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Thermostat Wars

August 3, 2010 - 7:30am


The other day, I was visiting a friend's office and noticed something you may have noticed yourself: his building had a variety of micro-climates, ranging from the furnace hot to the freezing cold. The offices with windows that faced south and west were hottest, while offices with windows facing north and east were cooler—and the offices without windows were, on average, about as comfortable as your refrigerator.

This is an artifact of building construction from the early days of air conditioning and central heating. It's "one climate fits all" thinking, which would be fine if every office had identical solar heat gain, ventilation, etc.—but they don't. The hot offices need the AC cranked up to Arctic levels, while those without the benefit of constant sunlight don't need so much cooling.

The end result is that some offices remain warm while others are cold. This can lead to "thermostat wars," where staffers struggle to balance the central air output in their favor.

So what do you do about it? Here are a few ideas.

  • With your building's facilities office or upper management, discuss treating sunlight-rich windows with sunlight-blocking film or adding blinds. Reducing the amount of sunlight infiltrating these offices could reduce the need for heavy air conditioning to make them comfortable.
  • Use a desk fan. Keeping air in circulation can help offices feel more comfortable and help you feel cooler by creating a wind chill effect.
  • Wear a sweater, and dress in layers. Rather than try to fight fire with fire by bringing a portable heater to work (which is often against office rules), bring a sweater. Having it handy can keep you comfortable in even the coldest office, and wearing light layers underneath can help you stay comfortable if the office is too warm.

It isn't easy to work productively in an office when you're uncomfortable, but there are things you can do. Rather than start a thermostat war in your office, think of how you can be pro-active in addressing this issue. Your co-workers might even thank you!