Open the windows or die

December 3, 2010

It’s -10 degrees outside. There’s snow on the ground. It’s toasty warm inside (well, as toasty warm as one small radiator in a big room can make it). So, of course, what is your first inclination on such a cold day? Open the window, of course! I mean, who wouldn’t open the window to let in all the cold, frigid, snow filled air in…oh wait. Me. That’s right. I wouldn’t do that. But guess who does? The Germans!!!

In my second installment on the conditions of air in Germany, I would like to talk about “schlechte Luft” – also know in English as “bad air”. As I have mentioned before, since Germans (well, and most of the rest of the world) don’t use an AC/Furnace that moves air around and brings in fresh air, the air in a room can quickly change conditions i.e. from good to bad aka stuffy and stinky. But, as I am about to share in this story, not only can bad air be stinky and stuffy, it can be dangerous – it can even kill.

I was in Munich, staying with an American friend of mine and her host family; let’s call them the Schmidts. The Schmidts just recently built a brand new apartment on the side of their house for their 2 oldest daughters. Due to new, country-wide building codes regarding energy efficiency, new construction must have a certain amount of insulation, a certain thickness of walls and a certain level of energy efficient windows. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for not wasting energy and keeping my energy bills at a minimum etc…but this is where the irony begins in my little brain. You see, as Frau Schmidt explained to me, because the new construction is so air tight, there is never any fresh air getting into the home. And as a result, not only do you have “schlechte Luft”, but the trapped air will also cause mold to begin developing in the house! And if the mold develops, not only can you get sick, not only will it ruin the half million dollar addition, but it can also kill you.

So, what’s to be done?

The scenario I painted at the beginning of the post! The windows have to be opened 6 times a day to allow air exchange. 6 times on a below freezing day!!! Granted, they only have to be open for about 2 minutes, but really?!?! Isn’t the point to be energy efficient? Maybe I’m missing something here, but I’m not sure what could be more inefficient than opening the windows in a warm room, causing the temperature to drop 10 degrees, closing them and then requiring the little radiator under said windows to warm the room back up to a temperature where you can actually take off your Russian fur hat, gloves, scarf and coat just to repeat a few hours later.

Look, I’m not saying our system is more energy efficient, but at least I don’t have to dress like a Siberian inside my house to make sure the air doesn’t get bad resulting in death from mold poisoning.

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