The Art of Living in Australia, by Philip E. Muskett

Chapter IV.

Bedroom Ventilation

Now, if all houses were built in accordance with the requirements of modern sanitary ideas, there would be but little difficulty in grappling with the problem of bedroom ventilation, for the sleeping apartment would be a well ventilated room, with all the latest contrivances, such as Tobin’s ventilators, for the admission of fresh air. But as the greater number of people have to live in rented dwellings in which the rooms are very small, it becomes necessary to know what can be done to remedy existing defects. In the first place the bedroom should always be upstairs if possible; it is decidedly healthier, and there is a better chance for the supply of fresh air. The very worst room in the house that could be chosen for a sleeping apartment would be one on the basement. Then again, a fireplace in the bedroom is a priceless boon, and it is almost impossible to rectify such a deficiency. But as too many rooms are built without it, we are compelled to look to the window for our air supply. It is estimated that nearly one-third of every person’s life is devoted to sleep; that is to say, about one-third of it is spent in the sleeping apartment. It is only natural, then, that this room and its surroundings should merit some special attention. As a matter of fact, from a health point of view, it should receive more consideration than all the rest of the house put together, for during our waking hours; we are moving about and constantly changing our location; but during sleep, when life is in abeyance to a certain extent, the system has passively to receive and be supported by whatever pure air the bedroom happens to possess. If, as too often is the case, that chamber is looked upon as a sort of cupboard, where, amongst other things, there is room for a bed, so much the worse for any one who has to sleep there. If the sleeper arises in the morning in a dazed and semi-suffocated state and quite unfitted for the day’s work before him, instead of feeling refreshed, there is no occasion to seek far for the cause. For the mental toiler, also, it is equally important that the period devoted to the restoration of brain material and the imbibition of a fresh supply of nerve power for the ensuing day’s requirements should be passed under circumstances the most favourable for bestowing them.

From this we see that a due amount of sleep, under favourable circumstances as regards ventilation, is necessary both for brain and muscle; and that, in fact, unless it be forthcoming, there will be an inability for either brain worker or muscle user to properly fulfil his duties next day. But in addition to this there is still the fact that we have to do with the semi-tropical climate of Australia. It will be as well, therefore, to make reference to what has been said on the subject as far as India is concerned. Sir Joseph Fayrer, whose opinion on such matters must always carry respect, in the course of an address on the preservation of health in that country, went on to say: “It is very important that you have good sleep, for nothing in the hot weather more refreshes or invigorates you. Early rising is the rule in India, and I advise you to conform to the usual practice.”

Sir James Ranald Martin, another authority on Indian affairs, in commenting on the prevention of disease, also calls attention to the need for extra sleep, which is always required in hot climates. He points out that by giving the frame a thorough and complete rest from the great stimulus of heat, both tone and vigour are imparted — providing for the requirements of the coming day, as well as repairing those of the preceding. The general truths contained in the foregoing apply equally to Australia, and during the hot summer months, therefore, it must not be forgotten that an extra allowance of sleep is quite indispensable.

In a great many cases the space under the bed is regarded as an admirable receptacle for a collection of boxes, parcels, hat-boxes, old boots, and other interesting relics, while they are effectually concealed from view by a species of curtain reaching from the bed to the floor. The drapery which thus hangs down is dignified by the name of a “valance,” and though originally intended for the purpose of embellishment and ornamentation, it is better that decorative art should be more limited in its application, so as not to interfere with the free circulation of air throughout the room. The sleeping apartment is also considered as being particularly well adapted for the storage of old clothes, and consequently garments of this description are not hidden away, nor furtively concealed, but are triumphantly exposed to gaze in various parts of the room. Indeed, the more obtrusive they are, the better the purpose of the bedroom is believed to be served. If it could be only understood how these unnecessarily occupy the air space of the room, and interfere with its ventilation, this sort of thing would never be tolerated for a moment.

And while on the subject of the accumulation of useless articles in a bedroom, it seems fitting here to devote a few words to another kindred matter, namely, the hoarding up throughout the house of what may literally be designated as lumber. It is astonishing what a number of utterly valueless things are allowed to remain in nearly every household, and it is well remarked that no one ever knows what a collection of rubbish he possesses till he has occasion to remove. There may not be much to be ashamed of in the first load or two of furniture, but at the latter end there is a strong feeling that a dark night would be more adapted for moving — the darker the better. At least every twelve months there should be a regular clearance of worn-out articles, and that miscellaneous collection of odds and ends which can be of no earthly value to anybody, unless he be an antiquary.

Let us now go on to consider what ill effects result from the breathing of vitiated air. In his work, A Manual of Practical Hygiene, Professor Edmund A. Parkes has pointed out: “When air moderately vitiated by respiration is breathed for any period and continuously, its effects become complicated with those of other conditions. But allowing the fullest effect to all other agencies, there is no doubt that the breathing of the vitiated atmosphere of respiration has a most injurious result on the health. The aeration and nutrition of the blood seems to be interfered with, and the general tone of the system falls below par. Of special diseases it appears pretty clear that affections of the lungs are more common.” The volume of air inhaled and exhaled by the adult in the twenty-four hours averages 360 cubic feet, or 2,000 gallons, while the amount we take in the shape of liquid or solid food does not amount probably to more than 5 1/2 pints, which is equal to only 1–3000th part of the volume of air passed through the lungs. From this it will be seen how necessary it is that such a large amount of air should be perfectly fresh and wholesome, for the lungs act as a pair of immense sponges or absorbers. When the ventilation does not allow of a continuous supply of fresh air it smells close, and is surcharged with an increased amount of carbonic acid, while the noxious exhalations from the breath and lungs deposit themselves throughout the room. Nor are the ill-effects of impure air confined to man alone, for it is well known that cows, horses, sheep, and other animals, when penned up in close quarters, show an increased death-rate from many diseases.

