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Here’s Why Your Office Is So Cold


If you’re a woman and work in an office, you’re probably longing for fall, and not because you enjoy autumnal fashion and Pumpkin Spice Lattes. No, for many of us, the end of summer will mean the end of freezing to death under the arctic blast of the office air conditioning. Before you roll your eyes, menfolks and other warm-blooded people, go put your hands in the freezer for a few minutes and then come back and try to type something. We’ll wait. When you return, cast your eyes on the abstract of a recent study, published in the journal Climate Change and entitled Energy Consumption in Buildings and Female Thermal Demand, which demonstrates what many female office workers have been saying for years: the office thermostat is set with men in mind.


(Photo Credit: lara604/Flickr)

And not just any men: 40-year-old men, weighing 154 pounds – in other words, a typical office worker in the 1960s, when researchers say the “empirical comfort model” that underlies indoor climate control policies was developed.

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Needless to say, times have changed. Not only has the weight of the average American man increased from 166.3 pounds in 1960 to 191 pounds in 2002, but the gender breakdown of the workplace has changed as well. In 1960, only 37.7 percent of the female population of the U.S., aged 16 and over, participated in the workforce; by 2002, that number was 59.6 percent.

Women Still Feel Colder Than Men

Of course, women are bigger than they were in 1960, as well: 164.3 pounds in 2002, compared to 140.2 pounds in 1960. But even at a larger size, women have a lower metabolic rate than men, and thus are more likely to feel cold.

“Researchers found the women’s average metabolic rate was 20 to 32 percent lower than rates in the standard chart used to set building temperature,” writes Pam Belluck at The New York Times. “So they propose adjusting the model to include actual metabolic rates of women and men, plus factors like body tissue insulation, not just clothing.”

One problem: the study found that women prefer temperatures that are up to five degrees warmer than those preferred by men, whose 70-degree preference is currently the status quo in most offices. It remains to be seen whether a high percentage of women in the workforce – or even researcher’s plea that recalibrating our cooling expectations could save energy – will persuade those who currently hold the keys to the thermostat.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s the perfect temperature for the office, in your humble opinion? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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