Winter is in full swing, which means the hottest debate going on between my German husband and me is also the coldest: lüften.
The fact that the German language fits the action of “airing out a room” into a simple six-letter verb is a sign of just how ingrained this concept is in German culture. But even after many years of living in this great country, I still struggle to wrap my head around why it is necessary to open all the windows in a cozy, heated room each morning and evening when it is 0°C/32°F outside!
To help both myself and my curious readers better understand this foreign (to non-Germans) concept, I have written up the following handy guide to airing out a room like a German.
Methods of Airing Out a Room
Poorly-insulated houses with lots of gaps and joints (Fugen) don’t need to air out their rooms because those gaps and joints are constantly allowing fresh air to pass through — i.e. Fugenlüftung. Fugenlüftung is not efficient. Fugenlüftung is not a proper method for lüften.
Most houses in the US are built with wood framing, and the exterior walls are constructed with 4×6 boards (i.e. approximately 6 inches (15 cm) thick). German houses are built with cinder blocks, and the standard thickness for an exterior wall is 14 inches (36 cm)!
The downside to this highly-efficient construction method is that the air quality inside can deteriorate quickly. Without any new air coming in, carbon dioxide and humidity levels rise, and the air becomes, as the Germans like to say, “bad.”
The way to improve this “bad” air is to regularly air out the room, and the most common method for doing this in German is by opening the window (Fenster). But a good German does not just open the window willy-nilly. There is an art to how and when the window should be opened for maximum efficiency. Here are two popular methods for doing this:
By leaving the window open slightly (or, in Germany, tipped open), you are doing a continuous ventilation (Dauerlüftung). This is obviously only practical when the temperate outside is also the temperature that you would like it to be inside. If this is not the case, then one of the other ventilation methods are recommended.
Impact ventilation! My ultimate nemesis in the winter months, but something deemed absolutely necessary by my German husband.
Stosslüftung involves opening your window completely each morning and evening for at least 5 minutes, allowing fresh air to circulate throughout the room.
My first introduction to this concept came when I was first studying abroad in Germany. I guess my university had issues with ignorant Americans not properly airing rooms in the past because as soon as the fall came, the American exchange students living in university housing received the following email:
I can still remember the feeling of reading this email in complete disbelief. It was cold outside! It couldn’t really be necessary to open my window twice per day… could it?
When I started dating a German guy, he would often comment on the air quality in my apartment as well as my peculiar heating habits. In my half-assed effort to air out my apartment, I would often end up opening the window, closing it, blasting my heat at full-power until my room became a sauna, turn it off until it became an icebox, and repeat.
In the seven years since, I have finally learned the proper heating and ventilation methods, but it doesn’t mean I like them.
Cross ventilation (Querlüften) is the ideal method of ventilation. Instead of just airing out a single room, you open up windows throughout the house or apartment so that the bad air can flow out and the fresh air can flow in more efficiently.
And the List Goes On…
Schachtlüftung, Dachaufsatzlüftung — the list of German compound words that end with lüften goes on and on, but I think I covered the most important ones for anyone to be able to air out a room like a German.
Do you air out your house or apartment in the winter? What’s your go-to method of doing so?