Common Sense: Open the Windows

by Kerry Dougherty

Somewhere, my mother is smiling.

The woman who made us sleep at night — summer and winter — with our windows open to fight germs has been vindicated by no less an expert in public health than German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

OK, Merkel isn’t a public health expert, but politicians everywhere seem to think they are, and at least the German leader’s recommendations make sense. (That’s more than we can say about officials in Alexandria, who began mandating outdoor masks today. Idiotic.)

The Guardian reports that as the weather turns colder and folks are driven indoors, the spread of COVID-19 is beginning to accelerate in Germany. Studies show that 90% of cases spread inside. To combat this, Merkel is asking folks to “Lüften,” the age-old German custom of opening windows and letting in fresh air.

But we’re way ahead of her.

Back in March, German native Krys Stefansky wrote a piece urging everyone to do just that.

Germans open their windows in the mornings and evenings to air out their houses. The Guardian reports that it’s a common requirement for renters as a way to prevent foul odors and mold in their apartments.

Air hygiene, they call it.

My mom referred to it simply as “opening the darn windows.”

We went to bed every night with our windows cracked open. Then, first thing each morning, my mother would throw open the bedroom sashes, turning each little chamber into a walk-in refrigerator in winter.

My mom warned that if we failed to conduct a vigorous daily airing of the house and bedclothes, we’d be in the same pitiful shape as the pale kids who lived down the street and whose mother was always “running them to the doctor.”

I didn’t see it that way. In fact, I looked with envy at the vacant desks of my sick classmates, whose mothers kept their houses toasty enough for coughs, fevers and colds to develop.

While I sat at my desk in relentless good health, I envisioned my less-robust friends swaddled in soft blankets on their living room couches, watching “Truth or Consequences” on TV and sipping ginger ale.

It seemed like heaven. Alas, I never experienced it. I now blame Lüften.

Back in 2003, when a nasty flu was ravaging Virginia Beach schools, the principal at St. Gregory the Great kicked it old school: She sent everyone home, turned off the heat and opened the windows.

Guess what? It worked.

Likewise, a teacher quoted in the Guardian piece says she airs out her German classrooms every 20 minutes.

As local kids begin heading back to their schools, perhaps our teachers could do the same.


No way, I was told.

Most of our schools either have windows that don’t open or are permanently locked. For safety reasons.

My mother would not approve. Neither would Angela Merkel.

This column is republished with permission from Kerry: Unemployed & Unedited.

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26 responses to “Common Sense: Open the Windows

  1. When energy prices spiked, we did everything we could to conserve in both summer and winter, which meant “do not open windows” for any reason. It became a habit, probably not a good one.

    • With COVID-19, we are experiencing the downside of our obsession with energy efficiency and airtight buildings.

      • Right. Keeping your heating bill so you can afford it is not a good thing!

        alice in wonderland reigns supreme!

        • Most houses get way too much ventilation in the winter and not nearly enough in the summer.

          That’s because the amount of ventilation they get depends on how hard the wind is blowing outside.

          It also doesn’t help that the excessive ventilation in the winter causes the indoor relative humidity to drop like a rock.

        • Yes indeed. An “obession” to not incur $500 a month heating bills so there is enough money to buy other “stuff” like food! 😉

          Of course, if they follow the Bacon/Kerry plan – they can simply do that and not pay their electric bill and let Bacon/Kerry pay for it instead!

          This is what passes for “conservative logic” these days. 😉

          • When the average temperature is 65 to 70 degrees, like it is now, I don’t think anyone will be running up their electric bill. I would recommend closing the windows when it’s sub-freezing outside.

  2. Alexandria’s mask ordinance isn’t as onerous as Kerry’s brief comment may make it seem. It only applies when people from different households can’t maintain 6 feet of separation. It excludes anybody engaging in physical activity. It has no penalty other than a verbal warning and an offer of a free mask.

    I guess if you’re ambling down King Street on a crowded sidewalk you’d be expected to wear a mask although “ambling” might be considered a physical activity.

    Hard to say exactly what the Alexandria City Council wanted to accomplish with this new mask mandate.

  3. James Wyatt Whitehead V

    I always keep the windows cracked open. Especially in the winter time. I have old fashioned radiator heat. There are only two settings. Sauna or Ice Age. Cold fresh air seems to be the only way to moderate the temperature in my old house.

