ARE OUR HOUSES GOOD FOR US?

These days most of us live in either new or modernised houses. For most of us an open fire is a thing of the past, as are the draughts and smoke and dust and ashes that came with it. New materials and production methods now give us double glazing and door units that fit so well that draughts and external noise are all but eliminated. Central heating is just about universal. Our walls and ceilings are now insulated to very high standards. The standard of home maintenance is high enough that most of us don't know of anyone with a leaky roof, or a broken gutter. For most people, apart from the current economic situation, our houses are now cheap to heat, and the most comfortable that they have ever been. But for those of us with dodgy lungs, are they really good for us? I sometimes fear that the answer might be, 'Not really.'

Back in the days when most people had open fires, most families lived in the kitchen for most of the week, only going into the 'front room', or 'parlour', at weekends or on special occasions. Using that room usually meant lighting the fire. Think about what that entailed. The cost of the extra fire, coal was expensive to buy, wood was expensive in terms of time to collect. The best furniture would be exposed to dust from the fire. Many people would dress up to use that room. For some people, that meant washing extra clean! I can remember my grandfather complaining if a visitor was to call in the week! For a fire to burn properly required a well designed chimney to get the smoke out, and a good supply of air to keep it going. That good supply of air often was a draught under the door which usually someone would feel either on the back of their neck, or about their ankles. Comfort was rarely complete. The following day, someone would have to clean out and re-lay the fire.

Because of the intermittent heat in the front room, damp patches would often be a problem, particularly if the ground floor had solid floors. This would mean a chill could settle on the house quickly, as well as problems with mould and rot. People got by by wearing more layers, vest, heavy shirt, pullover or cardigan, jacket. Some people even wore house caps and gloves. Hard times for some. Better quality houses had a suspended floor at ground level, but as it was not much more expensive to build a cellar, this became a common option. The extra storage was valuable and the insulation due to the air space below meant these houses were easier to keep warm and dry. Bedrooms would always have a chill, and bedtime would be ritual of hot water bottles and warm drinks to take to bed. The first ten minutes or so until the bed warmed up, well, you had to live through it to know what it was like. Loft insulation is a relatively recent development.

Window frames then were made out of wood for choice. It lasted longest, was reliable and looked 'respectable'. Iron frames were for 'cheap' houses, and tended not to last very long before suffering from corrosion because the iron was usually low grade to keep the cost down, and poor maintenance would quicken the process through lack of paint or lack of lubrication causing hinges to wear or seize. Wooden frames had their own problems, mostly of swelling and shrinking according to whether the weather was wet or not. Sash frames could jam shut for days until they would magically free themselves, and then rattle in the slightest breeze.

Because in general we are so much more affluent now, and we have the advantage of living in a technically proficient society, most of us have moved on to a much better situation. For some of us though, have we moved in entirely the right direction? Yes, we have comfortable, draught free houses that are easy to heat and clean. But how many of us, particularly those of us with poor lungs, sometimes feel the need for a flow of fresh air. I have noticed since moving to our present home, that more often I feel that the air in the house is lacking sufficient oxygen. This house has new doors and windows that are totally draught free. They have built in ventilation pathways which we always leave open, but they are not enough. Even though I am on supplementary oxygen, at times I find my saturated oxygen level dropping well below what I consider to be 'normal at rest' for me. If I open the back door and some windows at the front of the house for a while, and fairly quickly, the air 'quality' returns to 'normal'. Is it good for us for our houses to be this airtight? I have my doubts.

Also we hear occasionally of people who have problems with fumes given off by materials used in upgrading wall insulation, sometimes for months or even in extreme cases years. This does not sound like a completely safe home to me. These issues are not as common as they used to be.

Are we better off than we were? My opinion is 'Yes', by an immeasurable amount. With a 'But'. That 'But' is that we need to make sure that those who are developing the next 'Best thing since sliced bread', really are making developments that are good for us. All of us.

Breathe easy, all of you.

Johnwr

15 Replies

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  • I do believe you are right, i often have stand by the window to get some air,

  • I always open my bedroom window during the day but have noticed that other houses in the street rarely do in the winter, just that window refreshes the air in the bungalow. I am on oxygen 15/24 but often feel stuffy headed in the off period especially when I am cooking, so cook with the back door open.

  • I always have my window open, whatever the weather, I feel too clogged up otherwise. X

  • I always have the bedroom and bathroom windows open, all year. On a nice day, even in winter, I will open several windows to refresh the air. Also, we don't have the heating on too high. I would rather be on the cool side than hot.

    I remember the days as a child when I could scrape ice from the inside of my window, a coal, then later, a gas fire in the lounge was the only source of heat. There was damp and my parents (never smokers) often had bronchitis.

    Good old days? I don't think so!

