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Is the office air-conditioning too cold? Then the chances are you're a woman

By John von Radowitz

Published 04/08/2015

Middle-aged men who turn down the air-conditioning at work are freezing women out of the workplace, research suggests
Middle-aged men who turn down the air-conditioning at work are freezing women out of the workplace, research suggests

Middle-aged men who turn down the air-conditioning at work are freezing women out of the workplace, research suggests.

Indoor climate control systems are partly based on the resting metabolic rate of an average 40-year-old man, say scientists.

They may overestimate female metabolic rate by as much as 35%.

This means women are likely to feel less than comfortable in modern air conditioned offices.

A study of 16 young women performing light office work showed that they were at risk of being over-chilled by air conditioning in summer.

Their metabolic rates, significantly lower than the "standard values" currently employed to set office temperatures, suggested they required less cooling in summer than men.

Current air conditioning standards are derived from research in the 1960s that assessed the "thermal comfort" of 1,300 mainly sedentary students.

It took into account a value for metabolic rate, based on an 11 stone, 40-year-old man. But women's metabolic rates are typically very different from men's, the researchers point out.

The standard model used to set indoor temperatures may overestimate the amount of heat generated by a woman sitting still by more than a third.

Study authors Dr Boris Kingma and Professor Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, from Maastricht University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change: "Thermal comfort models need to adjust the current metabolic standard by including the actual values for females.

"Consequently, thermal comfort models need either to be recalibrated or enhanced using a biophysical approach ... This in turn will allow for better predictions of building energy consumption, by reducing the bias on thermal comfort of sub-populations and individuals."

In other words, female workers should be turning the heat up on their male counterparts.

Metabolic rate also lowered with increasing age.

The authors called for a new system that takes into account gender differences, as well as age and physiological characteristics such as being lean or obese.

In a "News & Views" commentary in the journal, Dr Joost van Hoof from Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, wrote: "These findings could be significant for the next round of revisions of thermal comfort standards - which are on a constant cycle of revision - because of the opportunities to improve the comfort of office workers and the potential for reducing energy consumption."

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