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All about homes that let you breathe easy in COVID-19 times

A well-ventilated house has enough windows and doors; sliding doors or double doors can replace a single door to open up completely and let air in. Skylights can be incorporated as a means of mechanical ventilation.

The government this week issued a fresh set of guidelines to stop the transmission of COVID-19, and highlighted the importance of masks, distance, sanitation, and well-ventilated spaces. It has emphasized that "ventilation can decrease the risk of transmission" from an infected person to others.

It advised that outdoor air in offices, homes and larger public spaces should be introduced, and that measures must be taken to improve ventilation in these spaces.

Further, it recommended that strategic placement of fans, open windows and doors, even slightly open windows, can introduce outdoor air and improve the air quality indoors. It also said that introducing cross ventilation and exhaust fans is beneficial in curtailing the spread of the disease. Keep exhaust fans running if the windows and doors are shut, it said.

Add an exhaust fan or turn a pedestal fan into an exhaust fan by turning it to face outdoors, to create the ideal air flow for maximum protection from indoor infection, the guidelines said.

Moneycontrol spoke to a few architects to understand how one can ensure that the house one lives in is well-ventilated, and what elements should be included if one is building a new home.

COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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According to Shalini Chandrashekar, principal designer and co-founder, Taliesyn - Design & Architecture, the Covid-19 pandemic and the prolonged stay-at-home phenomenon have revised the importance of comfortable dwellings.

Optimise use of natural sunlight

Directing the openings towards the northeast (N-E) direction can ensure an open breezeway into the built volume, orienting the kitchen in the southeast (S-E) can reward the mundane chores of the dawn with the refreshing morning sunlight, and locating the bedroom in the southwest (S-W) can bring in the warmth of the afternoon golden sun, all such conscious considerations can come handy while devising a well-ventilated home, she advises.

Furthermore, strategising the location of the openings while being utmost considerate of the sun path and the wind direction brings down the operational costs of mechanical temperature control and indoor lightings and enables the design to assume an elevated spatial identity, she adds.

Have an open plan layout for a new house

Rakhee Bedi Kumar, founding principal, RSDA, is of the opinion that if you are constructing or designing a new home, wherever possible, the design must place openings on at least two sides of the room, either opposite or adjacent, to enable cross-ventilation, facilitating fresh air to come in and stale air to go out.

In terms of planning, an open plan layout works wonders for maintaining a healthy and well ventilated house, she says.

Introduction of fresh air systems has become crucial nowadays, owing to increasing congestion in cities. Buildings designed in plots closed from two or more sides are introducing fresh air ducting systems to allow clean air despite the closed off neighbourhoods, Bedi Kumar says.

If you are already residing in a house, it is important that fenestration be modified to allow for flexibility. Sliding doors or double doors can replace a single door to open up completely and let air in.

Skylights can be incorporated as a means of mechanical ventilation, she says.

Incorporate skylights

In India, people tend to keep their windows shut to avoid insects from coming in and to maintain privacy. Openings with screens or jaalis can solve this problem, facilitating the ingress of fresh air without compromising on safety or privacy.

Meena Murthy Kakkar, Design Head and Partner, Envisage, told Moneycontrol that for a new house, buyers should specifically ask their architects to ensure that the house is well-ventilated.

Jazz Billet_Suryan and Dang

Windows placed diagonally with a buck mesh and sheer curtains inside allow for instant cross-ventilation in the space. Huge glass walls on the south and the west usually remain shut due to the heat intensity coming in from those directions.

“It's best to ensure that the prevailing wind direction of the site/city is taken into account and the fenestrations are placed in accordance with them to maximize the air flow,” she says.

Jaalis and courtyards hold the key

Most traditional homes in hotter climates in India have some kind of perforated facade. Kerala has trellis sit outs. Rajasthan has sandstone jaalis. In contemporary homes, one can choose from a multitude of options like louvers, handmade ceramic tile jaali, terracotta jaali, etc.

For visual privacy, getting one of these jaalis can be a good option.  They force the wind into slits, thus increasing its speed (Bernoulli's principle). This ensures excellent air flow inside the house.

A courtyard is one of the best ways to ensure that even the heart of the house stays well-ventilated.  It also helps in cooling down a house and thus saving your bills from escalating, Kakkar says.

Keep the house dry

Keeping the house dry is of the utmost importance for good ventilation and hygiene. Creating a dedicated wet utility area, a semi-covered utility space for washing and drying, work very well to keep the dampness out. Powerful exhausts in the kitchen and toilets of the house are a must, and easy to open windows, if the location permits it. Design the kitchen in the sunniest corner of the house to ensure that it stays dry.

Pay attention to waterproofing

On the technical front, a damp-proof course for the plinth must be ensured and paid extra attention to. If that gets damaged or compromised,  then one has to endure a perpetually damp and smelly house. The groundwater rises up the walls causing severe seepage near the floor level.  And repairing it is a tedious process as well. Hence keen attention must be given to the waterproofing of the house.

Install a bug mesh in the house you live in

For the house that you currently reside in, make sure you install bug mesh on your windows and doors. This helps keep them open without worrying about insects invading the indoors, says Kakkar.

Keeping windows open in the morning and evening helps cool the house down considerably. Installing potted plants near the western or southern windows can help in cutting down the heat. Even a small water body near a window with a good breeze can cool the breeze entering the home.

Segregate wet and dry areas

With balconies in shadowy corners or houses with no balconies, invest in a dryer to avoid a damp and musty smell inside the house.  Create a partition in the bathing enclosures of your bathroom to segregate the dry and wet areas. This also helps in keeping the moisture from seeping into your rooms. Invest in powerful exhaust fans.

Agrees Arun K.R., senior architect at Brick&Bolt. “We usually take care to provide sufficient and proper air circulation by having larger windows. Since morning sunlight is so beneficial, openings to the east help. In Bengaluru, the wind blows from the southwest to the northeast, and vice versa. As a result, we build homes in such a way that airflow is preserved. Also, we could build a better sitting area on the terrace with some well-planned landscaping could have a positive impact.”

Vandana Ramnani
Vandana Ramnani
first published: May 22, 2021 11:58 am