Air conditioning isn’t sexist

Despite everything you may have read in recent months, I don’t believe air condition is sexist. If you didn’t catch the debate, the highlights are that a recent report by researchers at Maastricht University Medical Centre claims air conditioning may be too cold for modern offices and in particular the women that work in them.

Apparently the majority of office buildings still use a formula based on assumptions made about the typical office worker in the 1960’s. At that time the assumption was that most office workers were male and weighed around 11 stone, which on both points is unlikely to be the case today.

The formula takes into account the metabolic rates of men and women, but the contention is that the assumed rate for women may overestimate the actual rate by as much as 30%. Does this matter?

The answer of course is a resounding yes. The metabolic rates are used to create standardised charts, often used by facilities managers to set the temperature of the office. Which given the actual disparity in metabolic rates, will often lead to temperatures much lower than many women find comfortable, having to wear heavier clothes, jumpers and coats, while male colleagues work sans-jackets.

Now clearly a battle of the sexes is an uncomfortable topic for a simple air conditioning engineer to be caught up in, but I have to come to the defence of our life’s work. The air conditioning units we install in many commercial premises and offices bear no relation to those first used way back when.

The new units are incredibly sophisticated, flexible and energy efficient. And surely that is the central point missed in the debate so far, with light-hearted banter about sexist air conditioning ignoring the fact that if offices were a little warmer and more comfortable for female workers, less energy would ultimately be used.

The current situation is wasteful and in light of reports in October that energy consumption for cooling and refrigeration is soon set to pass energy consumption for heating, more attention needs to be paid to more energy efficient air conditioning; and quickly.

However, given that we fit a lot of air conditioning systems to a lot of buildings for a variety of reasons, from data centre cooling to comfort cooling, one thing is clear, it is not the units that set the temperatures, but humans.

So my advice for those concerned with the temperature in their office would be to look closer to home. Stop blaming the units on the roof doing all the work and tackle the person that sets the temperature.

We have the technology and the ability to zone the cooling and be far more accurate with the temperature control throughout work spaces, but it requires investment, innovation and inspiration – and perhaps a phone call to Holborn. We understand cooling air like no one else and will help you achieve a comfortable office for everyone.

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