Office air conditioning study suggests gender discrimination

A study in the journal Nature Climate Change says it is time to consider the metabolic rate of women to determine office thermostat settings. Women often report being cold at work and two scientists say it is time for buildings to end “gender discriminating bias in thermal comfort.” There is a push for more energy efficient buildings that are sensitive to the metabolic rates and body types of women.

It is well documented that women have a metabolic rate 20 to 35 percent lower than men. This information has been ignored in building design and thermostat settings. Most building thermostats use an outdated 1960’s method of calculating optimal comfort level settings. This method takes into account air temperature, air speed, vapor pressure and clothing insulation. Metabolic rates are largely ignored since the calculation is based on a 40 year old man who weighs approximately 154 pounds.

According to the researchers, Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, this calculation may have represented an office setting back in 1960, but that is no longer the case in 2015 as women now represent half of the workforce and have considerably lower metabolic rates. Building physicist Joost van Hoof said that since women have lower needs for cooling, we can save energy since we are only cooling for the male population at the moment.

The call for a new building thermostat calculation is being heard loud and clear. The workplace has changed and women are freezing in the office. Scientists like Kingma and Lichtenbelt have their hands full trying to compute the optimal building temperatures for men, women, small people and obese. One area that will need to be given a closer look is the difference in clothing worn between the sexes. The model does not take that difference into account very well. Women often wear lighter clothing as compared to men in the summer months.

Image source Evoke.

18 comments

  1. Put some clothes on

    Those that are cold can wear more clothes. There is only so much I can take off.

    • My thoughts exactly. Women can put on clothes, only so much a guy can take off (in most offices atleast!)

      It says the current temperature is already based off a ~150lb man. Given today’s obesity epidemic there are not that many men at that weight. I workout a lot and used to be a bodybuilder, and clock in at 240lb. It’s extremely hard to be efficient at work when you’re overheating.

    • I agree 100% and I am a woman. At work the other women always complain it’s cold when I put the A/C on room temperature! It’s not that cold. Isn’t room temperature supposed to be a comfortable temperature? I put it on 70 F or 20 C and I still get dirty looks.

      I always tell them, put on a sweater when I am sweating I cannot take my blouse off! I would tens time more want to be cold than to be super hot.

  2. We can save energy? Most people work in the northern climates where heating far outstrips cooling. Therefore, women are COSTING us more money! Ha!

  3. Wonderful invention called “sleeveless coat”/vest. Amazing how I can be comfortable at 10C / 50F, and at same time arms are still nimble, easy to do work.

    For me personally, lots of flexibility on “metabolic rate”, when I am active I make unzip clothing outside in cold weather, when I do “thinking work”, I can really slow down an wear a coat. So I have multiple thin layers, and simply adjust clothing.

  4. ridiculous. If people who are cold put on more clothes, then everyone will be comfortable.

  5. “the calculation is based on a 40 year old man who weighs approximately 154 pounds.”

    That is one heck of a small man. I remember back when I was 154lbs, I was complaining about the cold just as much as my female friends. If what you say were true, then it sounds like we’ve already hit the perfect balance point.

    I love how your article completely erases women with a high BMI, like my mother who is always complaining about the heat, and women undergoing menopause who suffer from hot flashes. Do you think only skinny women like yourself matter?

  6. It’s a completely ridiculous idea to decide to sentence myself, and those like me, to sitting at our desks in a virtual pond of our own sweat day after day during the summer so that the ladies of the office can come to work in their airy, no-sleeve, summer blouses+skirts/dresses and not “feel cold” — If you’re cold, how about putting on socks, pants, a button-down shirt, tie and blazer… and if you’re NOT willing to do that (or even a bloody sweater/pullover), then perhaps you can stfu about being “cold” in the office…

  7. So do we have to make summer warmer to please the women that wear clothing that is paper thin? Women’s clothing are always of inferior quality and often do not provide as much insulation as mens clothing. Why aren’t these blow hards complaining to the fashion designers that deliberately make womens clothing in lower quality?

    I have many female friends that tell me this, they buy pants for 120 bucks for the office and they’re lucky to get a year out of them before they rip.
    Womens blouses are made of lighter material that offer less insulation and wear out faster than mens dress shirts.

    Same thing with casual clothing.

    • Bob, I have to agree on the women versus men clothing issues. Even though suits and ties aren’t worn in the office quite as much as in the past, men are still dressed in heavier clothing than women.

  8. So the elephant in the room is, men are expected to sweat to death all day?
    Isn’t that sexist right there?
    I cannot work at a desk in my underwear because it’s 82 degrees, but you ladies can however pop a sweater on when it’s 70 degrees.

  9. For starters I don’t work in an office instead I work outside building houses so this doesn’t directly apply to me, however I have the right to state my points none the less.
    If there is legislation to increase the temperature in buildings to accommodate some women who feel cold in such building then the men in the same buildings will become too hot, so what about their rights to work in a comfortable atmosphere? Are these men supposed to cool their feet in cold water to keep cool? seriously.
    When I grew up in England while at home often the house was chilly. Sometimes I would ask my dad to turn the gas fire on. His answer to me was to put a sweater on instead of turning on the furnace on which cost money. Back then Climate Change wasn’t a big issue, however spending money unnecessarily was. Today Climate Change caused by the increase of CO2 has now become a huge issue. Everyone only has to look at all of the Forest Fires in British Columbia and Tornadoes across our country to see the beginnings of the negative effects caused by our climate changing due to the continued increases in Greenhouse Gasses.
    When it gets cold outside where I spend my days working to warm up I have to put on an extra layer of clothes. I therefore feel that women today who work in office building should make this small sacrifice to keep warm enough to be comfortable. Otherwise, next these women will be complaining of men who work in these office buildings of dressing down i.e. taking their ties and shirts off to keep cool.

    • Peter, I agree with some of the things you say. The only thing that makes me sensitive to this issue is the fact that an office I used to work in was 2/3 women to 1/3 men. Most of the women were confined to their desks doing data entry, reporting, computer related work, etc. The men were up moving around more as managers. I think we can all agree that you get a lot cooler sitting idle than when up moving around. As a manager at that company, I did feel for the women because they did not have the luxury of moving around as much as the men did, per their job requirements. Don’t get me wrong, being sensitive to that fact and agreeing wholeheartedly with the scientists who brought up this topic are two different things.

  10. Couldn’t dress warm enough in the summer. Cold air blew down with intensity from above on necks and shoulders of the mostly women who worked around the outer perimeters. Men worked in offices away from the cold air. Wore woolen sweater, coat, gloves, scarf. Also had to use a heater. Had terrible neck and shoulder pain. Thermostat set at 20 but obviously that wasn’t accurate. Lots of offices set up like this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*