Winter time Frosty Feet got you down? Not in Korea!

Ondol

Ever wake up on a freezing winter morning, sleepily start to slip out of your warm bed only to have your feet suddenly come into contact with what feels like the pole that Flick from the Christmas Story had His tongue stuck to? Yeah, not so sleepy anymore are you. It’s happened to all of us as we scramble to put our feet into those havens of warmth called house slippers.

Normally, warming a home is carried out by a furnace creating heat then that heat being blown by fans through ducts which distribute said heat to an entire home. Not a bad idea. The issue with this tried and true style of warming a home is that the same ducts that are used for heating are also used for cooling. This means that the air will enter the rooms of the home either from the ceiling or from the floor.

Funny thing about air is depending on its temperature it either rises or settles. In warmer climates its best if the ducts supplying cool air to a room enter from the ceiling since cold air falls. This gives the room an overall “cool” feeling. If those same ducts that normally supply cold air are used to supply warm air then most of the warmth never makes it to the floor area. Instead of warm air distributing nicely throughout a room it will collect only in your ceiling hence our cold stone creamery slab that waits each morning to greet our innocent yet naïve feet.

The most ideal way to heat your home would be radiant heating. Radiant heating simply means the floor or walls become very warm which increases the overall temperature of the home. There are no ducts or vents blowing air anywhere, it’s simply just nice and toasty like lying next to your significant other or favorite pet. In most of the modern world “radiant heating” is just recently being adopted. In the US which is considered to be the richest nation on earth it has only recently begun to be adopted and only in the pricier homes.

Since radiant heating is just now becoming available to some of the wealthiest nations in the world when might it be available in Korea? Actually if you wanted to experience radiant heating for the first time in Korea you would have to go back in time a little ways, roughly 3,014 years ago to the Bronze Age. To say the world is a little behind Korea in radiant heating is a slight understatement.

In Northern Korea there is a town called  “Unggi, Hamgyeongbuk-do” where the first “Ondul” also known as a “Gundeul” was discovered that dated back to 1000BC. “Gundeul” simply means heated stone and in the 19th century referring to this heated stone room was changed to “ondul”. The Korean home was built off of the ground on top of stone slabs. The stone slabs were heated by smoke from the same fire used for all of the necessities of life, cooking, boiling water etc. Efficient? I think so too. You might ask yourself,” wouldn’t the house fill up with smoke?” Those darn Koreans even back then were pretty smart using an oil paper on top of the thick stone to completely block out any smoke from entering through the floor.

If you’re visiting modern day Korea don’t worry about your place of stay burning down though. Today fire isn’t used but instead either electric mats or hot water pipes under concrete supply the radiant heating from the floors. Coming from a western nation to Korea for the first time may prove a little confusing as you fumble with the remote trying to make the “aircon” or in room ac unit blow warm air. Well, give up because that aircon aint never gonna blow hot air….

Instead of fumbling around with the buttons on the remote for the aircon you should instead look for the little thermostat on the wall. Turn the digital indicator up to around 25c and get ready for a great experience. The room will become much MUCH warmer than it could with common western heating systems and best off it’s totally silent. This whole great Korean heating system does come with drawbacks. If warm air makes you sleepy and not want to get out of bed, Korean radiant heating will make your warm cozy body feel like it weighs ten times as much as you lay there drooling on yourself from the euphoric sensation this natural womb like warmth supplies.

That explains Korean radiant heating. As for the chopsticks, I’m still trying to figure that one out….

By Jacob Rojas

JakeRojas@gmail.com

Comments

comments