Monday, November 23, 2009

Why do schools leave the windows open in winter?

I have been quite busy fielding hate mail from my recent article in the KT. Good stuff, guys.

Here's the question:

Why do some schools open the windows and doors in the hallways in the winter? My school opens nearly half the windows and doors to the outside even when it is near freezing. This is hard for me to comprehend because a) it's a major waste of heat/energy b) everyone is wearing sandals and c) they are worried about students getting sick, and a cold school is a good way to make students sick.
I've always wondered the same. I used to hate being in public schools (or even some hagwons) during winter. There's nothing worse than sitting down on that ice-cold toilet seat. I remember how cold the stairs were in my first hagwon. Brutal.

My best guess is just that, a guess. It wasn't too long ago that many schools in Korea used space-heaters and other styles of old ovens in the classrooms. There was no reason to heat the hallways since students spent most of their time in the classrooms. I guess.

You raised some good points as well. It seems like it's a major waste of energy and you could argue that well, but most of the schools I've been in don't have any heating units in the hallways, so at least the heat isn't pouring out. Of course, the classrooms are connected to the hallways which would certainly reduce the warmth in the classrooms. So yes, it's a waste.

The kids do wear sandals or slippers in most schools and it seems that the cold air in the school could lead to an increase in illnesses. I guess we could assume that this practice is supposed to curb outside germs from getting inside which is highly debatable, but I think it also decreases the need for teams of janitors in schools. Less dirt (which most schools have fields of) on shoes would decrease filth. Regardless of the reasoning for the slippers, I'd like to see some comparative illness stats before assuming that it leads to more sicknesses. It makes sense to me though.

I also think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that a cold, drafty school is a potential health hazard, but I have a feeling that some school officials believe that by leaving the windows open, the bacteria, germs and viruses will be sucked out by or killed by the cold.

Anyone else have any ideas?


Kelly said...

My co-teacher is always cold, but she likes to open the windows because otherwise the room gets "stuffy" (her word). In the mornings, we open the windows to "refresh the air" (again, her words). Makes perfect sense to me.

Brian said...

My (Japanese) fiance is prone to bouts of window-opening as well. She says it's to change the air, and from what I've heard at schools the same motivation is found in Korea. I can appreciate that, though what drives me crazy is when they run the heater/AC on high AND open the windows.

I'm not an anthropologist, so I'm sure it'll be a matter of time before Gomushin Girl tries to set me straight, but I attribute the inability to regulatte temperature to Koreans' tendency to extremes. The AC is either turn all the way on, or it's off. The heater is either making you sweat in winter, or it's off. Drivers accelerate until the second before the light then slam on the brakes.

The Expat said...

Which is why I don't travel on the subway in the winter. It's so damn hot.

kushibo said...

Air recirculation.

And maybe it prevents the kids from loitering? (That's just a guess.)

Unknown said...

I always try to sit in the next-to-last row on the bus, where there's an openable window, so I can slide it open when the bus gets hellishly warm!

As for schools, I understand they want fresh air, but the fact is that buildings are made to 'breathe' even when all the windows and doors are closed tight in order to circulate air (about once every 2-3 hours is a recognized standard for indoor air quality). These schools, constructed many years ago, are no exception. I would guess that, if the windows and doors were closed, my school would change air completely once every hour. With the windows and doors open, it's probably every 5 minutes. It's only the halls too--if they are worried about air quality, why not open windows in the classroom, where there are 30 students sitting in a closed space for 45 minutes?

The Expat said...

Seems like a drastic measure to combat loitering.

kushibo said...

The Expat wrote:
Seems like a drastic measure to combat loitering.

More of a fringe benefit than the original intention.

Seriously, though, Korean homes and family life are designed to be open air. Look at traditional homes, where they're for the rich or poor: wide open spaces in the summer, but even open courtyards are put to use in the winter.

Here in Hawaii, I see the same thing: the lanai is an integral part of social structure. Frankly, I like it. I have come to hate air conditioning and my own apartment in central Seoul didn't have A/C until I left for Hawaii and figured my tenants would want it (turns out they don't).

Of course, in the winter time, I prefer to have my home shut off from all drafts, but I enjoy the exhilarating feel of being out in the biting cold. I walk all over the place unless it gets into single digits Fahrenheit (about -12°C or lower).

The Expat said...

Good point, but I still don't see the benefit of having open windows in winter forcing the kids to wear jackets in the classrooms.

Chris in South Korea said...

There is something to be said about 'fresh' air, but seriously - it's freakin' cold outside people. I was told in a recent teachers meeting that we should 'fresh the air' (not REfresh the air) three times a day. Um, ok, sure - so for comic relief in one of my classes I went to the window, went ONE, TWO, THREE! and we're done :)

I've also heard the theory that the swine flu germs will somehow get magically sucked into the outside, off top infect something - anything - else other than the school's precious kids. We also have this spray that smells much like 1 part bleach to 20 parts water to spray on the tables... Yeah... and our school closed for a few days earlier this month in the name of the swine flu... Guess it's not working - but HEY! let's keep doing it anyway!

kushibo said...

