How Plants (Inside and Out) Promote Comfort at Home

From adding moisture to improving air quality to deflecting noise, plants can make you feel better at home.

woman watering plants indoors

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Creating a comfortable living environment is important, and there are many different elements to this. Temperature, humidity, air quality, acoustics, the view from your windows, and more all play a part in how comfortable you feel inside your home.

As a garden designer, I know how important it is not to underestimate the role that a garden can play in what life is like inside a home. Plants are more important in our lives than we think, whether or not we are keen gardeners.

If you have a garden, it is important to think carefully about your plant choices and how you position them. But even if you don't have a garden, plants can still play a role in determining comfort levels in your home.

Today, I thought I would write about the different ways in which plants both inside and out can help keep us comfortable, wherever we live.

Plants and Thermal Comfort

The goal in a home is to make sure that the people inside it experience thermal comfort—in other words, that they feel happy in a thermal environment and express satisfaction with the temperature. We often think about architectural features like insulation and heating systems that help us to create thermal comfort. But some simple plant-based solutions may also play a role.

Large, leafy plants placed indoors on a south-facing windowsill (in the northern hemisphere) or a north-facing windowsill (in the southern hemisphere) might provide some shade and reduce heating from sunlight inside a room when we don't necessarily always want to keep blinds or curtains shut. 

Indoor plants will also cool the air around them slightly through the warmest months (like evaporative cooling) as they transpire. This can help, in both summer and winter, to keep humidity within the human comfort zone of around 30 to 60%. 

In winter especially, dry air can cause problems for wood floors and furnishings and can cause health issues for us, too. Having plenty of plants indoors can help stop humidity from dropping too low. Indoor plants won't make enough difference to be a solution on their own, but they could potentially make enough of a small difference to help keep you comfortable throughout the year.

It is outdoors, however, on a city street or in a garden, that plants can make the biggest difference. 

tree-covered doorway

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Trees placed in the right location outside a window can have a significant impact on the sun that shines in throughout the year and, by extension, how warm or cold a space will feel. Placed in the right spot, deciduous trees can allow sunlight to enter a space in winter, but shield a home from solar heat energy during the warmest part of the year.

Wind breaks and shelter belts of trees and shrubs make a big difference to how much energy it might require to heat a home in winter. When in a more sheltered position, protected from winter winds, a home can remain at more comfortable temperatures, even when we have not been able to invest in insulation to improve efficiency.

Interestingly, climbing plants can also serve a function. Where they are not a threat to the building structure, cladding walls with climbing plants can help reduce heat in cities in summer, and potentially also serve as an insulation against the cold in the winter months. 

Plants and Air Quality

While placing plants indoors is not going to solve all air quality issues, certain plants are known to be effective in improving air quality within a home. Improved air quality can help us to feel more comfortable and keep us healthier in our living spaces.

Outdoors, plants also help improve air quality, especially where there is a particular issue such as busy roads or industrial areas nearby. Certain trees and mosses, for example, are known to be particularly effective.

Plants and Acoustic Comfort

plants on kitchen windowsill

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Another factor that can determine how comfortable we feel within our homes is sound. Modern rooms with lots of hard surfaces are sometimes acoustically uncomfortable, noisy spaces when poorly designed.

Interestingly, indoor plants may help to reduce indoor noise levels, deflecting, absorbing, and refracting noise. Placing potted plants in certain places—or, better yet, creating green walls indoors—can help provide acoustic comfort.

Dense vegetation in a garden may also reduce annoying road traffic or other noise pollution in your area.

Plants and a Sense of Safety and Calm

Finally, it is worthwhile mentioning that plants can help us in another factor of human comfort that might be overlooked. It has been shown in numerous studies that being around greenery and plants helps us to feel calmer and reduces stress. We intrinsically feel calmer in natural environments, and surrounding ourselves with plants indoors and outside can therefore help us to feel safe and at peace.

This may be a simple thing, but the ability to connect with nature right outside our door, and even inside our homes, can make a surprisingly big difference when it comes to how comfortable we feel.