Keeping things too cold

Reading the Sunday Review section of the New York Times I was reminded that I always kept a sweater on the back of my chair in the summer time.  I also pretty much kept the blower in the cube off.  We were always playing with the blowers in the ceiling because it was just too cold.  So Kate Murphy’s “Enduring Summer’s Deep Freeze” definitely resonated with me.

IT’S summertime. The season when you can write your name in the condensation on the windows at Starbucks, people pull on parkas to go to the movies and judges have been known to pause proceedings so bailiffs can escort jurors outside the courthouse to warm up.

On these, the hottest days of the year, office workers huddle under fleece blankets in their cubicles. Cold complaints trend on Twitter with posts like, “I could preserve dead bodies in the office it’s so cold in here.” And fashion and style bloggers offer advice for layered looks for coming in and out of the cold.

Why is America so over air-conditioned? It seems absurd, if not unconscionable, when you consider the money and energy wasted — not to mention the negative impact on the environment from the associated greenhouse-gas emissions. Architects, engineers, building owners and energy experts sigh with exasperation when asked for an explanation. They tick off a number of reasons — probably the most vexing is cultural.

“Being able to make people feel cold in the summer is a sign of power and prestige,” said Richard de Dear, director of the Indoor Environmental Quality Laboratory at University of Sydney, Australia, where excessive air-conditioning is as prevalent as it is in much of the United States. He said the problem is even worse in parts of the Middle East and Asia.

What a waste of energy and resources!  Back in 2005, the Japanese government decided to bump up the thermostats in government buildings.  It took a while for what they called “Super Cool Biz” to spread.  The first year, men still wore long sleeved shirts and carried jackets so they wouldn’t feel weird meeting with private sector people.  A blog, GaijinPot explains what it all means.

Cool biz has been a summer buzzword since the Cool Biz Campaign was launched by the Japanese government in 2005. The Cool Biz Campaign aims to help reduce energy consumption in part by having government offices and cooperating private companies set the air-conditioner to 28˚C. In addition, the campaign encouraged workers to wear cooler clothing to work, which in effect meant a more casual dress code for summer.

28C is around 82F.

The suggested dress code Japanese government workers in the summer?

Not required to wear:
Necktie
Jacket

Allowed to wear:
Half-sleeve dress shirts
Kariyushi shirt (Okinawan shirt)
Polo shirts
Hawaiian shirts/Aloha shirts
Chino pants
Sneakers

Not allowed to wear:
Exercise shirts
Shorts
T-shirts
Jeans

Notice this is for men. I assume women can wear shirts or dresses with sandals.

Summer attire in Japan

Summer attire in Japan

We already do casual Fridays many places and a lot of tech companies are casual every day so why not raise the temperature, maybe not to 82 but to, say, 78.

As Kate Murphy wrote

Extreme temperature changes like entering a freezing lobby on a sweltering summer day may feel good at first, but it makes the hypothalamus go nuts, intensifying physical and psychological discomfort when the initial pleasure wears off — as if to say: “A blizzard is on its way! Do something!”

The problem is compounded by building managers who, surveys indicate, typically don’t adjust the temperature set point higher in summertime when people wear lighter and more revealing clothes than they do in wintertime. Since thermoreceptors (nerve cells that sense temperature changes) are on your skin, the more of it you have exposed, the colder you are going to feel. Sixty-eight degrees feels a lot different if you are wearing a wool turtleneck, slacks and boots versus a poplin sundress and sandals.

However, you can understand managers’ bias toward keeping the lower, wintertime setting when many are men and might wear ties and jackets no matter the season. They may be even less inclined to bump up the thermostat if they are heavyset, as body fat is the ultimate heat insulator.

So, men, take off those jackets and ties in the summer.

A couple of computer scientists have developed a smartphone app that proposes to solve that problem by making people the thermostats. Users can tell the app, called Comfy, whether they are hot, cold or just right. Over time, it learns trends and preferences and tells the air-conditioning system when and where to throttle up or throttle back the cooling. So far it’s used in a dozen buildings, including some of Google’s offices and some government-owned buildings, for a total of three million square feet. The developers claim Comfy-equipped buildings realize savings of up to 25 percent in cooling costs.

“We have a lot of data that people are most comfortable if they have some measure of control,” said Gwelen Paliaga, a building systems engineer in Arcata, Calif., and chairman of a committee that develops standards for human thermal comfort for the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers, or Ashrae.

Of course, for fresh air and comfort, engineers and architects tend to agree the most effective control is being able to open and close the windows. No app required.

Maybe one day we can stop dressing one way outside and another inside during the summer.

2 thoughts on “Keeping things too cold

  1. Oh, yes! But I don’t have that here, the chill factor. I’ve the opposite – it is always too warm! Ireland rarely turns on the AC. But conversely, they think is is chilly at their desks when it is 28. Nooooo! Some even have private space heaters when I’m boiling.
    When I lived in Florida it was like that, though. AC in the car, a short walk into the grocery store… freezing cold inside! I get that a shop wants to keep the food fresh, but an office? Is your paper going to sweat?

    • We have no air conditioning at home in Vermont and didn’t have it in Boston either. Over the twenty years or so we lived in Boston, we rarely had more than two or three nights when sleeping was difficult. We lived outside of downtown and on a hill will excellent ventilation. Vermont mostly cools down at night.

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