The He said – She said of controls

Wrestling for control of the thermostat? There’s a good reason for that…

Men and women are different (I didn’t need to say that did I?). There was a guy. He modeled office temperature and comfort levels. In the 1950s. On men. See where I’m going with this?! A bit Mad Men really.

Strategies — Importance of understanding systems and impacts

Turns out, according to Boris Kingma & Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt in their Nature Climate Change article ($) that men (generally) have a higher metabolism as well as a different body shape than women – and this affects heat balance.  Then there’s the whole blokes-wear-suits and ties, whilst women often wear skirts and blouses or slacks and jackets. So if the males are generally wearing warm layers and creating more heat through higher metabolism – the comfortable temperature will be lower than for females.

Meanwhile, the general advice to office building managers was (and still is apparently) to set the air conditioning controls set points which make men comfortable! So, much like the wrestle for the Winter doona, there’s a good chance that:

Someone’s losing out and it’s not the fellas!

Accepting that you can’t please all the people all the time is one thing, but isn’t that different if you set up systematically to only please the men — you’re leaving women out in the cold!  The standard approach may underestimate women’s metabolic rate by up to 35%!

A particularly inefficient (and all-too-common) product of this situation is the 2000 Watt fan heater under the desk to counteract the over-chilled office… talk about a vicious cycle!  

Equity is important and so is the environmental impact of these systems. So it’s not all Mars/Venus? Correct!  Keeping offices colder than needed in summer costs energy, money and pollution. What would work? What else do we know? What’s the science say?

Smart options?

It turns out that air movement, humidity, the temperature of things around you, of the things you touch and of course, the clothing being worn has a major impact on the perception of temperature and comfort. Much of the above is similar to the Bureau of Meteorology reporting the ‘feel like’  temperature (or apparent temperature) as well as the actual temperature. A scary amount of detail from the Bureau is available for those with a technical bent.

In effect you’d be better off getting the walls and hard surface temperature right whilst giving workplace culture a tweak around dress sense as a more efficient means of temperature conditioning.

Fresh air is still required, usually measured in changes per hour of room volume, but actually heating and cooling the air that flows is less effective than getting the mass of the room and fittings right.

Underneath all this, if it’s you that:

  • pays the energy bills or,
  • who trades on your (corporate?) environmental credibility or,
  • you just give a shit about the common good of reducing waste and pollution then…

You could work some magic in setting the thermostat and the ground rules!

At home – practical checklist

  • A rug on that bare floor in Winter to prevent heat loss from feet – might even brighten the place up!
  • Put on an extra layer – a bit old school – thanks Mum!
  • A blanket for the thermally challenged couch dweller
  • Curtains to prevent cold drafts off the windows
  • Cups of tea… Works here!

In the office – culture vs comfort

Some years back the government department I worked in got a new Secretary (the type that is responsible to the Minister, NOT the administrative typing/minute-taking/organising dynamo). He was quick to announce that we were going to relax the range of office temperate settings – in return the expectation was less suit wearing and the general dumping of ties!

Not everyone’s boss will (or can) manage the latter part, nor can all households meet the blanket-and-a-cuppa challenge – but even considering these actions may well prompt some small changes for the better!

Tell us about any successes at your place!

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    A card-carrying science nerd — PhD in biological science. Successful creator of an award winning sustainable business. A lecturer, teacher, innovator and now builder of information tools for agriculture — I seek to provide informed approaches and making low resource consumption easy and understandable.

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