AC settings too low and ‘sexist’ for modern mixed-gender workplaces

Experts believe we’re only cooling for male population


Commercial offices are running their air conditioning at temperatures that are too low because settings are based on outdated and even ‘sexist’ calculations, according to research by Maastricht University.

The study revealed that temperatures in UK buildings tend to suit men and not women, and still adhere to guidance produced by ASHRAE in the 1960s.

Guide temperatures are based on the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man, which is around 30% faster than a woman’s. So while men might feel perfectly comfortable in cool office conditions, more women complain about being cold during summer.

Dr Boris Kingma, who led the study by the university’s medical centre, in Holland, said they were not recommending a specific range of room temperatures, but simply wanted metabolic rate to be taken into account when defining indoor climate standards.

He said the equations used to calculate humidity, air temperature, airflow, radiant temperature and the metabolism of people likely to be in a building were outdated – particularly as women now account for at least half of the workforce in modern offices.

The Maastrict team calculated that women, who tend to be smaller than men and have more body fat, had an average resting metabolic rate of 48 watts per square metre, significantly lower than the average used to calculate heating and cooling needs in buildings, as the typical 40-year-old man would have a rate of 58 watts.

‘Many men think that women are just nagging, but it is a genuine physiology issue,’ said Joost van Hoof, a building physicist at Fontys University of Applied Sciences, in the Netherlands. ‘Also, if women have lower need for cooling it means you can save energy, because, right now, we’re only cooling for the male population.’