Take a deep breath. Is the air inside your home stuffy? Don’t delay: Open a window and let fresh air and sunlight into your quarantined space. It won’t just help make your place smell better and feel fresher, it can also make your home healthier. And it may just help elevate your mood in these stressful times.
With a pandemic raging, the Centers for Disease Control recommends all households “increase ventilation by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning.” This call for fresh air is in addition to regular disinfecting and best hygiene practices to blunt the spike of COVID-19 cases.
Sunlight plus a cool breeze to assist in the fight against infection isn’t a new idea. There’s a history of fresh air and sunlight being used to control the spread of disease.
During the 1918 flu pandemic, “open air” treatments were used to treat sick soldiers and sailors, according to public health expert Richard Hobday. It remained a popular therapeutic method to treat infection through the 1950s.
In a recent article, Hobday explains the lessons learned from the 1918 flu outbreak: Over a century ago, medical officers discovered a “combination of fresh air and sunlight sees to have prevented deaths among patients; and infections among medical staff.” Hobday cites a report that indicates open-air treatment during the 1918 pandemic reduced deaths in hospitals from about 40% to about 13%.
In 2018, researchers led by Dr. Ashkan Fahimipour published findings in the Microbiome Journal that show sunlight does help kill bacteria in household dust. However, the doctor cautions there isn’t direct evidence sunlight is an effective deterrent for the spread of COVID-19.
“We do have scientific evidence that sunlight inactivates some microorganisms, including viruses,” says Fahimipour. “However, to my knowledge, data on the effects of sunlight on COVID-19 do not exist. That said, sunlight is a ‘free’ potential infection control measure that is easy to implement and unlikely to contribute deleterious effects—with emphasis on potential.”
So if the sun’s rays and fresh air are an easy way to boost the overall health of your living space, we wanted to focus on that crucial potential for beneficial effects We spoke with a few pros for tips on how to maximize airflow and sunlight in your home.
Open your windows, even if you have to adjust the thermostat
Whether you’re in a part of the country in the full throes of spring or still dealing with a deep freeze, think about opening your windows for fresh air and adjusting the thermostat to compensate. And yes, we know it’s expensive to run the heater with windows open, but letting the air circulate for a few hours a day can help improve the atmosphere inside your home.
Jeff Scroggins runs Creative Design Group, a design firm focused on high-end homes in Colorado’s ski resort towns. Even in the often-frigid Rockies, where air conditioning isn’t a standard feature, Scroggins says he has plenty of clients who crack open their windows year-round just for airflow. Even when temperatures dip below freezing, fresh air can offer benefits.
If you have outdoor space, use it
If you’re lucky enough to be quarantined at home and have a backyard, use that space for dining alfresco, grilling, or even an impromptu picnic.
And your backyard doesn’t need to be designed to the nines to enjoy it. Make the most of what you have right now.
“Pretend you are in a luxurious resort, and start your day by experiencing that first cup of coffee outside, listening to the birds,” suggests Susan Solliday, president of the Arizona North Chapter of American Society of Interior Designers. “Pull out chairs and tables suitable for outside, and place them in great morning spots.”
No yard? No problem. Designer and real estate agent James Judge says even the smallest outdoor spaces can be transformed into an inviting hangout spot.
“It can be as simple as a yoga mat on the patio or a cute bistro set that you order online,” Judge says. “An indoor and outdoor throw pillow can brighten up a space, too.”
Ditch heavy drapery for sheer curtains
Judge also recommends sheer curtains to lighten up your space. Now is not the time to live out your vampire fantasies—so consider replacing heavy drapes or thick fabric curtains to allow sunlight to stream in.
“With sheers you can still achieve privacy, but they are a great way to get natural light in, too,” says Judge.
There are several options for blinds and shades, like solar shades, which are designed to maximize natural light while cutting down on glare and blocking harmful UV, which could damage furniture or other valuables.
Blinds with larger slats let in the most light, but offer less privacy than those with smaller slats, which is important to consider for windows facing the street.
How you approach letting sunlight and fresh air in to your shelter-in-place lifestyle will be personal. It depends on your home, your climate, and your health. Whatever your situation, try to make every effort to keep your surroundings as healthy as possible. Opening a window is free, easy, and proven to boost your health. And that’s something we can all use right now.