Popular Science Monthly/Volume 7/September 1875/House-Ventilation

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"OLD FULLER"—wise, witty, and thoroughly practical—pronounced by Coleridge to be "incomparably the most sensible, the least prejudiced great man of an age that boasted a galaxy of great men"—tells us that "houses ought to be built to live in, and not to look at;" and it seems strange that a truth so obvious should require to be enunciated by an authority so great.

Since Fuller's time we have in all respects vastly progressed. We are eminently a practical people, and are undisturbed in our utilitarian pursuits by purely æsthetic proclivities. But, if we have not realized the beautiful in architecture, we ought at least to have advanced toward the attainment of utility. Unfortunately, however, the aim and development of our national characteristics have not taken the useful direction of making our houses "fit to live in"—but only to let, and to sell!

To live in a house in the Fullerian sense means, of course, existence therein under the best attainable conditions of health, ease, fort, and economy. In other words, such desiderata mean proper shelter with efficient ventilation and adequate warming. And these now, as in the seventeenth century, are still indeterminate conditions in the problem of house-building.

If houses in Fuller's time were not built to live in, at least they were pleasant to look at. They pleased the judgment even more than the eye, for they fairly grew out of the requirements of the age, and were, in a great measure, the natural result of the ordinary materials at command. Not so the houses of the present day. Other times can boast their own styles. The castellated, the ecclesiastical, the Elizabethan, all express some idea, and are types of their own several ages and wants. But the nineteenth century, with its unlimited resources of iron and glass and its own peculiar civilization, has no distinctive style. The highest reach of architectural effort is a slavish reproduction of forms from which the spirit has lapsed with time and changed with custom. The interest attaching to a building of former ages arises partly from association and partly from the picturesque effect which age throws over it with its decay and damp. We might also say something of the poetic charm of desolation, the interest of rarity and historic truth—all, in short, which we instinctively feel can never be produced by the most perfect imitation.

But all that imagination and feeling conjure up, wherewith to clothe the rude forms of the past, are evidences of disuse and a superseded civilization. They no more accord with the full life and energy of the present age than hand-spinning does with the results of the steam-engine; and low wainscoted rooms, narrow windows, grotesque ornamentations, and rude domestic appliances, are only endurable when seen through the light of a tender, loving, hereditary pride. When, therefore, we see the constant and deliberate reproduction of old forms, and on assumed æsthetical grounds, we are justified in saying that such choice betokens the surrender of the judgment to a perverted taste; that the beauty of utility is not understood; and that the true object of house-building has yet to be learned.

The anomaly is made more apparent, if the result is less uncomfortable and unhealthy, when an architect breaks away from wholesome copying, and steals a little from various styles for the outside "treatment" of a modern dwelling. The result is a nondescript medley. Simplicity is ignored, proportion defied, fitness unthought of. For a rich man's use expense is disregarded in profuse variety; and for a poor man's dwelling—the balance is restored through the saving made in "jerry-building;" the result being what we have already stated, that average houses in the present day are built neither to live in nor to look at, but to let or to sell.

The anomaly of a medley of over-ornamentation and mixed styles in the individual villa, erected in the outskirts of large towns, is intensified into absolute mischief when such medley is applied to public buildings and street architecture. In the former it is bad taste; in the latter it is bad taste plus the evils that spring from a foul atmosphere. Profuse embellishment, in a large town, is only another name for traps to catch soot.

Passing from the perverted taste shown on the exterior, we must notice the unscientific arrangements in the interior of our average domestic dwelling.

Pure air is as absolute a necessity to human beings as good food and untainted water. Bad air kills, however, by inches only, while innutritious food and foul water do their evil work with quick precision—both, in the end, leading to the same results—impaired vitality, disease, and a high rate of mortality. Nature undoubtedly has a great power of adaptation; but, under a prolonged state of unfavorable sanitary conditions, that capacity is harshly exercised. Every abnormal condition of physical existence, arising from bad air, insufficient food, or undue exposure, and producing no immediate results, necessitates the drawing of sanitary bills on futurity to be paid with heavy interest; and the very poor, from necessity, and the rich, from ignorance and apathy, spend shortened lives of prodigal thoughtlessness, ending in vital bankruptcy. Hence the crowded inhabitants of the back slums of large towns live, unconsciously, their life of lowered health, under conditions which would kill off the fox-hunting squire in a month. This depressed level of vitality and deferred penalty furnish one explanation of the general indifference to pure air.

