11 September 2023

Green Wall Risks

Green Walls - Saving Grace or Hidden Danger

The popularity of green/living walls and vertical gardens has continued to grow over the years, with many architects and designers becoming more conscious of climate change and other environmental issues, whilst also recognising the many benefits they offer. These benefits include improving indoor air quality, reducing energy costs, and creating a more aesthetically pleasing environment.

However, whilst it is easy to make the positive case from an environmental perspective, there are potential negatives that need to be considered from an insurance and risk management perspective.

Potential issues

The most obvious issue when dealing with a green wall will be the potential for water ingress. As with any landscape project, part of the design will include the design and implementation of irrigation systems to ensure the plants specified for the green wall remain vibrant.

It will be vitally important to ensure that the designs provide adequate protection to prevent water ingress into the building, and detailed discussions are likely to be needed with the rest of the design team to ensure protections and water systems are designed and implemented to avoid any issues.

Whilst it is important to ensure that adequate protection is in place to prevent water ingress, the opposite can also be problematic. If the system in place is inadequate, or difficult to maintain, this could lead to the green wall drying out and the plants becoming damaged. Any such systems would also need to take account of any unusual dry periods or restrictions in terms of water usage.

Unfortunately, the prospect of the green wall drying out also raises another potentially more pressing concern, the prospect of a fire.

Anyone paying attention to the construction industry over the last few years will be aware that fire safety and cladding have been the subject of some controversy and remain an extremely contentious subject from a legal and insurance perspective. However, this focus has been on traditional forms of artificial cladding, it may only be a matter of time before the same attention is turned to the potential dangers that a green wall may pose in the same circumstances.

At this stage, the current regime seems ill-equipped to deal with the potential hazards that a green wall may pose as the Building Regulations seemingly remain open to interpretation. However, given the impact of the Building Safety Act 2022 on liability and the period within which claims can be brought, it is clear that this is an area that may eventually give rise to claims against landscape architects involved in these types of projects.

As with the irrigation systems, it will be vitally important that the issue of fire safety is raised with the Clients and the design team, and that advice of fire safety experts is obtained to ensure adequate consideration is given to the potential fire risk that a green wall may pose.

It is also important to review the terms of your current, and any future, professional indemnity insurance policies that you obtain to establish the extent of any cover that may be provided in respect of the green wall generally and the potential fire safety aspect specifically.

If you would like to discuss the issues raised in this article, please do not hesitate to contact us.