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Guys, does it seem like the women at your office complain disproportionately that the A/C is too cold? They very well might. Does your female boss not keep the A/C cold enough?  She’s probably comfortable even if you’re not.

Interesting (I thought) article about it in today’s NYT.

It happens every summer: Offices turn on the air-conditioning, and women freeze into Popsicles.

Finally, scientists (two men, for the record) are urging an end to the Great Arctic Office Conspiracy. Their study, published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, says that most office buildings set temperatures based on a decades-old formula that uses the metabolic rates of men. The study concludes that buildings should “reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort” because setting temperatures at slightly warmer levels can help combat global warming.

“In a lot of buildings, you see energy consumption is a lot higher because the standard is calibrated for men’s body heat production,” said Boris Kingma, a co-author of the study and a biophysicist at Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “If you have a more accurate view of the thermal demand of the people inside, then you can design the building so that you are wasting a lot less energy, and that means the carbon dioxide emission is less.”
The study says most building thermostats follow a “thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s,” which considers factors like air temperature, air speed, vapor pressure and clothing insulation, using a version of Fanger’s thermal comfort equation.

PMV = [0.303e-0.036M + 0.028]{(M – W) – 3.96E-8ƒcl[(tcl + 273)4 – (tr + 273)4] – ƒclhc(tcl – ta) – 3.05[5.73 – 0.007(M – W) – pa] – 0.42[(M – W) – 58.15] – 0.0173M(5.87 – pa) – 0.0014M(34 – ta)}

It is converted to a seven-point scale and compared against the Predicted Percentage Dissatisfied, a gauge of how many people are likely to feel uncomfortably cool or warm.
Seems simple enough.

But Dr. Kingma and his colleague, Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, write that one variable in the formula, resting metabolic rate (how fast we generate heat), is based on a 40-year-old man weighing about 154 pounds.

Maybe that man once represented most people in offices. But women now constitute half of the work force and usually have slower metabolic rates than men, mostly because they are smaller and have more body fat, which has lower metabolic rates than muscle. Indeed, the study says, the current model “may overestimate resting heat production of women by up to 35 percent.”

“If women have lower need for cooling it actually means you can save energy, because right now we’re just cooling for this male population,” said Joost van Hoof, a building physicist at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands, who was not involved in the study.

“Many men think that women are just nagging,” he said. “But it’s because of their physiology.”

Physiology and clothing. The authors also note that the model is not always calibrated accurately for women’s summer wardrobes. Dr. van Hoof, who wrote a commentary about the study, observed that many men still wear suits and ties in the summer but many women wear skirts, sandals and other lighter, more skin-baring clothes.

“The cleavage is closer to the core of the body, so the temperature difference between the air temperature and the body temperature there is higher when it’s cold,” he said.

So for the planet’s sake, men should “stop complaining,” Dr. Kingma said. “If it is too warm, the behavior thing you can do is take off a piece of clothing, but you can only do that so much. You could also say let’s keep it a very cold building and women should just wear more clothes.”

But his study offers another solution: Change the formula.

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