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Column: If it's getting drafty inside, time to check the windows
Rudi Kiefer

If the chilly nights of the previous week have left you uncomfortable, it’s time for a climate change on the indoor side. Home improvements for energy savings and environment are nice, but nothing’s wrong with making indoor comfort first priority.

What’s creating discomfort these days is usually a draft. It’s worst when there’s a strong heat source and the draft is limited to one’s feet, with the top of the room feeling overheated. This temperature gap is usually caused by lack of ceiling insulation, and by window problems.

Imagine a drafty old window in a room where heater, heat duct or fireplace are on the opposite wall. When air gets heated, it wants to circulate. So it rises where it leaves the heater, moves along under the ceiling (creating that “hot head” feel) and flows toward the window. It descends again on that cold wall because air being cooled will sink. In the process, it draws a draft from the window and moves it along the floor, straight across the feet of people in the room.

Different places use different window types.  In China, I got frustrated with the awning windows in my little apartment. They flipped outward and upward to just a low angle. That eliminated the risk of falling out and down 21 floors, but there was very little ventilation.

Casement windows in Germany were a problem too. They open sideways there and inward, so ventilation is good. But one has this huge window sitting inside the room when it’s open. On partial opening, flipping it down a bit from the top, ventilation is again poor.

Standard U.S. double-hung windows, with two movable sashes, allow for ventilation through half of the total opening, at most. That’s because the rest is blocked by the sashes. Older models are quite draft-prone because they tend to provide gaps at the top where warm air escapes, and at the bottom where cold air intrudes.

American casement windows are my favorite. They open to the outside with a hand crank. That makes their use easier than double-hung ones, which require two hands for opening and closing. Access is good even with something in the way, like a kitchen sink or toilet. What’s best: the stronger the wind outside, the more tightly a casement window will seal. In home remodeling, it’s worth the extra money.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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