GBA Logo horizontal Facebook LinkedIn Email Pinterest Twitter Instagram YouTube Icon Navigation Search Icon Main Search Icon Video Play Icon Audio Play Icon Headphones Icon Plus Icon Minus Icon Check Icon Print Icon Picture icon Single Arrow Icon Double Arrow Icon Hamburger Icon TV Icon Close Icon Sorted Hamburger/Search Icon
Building Science

Four Ventilation Quotes That Will Take Your Breath Away

Including an analogy with underclothing that underscores the importance of indoor air quality

This advertisement for perforated buckskin underclothing dates from the same time period as the John Shaw Billings quote about dirty underclothing and ventilation.
Image Credit: Arallyn! / Flickr

Looking back over my last several articles, I see that I’ve been going off the deep end. Psychrometrics, hygrothermal analysis of double-stud walls, the physics of water in porous materials… That’s some heavy stuff. So this week I’m going light with some fun quotes about ventilation and indoor air quality.

I wrote a series of articles on ventilation for the Journal of Light Construction a little while back and came across some great material in my research. The last quote below makes a point about indoor air quality with a graphic underwear metaphor. It’s from an 1893 book whose author was a medical doctor interested in ventilation to prevent diseases like phthisis (what we now call tuberculosis).

The first quote is from a great article called The History of Ventilation and Temperature Control that appeared in the ASHRAE Journal in 1999. The author was discussing some of the mid-twentieth century research by Harvard scientist C.P. Yaglou on odor and ventilation rates. If you’re worried about the water-energy connection, you’ll be happy to know that “Only a 33% increase in ventilation was required for adults a week after a bath.” (John Janssen, in “The History of Ventilation and Temperature Control,” ASHRAE Journal, 1999.)

Naturally, ventilation cannot solve all IAQ problems. Sometimes source control is the best method: “If there is a pile of manure in a space, do not try to remove the odor by ventilation. Remove the pile of manure.” (Max von Pettenkofer, 1858.)

No list of ventilation quotes is complete without one that illustrates the immense power of fresh air: “There is nothing like the cure of fresh air for cases of bladder infection, paranoia, and Cartesian thinking.” (Rawi Hage.)

And finally, here’s that quote about dirty underwear that’ll make you think twice before you inhale again: “Most civilized men and women are unwilling to put on underclothing that has just been taken off by another person or to put into their mouths articles of food or drink that have recently been in other peoples mouths but they take without hesitation into their lungs air that has just come from other people’s mouths and lungs or from close contact with their soiled clothing or bodies.” (John Shaw Billings, Ventilation and Heating, 1893.)

Ventilation and indoor air quality are not only two of the most important topics in the world of building science and green building, but as you can see here, they’re also the source of some of the most interesting quotes. Got any other good ones?

Allison Bailes of Decatur, Georgia, is a speaker, writer, energy consultant, RESNET-certified trainer, and the author of the Energy Vanguard Blog. Check out his in-depth course, Mastering Building Science at Heatspring Learning Institute, and follow him on Twitter at @EnergyVanguard.


  1. Dan Kolbert | | #1

    A problem 400,000 years in the making
    Not a quote, but I found this article fascinating from an IAQ standpoint.

  2. Charlie Sullivan | | #2

    Terry Gross signoff
    I've always liked Terry Gross's signoff "WHYY in Philadelphia, where Fresh Air is produced"

    Image of the fresh-air producing equipment in South Philly:

Log in or create an account to post a comment.



Recent Questions and Replies

  • |
  • |
  • |
  • |