Overly aggressive air conditioning in many offices can have women bundling up in the middle of summer.

Air conditioning can lead to ‘cold wars’ in B.C. offices

If things are too cold it can lead to discomfort and even conflicts between workers

If you’ve found that things get frostier in the office in more ways than one during the summer months, then you’re not alone.

A BC Hydro report finds the increased use of air conditioning in B.C. workplaces is leading to worker discomfort, as well as conflict between employees and employers.

The report—entitled “Cold War: How many B.C. employees are losing the battle over office air conditioning” (http://bit.ly/2GuNAMM)—finds A/C use in commercial buildings has increased by almost a third since 2006. The increase in A/C usage has resulted in close to one-quarter of British Columbians surveyed saying they have argued with a fellow employee over the office temperature, or witnessed this type of argument between co-workers.

The survey found that two-thirds of British Columbians do not have the ability to adjust the office temperature themselves, or must ask permission to do so. Amongst those, 60 per cent find the air conditioning too cold in the summer months, making it difficult to concentrate on work, with women feeling this way more than men. For instance:

· Women are almost twice as likely as men to say the office temperature makes it difficult to concentrate on work.

· Almost four times more women than men describe their office as too cold during the summer.

· Nearly 60 per cent of women who reported being too cold are regularly using a blanket or wearing layers to deal with low office temperatures.

The survey results support other studies which found many office climate control systems are based on a decades-old thermal comfort formula designed to suit the male metabolic rate. They were also developed at a time when offices were dominated by men, many of whom were expected to wear suits and ties at work, no matter how hot it was outside.

Dr Jennifer Miles-Chan, a senior lecturer in Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, says that men tend to have more muscle mass, higher activity levels, and larger bodies than women, translating to faster metabolism which keeps them warmer. Women, however, have less blood flow in their hands when exposed to cold, and their skin temperature might be lower than that of men.

The result of these differences is that a number of studies indicate women function better in a climate that is two to three degrees Celsius higher than what men find most comfortable. A 2015 study concluded that women feel optimum comfort when the temperature is 24° to 25° C.

BC Hydro data shows offices in B.C. set the thermostat as low as 20° C., which is a few degrees cooler than what is recommended, leading to wasted electricity and higher costs.

BC Hydro recommends businesses take the following measures to help diffuse tensions and avoid an office cold war:

· Optimize the cooling system: BC Hydro recommends offices and commercial buildings be cooled to between 23° and 26° C in the summer months when occupied, and that the A/C should be turned off when no one is in the office.

· Consult an HVAC professional: Use the BC Hydro Alliance of Energy Professionals network to hire a professional HVAC consultant who can identify and implement energy efficiency solutions.

· Ensure the HVAC system complements the office layout: Air duct balancing should be performed every time the layout of the office changes, to ensure the system is working optimally.

For more office energy saving tips visit http://powersmart.ca.


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