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Turn the air conditioning down! Scientists say office temperatures are based on a decades old formula devised for men

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Why is it that when the sun finally comes out and it's a beautiful day, our offices turn into an icebox? We throw on our jackets, wrap our legs in cardigans and use our scarves as blankets to beat the air conditioning chill. And yet, how is it that our male colleagues happily sit there in T-shirts (or rolled up sleeves, if you're in a corporate environment)?

At last, two Dutch scientists have found an answer to our long-standing question.

Turns out, most offices set temperatures according to a decades-old algorithm based on male resting metabolic rates (how fast we generate heat) and women in fact require an environment that's 3°C warmer. 

According to the study published in Nature Climate Change by Maastricht University Medical Center in the Netherlands this week, most building thermostats follow a “thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s” and is based on a 40-year-old man weighing 70kg (11 stone).

“In general, females prefer a higher room temperature than males in the home and office situations, and mean values may differ as much as 3K (males: 22°C versus females: 25°C),” write Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt, co-authors of the report.

The authors also found that the dated thermostat formula didn't take women’s summer wardrobes into consideration. While men still wear shirts and suits in the workplace, many women opt for dresses, skirts, short sleeves, sandals and lighter fabrics in the warmer months. 

Does this look like you? Woman wears her jacket and scarf at her desk

Does this look like you? Woman wears her jacket and scarf at her desk

Since men no longer dominate the office space, is it time the air conditioning system was more gender-neutral?

The scientists concluded that buildings “should be adjusted by including the actual values for females to reduce gender-discriminating bias in thermal comfort,” and also to reduce a building's energy consumption to 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,” Kingma told The New York Times. “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.”

Reducing air conditioning not only saves us from becoming human ice sculptures, it also helps the environment. It's a win win situation. Now where's the 'off' button?

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