot of websites don’t give costs. They just say something like:
“We’d be happy to discuss costs during a design consultation”
I might reach out to some companies to get a few more quotes, but for now let’s look at real cost examples I was able to dig up.
5 examples of living wall costs
|Original Price & Currency||Location||Converted to USD per Square Foot||Notes|
|USD $560 to $1740 per sq. ft.||North Carolina, USA||$560 to $1740||Smaller walls Source.|
|USD $90 to $150 per sq. ft.||Michigan, USA||$90 to $150||Larger walls Source.|
|USD $225 per sq. ft.||California, USA||$225||Medium to Large Walls Source.|
|AUD $1100 to $2800 per m2||Victoria, Australia||$70 to $260||Medium to large Walls Source.|
|GBP £20000 per 25 m2||London, England||$97||Medium to Large Walls Source.|
|*Converted at 0.68 AUD/USD and 1.29 GBP/USD|
So the costs do vary, but at least we have some ballpark numbers. The trend is that costs per square foot get better as the size of the wall increases. It makes sense there are economies of scale and increased efficiencies doing one large wall instead of many smaller ones.
The first company seems to be offering a smaller type of wall, so it’s not comparable. Looking at the rest of the quotes, the average cost works out to $149 USD per square foot.
Renovation costs when installing a living wall
The best case scenario is planning for your living wall far in advance. Renovations aren’t necessary if the initial construction was designed for a living wall. Assuming you’re not so lucky, here are factors that can add to cost.
Hourly installation labor and travel time need to be factored in. The contractor should include this in their quote for you, although it doesn’t hurt to double check they’ve asked the right questions and offered you a quote that’s suitable for your situation.
Some costs that might need to be considered depending on the extent of the wall you’re planning:
- How will the living wall be watered?
- Will someone run hoses?
- Is it small enough to water by hand?
- Or will plumbing be installed with an irrigation system?
- How will the living wall be supported?
- Will you be able to get away with what you’ve current got, or do you need to install additional structure?
- The contractor should be able to advise you on what you’ll need, and will probably have their own structural products that work well with their wall system.
- Every system is different, but weight for one system I found was in the neighbourhood of 110-220 lbs/square meter.
- Does your site have enough lighting?
- Do you need to power water pumps?
- Does your system contain it’s own water?
- Or does it need a drain connection?
Unfortunately it’s really difficult to put a general estimate, or simple formula together for calculating renovation or improvement costs related to a living wall. There are just too many variables. At least you’re armed with a list of costs so there are no surprises down the line.
Living wall plants need care much like houseplants. Living wall maintenance involves inspecting for pests, pruning, fertilizing, and replacing occasional plants. A ballpark for most moderately sized commercial walls would be between $300 and $1000 per month, depending on the size and extent of the wall.
A good way to estimate this is to calculate the number of hours of estimated maintenance per month, and multiply it by expected hourly cost for semi-skilled labour.
One estimate I found was that it takes around 2.5 hours of maintenance per 200 square feet of wall, per month.
Another maintenance cost is replacing plants.
Green walls generally have one of two types of irrigation system. Either recirculating, or direct irrigation. Depending on the size of the wall, there may be multiple systems or zones. Multiple zones can allow you to group plants with similar water needs, some plants prefer more water than others.
A direct irrigation system uses a hookup to city water. This is typical of larger walls. The water may be conditioned for pH or hardness on the fly, or fertilizer may be added in small quantities. The water will flow using city pressure to the top of the wall. Gravity then drains the water to the bottom where it goes down a drain.
- Pros: Simple, low labor
- Cons: less water efficient
- Cost: High if significant plumbing required, Medium otherwise.
Recirculating Irrigation: typical of Medium walls
A recirculating irrigation system collects the water that’s flowing down the wall into a reservoir. It’s then pumped back up to the top of the reservoir on a timer, based on moisture sensors, or by remote control. The water then moves down the wall by gravity and is recirculated again. The water may be filtered for cleaner system operation.
- Pros: very water efficient
- Cons: requires topping up
- Cost: Medium
Systems can be both connected to city water, and recirculate a portion of their water. It can be a good idea with recirculated water to drain a portion to waste, otherwise minerals and salts can build up.
Manual watering is typical of smaller living walls. Frame style wall-hung living walls use a simple water collecting system. Most have some type of drip tray or gutter that catches the water at the bottom. This can turn into a lot of work if your wall is much bigger than a large TV, especially indoors.
- Pros: very simple, very cheap, efficient water use
- Cons: more frequent watering required, not workable for larger walls
- Cost: Low
Materials for the living wall include growing medium, plants, the structure, plumbing, and possibly wiring for lighting and pumps.
Plant cost per square foot is based on the cost per plant, and the density of plants. A quick stroll through your local garden center or greenhouse quickly shows you the variability in plant price.
Plant density between systems vary widely, between 3 plants/sq ft to around 16 plants/sq ft
Plants are only available in limited supply on short notice. This is another reason why it’s important to plan ahead. With more notice, plant suppliers can offer better prices. Short term demand drives up price.
Some walls are designed for external installation, and depending on the climate might need replacing more often. On the other end of the spectrum are indoor walls where the plants will live for their natural life, with occasional replenishing. It’s important to ask about the design life of the wall. Years in the future, more frequent replacements will add cost.
Plant selection is an important part of living wall design. Plants will need to be replaced when they become root-bound and/or begin to decline. They can also become stressed and die. This will add cost to your green wall over time. Plants differ, but a good ballpark is 2-5 years before a plant is root-bound in the wall, depending on the plant density and amount of soil.
Lighting, pumps, and fans can be expected to live in the neighbourhood of 3-7 years.
Cost vs Benefit
In any decision it’s important to weight the costs against the benefits. We won’t get into a detailed cost-benefit analysis, but here are some ideas to consider:
- Increased productivity: a greener, invigorating working or living environment
- Evapotranspiration: reduced cooling costs in the summer
- Thermal Insulation: reduced heating costs in the winter
- LEED credits/sustainability: The LEED program is Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. Depending on your rating you can earn significant tax credits.
- Noise Level reduction: plants are commonly used along roadways to reduce noise, the same effect takes place inside buildings with living walls.
- Improved air quality: there are claims that green walls can reduce VOCs and CO2, increase Oxygen and Humidity, and release beneficial compounds.
Warranties are crucial in reducing cost. At least a year should be standard for indoor walls.
This ensures there aren’t any diseases or lurking problems in the wall that come out during the first few weeks or months after the install. It also gives you peace of mind that everything is working well mechanically. Every location has its own micro-climate. A year lets you know that the plants that were selected are able to survive a full year through the seasons.
The first few months are also when the irrigation system kinks are being worked out and timing dialed-in. Make sure the warranty addresses this, or it could mean significant cost creep.
I’m Alex Lafreniere. I learned a lot about plants when I built and operated a landscaping company. But, there’s always more to learn. Ever since travelling across the world, I’ve wanted to find ways to bring more tropical and exotic plants into my life. This is the site where I share everything I’ve learned with you.
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