Another cause may be found in its omnipresence and the continuity of its use. Providence has bestowed on mankind a limitless amount of pure air. It surrounds us, it is always ready without effort; its chemical composition never varies, and it costs no money. If the supply were less ample, or it could only be obtained by an outlay of money or labor, or its use were intermittent, we, no doubt, should value it at its intrinsic worth, be more jealous of its misuse, and study more closely its influence upon health.

The nineteenth-century house, however, has no special provision for the admission of fresh air, and, except in warm weather, its entrance is jealously prevented. Ventilation is change of air, and, unless scientifically arranged, and especially warmed in cold weather, such change of atmosphere means cold currents, with their attendant train of colds, catarrhs, bronchitis, neuralgia, rheumatism, and the evils that spring from them. Again, perfect ventilation means the realization, in a great measure, of the condition of air out-of-doors; and few persons, probably, have estimated the enormous flow of air requisite to effect this. The ordinary notion is, that the proper renewal of the air in a room ought to be measured by the quantity passed through the lungs of an individual in any given time. But an ounce of poison may vitiate a gallon of water; and nothing short of the removal and renovation of the whole of the tainted portion, as fast as it becomes tainted, can insure perfect salubrity. Dr. Dalton estimated the average respiration of a man to be 24 cubic inches, and the average number per minute to be 20: consequently, 400 cubic feet pass through the lungs of an ordinary man in twenty-four hours; while the fallacy to which we have alluded assumes that a supply of 400 cubic feet in the room, in twenty-four hours, insures sufficient ventilation. Certainly, if any one would draw breath out of one bag, and discharge the tainted air from his lungs into another, he would always breathe good air. But it is calculated that a man will taint and render unwholesome by mixture 17,500 cubic feet of air in the twenty-four hours; for every respiration not only robs the imbibed 24 cubic inches of a certain portion of its oxygen, but it has mixed with it a quantity of carbonic-acid gas and some vapor; and theoretically, at least, the second respiration, drawn from a room in which the air is stagnant, begins the process of blood-poisoning.

The first rule, therefore, to be laid down in reference to perfect ventilation, prescribes the entire removal of the whole stratum of air tainted in a room by each respiration; for by no less a movement do we conceive it possible to take away the polluted air. This removal must be effected no less than twenty times per minute. Part of the expired air being rarefied by the heat of the lungs will rise, and part—the carbonic-acid gas—will fall. Twenty-four cubic inches, thus spread, may be assumed to taint a stratum, at or about a mouth of an occupant, of 18 inches. Any lateral movement would, in the case of several occupants, simply sweep the air breathed by one person close by the lips of some other; and hence we hold, as a corollary to this rule, that the prescribed movement should be either up or down, not lateral.

But the preceding calculation is based upon the minimum consumption of each person during quiescence. When talking, laughing, singing, walking, or dancing, the average respirations are, relatively, quickened, the consumption of air increased, and the necessity for a rapid change of atmosphere further enhanced. The amount of air inspired has been found to be as follows:

When lying down (say) 1.00
" sitting 1.18
" standing 1.33
" singing 1.26
" walking 1 mile per hour 1.90
" " 2 miles " 2.76
" " 3 " " 3.22
" " 3 " " 3.50
" " and carrying 34 pounds
" " 4 miles per hour 5.00
" " 6 " " 7.00
" riding (trotting) 4.05
" swimming 4.33

The above-ascertained accelerations of the respiratory organs sufficiently indicate the effect produced by all kinds of in-door exertion, and incontestably prove, from increased demand, the necessity for increased supply.

