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The New Frontier in the Temperature Wars

Aug. 24, 2015

Study examines gender-based temperature disparity.

Fed up with recurring temperature complaints? The cause may be due (at least partially) to the biological differences between occupants in the same space.

A new study in the journal Nature Climate Change blames the differences in metabolic rates between men and women for much of the temperature preference disparity. Its authors claim that the thermal comfort model upon which indoor climate regulations are based overestimates the female biological rate by up to 35%, resulting in buildings that are uncomfortable year-round for women.

However, ASHRAE disputes the researchers’ findings, saying that Standard 55 (which specifies how to produce indoor thermal conditions that are acceptable to the majority of occupants) is based on a comfort index developed on a 1,000-subject study that included equal numbers of women and men.

“In the main studies where both groups did the same sedentary work and wore the same type of clothing, there were no differences in preferred temperature,” says Bjarne Olesen, a member of the ASHRAE Board of Directors, thermal comfort researcher, and former chair of the Standard 55 committee. “The reason why some field studies find that women prefer a higher room temperature than men is attributed to the level of clothing. Women adapt their clothing to summer, while men are still wearing suits and ties. If the thermostat is set to satisfy the men, then women will complain about being too cold.”

Whatever the source of the disagreement, the consequences are clear: wasted cooling energy, uncomfortable workers, and even impacts on health and productivity.

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