Are living walls blooming beautiful or a blooming nuisance?


Living walls or vertical gardens have become an increasing trend in the past decade or so. They are completely unique and make homes much more interesting, creating a prominent feature with the wow factor! 

An outdoor living wall has a great visual appearance as well as providing insulating or cooling effects; meaning the home will lose less heat in the winter and retain less heat in the summer. In addition the number of living plants on the wall offer a degree of sound insulation and air purification, particularly in urban settings.

Indoor living walls are likely to be wall-mounted, although free-standing walls are not uncommon. However, alongside the visual impact and range of alternative house or tropical plants, indoor walls will require more careful planning and involve complex irrigation considerations.

Often living walls are design by professional interior or garden designers; who can incorporate the feature to produce beautiful and personal impressions of the world inside and outside the home.

After installation, the right kind of irrigation, regular nourishment, light, and temperature will ensure the plants stay healthy. Most large living walls in HNW homes will include regular maintenance arrangements to keep the wall flourishing. This ensures the best possible growing conditions and importantly checks the operation of any remote electronic monitoring and/or irrigation systems.

Types of irrigation systems

Policy cover

HNW policies have traditionally been written on an all risks basis, providing wide ranging cover for all of the buildings and contents. Our Executive Home and Plus policies include all risks cover to an external or internal living wall structure as part of the buildings section with smaller non-integrated portable structures being considered contents.

For leasehold properties the contents covers any fixtures and fittings and interior decorations for which the policyholder is legally responsible. However, in one example we came across a HNW client who had purchased a leasehold apartment as a shell and fitted out the building completely, a customisation in the region of £5M, which included a £25,000 living wall feature. The cover under contents wouldn’t be most appropriate for this individual as the contents rates involved will be significant and disproportionate to the risk. Therefore in view of the size of tenants’ improvements cover was agreed under the buildings section as tenant’s improvements and the contents policy extended appropriately to provide the necessary cover.

Sums insured and underwriting

A single large living wall could cost up to £25,000 to install plus regular maintenance. The overall sum insured allowance will depend upon the size and complexity of the structure and irrigation method utilised as well as the types of plants. 

Underwriters usually become aware of significant living walls during discussions with brokers, a request for additional tenants improvements cover or after a survey has taken place. They will want to satisfy themselves that it is professionally installed, subject to regular inspection and measures to protect the home from escape of water risks.

What can go wrong?

Living wall

Externally, the likely problems will be from the usual perils including storm.  A vertical wall attached to the home will be covered for all risks and not be part of the garden which is subject to various garden cover limits built into the policy.

Internally, the major risk to the home and the living wall is as a result of the water irrigation systems as water damage can be pretty significant and costly. The installer needs to be competent, there will be a maze of plumbing involved and the usual risk of escape of water, whether sudden or gradual leakage.

If something goes wrong involving water, it will be messy and damp. Gradual leakage from fixed pipes, tanks and apparatus will be covered and may cause rot and significant damage if going unnoticed.

There is a risk of mould if there is excessive watering and the area becomes too damp, or insufficient ventilation.

When leaving a home unoccupied for holidays or extended periods, there needs to be a method of watering and maintenance inspections. The 60 day unoccupancy exclusion is one to watch, as the heating and water supply may need to be maintained in addition to regular inspection visits during long periods of absence.

Plants can die naturally and 10% -15% will probably do so each year and be susceptible to pests and diseases.  If not watered and fed correctly, then the whole lot will likely become stressed or die.  Damage by rusting, corrosion, wet or dry rot, rising damp, fungus, insects, vermin, pests, atmospheric or climatic conditions will not be covered nor would plants dying naturally.

If the cause of a loss or damage is faulty design or installation, putting right the faulty installation is not covered, although any damage to the home and living wall plants will be.

And finally something to beware of - bringing nature into your home can have unforeseen downsides as even the most well-trained dog may initially find it hard to not pee all over the low level plants!

Mark Arends This article was written by our HNW technical consultant, Mark Arends.