This view, which we admit to be an extreme one, of ventilation requirements in dwelling-houses, may serve, at least, to impress upon many the advantage of living as much as possible out-of-doors, and of taking some regular exercise. On the other hand, it will certainly show the futility of the petty, peddling expedients adopted under the name of ventilation, when the prevailing apathy is stirred to such an extent as to cause "something to be done," which may be a little better than resting content with doing nothing at all.

What we have said of the indifference, ignorance, or error as to ventilation, has had special reference to the designers of houses "built to look at," and to sell; but a deficiency so general and complete cannot be ascribed to those only who, while they occupy the position of teachers, are compelled to take their cue from the taught. The education of public opinion is a delicate process. It is essentially one of action and reaction, requiring concurrence to initiate and cooperation successfully to work out. The illness of the Prince of Wales did much to amend house-drainage, for the torpidity of public opinion gets well aroused when royalty suffers; and the asphyxiation of a nobleman or the blood-poisoning of a bishop would, no doubt, be a wonderful stimulus to the application of common-sense to house-ventilation.

The second rule that we lay down relates to the conditions of the supply of the large volume of fresh air we have indicated as necessary for perfect health: it must be tempered—warmed. No raw, damp, frosty air of an ever-changing temperature ought to have uncontrolled and constant ingress to our dwelling. Air out-of-doors is suited to out-of-door habits. It is healthy and bracing when the body is coated and wrapped, and prepared to meet it, and when excercise can be taken to keep up the circulation; but to live under cover is to live artificially, and all essential conditions must be dealt with to suit an abnormal state, and all the evils attaching to ventilation, as generally effected, spring from the neglect of this consistency. We admit raw air, and we warm it most at the critical moment when we send it up the chimney! We freeze our backs and scorch our faces. We sit with our feet in a current of cold air, and our heads are kept in an impure atmosphere, vitiated by human lungs, the products of gas-consumption, and loaded with animal matter. We have a torrid zone bordered by the hearth-rug, and the arctic regions in the neighborhood of the windows and door. Medical men shiver at the abstract idea of violent changes of temperature, but they raise no warning voice against delicate patients being subjected to a variation of 60° in a modern drawing-room. The notion is stereotyped that night air is unwholesome. The casual admission of air during the day is no longer permitted, all known apertures are carefully closed, and, if intention could be realized, not an atom of fresh air would be admitted during the hours of sleep. So little is the necessity for good air understood, that we find au able writer on health sanctioning, if not advocating, sleeping with the mouth under the clothes. His argument is that birds sleep with their heads under their wings, and he might have added, many animals with their noses buried in their fur; forgetful, however, that the feathers (and hair) form a natural respirator to warm and equalize the temperature of the air that passes freely through. There is therefore no analogy in a process for warming a constant supply of perfectly fresh air, and one for breathing the same air over and over again, and charged ad nauseam with organic impurities. Miss Nightingale approaches the subject of night air from the side of reason, and common-sense, and experience. She says:

"Another extraordinary fallacy is the dread of night air. What air can we breathe at night but night air? The choice is between pure night air from without and foul night air from within. Most people prefer the latter. An unaccountable choice. What will they say if it is proved to be true that fully one-half of all the disease we suffer from is occasioned by people sleeping with their windows shut? An open window most nights in the year can never hurt any one. This is not to say that light is not necessary for recovery. In great cities, night air is often the purest and best air to be had in the twenty-four hours. I could better understand in towns shutting the windows during the day than during the night for the sake of the sick. The absence of smoke, the quiet, all tend to making night the best time for airing the patients. One of our highest medical authorities on consumption and climate has told me that the air in London is never so pure as after ten o'clock at night."

These are the words of sound sense and experience. We shall only have to add to them, by-and-by, that it is not necessary to encounter the oftentimes great risk of sudden changes in temperature during the night, if we arrange one principal source of admission day and night to the house, and warm the air admitted. We may further remark that if there be the least ground for shrinking from night air, it is because of the often sudden and unforeseen change in the temperature, the very point overlooked in moving from fireplace to window in modern drawing-rooms.

