Returning UO faculty to enjoy anti-viral health benefits of steam heat and fresh air

The older your office or classroom, the more likely you are to survive teaching this fall and winter, because of quack Civil War era science. Bloomberg explains here:

… It turns out that the prodigious output of steam-heated buildings is the direct result of theories of infection control that were enlisted in the battle against the great global pandemic of 1918 and 1919. 

The Spanish Influenza, which caused just over 20,000 deaths in New York City alone, “changed heating once and for all.” That’s according to Dan Holohan, a retired writer, consultant, and researcher with extensive knowledge of heating systems and steam heating. (Among his many tomes on the topicThe Lost Art of Steam Heating, from 1992.)

Most radiator systems appeared in major American cities like New York City in the first third of the 20th century. This golden age of steam heat didn’t merely coincide with that pandemic: Beliefs about how to fight airborne illness influenced the design of heating systems, and created a persistent pain point for those who’ve cohabitated with a cranky old radiator. 

Health officials thought (correctly) that fresh air would ward off airborne diseases; then as now, cities rushed to move activities outdoors, from schools to courtrooms. When winter came, the need for fresh air didn’t abate. According to Holohan’s research, the Board of Health in New York City ordered that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather. In response, engineers began devising heating systems with this extreme use case in mind. Steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open. 

The memories of the flu pandemic lingered. Engineering books from the 1920s often mentioned this need to design heating systems, notably the boilers and radiators, to operate with all windows open, a requirement of the “fresh air movement,” Holohan says. This health crusade, which has its roots in the post-Civil War era, saw fresh air as a necessity for good health; adherents believed that rooms with closed windows and tight airflow meant that others would breathe in your vapors and catch disease. The theory originated before modern germ theory, at a time when tuberculosis was a significant health threat. “They called unventilated air the ‘national poison,’” Holohan says. 

… A key proponent of the idea was Lewis Leeds, a health inspector for Union Army field hospitals who came to the conclusion that “vitiated,” or spoiled, air was the cause of the many diseases. The “spent breath” of the occupants of poorly ventilated homes contributed to 40% of the deaths in the country, he claimed, and often said “man’s own breath is his greatest enemy.” 

I imagine this explains why the hall formerly known as Deady is hellishly hot, while by the time the HVAC engineers (OK, just HV) got around to PLC they cut things a bit closer on the heating margin.

Anyway, two days back in the office and I’m already learning stuff from hallway conversations again. Thanks to a PLC floormate for the link – not really sure who it was, what with the masks.

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18 Responses to Returning UO faculty to enjoy anti-viral health benefits of steam heat and fresh air

  1. vitiated breather says:

    I wish they would explain how to open the damn sealed windows of my old office. They have these nice posts about ventilation, but it’s impossible to tell how safe any room actually is.

    • uomatters says:

      Last time I checked there were a lot of rocks down in the basement of Condon.

      • AnotherClassified says:

        Pacific Hall sub-basement has tonnes, literally, of crated rocks, fossils, bones. Good window ammo for that zone. It’s an incredible geo collection which I has seen and took pics. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark film style. Otherwise jam the classrooms and dorms: this will not be a pretty ending. It will be very difficult or basically impossible to be safe. Thankfully CDC approved the booster for those in dangerous work environments. But, from what I’ve seen on campus this week we have 10 days to already see the onslaught of positives.

    • anon and on and on says:

      One ballpark option may be a (relatively) cheap CO2 meter, which you can consider in tandem with the occupancy of the space you’re measuring. When you approach 1000 ppm, cognitive function starts to decline as well. It’s much easier to get to that level without opening windows in small, old offices when you have to keep doors shut to work maskless.

      • vitiated breather says:

        I think the rocks may be a better solution.
        or maybe both in tandem. if I time things right. I will contact Resilience Office for guidance. Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny or someone …

  2. SkitterFootedScarab says:

    Just published and relevant:

    Echoes Through Time: The Historical Origins of the Droplet Dogma and its Role in the Misidentification of Airborne Respiratory Infection Transmission


    Room-Level Ventilation in Schools and Universities | Chemical Engineering and Industrial Chemistry | ChemRxiv | Cambridge Open Engage

  3. vitiated zone parking PTSD says:

    can anyone explain the total traffic disaster today on Franklin? Did anyone warn anyone? Is this what they call resilience planning?

