How to Live; Rules for Healthful Living: By Irving Fisher, Eugene Lyman Fisk, M.D.

Air is the first necessity of life. We may live without food for days and without water for hours; but we cannot live without air more than a few minutes. Our air supply is therefore of more importance than our water or food supply, and good ventilation becomes the first rule of hygiene.

Living and working rooms should be ventilated both before occupancy and while occupied.

It must be remembered that the mere construction of the proper kind of buildings does not insure ventilation. We may have model dwellings, with ideal window-space and ventilating apparatus, but unless these are actually used, we do not benefit thereby.

Features of Ventilation

The most important features of ventilation are motion, coolness, and the proper degree of humidity and freshness.


There is an unreasonable prejudice against air in motion. A gentle draft is, as a matter of fact, one of the best friends which the seeker after health can have. Of course, a strong draft directed against some exposed part of the body, causing a local chill for a prolonged time, is not desirable; but a gentle draft, such as ordinarily occurs in good ventilation, is extremely wholesome.

Air and Catching Colds

It goes without saying that persons unaccustomed to ventilation, and consequently over-sensitive to drafts, should avoid over-exposure while they are in process of changing their habits. But after even a few days of enjoyment of air in motion, with cautious exposure to it, the likelihood of cold is greatly diminished; and persons who continue to make friends with moving air soon become almost immune to colds.

The popular idea that colds are derived from drafts is greatly exaggerated. A cold of any kind is usually a catarrhal disease of germ origin, to which a lowered vital resistance is a predisposing cause.

The germs are almost always present in the nose and throat. It is exposure to a draft plus the presence of germs and a lowered resistance of the body which produces the usual cold. Army men have often noted that as long as they are on the march and sleep outdoors, they seldom or never have colds, but they develop them as soon as they get indoors again.

Of course, one must always use common sense and never grow foolhardy. It is never advisable that a person in a perspiration should sit in a strong draft.


The best ventilation is usually to be had through the windows. We advise keeping windows open almost always in summer; and often open in winter.

One should have a cross-current of air whenever practicable; that is, an entrance for fresh air and an exit for used air at opposite sides of the room. Where there can not be such a cross-current, some circulation can be secured by having a window open both top and bottom.


In winter, ventilation is best secured by means of a window-board. This is a board the edge of which rests on the edge of the window-sill, the ends being attached firmly to the window-frame. It affords a vertical surface three or four inches high and situated three or four inches in front of the window, so as to deflect the cold air upward when the window is slightly opened. The air will then reach the breathing-zone, instead of flowing on to the floor and chilling the feet, which is the usual consequence of opening a window in winter. It seems tragic to think that for lack of some such simple device, which anyone can make or buy, there is now an almost complete absence of winter ventilation in most houses.


Air should never be allowed to become stagnant. When there is no natural movement in the air, it should be put in motion by artificial means. This important method of practising air-hygiene is becoming quite generally available through the introduction of electric currents into dwellings and other buildings and the use of electric fans. Even a hand fan is of distinct hygienic value.

Heating Systems

A wood or grate fire is an excellent ventilator. A heating-system which introduces warmed new air is better than one acting by direct radiation, provided the furnace is well constructed and gas-proof.

Cool Air

The importance of coolness is almost as little appreciated as the importance of motion. Most people enervate themselves by heat, especially in winter. The temperature of living-rooms and work-rooms should not be above 70 degrees, and, for people who have not already lost largely in vigor, a temperature of 5 to 10 degrees lower is preferable. Heat is depressing. It lessens both mental and muscular efficiency. Among the employes of a large commercial organization in New York who were examined by the Life Extension Institute, some of the men in one particular room were suffering from an increase of body temperature and a skin rash. On investigation it was found that the room in which they worked was overheated. There was no special provision for ventilation. A window-board was installed, with the result that the men recovered and no other cases of skin rash occurred in that room.

Dry air

As to dryness of air, there is little which the individual can do except to choose a dry climate in which to live or spend his vacations. Unfortunately, there is not as yet any simple and cheap way of drying house air which is too moist, as is often the case in warm weather.


In the cold season, indoor air is often too dry and may be moistened with advantage. This may be done, to some extent, by heating water in large pans or open vessels. But for efficient moistening of the air, either a very large evaporating-surface or steam jets are required. The small open vessels or saucers on which some people rely, even when located in the air-passages of a hot-air furnace, have only an infinitesimal influence. Vertical wicks of felt with their lower ends in water kept hot by the heating apparatus yield a rapid supply of moisture. Evaporation is greatly facilitated if the water or wicks are placed in the current of heated air entering the room. By a suitable construction, the water may be replenished automatically. In very cold dry weather, the air-supply of an ordinary medium-sized house requires the addition of not less than 10 gallons of moisture every 24 hours, and sometimes much more.

Some authorities doubt any ill effects from extreme dryness. This is a subject yet to be cleared by experimental research.


It is obvious that fresh pure air is preferable to impure air. Air may be vitiated by poisonous gases, by dust and smoke, or by germs. Dust and smoke often go together.

Lighting by electricity is preferable to lighting by gas, as some of the gas is liable to escape and vitiate the air.

Tobacco Smoke

A very common and at the same time injurious form of air-vitiation is that from tobacco smoke. Smoking, especially in a closed space such as a smoking-room or smoking-car, vitiates the air very seriously, for smoker and non-smoker alike.


As to dust, the morbidity and mortality rates in certain occupations, particularly those known as the dusty trades, are appreciably and even materially greater than in dustless trades.

An accumulation of house-dust should be avoided. The dust should be removed – not by the old-fashioned feather duster which scatters the dust into the air – but by a damp or oiled cloth. Dust-catching furniture and hangings of plush, lace, etc., are not hygienic. A carpet-sweeper is more hygienic than a broom, and a vacuum cleaner is better than a carpet-sweeper. The removable rug is an improvement hygienically over the fixed carpet.


The bacteria in air ride on the dust-particles. In a clean hospital ward, when air was agitated by dry sweeping, the number of colonies of bacteria collected on a given exposure rose twenty-fold, showing the effect of ordinary broom-sweeping.


The air we breathe should be sunlit when possible. Many of our germ enemies do not long survive in sunlight.

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