Keep Warm in Winter

Natural medicine, vitamins and nutrition are just one of the factors to keep a flu or a cold away. Another way is the old housewife's order to keep warm and it has proved its merit over the centuries. Keeping warm with clothes is one option, the other is to warm your house. Just how cold…

Natural medicine, vitamins and nutrition are just one of the factors to keep a flu or a cold away. Another way is the old housewife's order to keep warm and it has proved its merit over the centuries.

Keeping warm with clothes is one option, the other is to warm your house. Just how cold and draughty a home can be, we all have felt when we needed warmth the most: the day of an oncoming flu or cold. How can we “avoid that house catches a cold” clocking up not medical bills but electricity bills? Over the last decades, the natural recipe to feel snug and warm during winter in our own four walls has somehow been forgotten.

Most homes favor one season only, and since South Africa is considered a Mediterranean to tropical climate, we can imagine just how many homes are unfit to keep us warm in winter. In fact, since the age of infinite and cheap electricity supply by which heaters and air-conditioners are run, builders and architects alike have often dismissed traditional layouts and insulation secrets for the benefit of good looking designs, large open plan living areas double volume spaces and most of all low building costs.

To avoid catching a cold inside, one has to quite simply keep the cold out of the house and the warmth inside the house. Not really a secret. Once the principles of how hot and cold move have been understood, keeping warm is really simple and saves money.

Natural energy patterns move hot and cold air around in an often unseen fashion. Any home is actually a microclimatic zone and features natural weather patterns through convection, conduction and radiation. These “In-house weather” patterns collorate in many ways.

The classic “chimney effect” is hot air rising and cool air falling. We all know that a balloon filled with warm air will rise. Because hot air expands and thus has more volume than cool air, it is lighter and therefore rises up. Since natural laws apply equally anywhere, the chimney effect is no different in a home and is more prominent in a double volume or double store home. Any warm air downstairs will rise either directly towards the ceiling or even stairs leaving the occupants below in the cold despite the hard working heater.

Some of you might now wonder about a real fireplace chimney? You got it: up to 75% of the heat generated by an open fireplace is evenly drawn up through the chimney by the chimney effect. And it gets worse: an oxygen hungry open fire will draw fresh oxygen from where it can, a crack in the window, a gap under the door. The result is a constant supply of fresh cool outside air into your rooms. Snugness and warmth have very little chance to build up. The only place in the whole home that really feels warm is right in front of the fireplace.

The remedy:
• close doors to upstairs unless you want the warm air to flow up to the bedrooms
• reverse ceiling fans to bring warm air down from the ceiling area
• close doors to unused rooms
• close your unused fireplace for there is a perfect “chimney”
• ensure all windows in the home are closed
• cover vents
• insulate windows and doors,
• eliminate cracks and gaps in doors and windows
• close any holes in the ceiling, watch out for unused down-lighter shafts.
• Close up open keyholes

In scientific terms construction is the transfer of thermal energy between neighboring moles in a substance due to temperature gradient. It always takes place from a region of higher temperature to a region of lower temperature, and acts to equalize temperature differences. In home terms, warmth that builds up just below our ceilings, because of the chimney effect, then then move through the ceiling boards to equalize with the colder temperature that sits in the attic. How quickly the warmth will get through depends on the resistance of the material, the so called R-value. Like our bodies which need flees and thick warm cotton jumpers, our homes need insulation, too, to increase the R-value of the materials that separate cold from warm, because warmth will always try its best to escape to colder regions.

The remedy:
• Ensure there is plenty of insulation above all ceiling boards, the thicker and fluffier the better
• Close curtains on windows and glass doors
Close French or American shutters outside your windows
• Plaster walls
• Have double glazing

Radiation is when a hot object emits electromagnetic waves. These short waves deposit their energy by heating materials which in turn then emit the energy as long waves in form of heat. The largest and most effective radiator we know is the sun. Quite different from many other countries, winter sun here in South Africa is not only a common sight but also a relatively long one: our shortest day is 10hrs long.

Have you noticed that your usually super hot car in summer is now just so snug and warm in winter? The heat building up in your car is classically called the greenhouse effect, and why not harvest it in one's home, too? All we need to do is capture the warmth that the sun shining on our floors and furniture has caused and enjoy the warmth these materials give to the air in our home. Ever heard of a winter garden? On a cold but sunny day, a well constructed winter garden with open doors into the rest of the home can act as a great source of warmth for the whole house. But of course, not only a winter garden can help here, but any closed window facing the sun.

The remedy:
• Let the sunshine in!
• Open curtains and blinds, but not windows
• Cut back trees which cast shadows on northern windows
• Rather have deciduous trees near your house and windows than evergreens
• Have a well insulated winter garden or a conservatory
• And last but not least: sit by the window in the sun.

So now you know. These three natural forces work hand in hand with any artificial heating method, such as wall panels, under-floor heating, fan heaters etc. In fact they make your heating system more effective and therefore more environmentally friendly by maintaining the warmth where you want it. Well managed together they are certain to keep any cold at bay and save you not only on utility bills but probably on medical bills as well. Remember, if you give warmth the chance to move out, your cold will move in!