Air temperature is one of the most contentious issues in offices. Some workers think it’s too hot and stuffy while others are freezing cold. The only way to silence the complainants is to put it to science to decide what the ideal office air temperature is.
Why Air Temperature Isn’t Consistent
Ever walked from one part of the office to another and feel like the air temperature is different? Chances are it’s not your imagination playing tricks. One part of the office can be much colder or warmer than another. The difference in temperature could be because of one or more factors:
Direct Sun – If you sit next to a window that gets direct afternoon sun, particularly if it’s a multi-storey building you’re likely to feel the heat radiate through the glass. Large windows radiate more heat in homes and offices than any other part of the building. Tinted windows and high quality blinds can help but the side of the building that cops the afternoon sun is warmer than the opposite side.
Position of Vents – How close you sit to an air conditioning vent will impact on the air temperature. If possible, work stations shouldn’t sit directly below air conditioning outlets. Deflectors on air vents can direct airflow away from workers so they don’t feel the draft.
Office Petitions – Whether you sit in an open plan or closed office environment can impact how much air you’re getting from the air conditioner.
Who Feels the Cold More - Men or Women?
All of us have a hypothalamus at the base of the brain, which tells us how hot or cold we are. When our skin registers a temperature, it stimulates the hypothalamus and thyroid to increase metabolism to generate body heat. Everyone has a different sense of what’s hot and cold. You no doubt know several people who you think have a broken internal thermostat!
Most women are less muscular than men, so they feel the cold more. The female hormone oestrogen also thickens the blood slightly, reducing the blood flow to the body’s extremities.
Women are also more likely to wear shorter sleeves in summer until they feel the cool blast of the air conditioner. In Australia where temperature variations between seasons are minor, men will often wear the same clothing to work year-round.
What many workers don’t realise is there’s an Australian Standard AS Code of Practice for application of ergonomics that sets a recommended temperature range for office and factory workers.
The summer temperature range is 22-24°C and in winter it should be around two degrees lower. Many commercial tenancy agreements stipulate the office should be heated or cooled so the temperature remains a constant 22°C year round.
The favoured number of 22°C also appears in European and UK industry peak bodies guidelines because they’ve found cognitive performance peaks at 22°C.
The seasonal difference is because our bodies can tolerate more heat in summer than in winter. Some workers also wear lighter clothes in summer than they do in winter so their clothing makes up for the two degrees difference in air temperature.
Scientific Experiment Into Office Temperature
A study tested if office workers’ cognitive load or comfort level is impacted at two temperatures – 22°C and 25°C. The 26 male and female workers completed cognitive performance tests and thermal comfort and air quality questionnaires at different temperatures.
Researchers recorded their Electroencephalogram (EEG) and heart rates at three different stages of difficulty during the tests. The results of the study showed their cognitive test scores, EEG or heart rate test scores weren’t significantly impacted by the different temperatures. The respondents said their thermal comfort wasn’t significantly jeopardised by the higher temperature either.
Perhaps Australian employers should reduce the air conditioning in summer to save money, reduce gas emissions and energy use? And for workers who feel 25°C is too warm, tell them to use a desk fan!
Researchers of a larger 500 people study, tested their cognitive tasks to find out if they performed better at high or low temperatures and if the result was the same for both genders. The results showed women performed better at math and verbal tasks at higher temperatures while men performed better at lower temperatures. The result of this test proved that it’s impossible to set a temperature that allows everyone in the office to perform at their optimal ability.
A Netherlands study found women are most comfortable when the temperature is around 25°C, three degrees warmer than the ideal temperature for men.
The debate about the ideal air temperature will no doubt rage for many years. The differences in gender comfort levels and office seating positions make it difficult to have an office temperature that everyone agrees on. A desk heater or fan and more or less clothing might be the only answer!
If you have any queries about office ergonomics, visit our Perth showroom, call us on (08) 9240 7066 or contact us online.