    Lynne xx

  • Hello Johnwr, I enjoyed reading your post,thank you so much, I live in an old drafty house with an open fire in the kitchen and living room. I've lived here for thirty years and its a lot like living in the good ole days you described so well! I still hug my hot water bottle most days and there's plenty of fresh air coming in through the attic and around the windows! I do love it though but I also think it makes my emphysema worse with the dust and smoke,still I love getting the fires lit and sitting watching the flames on a cold winters day and in the summer I have the doors and windows wide open.Sometimes I have to step outside because I get so hot and I just look up at all those stars twinkling away up in the heavens and I know how lucky I am! I spent many years looking after people in super insulated homes devoid of air and I know which I prefer even though its tough sometimes! Hope you have a breathe easy day,love Carol xxx

  • I totally agree, my husband who has COPD always feels cold and likes the heating on full blast. I have to sit in another room in the evening as it is overpowering. We have been told he can have a great big oxygen machine that plugs into the mains and coverts the air into oxygen. If there is no decent air in your home how does it work. I lived in the type of house johnwr talks about and we had fireplaces in all the rooms, I remember it was my job to hold the draw-tin against the fire until it got going. We were never cold as our bedroom was above the room where the fire was always lit and the heat from the chimney warmed the room. There was always fresh air as draughts came through the windows until you closed the curtains but it always creeped out somewhere. I cannot ever remember having a cold, I had my appendix out and that was that, we walked to school in all weathers, I had a twenty minutes walk, and sat in schools with our outdoorclothes on because the heating had gone off, we were never sent home.

    I am sure we were healthier then. Nowadays it is cold after cold, my husband gets this nasty bug infection every two weeks, he is coughing and spluttering and because there is no fresh air in the place it just lays there lingering. If I try to open a window he has a melt-down.

    Many years ago when cavity wall insulation was first introduced, everyone said it was not good for the houses as the reason they build them with blocks and a gap then bricks was for air to circulate around the building, now these gaps are filled how does the air circulate. Do they still build houses the same way with this gap, and if they do what is the reason for it or are the new houses fully cavity insulated when they are bought.

    I honestly think the best type of house to buy is a house that has adjoining houses each side then you have the warmth of the houses next to you stopping damp etc. so you only have the back and front to worry about. We have always had either semi or detached houses and find that you cannot put a bed upto an outside wall as condenstation gathers where the duvets touch the wall, but if you put a bed upto an innerwall everything is fine and the other wall then dries out, there is no damp as it was just just lack of airflow.

    Our central heating broke down and my husband refused to have it sorted out, as he now finds that having a convector heater in each room makes his breathing easier, he does not know why, but he says it feels fresher, it is costing us an arm and a leg as like I said he likes it on full blast so what can you do.

  • Hi John, i think maybe you are right, i dnt havethe luxury of double glazing but still need to have window open in my bedroom and living room to have the fresh air to breath in, people seemed to be harder in those days too and fitter by the type of work they had to do maybe were softer nowdays? xx

  • Your description of 'past times' took me back to my very young days.It was just as you say and my families first modern house was in 1958. I now live in an apartment in a conversion of a building built in 1760. It has had a lot of problems but we are now getting things done to make our lives safer. It's listed so we get a bit of a fight with the council on certain issues. I have sash windows and a friend made me some mesh covered boxes which fit into the open window space at the bottom. I get as much fresh air as I can, it does help and also stops the cats escaping. The Sunvic heating controller was opposed but it really does help keep a reasonable background heat, better than freeze or boil as with the old one. We have smoke alarms and I am on a mission, when the surveyor calls this week, to see if we can have carbon monoxide alarms fitted. We are all older, single people and we do chat and sometimes visit each other but it's not unusual not to see someone for days at a time and with these old gas boilers I think the alarms are essential. One tip, if you have sash windows, with the bottom window raised as far as you can get it spray the sides that are covered by the closed window with a waxy furniture polish it allows them to run freely. Raise and lower a few times to get the polish on both surfaces and they should run freely for the winter and beyond. I know spray cans are difficult for anyone with a lung condition but you could use any type of polish as long as you put it on thinly. Hope you keep as well as you can this winter.

    Jane

    Jane

    Jane

  • Hi John,

    Last year I moved from a large draughty and damp ancient stone cottage to a small post war bungalow. I would have to say that in both places I felt the need for open windows all year round. I started opening my bedroom window on rising every morning and leaning out to suck in the air a couple of years before diagnosis. I was convinced that the weather was 'too heavy' and there was 'no air'. I think most of us experience this sensation by the time we reach the v.severe level. I cannot bear to have any heating in the bedroom but do have a good electric blanket. As long as the bed is warm I am fine.

    I do know that I cannot be around a wood burning stove either, let alone a fire. Likewise cooking fumes, oven heat etc has me gasping too, so I now live on microwave meals when my daughter is away.

