A Very Wintery Summer: Thermostat Wars in the Office

Bundled up in officeAs I reach next to my desk and turn on my space heater, I am simultaneously perplexed by the fact that my calendar currently shows the month of August. Yes, August; a time for hitting the beach, sleeping with as many fans on as possible, and enjoying an iced beverage while sweating in the deep Summer heat. Take a trip to your nearest Target and I’ll bet you won’t even find a space heater on the shelves. So why, then, are all of my gorgeous dresses hanging neglected in my closet while I wear pants and a sweater to work? Believe it or not, it all started in an office over FIFTY years ago.

A recent study published in the journal of Nature Climate Change has stated that many office buildings set temperatures based on the Thermal Comfort Model, initially created in the 1960s, that is based on the resting metabolic rates of men. This study not only seeks to reduce gender bias, but also claims that setting indoor temperatures a few degrees higher can help counter global warming by reducing energy consumption. The Thermal Comfort Model is a mathematic equation combining elemental and environmental factors with clothing insulation. It is then scaled and compared against the Predicted Percentage Dissatisfied which gauges how many people are likely to experience discomfort due to temperature. While based on science, the problem with this model is that it is based on the resting metabolic rate of a 154-pound 40-year-old man. Times have changed quite a bit since then: women, who typically have slower metabolic rates than men, make up half of the workforce. The study concludes that the model overestimates the resting heat production of women by up to 35 percent.

Dr. Boris Kingma, a biophysicist in the Netherlands, states that women tend to prefer a 75-degree room versus men, who might prefer it to be 70 degrees. This does not only effect the individual, but also the business, as studies have shown that people are less productive when they are either uncomfortably cold or hot. New formulas have been created, but none have been quite as simple as Carnegie Mellon architecture Professor Dr. Khee Poh Lam’s idea of a solution: individualized temperature controls. Developed in the 1990’s, these controls were once considered too expensive for commercial production, but other developers are starting to produce systems that allow individuals to alter the temperature in their cubes themselves.

So, what season does your office currently feel like? Is it summer outside and chilly winter day in your cube? Do you think that individualized temperature controls are the answer to make everyone happy? It surely gets my vote, as this sweater that I’m wearing is going to go from necessary to impractical when I step outside into the 85-degree heat of August.

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