What’s the Deal With Year Round Open Windows

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Expat residents of the Pearl River Delta may notice a detail of the local lifestyle. Cantonese people very much insist on opening a window even in the coldest of winter, as if it is a matter of principle. The regular explanation is that it’s for better air ventilation. To them, air-tight windows create a stuffiness that is not healthy. To foreigners, many acclimated to life with central heating or colder climates, exchanging air circulation with warmth and comfort is unthinkable. But are these Cantonese merely stubborn? Do people overlook indoor air pollutants?

Contrary to Beijing, where heaters are respected in the blistering cold of the north to make life livable, in southern China there is little respect for such things. And where in the West a father’s complaints often bemoan heating the “whole neighborhood,” Cantonese mothers and teachers have a sixth sense for keeping indoor air circulated.

Doctor Liu Dezheng of traditional Chinese medicine will tell you that, “in traditional Chinese medicine, the inner heat and humidity (a sort of spiritual balance) could be affected by stuffy air.” He doesn’t agree on opening a window in a cold weather, he thinks it’s better to be flexible according to individual’s sensitivity towards coldness and warmth.

According to the United State Environment Protection Agency (EPA), there are many pollutant sources in any home, such as gas, wet or damp carpeting, furniture made of certain pressed wood products and mold in a wall, which happens in many apartment buildings in Dongguan due to poor water-proof construction.

The health effect from indoor air pollutants is different from person to person, immediately or in long-term periods. According to the EPA, immediate effects include irritation of the eyes, nose and throat, headaches, dizziness and fatigue, while long-term effects involve respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancer.

This may seem sensational, and maybe it is, but there are arguments for keeping the air moving around indoors. Liu Weiheng, a teacher at Dongguan Experimental High School, speaking on his reasoning for keeping the windows in his senior high classroom open on cold winter days said, “We will open the higher windows. Good circulation feels less stuffy. There are so many people in a room. If not, the smell is bad, and breathing is not so smooth.”