    Ironically, having moved into my council bungalow - which I love and am hugely grateful for - I have gone from the frying pan to the fire. Tests done for Radon gas in my lounge and bedroom were positive . This was a high enough reading to be at some increased risk of lung cancer and I was advised to have work done - having Radon pumps installed beneath the concrete floors to direct the gas outside. However I was just short of the high danger level required for the council to foot the bill. I did try to explain that I was already at increased risk of lung cancer having v.severe COPD and so the additional risk they had told me of from Radon was not good, but they simply repeated that I should get it done privately . So - unable to afford such expense for now, I keep my home, as well as myself, well ventilated.

    Purely from a comfort point of view, I am looking into getting a couple of good overhead fans fitted after Xmas - one each for lounge and bedroom. Apart from being great for the hot or humid months, I think they will help relieve sensations of air hunger - not a constant problem at the moment, but there are times when I could do with it. More importantly such times are only likely to increase with this insidious disease. I do currently have a full height fan on a stand but find that it's precisely at those times when I most need it that I have the least strength to move it to the room / position where I need it. I have lain ill before now looking longingly at it in the corner of the room but unable to get to it :( So, a good ceiling fan with remote control will be like heaven :)

    Oops! Seem to have rambled on a bit! Hope this finds you well John, best wishes, P.

  • Johnwr - lots of interesting reading from you and others. I do agree with all that has been said. I grew up in a big house in the 1940s. Many cold memories. What do people think of humidifiers (electric)

  • Fabulous Annie, bought a second one last week for downstairs, one bought a month or so back has removed an awful lot of moisture; a boon, ~£200 for the UK made ebac 2850e some available (collection only...due to weight) on ebay 50-25% of online retail........save on your heating bills too.

    d.

  • Hi Johnwr very good reading post as usual. Thank you - have gone all nostalgic for my childhood home, 3 up in a tenement (good exercise for the lungs) but then again it was maybe the thought of those stairs several times a day that made my five brothers and myself stay out until late (from a very young age - yikes) and almost all of the weekends -again a mixed blessing as out in the fresh air maybe more than most and then again we could all hardly fit into a room and kitchen -my parents making 8 in the family. Come to think of it 8 people all of them quite loud and chatty together with the sooty coal fire must have taken up a huge amount of air. The tenements were stuck between a whisky distillery and a foundry from which alarming sparks lit up the sky nightly. Forget the nostalgia. Will sign off now as even to me this is beginning to sound like a horror story.

    What on earth did we all laugh so much about -ignorance is indeed bliss.

  • In my home the morning routine is to open the solid fuel stove door and rake through the hopefully still glowing embers.put more coal and a log on the fire , close the the top door, open the bottom door and take the ash pan outside to empty, while this is happening the extra draft helps the fire to catch hold again next job i s to fill up the coal bucket from the coal storage area. By the time these simple chores are done I am pretty breathless so a rest and cuppa are in order. Next on the agenda is restock the bird feeding table and maybe run out the big garden hose to the nearby tap to fill up the tank with fresh water, of course during the night as the fire gets low it needs re-coaling, and my two Jack Russells may want to go for a wee. Another thing to attend to in the morning is to manhandle the generator outside and start it up to charge the batteries, if I don't do this this the water pump won't spin fast enough to get water out of the kitchen tap to fill the kettle for a brew. Oh yes that reminds me although the kettle sits on the stove most of the time giving water hot enough for a cuppa if I need to start up the hot water for the taps I have to ensure we have enough calorgas. If the sun is shining the solar panels have to be trained around to face the sun, this will also slowly add to the charge in the batteries. Should I just mention that I too was brought up in a big old stone built house with only a huge, well it seemed it to me) Yorkshire range in the living room. But for as cold as that house got in winter It wasn't a patch on the freezing conditions you can get if you leave the fire out in my present home at this time of year. So after all these explanations of just some of my daily regime, has anybody sussed what kind of accommodation I do actually live in?

  • Hi Chris,

    When I first read this reply of yours, I thought about when we lived in rural Spain for a while. Many people can't get on to the grid either because of distance or access problems, or perhaps the local feeder is already at the limit for capacity. So, many people resort to battery power with solar and generators.

    But that is not where you are, is it? I think the clue is in your username, and my thought is that you live in a narrow boat. If so, you have my respect, because that must have many challenges to live there all year round, especially with breathing problems.

    breathe easy

    Johnwr

  • Thanks for reply johnwr, You are of course correct, I have lived on our 60' narrow boat on the canal system of the Coventry area for the last 8 1/2 years. Despite not having access to mains services I think that having to work at keeping the boat livable is giving me a reason to be. When we lived in the house, I had not slept upstairs for approx 12 months due to the breathlessness of climbing the stairs. By now I think if still alive I would be tearing my hair out with boredom , there is always something to do on the boat especially in spring and summer. I am convinced this has kept me alive, well this and giving up smoking, which I managed to do early 2006. I hope you have a very pleasant and peaceful christmas.

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