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