But though it is perfectly plain that badly ventilated sleeping apartments tend greatly to the production of diseases of the lungs, it is not generally understood by the greater number of persons that diseases of the heart are brought on by similar conditions, and there is without doubt a great increase of heart diseases at the present time. It is estimated that upwards of 10,000 people in England alone die yearly from affections of the heart; yet, taking into consideration the ceaseless work of that organ (in the words of the motto upon Goethe’s ring, “Ohne Rast”— without rest), it is wonderful that it is not more frequently diseased. It is said that “the heart is a small muscular organ weighing only a few ounces, beating perpetually day and night, morning and evening, summer and winter; and yet often an old man’s heart nearly a hundred years of age is as perfect and complete as when he was a young man of twenty” (Haughton).

The effect of impure air in its action on the heart is thus spoken of by Dr. Cornelius Black: “I showed the effect of impure air in promoting the degenerative tendency in the structures of the heart, and especially those of the right side of the heart, after the age of forty. I was then led to a passing consideration of the baneful influence produced upon the heart by badly-ventilated houses, schools, manufactories, pits, theatres, underground railways, and all places of a similar character.” “The impure atmosphere of the bedrooms of the poor, and indeed of many of the middle class, caused by deficient ventilation, proves a sharp spur to the degenerative tendency manifested by the heart, and especially by the right side of the heart, after the age of forty.” “I hold that the breathing of impure air is a fruitful source of disease of the right side of the heart occurring after middle age. How many people ignorantly favour its occurrence by confining themselves to closely shut, non-ventilated, stuffy, sitting rooms, in which the carbonic acid has accumulated to a poisonous degree in the air they respire! How are these evil results to be prevented? The simple answer is, let the rooms in which you live be effectively ventilated by an incoming current of fresh air, and so arranged that no draught shall be felt.”

Sanitarians who have devoted a good deal of time and study to the working out of questions relating to the amount of fresh air in bedrooms have decided that each person should, if possible, have at least 1,000 cubic feet of space, or in other words, the same amount contained in a room 10 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 10 feet high. It is also estimated that the amount of fresh air entering into a room of this size should be 3,000 cubic feet per hour, that is, the air in each room should be completely changed three times every hour. These observations of course apply only to the least amount of air which every sleeper is strictly entitled to. As a matter of fact, however, any more than this is simply of distinct advantage as far as health is concerned. The bedroom, instead of being the smallest room in the house, as it too often is, should be really the very largest. Now it has been previously stated that foul or vitiated air collects in a sleeping apartment unless there be a continuous circulation of fresh air; and that the noxious exhalations from the breath and skin constitute the chief sources of air pollution. The practical point to discover is how to have this continuous circulation of fresh air throughout the room without causing a draught. Before considering this, a few words on the position of the bed itself will possibly be appropriate. It is always better to have it standing more in the centre of the room with its head against the wall, than to have it jammed alongside the latter. And it certainly should have placed north and south if the shape of the room admits of it. The wire-wove mattress is of great advantage both for comfort and for coolness; and here in Australia, during the summer months, proper mosquito nettings are as necessary as the bed itself. If the bed is provided with a head-piece, as it should be, there is no difficulty in fitting on the netting.

Every bedroom window should be made to open freely, and what other defects exist — such as the smallness of the apartment, or the absence of a fireplace — can be remedied to a great extent by means of the window. In many instances the bed is placed so near the latter that when it is open there is a strong draught playing directly on the bed, and this is an evil which must be avoided. In such case, to rectify matters, raise the bottom window a few inches, and have a piece of board made to fit in under it, so as to support the sash and fill in the space between it and the sill. The air freely enters the room between the two sashes, because the top of the lower sash is by this contrivance raised above the lower part of the upper one. Another great advantage is that the air is directed upwards to the ceiling by having to come in over the lower sash, and thus a gentle current of fresh air is constantly being circulated throughout the room without creating any draught. There are other devices to attain the same end, such as having apertures cut in the glass of the windows, but they are not so effective, so inexpensive, nor so simple as the preceding. In bedrooms there are the long French windows leading on to a balcony, and where such is the case the air current can be regulated to a nicety by having only one of the window-doors open, and directing the ventilation away from the bed. Many people prefer to sleep with the door itself open, and by having a PORTIERE or certain suspended outside, privacy can be ensured, while an upright screen standing at the head of the bed will effectually ward off any cold currents of air. In our summer weather there is but little difficulty experienced in regulating the air supply, for there is generally a desire to have as much fresh air as possible. Far too many people, however, look upon the bedroom in the light of an oven, where they are to be baked during the hours of repose, and this is the case even during the summer. In the cooler parts of the year they are apt to forget there is just as much necessity for fresh air as in the warm months.

Soiled or dirty clothes should not on any account be allowed to remain in the sleeping apartments, as they are a constant source of foulness to the air. All unclean linen ready for the wash had better be kept away from the bedroom in one of those long baskets which stand upright and are furnished with a lid. They are admirably adapted for the purpose, and may be obtained for a few shillings from any of the institutions for the blind, where they are made by the inmates. A word of advice, by the way, to those about to travel on a long voyage, is never to forget one of those canvas bags for the soiled clothes: they are invaluable at sea.

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09