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Air Conditioning and “The Man”

Obviously an article with the headline “Women, There’s A Reason Why You’re Shivering In The Office” on NPR, this week, caught my attention. And thanks to Omahan Molly Mahannah’s GOT-inspired Twitter post, this topic is also now a NY Times headline too (Chilly at Work? Office Formula Was Devised for Men)

But who is this mysterious man? As a female and a mechanical engineer, here are my takeaways…

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Our HVAC equipment sizing should account for a more realistic male-to-female ratio. 

When design engineers run load and ventilation calculations to size equipment (the short version), we try to get an accurate count of expected occupants for a space. Then, we account for diversity (not everyone that works in a building can be simultaneously at their desk and in a meeting room).

But it’s true that engineers oftentimes assume the same metabolic rate (and therefore sensible and latent heat gain) for all of those people. Even though in a typical office, the male-female-ratio might be split 50:50. (Compared to an engineering company where the ratio is 95:5, or our office where it’s 20:80).

If you’re designing a fitness center or daycare, obviously the differences in metabolic rate are accounted for (hopefully). But the industry could – and should, probably – do a better job of accounting for the male-to-female ratio. Just one more layer to add to hundreds of design decisions engineers need to make.

But the assumption of typical metabolic rate (which may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35%, according to the journal Nature) can obviously have an intrinsic effect on building energy-efficiency, equipment sizing, and ongoing operation.

Dress codes should be relaxed to allow for better thermal comfort in buildings. 

I’ve never worked for a company with what I’d call a “strict” dress code. And I recognize that as a woman, I have a bit more freedom to interpret what “business casual” means.

At Energy Studio, our dress code allows employees to dress for comfort when in the office. But for some reason, men in the business world oftentimes feel compelled to wear long pants – even in the sweltering heat of summer.

One Chicago Tribune columnist laments pants as “bifurcated leg prisons” and looks into the question Why Don’t Men Wear Shorts to Work?

But shorts aside, we all could dress a little smarter for buildings. Having to put on a sweater indoors when the temperature outdoors is in excess of 85 deg. F just doesn’t seem logical.

And, as always, there are many opportunities for educating building occupants on energy-efficient operations. 
The thermostat wars are real. And generally we keep our buildings too cold. That’s not news. And building operators know that industry standard of “80% acceptance” is a far cry from the reality of daily operations.

So whether you’re a building occupant frustrated with thermal comfort… An architect or engineer with callback troubles… Or a building operator who struggles with keeping everyone happy… We’re all familiar with these issues.

Talking about it and acknowledging how we can improve is where we go from here.