Moreover, the amount of water vapor given off during the combustion of gas is greater than in the case of the other illuminants. Water vapor having a great power of absorbing radiant heat from the burning gas becomes heated, and diffusing itself about the room, causes great feeling of oppression; the air also being highly charged with moisture, is unable to take up so rapidly the water vapor which is always evaporating from the surface of our skin, whereby the functions of the body receive a slight check, resulting in a feeling of malaise.

Added to these, however, is a far more serious factor which has, up to the present, been overlooked, and that is that an ordinary gas flame, in burning, yields distinct quantities of carbon monoxide and acetylene, the prolonged breathing of which in the smallest traces produces headache and general physical discomfort, while its effect upon plant life is equally marked.


(The amount of light required in a room 16' X 12' x 10'.)
Products of Combustion
Illuminant Quantity of Materials UsedOxygen RemovedWater Vapor Carbon Dioxide Adults
Sperm Candles3,840 grains19.27 c.f.13.12 c.f.13.12 c.f.21.8
Paraffin Oil1,984 grains12.48 c.f.7.04 c.f.8.96 c.f.14.9
Gas (London)--
Batswing11 c.f.13.06 c.f.14.72 c.f.5.76 c.f.9.6
Argand9.7 c.f.11.52 c.f.12.80 c.f.5.12 c.f.8.5
Regenerative3.2 c.f.3.68 c.f.4.16 c.f.1.60 c.f.2.6

Ever since the structure of flame has been noted and discussed, it has been accepted as a fact beyond dispute that the outer almost invisible zone which is interposed between the air and the luminous zone of the flame is the area of complete combustion, and that here the unburnt remnants of the flame gases, meeting the air, freely take up oxygen and are converted into the comparatively harmless products of combustion, carbon dioxide and water vapor, which only need partial removal by any haphazard process of ventilation to keep the air of the room fit to support animal life. I have, however, long doubted this fact, and at length, by a delicate process of analysis have been able to confirm my suspicions. The outer zone of a luminous flame is not the zone of complete combustion; it is a zone in which luminosity is destroyed in exactly the same way that it is destroyed in the Bunsen burner; that is the air penetrating the flame so dilutes and cools down the outer layer of incandescent gas that it is rendered non-luminous, while some of the gas sinks below the point at which it is capable of burning, with the result that considerable quantities of the products of incomplete combustion carbon monoxide and acetylene escape into the air, and render it actively injurious.

I have proved this by taking a small platinum pipe, with a circular loop on the end, the interior of the loop being pierced with minute holes, and by making a circular flame burn within the loop so that the non-luminous zone of the flame just touched the inside of the loop, and then by aspiration so gentle as not to distort the shape of the flame, withdrawing the gases escaping from the outer zone. On analyzing these by a delicate process, which will be described elsewhere, I arrived at the following results:


Water vapor.14.70213.345
Carbon dioxide.2.2014.966
Carbon monoxide.1.1890.006
Marsh gas.0.0720.003

The gases leaving the luminous flame show that the diluting action of the nitrogen is so great that considerable quantities even of the highly inflammable and rapidly burning hydrogen escape combustion, while the products of incomplete combustion are present in sufficient quantity to account perfectly for the deleterious effects of gas burners in ill-ventilated rooms. The analyses also bring out very clearly the fact that, although the dilution of coal gas by air in atmospheric burners is sufficient to prevent the decomposition of the heavy hydrocarbons with liberation of carbon, and so destroy luminosity, yet the presence of the extra supply of oxygen does make the combustion far more perfect, so that the products of incomplete combustion are hardly to be found in the escaping gases.

These experiments are of the gravest import, as they show more clearly than has ever been done before the absolute necessity for special and perfect ventilation where coal gas is employed for the illumination of our dwelling rooms.

When coal gas was first employed during the early part of this century as an illuminating agent, the low pitch of the old fashioned rooms, and the excess of impurities in the gas, rendered it imperative that the products of combustion of the sulphur-laden gas should be conducted from the apartment, and for this purpose arrangements of tubes with funnel shaped openings were suspended over the burners. The noxious gases were thus conveyed either to the flue or open air; but this type of ventilator was unsightly in the extreme, and some few attempts were made to replace it by a more elegant arrangement, as in the ventilating lamp invented by Faraday, and in the adaptation of the same principle by Mr. I.O.N. Rutter, who strove for many years to direct attention to the necessity of removing the products of combustion from the room. But with the increase of the gas industry, the methods for purifying the coal gas became gradually more and more perfect, while the rooms in the modern houses were made more lofty; and the products of combustion being mixed with a larger volume of air, and not containing so many deleterious constituents, became, if not much less noxious, at all events less perceptible to the nose.

As soon as this point was reached, the ventilating tubes were discarded, and from that day to this the air of our dwelling rooms has been contaminated by illuminants, with hardly an effort to alleviate the effect produced upon health. I say "hardly an effort," for the Messrs. Boyle tried, by their concentric tube ventilators, to meet the difficulty, while Mr. De la Garde and Mr. Hammond have each constructed lamps more or less on the principle of the Rutter lamp; but either from their being somewhat unsightly, or from their diminishing the amount of light given out, none of them have met with any degree of success. In places of public entertainment, where large quantities of coal gas are consumed for illuminating purposes, the absolute necessity for special ventilation gave rise to the "sun burner," with its ventilating shaft. This, however, gives but a very poor illuminating power per cubic foot of gas consumed, due partly to the cooling of the flame by the current of air produced, and partly to its distance from the objects to be illuminated.

The great difficulty which in the whole history of ventilation has opposed itself to the adoption of proper arrangements for removing the products of combustion has been the necessity of bringing the tube to carry off the gases low down into the room, and of incasing the burner in such a way that none of the products should escape; but with the present revolution in gas burners this necessity is entirely done away with, and the regenerative burner offers the means not only of removing all the products of combustion but also of effecting thorough ventilation of the room itself, as experiments made some few years ago showed me that a ventilating regenerative burner, burning 20 cubic feet of gas per hour and properly fitted, will not only remove all its own products of combustion, but also over 5,000 cubic feet per hour of the vitiated air from the upper part of the room. I am quite aware that many regenerative lamp makers raise various objections to fitting ventilating lamps, these being chiefly due to the fact that it requires considerable trouble to fit them properly; but I think I have said enough to show the absolute necessity of some such system, and when there is a general demand for ventilating lamps, engineering skill will soon find means to overcome any slight difficulties which exist.