    I hope nobody needed an icu bed at the U district. Oh, right, it was probably full anyway.

  4. AnotherClassified says:

    Wow it went from 6+ comments to this. Ok. Let’s talk today’s recent CDC booster shot regime. It will be necessary in the classroom/instructional environment in UO classrooms. Demand that you can attain it from your supervisors. You have two weeks from what I’ve seen on campus. And, uomatters, my post you didn’t publish about Pacific Hall is true. But I thank you for the forum.

    • uomatters says:

      Try posting it again, this is not my day job.

      • Anonymous says:

        All good. The resiliency training from Above is strong in you – and all of us. How can it not be after witnessing this Fall Term 2021 prep week?

  5. NotMyFault says:

    You can thank the administrators in charge of Housing for the debacle that was yesterday’s “move in day”. Yes, from move in week to move in day. They were funneling over 2700 students (in, presumably, 2700 vehicles) and their guardians through a labyrinth, formerly known as Glenwood/Eugene, to queue all of them through TWO points/computers to check in and get keys. According to the Eugene Weekly, UO claimed the problem was because students and their parents didn’t show up at their designated time, but came early. Oh, and Pandemic. Police were imported from far and wide, Florence, for example, to help with the traffic mess (which didn’t stop UOPD from blocking one of the through lanes heading east at Agate and Franklin bottleneck). I heard fire engine toots. Not sure what that was about. I’m pretty certain the only heads that will be rolling will be middle management and classified staff, not the responsible very well paid administrators who made this sound decision.

  6. moss defender says:

    Can anyone around here provide even the slightest clue about all the UO construction in what used to be called the (failed) riverfront research park ? I wish Stahl and Tublitz were still actively exposing UO duboius schemes (financial and planning) and that we still had Alan Pittman or Rachel Bachman to report on these things…a tsunami of duck corruption and secrecy has created such a mess and it is just getting worse…oh well the branding outfit that was once the campus paper has good articles these days about how to find a bus station and put on a mask – what a nice kidnergarten for grown ups Frohnmayer left us with.

  7. honest Uncle Gangsta says:

    Let me pile on here about the administration. Not the move-in fiasco. I’ve been reading about male/female imbalances in higher ed enrollment. It’s almost 60/40 female/male nationally. So I check UO, where it’s 55/45. Used to be more balanced. Undoubtedly, colleges using affirmative action for males, even as they try to drive them away with all the talk about dead white males, rape culture, Title IX, etc. etc. But I am still not to my main point, which is: I tried looking up UO enrollment. I find 21,800 last fall, fourth week. And 2,000 of these are part time! Can it really be that low? And how long has it been like this? Well, I go to historical data at the UO registrar website. The data only go up to 2017. As Joe Biden might say, I mean, c’mon man! I’m sure the data are somewhere, but I’m just saying what the immediately publicly accessible numbers are. A lot of stuff seems not to be working well: housing covid fiasco, declining enrollment, poor record presentation from registrar office. Please don’t tell me they are not paid enough! Especially at the top.

    • Dog says:

      has uptodate enrollment data, always has

    • Tug o’ the Forelock says:

      Re posting numbers: Classified staff, those who actually do the work, are often doing their job and part of someone else’s, because for quite some time Admin has chosen to reduce staff through attrition. As mad as classified staff are about low wages, we’re also ticked off about having to absorb the work of others. I’m currently trying to do two people’s jobs, for lousy wages, with OT forbidden. That means that some things aren’t getting done. And yes, I’ve started looking for work elsewhere.

    • Walrus says:

      For historical enrollment data, go to

  8. AnotherClassified says:

    Ha 2017. Oh, they’re paid well at the top. The good colleagues at the RO are excellent classified. Understaffed and very underpaid: they aren’t the problem. It’s about Admin obscuring the problematic reality/providing misleading information to keep the flock moving
    forward… to $. That’s it. After 22 years here time to recognize the institutional reality. Not pretty. Be safe.