Chris just reminded me of one of the big reasons why the air recirculation/refreshment is important: the many chemical agents used in Korean homes and buildings. Cleaning agents, building materials, etc.

And before someone says, "Oh, yeah, well what about all the smoking," I'll just preemptively point out that (a) the people who are worried about their health aren't always smokers and (b) smokers are sometimes worried about other health problems even as they keep smoking (or can't quit).

Not sure if it would make any difference with the swine flu, but the reason winter is flu season may have more to do with lots of people being in close proximity indoors than the actual cold.

Here's a question for you, The Expat, if swine flu measures are such a waste of time and/or failure, as I keep reading in the K-blogs, why does the US have a per capita fatality rate some ten times higher than the ROK? I'm asking that as a sincere question, since swine flu was brought up.

Gomushin Girl said...

I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that until recently, very few non-residential buildings had interior heat. Most schools still don't, even today, and would have relied on propane gas space heaters. These gas heaters don't smell particularly pleasant (nor do they heat rooms efficiently or evenly, but oh well), particularly older models, and opening the windows to "fresh" the air would have helped clear out a lot of the noxious fumes. These heaters also provide one of the great delights of winter in Korean schools: 똥파이^^ Students mash up chocopie while still sealed in their foil wrappers, then put them on the heater to melt the chocolate and marshmellow, kind of like a very beaten-up s'more. Mmmm, ddong pie!
I know that at my school, one of the special winter punishments was to make students sit in the unseated hallways. Pretty miserable stuff.
Bad heat regulation, I suspect, has more to do with old and poorly run heating systems. Most thermostats are set to turn on at a base temperature and run until a target temperature has been reached. How well this works depends on where the sensor in question is, and what those ranges are - I suspect most Korean buildings have a low trigger point, and respond with too much heat until everyone is sweltering, before switching off and letting everybody slowly freeze.
I think the slippers work to a) keep the floor clean - although their efficiency is debatable. My boys certainly kept their highschool like a pigstye! and b) to symbolically mark the school as interior space, similar to a home.

The Expat said...

I never mentioned swine flu or the measures against it. Perhaps you meant to direct that at Chris?

I'll take a stab at the question though:

US is closer to Mexico and transmission of the virus is much easier, than say, Korea. Countries closer to Mexico have higher rates of infection. I don't think it has much to do with the measures Korea is taking.

kushibo said...

The Expat wrote:
I never mentioned swine flu or the measures against it. Perhaps you meant to direct that at Chris?

It was indeed Christ who triggered my question, but I addressed it to you since this is "Ask The Expat."

I'll take a stab at the question though:

US is closer to Mexico and transmission of the virus is much easier, than say, Korea. Countries closer to Mexico have higher rates of infection. I don't think it has much to do with the measures Korea is taking.

After I asked the question here, I decided to make a whole post out of this question. I had also considered proximity to Mexico as a possibility, too, but here in Hawaii, which is thousands of miles from Mexico and has virtually no direct contact, the same numbers as the Mainland apply. In fact, I think South Korea started getting infectious cases before Hawaii did, or around the same time. And around the same time for first fatalities.

조안나 said...

I feel as though this would be a good question for The Korean...

All I know is, I'm sick of freezing my butt off (literally) every time I go to the bathroom...

The Expat said...


There is more domestic travel between Hawaii and the Mainland than to Korea and the US. That example doesn't work.

The Expat said...

*that wold be "...from Korea to the US."

kushibo said...

I didn't mean to hijack the thread, so I just answered this over at the link above.

I did want to add that in modern times, I think the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning has gotten it drilled into a lot of people's heads that closed windows are a hazard.

The kerosene smell will reinforce that notion. Even at the esteemed Yonsei University GSIS, ten years ago they were still in one of the colonial era buildings, which were heated with kerosene-powered stoves that created a horrible stink sometimes.

morton16ok said...

Okay, I talked to a Korean, since this question has been bothering me for sometime. The answer: she didn't know. Her guess was that it had something to do with the use of non-ondol heating sources. Radiant heating is a pretty good way to heat a space with almost no adverse side effects. Central Heating, or any kind of heater that raises air temperature rapidly makes the air very dry, which is already a problem in Korea. On top of that, western style heaters usually use funs which stirs up other irritants. These things together make the Korean people prefer to "fresh the air" as they say because they find the things we view as a convenience somewhat irritating at times.

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Nadine said...

Opening them windows and doors to let in the fresh air is the healthiest thing they can do for those kids. Toxic cleaning products used by janitors, linger in an airtight school environment and THAT is unhealthy to breathe. I can remember breathing bleach fumes in the cafeteria when I was in school and wondered why I felt like dosing off in class afterwards. We didn't have windows open. A little fresh air, hot or cold, never hurt anyone. I've been surviving with my windows open ALL year round for 18 years now and I'm still alive and well to type this comment! The Korean people sure got the right idea... my kinda people! ;)

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