Latterly some attention has been directed to a plan for diffused ventilation, adopted by Mr. M. Tobin. This plan consists of a series of vertical pipes placed along the walls, delivering fresh air in an upward current. In a multitude of pipes there is safety—much more so than in a multitude of counselors on this subject. Commenting upon this plan of course many critics claim priority of invention, and superiority in their modes of application, and the interests of the public thus go to the wall without any result. It is a pity that it cannot be made intelligible that whoever first opened a window or a door, for the express purpose of admitting air, originated ventilation; and that whoever first made a deeper recess for the lowest sash-bar, so that when the window was slightly raised the opening would only be where the two sashes overlap, and the admitted air thus thrown upward, originated Mr. Tobin's principle of getting the admitted air diffused in the upper part of the room; and that whoever did this in a room, with apparently no prearranged outlet, first realized the process known by the name of "Tobination."

We believe it was Sydney Smith who declared that if any one in London should stare continuously for a few minutes at the clouds he would be forthwith surrounded by a crowd of gazers, no one knowing why he gazed, intently interested in nothing, and quite unaware that the secret of his sympathy was the inspiration that makes the ploughman whistle—want of thought. For ourselves we do not undervalue this gregarious vacuous tendency. First catch your hare, says good Mrs. Glass, as the initiatory step to cook it. First secure your audience in this matter, as the absolutely necessary preliminary to convince the understanding and stimulate to action. The excitement and satisfaction felt at the recommendation of a mode of ventilation, because perfectly simple and thoroughly efficacious, and yet so obviously similar in its results to window-ventilation, we are disposed to hail as an encouraging symptom, although such satisfaction seems wonderfully like that felt by good King George when he adopted the simple expedient, under advice, of shutting his mouth to keep out the dust and dead flies on a windy day!

If the sanction of royalty helped to promote so proper a mode of excluding dust and insects, so, similarly, a report upon "Tobination," signed by six peers and gentlemen, and published in the Times on May 16th, may help to recommend the admission of fresh air as a useful method of ventilation. The phenomena attested are certainly surprising in their concurrence, and we cannot but regret that these noblemen and others did not simply state their opinion, which every one would respect, without assigning proofs which most persons must question. "Nae plea is best," say the cautious Scotch, and we are further reminded of the dictum of a wise old friend, "My reasons may be all wrong, but I know that my conclusion is quite right." Now, if the report had simply attested the fact that at a certain time the atmospheric condition of the ward was good, this would have been "nae plea," and best; for the raison d'être of the said good atmospheric condition seems to us to be contradictory. What the said six found they thus describe:

"In the ward of St. George's Hospital ventilated by Mr. Tobin's pipes we found the following phenomena:
1. Pure air agreeable to breathe.
2. Absolute equality of temperature at every level of the room, in which gas had been burnt for some time.
3. Freedom from all draught of air. "With a lighted taper we could detect no current in any portion of the room."

As we have already indicated, this statement in reference to "the last new thing" in ventilation is, to say the least, puzzling. It virtually asserts the instantaneous and complete mixture of cold air with air heated by and with the gaseous products of combustion, and a simultaneous and necessarily rapid diffusion throughout the entire space of the ward in St. George's Hospital; and that this rapid mingling, mixing movement of particles is done without any perceptible mingling, mixing process, or movement whatever! It thus virtually states that the rapid change of air which alone constitutes perfect ventilation is effected without any ascertainable movement of such air. If such concurrent phenomena be really, as stated, "matters of fact," and not, as we take them to be, the honest but erroneous belief of persons not accustomed to scientific and chemical research, we can only ejaculate like Dominie Sampson—"Pro-di-gi-ous!"

We have so far played the part of critic. We have stated the abstract requirements of perfect ventilation, and have assumed that such requirements are inapplicable to most modern houses. We have condemned the general ignorance and indifference to the proper supply of one of the essentials to existence, and have ridiculed the miserable expedients which pass current under false pretenses. We have further discussed the theory and practice of ventilation mainly distinct from its almost inseparable connection with house-warming. But, unless we are prepared to supply our houses by mechanical contrivances, such as fans, etc., it is impossible practically to consider the thing to be done apart from the obvious means to carry it out; and it is in heat that we find the ever-present and most applicable motive force. If we can give to our houses an average temperature of 55° with local exceptions somewhat in excess of this average, we make them, and particularly the lofty slip of building forming the common London street-house, into a warm air-shaft, having an upward draught. If we can properly arrange and control the entrances and exits of the necessary air, and secure that the supply be ample and the conditions of its motion innocuous, we have solved the problem of practical ventilation.

