Friday, May 1, 2009

The House: Ventilation

Having settled the four requisites in any home, and suggested the points to be made in regard to the first one,—that of wholesome situation,—Ventilation is next in order. Theoretically, each one of us who has studied either natural philosophy or physiology will state at once, with more or less glibness, the facts as to the atmosphere, its qualities, and the amount of air needed by each individual; practically nullifying such statement by going to bed in a room with closed windows and doors, or sitting calmly in church or public hall, breathing over and over again the air ejected from the lungs all about,—practice as cleanly and wholesome as partaking of food chewed over and over by an indiscriminate crowd.

Now, as to find the Reason Why of all statements and operations is our first consideration, the familiar ground must be traversed again, and the properties and constituents of air find place here. It is an old story, and, like other old stories accepted by the multitude, has become almost of no effect; passive acceptance mentally, absolute rejection physically, seeming to be the portion of much of the gospel of health. "Cleanliness is next to godliness," is almost an axiom. I am disposed to amend it, and assert that cleanliness is godliness, or a form of godliness. At any rate, the man or woman who demands cleanliness without and within, this cleanliness meaning pure air, pure water, pure food, must of necessity have a stronger body and therefore a clearer mind (both being nearer what God meant for body and mind) than the one who has cared little for law, and so lived oblivious to the consequences of breaking it.

Ventilation, seemingly the simplest and easiest of things to be accomplished, has thus far apparently defied architects and engineers. Congress has spent a million in trying to give fresh air to the Senate and Representative Chambers, and will probably spend another before that is accomplished. In capitols, churches, and public halls of every sort, the same story holds. Women faint, men in courts of justice fall in apoplectic fits, or become victims of new and mysterious diseases, simply from the want of pure air. A constant slow murder goes on in nurseries and schoolrooms; and white-faced, nerveless children grow into white-faced and nerveless men and women, as the price of this violated law.

What is this air, seemingly so hard to secure, so hard to hold as part of our daily life, without which we can not live, and which we yet contentedly poison nine times out of ten?

Oxygen, nitrogen, carbonic acid, and watery vapor; the last two being a small portion of the bulk, oxygen and nitrogen making up four-fifths. Small as the proportion of oxygen seems, an increase of but one-fifth more would be destruction. It is the life-giver, but undiluted would be the life-destroyer; and the three-fifths of nitrogen act as its diluent. No other element possesses the same power. Fires and light-giving combustion could not exist an instant without oxygen. Its office seems that of universal destruction. By its action decay begins in meat or vegetables and fruits; and it is for this reason, that, to preserve them, all oxygen must be driven out by bringing them to the boiling point, and sealing them up in jars to which no air can find entrance. With only undiluted oxygen to breathe, the tissues would dry and shrivel, fuel burn with a fury none could withstand, and every operation of nature be conducted with such energy as soon to exhaust and destroy all power. But "a mixture of the fiery oxygen and inert nitrogen gives us the golden mean. The oxygen now quietly burns the fuel in our stoves, and keeps us warm; combines with the oil in our lamps, and gives us light; corrodes our bodies, and gives us strength; cleanses the air, and keeps it fresh and invigorating; sweetens foul water, and makes it wholesome; works all around us and within us a constant miracle, yet with such delicacy and quietness, we never perceive or think of it, until we see it with the eye of science."

Food and air are the two means by which bodies live. In the full-grown man, whose weight will average about one hundred and fifty-four pounds, one hundred and eleven pounds is oxygen drawn from the air we breathe. Only when food has been dissolved in the stomach, absorbed at last into the blood, and by means of circulation brought into contact with the oxygen of the air taken into our lungs, can it begin to really feed and nourish the body; so that the lungs may, after all, be regarded as the true stomach, the other being not much more than the food-receptacle.

Take these lungs, made up within of branching tubes, these in turn formed by myriads of air-cells, and each air-cell owning its network of minute cells called capillaries. To every air-cell is given a blood-vessel bringing blood from the heart, which finds its way through every capillary till it reaches another blood-vessel that carries it back to the heart. It leaves the heart charged with carbonic acid and watery vapor. It returns, if pure air has met it in the lung, with all corruption destroyed, a dancing particle of life. But to be life, and not slow death, thirty-three hogsheads of air must pass daily into the lungs, and twenty-eight pounds of blood journey from heart to lungs and back again three times in each hour. It rests wholly with ourselves, whether this wonderful tide, ebbing and flowing with every breath, shall exchange its poisonous and clogging carbonic acid and watery vapor for life-giving oxygen, or retain it to weigh down and debilitate every nerve in the body.

