Chill out in comfort this winter

(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2006-12-18 10:07

Ah, the joys of December in the northern hemisphere. A time of the year when the air is brisk and fresh, and one dreams of a long holiday in Bali. Granted, Shanghai is by no means the coldest city in Asia. However, its seaside position and its high water table do make it rather too moist. Furthermore, most of the concrete and glass tower blocks of recent construction have poor insulation, and doors and windows that do not seal properly. Thus one is frequently subject to a chill breeze, the sort which first penetrates one's clothes, and then one's very being.

So what might the sensible Shanghai resident do when facing a good five months of monotonous cold? If your answer is: 'Ask the landlord to do something about it', you will find yourself still freezing in April. No, the time is nigh to get busy yourself. And here are some suggestions that might help you improve your built environment.

Top-of-the-line

For those of you who can afford it, radiators, insulation, double glazing and heat lamps offer a sure means to ward off the winter cold. In Shanghai, radiators commonly run off the hot water heater, and as such they are ideal for most flats and lane houses. The system pumps warm-to-hot water through pipes and radiator units which can be built into each room or corridor. This system offers several benefits; first, the heat is ambient, not radiant or drying. Second, all rooms can be fitted with the precise mass of radiator coils needed to ensure comfortable heating. Third, radiator coils in the bathroom double as a heated towel rack.

Note that if your wallet is truly bursting with underemployed bills, under-floor heating systems are now available in Shanghai; they are a costly alternative to radiators, but they do not occupy precious floor space.

Insulation is made from green polystyrene and comes in sheets of varying thickness. Of course the color is irrelevant as the sheets will be placed on the inside of walls and ceilings. By the way, insulation serves a dual purpose: it will insulate you from the cold, and the sound of noisy neighbors.

The third high end buffer against the cold-which also has anti-noise muscle-is double-glazed windows. They come in a variety of styles, but the critical selection is between vacuum-sealed, or manually-fitted, panes of glass. Which to select? Well, the main drawback to manually-fitted panes is that moisture can collect between the panes; vacuum-sealed panes, on the other hand, are moisture free, but more costly.

The fourth cold remedy is installing heat lamps in the ceiling of your bathroom. You'll have to lower the ceiling so that the lamp's structure is hidden, but while you're at it, you might as well remove those awful florescent lights and install softer, incandescent lighting in their place.

Down-to-earth

Budget-minded residents of Shanghai needn't despair, space heaters, weather sealing tape and simple curtains can warm up your environment this winter.

The electric space heater on wheels, coupled with a top-fitted water receptacle to create wet heat, is a very reasonable investment, so reasonable you can purchase as many as are needed to heat your living space or office. Once you've warmed up, you simply roll them out of sight.

The second low-cost solution, weather sealing, is easy to install and even easier on the wallet. These long strips of tape with single-sided adhesive should be applied around the inside edge of any window or door frame. Strips usually last about a year, which means they help protect your home from dust year-round, and keep cold air inside in our sticky summers.

I'm going to close this column with curtains. Not the limp sort one commonly sees on windows in Shanghai, I mean the ones that block out drafts. This type must be thick, at least two-ply, so that air cannot pass through. They must also fit snuggly in the window frame or stretch from ceiling to floor.

Curtains need not be restricted to windows. They can be placed in doorways and passageways to keep the heat in, and the cold out. Then there's the Ebenezer Scrooge option: a curtained, canopied, four-poster bed.

In previous columns I've emphasized the fact that architecture-or in this case, renovations-is all about choice. And so, the first set of cold solutions mentioned above are highly effective, but costly in time and money. They will also alter the appearance of your space. The second set will cost about 90 per cent less than the first, and take no time at all. The choice is up to you, your architect and your landlord.



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