When it is summer outside, many women dress for work in layers or keep more wintery attire (or blankets) at their desk to avoid freezing in the office or in meetings. Some of this can be attributed to the fact that women tend to choose lighter garb, shorter or no sleeves, and bare legs tucked into sandals in warmer months, whereas many men wear a year-round “uniform” that does not vary much by seasons. But, new research offers a scientific explanation on why women should blame men, at least those who set the building temperatures, for the chilly environment in the office. It turns out that thermostats in most workplaces are set to norms that were established for men’s needs years ago and never updated as women entered the workforce.
Every summer, office buildings and conference rooms turn up the air-conditioning, and many of the women inside freeze or are forced to bundle up. The office temperature is set according to formulas aimed to optimize employees’ “thermal comfort,” which is based on the air temperature, radiant temperature, humidity, air speed and clothing worn. However, the energy consumption and thermostats for buildings are calibrated based on old standards set for men’s body heat production, according to Boris Kingma, a biophysicist at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands, who co-authored a recent study that addressed the freezing female masses in offices.
The study, which was published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, determined that most office buildings adjust their temperatures based on a decades-old formulas set to the metabolic rates of men, reportedly the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds. The researchers were looking at the “gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” largely to prove that buildings are wasting energy keeping things too cold.
The study looked at factors like size, weight, age, type of work and sex. It showed that there are solid reasons women, who are now half of the workforce, tend to think the office environment is more chilly than the men they sit near do. Most women have slower metabolic rates than men. Women, in general are smaller. Women also have more body fat, which also results in lower metabolic rates than muscles in men.
The researchers tested 16 women, who were in their 20s, while they were doing light work and wearing light clothes. They sat in respiration chambers, which are rooms that track oxygen inhaled and carbon dioxide exhaled. A thermometer pill the women swallowed reported their internal body temperature. Their skin temperature was measured on their hands and abdomen. The data gathered showed that the women’s average metabolic rate was 20 to 32 percent lower than the rates used to set most building temperatures.
So, how much warmer does an office have to be to find a common ground? It turns out that the answer depends on the sexes of the occupants, and their builds and ages. the study cites research finding as much as a five-degree difference in women and men’s preferences. The researchers suggested woman might prefer a 75-degree room, while a man might prefer about 70 degrees. But, people who are older have slower metabolic rates and may also want it warmer. Conversely, those who are overweight and women in menopause would prefer it colder.
If women make up half the workforce or more, raising the temperature to accommodate them can also save energy. “If you have a more accurate view of the thermal demand of the people inside,” noted Kingma, “then you can design the building so that you are wasting a lot less energy, and that means the carbon dioxide emission is less.” So, women, if there is a chilly environment in the office, do not just blame the men, educate the management about the situation.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
Nature Climate Change: Energy Consumption in Buildings and Female Thermal Demand
Washington Post: Your office thermostat is set for men’s comfort. Here’s the scientific proof.
CNN: Here’s why women feel cold in the office
Daily Mail: Is this why women wear their coats in the office? Air conditioning temperatures in the office are based on the preferences of a middle-aged male
Photo from Frerieke’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License