Monday, March 11, 2013

Ondol - the warm floor warms us

  Spring has already come before I knew it. But because of the last cold snap, I have to heat the house sometimes. Nowadays, just a flick of your finger will warm your room. For Koreans, 'warming the room' means 'warming the floor'. Let me tell you about 'ondol' of Korea, the pioneer of modern floor-heating systems.

  The first ondol ever used was invented over 2,000 years ago in Korea. It spread nationwide in the 17th century, as people tried to eliminate fallen pine needles that caused a lot of mountain fires. Almost all houses installed ondol only to get rid of those pine needles. They used them to heat ondol instead of wood. This is how ondol became so popular. If there were no pine trees, ondol would not be as popular as it is now!

  So, what's good for you when you use ondol?
First, ondol sends heat all over the room. It uses conduction, radiation and convection at the same time. On the other hand, fireplaces or forced air heating systems only use convection, so they only heat the upper part of the air.

In addition, ondol is good for your health. It keeps your feet warm and your head cool, so it helps blood circulation. Plus, smoke never comes inside the room but goes beneath the floor and out the chimney.
Finally, ondol is economical. It stores the heat in the stone track for a long time. For example, 'Chil-Bul Temple' in Jiri Mountain in the south of Korea has a highly-efficient ondol room called 'A-Ja Bang'. It was built about 1,000 years ago for the Buddhist monks' 100-day prayer during the winter. It is said that at that time, heating the room just once made the warmth stay for 100 days! How surprising!

  Ondol is becoming global, changing and improving. Nowadays, over half of Europe, including Denmark, uses floor heating in new buildings. One of the first people to use ondol in western buildings was Frank Lloyd Wright, who was a famous American architect. He was fascinated by ondol. "How can a room be so warm without anything visible?" He brought ondol into many of his famous buildings like the 'Falling Water' and the 'Guggenheim Museum'.

  I think ondol is a great invention. It doesn't heat up that quickly, but once it heats up, the warmth stays for a long time. I think ondol is similar to me. :-) I don't get along with friends so quickly, but once I open up, I become great friends with them for a long time. I hope a lot of people around the world would be able to enjoy the warmth of ondol.