Any one who can effect this solution will be fairly entitled to the gratitude of all ranks and classes of society—excepting, perhaps, that of the medical profession! And whoever does this by a simple method—without using any scientific complications, and requiring no surrender of the average comprehension to the keeping of mechanical experts—who can reconcile sentiment with common-sense, and economy with the Epicureanism of our present civilization, and who yields no vantage-ground to servantgalism to demand higher wages, nor otherwise trenches upon the time-honored privileges of the servants' hall (to do little in the easiest way)—will have established a claim to social gratitude. The danger he will incur will be in the shape of a testimonial, which will most likely make Art shiver, and the descendants of the receiver despise the ability of the progenitor which handed down to them a thing they hate to keep and dare not sell.

There is a hades, moreover, for inventors and teachers, as well as a paradise. Like people who write books, they give their enemies an advantage. The detailing of their plans is like drugging a coat at Donnybrook Fair. They invite attack from every one whose interests they jostle, or whose pride they wound; and hurt feelings are a species of cantharides to hostile criticism. Altogether, the man who steps ahead of the crowd is marked out for assault. He quits a comfortable insignificance, and, bidding for fame, usually achieves failure and gains ill-will.

Clearly comprehending the possible results, we nevertheless venture to speak of a combined system of warming and ventilation which, from experience, we can state has proved successful. It aims at surcharging a house with warm air, in reversal of the present custom of exhaustion. Ventilation is movement of air, or draughts; and cold draughts are dangerous, and expensive. We therefore warm our draughts, and, in lieu of enemies, make of them friends. By superseding the necessity for it, we put bad workmanship into its proper category of things to be avoided. A house being full of warm air, misfits and scamped work form outlets, not inlets, and are no longer mischievous. By generating heat in the most scientific way, and retaining the bulk of it in the dwelling instead of sending ninety per cent, up the chimney, we enlist the sympathy of the thrifty; and, by considering the question from the house-maid's point of view, we avoid irritation and bickering, and, in spite of new-fangled arrangements—

"We still have peace at home."

Our plan is simply this: If the basement be dry and eligible, we form therein a fresh-air chamber by boarding off or otherwise making it, if possible, under the staircase-hall. We have it carefully cleansed, whitewashed, and purified. We jealously isolate it from any illicit communication with the usually damp and fusty atmosphere of ordinary basement premises, but give to it an ample communication with the outer air, being careful that the supply is drawn from untainted sources. Between this chamber and the hall we also arrange a communication through a large ornamental iron grid.

Immediately under the grid in the air-chamber we have placed a large slow-combustion coke or German stove, and to prevent dust, noise, or effluvium during such lighting, we recommend a slide, or trap-door opening downward, to cut off communication until the fire has burnt up. Voilà tout! This simple arrangement, which does not merit the name of apparatus, sets a system of ventilation to work for which we claim the merit of efficiency, by merely lighting and adjusting the stove-fire. Of course everybody has thought of this, and we dare say some persons have tried some such arrangement; but we question whether it has not been hitherto too simple for enthusiasts, too practical for theorists, and in its results too philosophical for "practical men."

A grid with a clear opening of two to two and a half feet square, through which air is sent at the rate of three feet per second, will change the entire atmosphere of an ordinary London house every hour; and a good-sized coke or well-constructed German stove will heat this volume of air from 65° to 70°, and maintain a temperature throughout such house of 50° to 55°.