With every thought and feeling some actual particles of brain and nerve are dissolved, and sent floating on this crimson current. With every motion of a muscle, whether great or small, with every process that can take place in the body, this ceaseless change of particles is going on. Wherever oxygen finds admission, its union with carbon to form carbonic acid, or with hydrogen to form water, produces heat. The waste of the body is literally burned up by the oxygen; and it is this burning which means the warmth of a living body, its absence giving the stony cold of the dead. "Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" may well be the literal question for each day of our lives; and "pure air" alone can secure genuine life. Breathing bad air reduces all the processes of the body, lessens vitality; and thus, one in poor health will suffer more from bad air than those who have become thoroughly accustomed to it. If weakened vitality were the only result, it would not be so serious a matter; but scrofula is soon fixed upon such constitutions, beginning with its milder form as in consumption, but ending in the absolute rottenness of bone and tissue. The invalid may live in the healthiest climate, pass hours each day in the open air, and yet undo or neutralize much of the good of this by sleeping in an unventilated room at night. Diseased joints, horrible affections of the eye or ear or skin, are inevitable. The greatest living authorities on lung-diseases pronounce deficient ventilation the chief cause of consumption, and more fatal than all other causes put together; and, even where food and clothing are both unwholesome, free air has been found able to counteract their effect.

In the country the balance ordained in nature has its compensating power. The poisonous carbonic acid thrown off by lungs and body is absorbed by vegetation whose food it is, and which in every waving leaf or blade of grass returns to us the oxygen we demand. Shut in a close room all day, or even in a tolerably ventilated one, there may be no sense of closeness; but go to the open air for a moment, and, if the nose has not been hopelessly ruined by want of education, it will tell unerringly the degree of oxygen wanting and required.

It is ordinarily supposed that carbonic-acid gas, being heavier, sinks to the bottom of the room, and that thus trundle-beds, for instance, are especially unwholesome. This would be so, were the gas pure. As a matter of fact, however, being warmed in the body, and thus made lighter, it rises into the common air, so that usually more will be found at the top than at the bottom of a room. This gas is, however, not the sole cause of disease. From both lungs and skin, matter is constantly thrown off, and floats in the form of germs in all impure air. To a person who by long confinement to close rooms has become so sensitive that any sudden current of air gives a cold, ventilation seems an impossibility and a cruelty; and the problem becomes: How to admit pure air throughout the house, and yet avoid currents and draughts. "Night-air" is even more dreaded than the confined air of rooms; yet, as the only air to be had at night must come under this head, it is safer to breathe that than to settle upon carbonic acid as lung-food for a third, at least, of the twenty-four hours. As fires feed on oxygen, it follows that every lamp, every gas-jet, every furnace, are so many appetites satisfying themselves upon our store of food, and that, if they are burning about us, a double amount of oxygen must be furnished.

The only mode of ventilation that will work always and without fail is that of a warm-air flue, the upward heated air-current of which draws off the foul gases from the room: this, supplemented by an opening on the opposite side of the room for the admission of pure air, will accomplish the desired end. An open fire-place will secure this, provided the flue is kept warm by heat from the kitchen fire, or some other during seasons when the fire-place is not used. But perhaps the simplest way is to have ample openings (from eight to twelve inches square) at the top and bottom of each room, opening into the chimney-flue: then, even if a stove is used, the flue can be kept heated by the extension of the stove-pipe some distance up within the chimney, and the ascending current of hot air will draw the foul air from the room into the flue. This, as before stated, must be completed by a fresh-air opening into the room on another side: if no other can be had, the top of the window may be lowered a little. The stove-pipe extension within the chimney would better be of cast-iron, as more durable than the sheet-iron. When no fire is used in the sleeping-rooms, the chimney-flue must be heated by pipes from the kitchen or other fires; and, with the provision for fresh air never forgotten, this simple device will invariably secure pure and well-oxygenated air for breathing. "Fussy and expensive," may be the comment; but the expense is less than the average yearly doctor's bill, and the fussiness nothing that your own hands must engage in. Only let heads take it in, and see to it that no neglect is allowed. In a southern climate doors and windows are of necessity open more constantly; but at night they are closed from the fear referred to, that night-air holds some subtle poison. It is merely colder, and perhaps moister, than day-air; and an extra bed-covering neutralizes this danger. Once accustomed to sleeping with open windows, you will find that taking cold is impossible.

If custom, or great delicacy of organization, makes unusual sensitiveness to cold, have a board the precise width of the window, and five or six inches high. Then raise the lower sash, putting this under it; and an upward current of air will be created, which will in great part purify the room.

Beyond every thing, watch that no causes producing foul air are allowed to exist for a moment. A vase of neglected flowers will poison the air of a whole room. In the area or cellar, a decaying head of cabbage, a basket of refuse vegetables, a forgotten barrel of pork or beef brine, a neglected garbage pail or box, are all premiums upon disease. Let air and sunlight search every corner of the house. Insist upon as nearly spotless cleanliness as may be, and the second prime necessity of the home is secure.

When, as it is written, man was formed from the dust of the earth, the Lord God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

Shut off that breath of life, or poison it as it is daily poisoned, and not only body, but soul, dies. The child, fresh from its long day out of doors, goes to bed quiet, content, and happy. It wakes up a little demon, bristling with crossness, and determined not to "be good." The breath of life carefully shut out, death has begun its work, and you are responsible. And the same criminal blunder causes not only the child's suffering, but also the weakness which makes many a delicate woman complain that it "takes till noon to get her strength up."

Open the windows. Take the portion to which you were born, and life will grow easier.

Taken from:

Adapted to Domestic Use or Study in Classes

Copyright 1903
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