Office too cold? Blame the men

Scientists say that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men.
Scientists say that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Temperature settings usually based on formula using male metabolic rate: Study

NEW YORK • Scientists are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published on Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men.

The two authors, who are men, conclude that buildings should "reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort" because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

"In a lot of buildings, you see energy consumption is a lot higher because the standard is calibrated for men's body heat production," said study co-author Boris Kingma, a biophysicist at Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

"If you have a more accurate view of the thermal demand of the people inside, then you can design the building so that you are wasting a lot less energy, and that means the carbon dioxide emission is less."

The study says most building thermostats follow a "thermal comfort model" developed in the 1960s which considers factors like air temperature and clothing insulation. It is compared against the Predicted Percentage Dissatisfied, a gauge of how many people are likely to feel uncomfortably cool or warm.

However, the study notes, one variable in the formula, resting metabolic rate (how fast we generate heat), is based on a 40-year-old man weighing about 70kg.

But women now constitute half of the workforce and usually have slower metabolic rates than men, mostly because they are smaller and have more body fat, which has lower metabolic rates than muscle.

The study authors propose adjusting the model to include actual metabolic rates of women and men, plus factors like body tissue insulation, not just clothing.

Some experts doubt the proposed formula would be easily adopted. Still, said Carnegie Mellon architecture professor Khee Poh Lam, "we need to keep pushing" for improvements because "the phenomenon of women getting cold is very, very obvious", and cold or hot employees are less productive.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 05, 2015, with the headline 'Office too cold? Blame the men'. Print Edition | Subscribe