The bulk of the heat so generated will be utilized and diffused. The excessive loss of heat from fireplaces will be changed to use, and economy will be the rule instead of a waste—excessive, continuous, and expensive. And the whole of it will be in substitution—not in excess—of an undisturbed open fire-grate consumption of fuel, and this by a process of natural selection and persuasion. With a fairly equable temperature of 50° to 55° throughout the house, and highest where now it is usually lowest—the hall and passages—the demand for large open fires subsides. Small fires become the rule, and their going out the difficulty. There will be no dread of draughts from open doors; no peevish injunctions to "shut that door;" no huddling over a hot fire, scorched on one side and chilled on the other; no breathing at one moment of air at 100°, and the next, and without preparation or much gradation, one of 40°. In short, "the bull will be taken by the horns" and tamed. We have made friends of our foes, and we may cry Eureka!—for the problem will be solved!

Now for the possible objections. We shall probably be told that stoves are unwholesome—that they spoil the air and make the warmed space "close." Our reply is, that stoves in unventilated rooms do all this, and more. They are usually unsightly, and they—even the most economical—rob the room of the bright, cheerful, moral influence of warmth with light. But none of the objections to which stoves are liable attach to their use under the arrangement we advocate. The stove is not placed in an unventilated room, but in a strong draught. No particle of air ever gets warmed twice over. None is forced into contiguity with the heating surface. It takes up as it passes that surface its modicum of caloric, and wings it way to impart it to all and everything of a lower temperature than itself; and finally it escapes, when fairly deprived of it, by nicks and crannies and illegitimate outlets, as well as by those prearranged for the best effect. Hence there are no whistling shreds of frosty air, harbingers of colds, catarrhs, toothache, earache, and neuralgic inflictions; no "sulphuring" from down-draughts in unused bedroom-fires; no shiversome "draughts" from open doors. By admitting air round about our heat-generator, full, free, and unconfined, we adopt the principle of the steam-engine governor. If the stove be overheated from negligence, the draught becomes quicker, the particles of air are heated sooner, but not necessarily much more. If the stove-fire is allowed to get low, each particle of air lingers longer, until warmed enough to set off on its errand of ventilation and warming. Variations of heat in the stove quicken or retard the unconfined and full current rather than vary the heat of each particle, and we claim to accomplish by a self-acting process a fair uniformity of temperature.

It will, no doubt, be urged that a house kept up to 50° and 55° makes people "delicate;" that they "catch cold" when they go out; that a hardening process is healthy, and so on.

Our reply is, that a uniform temperature of 50° and 55° is natural and healthy. That the maintenance of this temperature in winter must be a question of clothes or fuel on the one hand, or of depressed functional action on the other. That the loving care which prescribes a cold bedroom and a hot, sweltering bed is of the nature of that kindness that kills. That children buried in blankets realize Prince Bismarck's coarse threat to the Parisians: that their delicate skins become overheated and relaxed while they are irritated by perspiration; at the same time that the most delicate tissues of all, in the lungs, are dealing with air abnormally frigid. Fevered or relaxed, the poor little victims of combined ignorance and kindness toss and dream, troubled under a mass of bedclothes, while the well-meaning mother, "wrapped in her virtue," and soothed by a bedroom-fire, slumbers peacefully through the working out of the sad process of "the survival of the fittest."

The only other objection to be urged against the use of a stove is the small part that the combustion of the fuel in it plays in the matter of ventilation. As the ventilation by means of an open-air fireplace is the principal cause of the waste of heat up the chimney, we cannot consider this gain from arrested waste as an objection, except in extreme cases of stove-misplacement. As, in the plan we are considering, the stove is the agent to supply a very large quantity of air, the plea that it does not abstract any large volume, we take to be an advantage, not an evil. The open fires become the chief diffusers, drawing the injected air within and then out of each room. We concede their employment to the claims of luxury as wasteful adjuncts, but minister still to comfort and luxury. At the same time we legitimatize their action and leave them free to work. We are no long-er at enmity with Nature; no longer spoiled children of civilization, struggling against "what is good for us;" but, freely accepting the imposed conditions of an artificial life, we use reason and common-sense to make them the best of their kind. We cook our air as we cook our food. Both in a raw state are objectionable. Both subjected to the modifying influence of heat become pleasant ministers to our daily wants. One generates the blood which is the life, the other is its purifier and renovator. The use of both is health, vigor, and enjoyment; the abuse of either counts up largely in the account we have to pay for what of evil there is in the world.—Abridged from Westminster Review.