    • My 1st ex-wife used to leave her bedroom window opened year round when she was growing up at home. After we married, she introduced this custom to the marriage. It ended our first winter when I awoke with a pile of snow on my pillow.

  4. Back awhile, houses were being build so tight that the air handlers were designed to pick up outside air. The folks bought a retirement bungalow in Texas, built in 86, that when you slammed the door, your ears popped. The AC unit was in the attic space and had small vent, 1″x1″, on the intake side that drew in air from the attic.

    I think the term for a house that does not exchange air is actually “sick house”.

    • The current code requires a blower-door test. The results are in air changes per hour (ACH). If the blower-door test reveals an ACH number that is too high, the test fails and the leaks must be corrected.

      If the blower-door test reveals an ACH number that is too low, mechanical ventilation to bring in air from the outside must be installed.

      Given the quality of the labor pool (alcoholics, ex-cons, and drug addicts) that has been building houses in Virginia for the last several decades, it is unlikely that you will find a “tight” house in Virginia built prior to the blower-door test requirement.

    • Drawing intake air from a hot attic is even more stupid than putting the AC air handler up there in the first place.

      • T-E-X-A-S. No other words are necessary. During the 70s and 80s they built millions of houses with cedar shake roofs in neighborhoods with something like a 3 foot setback. An entire block in Plano went up it minutes. I looked at a house where the AC unit and the neighbor’s AC unit had to be staggered. Slab construction was all the rage and most had to be repaired within a decade becase the soil shifts so badly.

        Two houses we looked at had picture windows over the tub in the bathroom not 10 feet from the neighbor’s dining room window. Oh, why didn’t I buy one of those?

        Buying a house in Texas is a real adventure.

        • This guy builds in Texas and has some interesting videos about how to build a house well:

          He had a video up titled “Is this the worst built house in America” showing some real shoddy Texas construction. Unfortunately, he took it down.

          • You’re obviously into housing construction. Take a vacation and look at some of the houses in the Dallas area built in the 80s. It’s purely entertaining. Air handlers in the attic were routine as were hot water heaters, most of which were inadequately panned (1″ drain) if there was a pan at all.

            My favorite was a mid century mordern with the bathroom in the bedroom, no doors to mess with, just walk to the foot of the bed and sit.

          • Here, it still exists, albeit with a critique…

  5. Sounds like Kerry has got a part-time job from Dominion and oil and gas fuels companies!

    I can just see a school with all the windows open in the winter.

    Not only would the heating bills double or triple but some kids might not do so well sitting in the cold….

    Perhaps, the smarter thing to do would be to look into how the HVAC could kill aiborne viruses; that actually would be a good thing longer term for other contagious diseases in congregate facilities.

    opening the window to let in cold air, then closing it and the heat coming on? wouldn’t you have to leave the window open longer and not let the heat come on or some such?

    • Spray “Raid” in the intake once a week. Hascc’tv hurrtb me anfgy.

    • Commercial HVAC systems are required by code to have a fresh air intake from the outside. It has already been recommended in HVAC trade journals to open these intakes to 100% due to COVID-19.

      • there you go again, trying to inject facts into this discussion………

        • My concern with regards to COVID-19 and commercial HVAC systems is that many are owned by small businesses that don’t have in-house HVAC maintenance staff (unlike, say, a large building) and may not be aware that they should be opening their fresh air intakes up to 100%. Ideally their HVAC maintenance contractor makes them aware of this.

          This is not information that should be confined to the pages of an HVAC trade journal. Outside of that, I did see an email from my employer (a very large company) dealing with COVID-19 that made the recommendation to have the landlord adjust the fresh air intake to 100%.

          Beyond that…crickets.

        • That could be a role for practically any agency at any level that has provided COVID-19 guidance and recommendations to the business community. That includes the CDC, OSHA, the state and local health departments, and even NGOs like National Federation of Independent Business.

        • That’s good, but it’s as applicable to a retail store in a strip mall as it is to an office building. The CDC putting the info on a page geared towards office buildings doesn’t necessarily help convey that info to all of those who need it.

  6. Might be something after all to wearing masks inside?

    oh no… that would be restricing the “right to infect” ?

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