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As summers heat rages on, so do the thermostat wars
Its a debate as old as any squabble between men and women: Is the office too hot or too cold?
Men have a higher basal metabolic rate as compared to women because of higher levels of testosterone. And people with more body fat tend to lose body heat more slowly than lean folks. This may contribute to why men often feel hot, while women feel cold. - photo by SARA GUEVARA


Jackie Wallace, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Hall County, talks about climate challenges in her office.

There's a cold war that doesn't involve superpowers pointing missiles at each other.

It can be found in the workplace, particularly in the summertime, with one colleague pulling a shawl a little tighter and another threatening - hopefully in jest - to go shirtless.

The source of the tension is the cold air blowing from the vents, and the thermostat fastened to the office wall serves as the battleground.

"We have dual (air-conditioning) systems and one half of the building is cooler than the other half of the building," said Jackie Wallace, president and chief professional officer of the United Way of Hall County.

"It depends on which side of the building you're sitting on. You're either freezing or burning (up), so it's a challenge for us to find a happy medium."

She said the office at 527 Oak St. in Gainesville has only female employees who "are various ages ... and in various stages in life," so the temperature differences "certainly do affect us."

Dr. Edward Galaid, a Gainesville physician who specializes in occupational medicine, said people do vary in their temperature tolerance.

"What is a comfort level for one person may not be a comfort level for somebody else, but it doesn't mean there is any kind of health implication for wanting (temperatures) real cold or real warm," Galaid said.

"In a small office like mine, I have three thermostats for the entire building and ... I have an excellent staff, and we're all pretty much on the same wavelength in terms of where the thermostat needs to be.

"But in a large corporate environments like the bank buildings downtown, they have no control whatsoever and so everyone compensates in their own fashion."

That could mean dressing in layers or putting a space heater under the desk.

Or, wearing short-sleeve shirts and just sweating it out.

According to textbook information provided by Gainesville State College biology professor John Hamilton, the normal body temperature of a healthy, resting adult is around 98.2 degrees, plus or minus 0.6 degrees.

The normal body temperature range generally varies according to a person's metabolic rate. The faster the rate is, the higher the normal body temperature, and the slower it is, the lower the temperature.

Men have a higher basal metabolic rate as compared to women because of higher levels of testosterone. And people with more body fat tend to lose body heat more slowly than lean folks.

Hence, in larger offices, there is a wider range of people with their own temperature preferences.

The International Facility Management Association in Houston releases a top 10 office complaints survey every six years. And "too cold" and "too hot" have topped the list since 1991. The "too cold" forces have reigned supreme over the past two surveys.

"Considering we're in Houston, I personally vote for too hot," said George Deutsch, senior public relations specialist for the organization.

"It's difficult trying to keep everyone comfortable, but I think by and large facility managers do a good job," he added.

Jack Waldrip, president of Jack Waldrip Real Estate in Gainesville, said office climates aren't a big problem at his business.

"I think most people understand that it's hard to keep consistent temperatures throughout the day because you've got so many factors, like which way the sun is hitting the building," he said. "And you've got the old thing where some people are naturally hot and some are naturally cold."

Some places have gone high-tech with their heating and cooling.

Gainesville State College in Oakwood uses a "computerized building automation system" that monitors and sets the temperatures in all the buildings on campus, said Bill Moody, plant operations director.

Instead of thermostats, rooms have sensors that "feed information back to the computer and tell us what that room temperature is."

Generally speaking, the college's cooling temperature stays at about 72 degrees and the heating, 70 degrees.

Moody said he hears a few complaints now and then.

"We monitor (climates) ... and if we see a spot that's too cool or too warm, we go out and try to address that problem before we have any complaints," he said. "That's one of the advantages of having it all computerized."

Troy Patton, corporate relations representative for Northeast Georgia Medical Center, said office temperatures have "never really been an issue" in his experience.

But they affect him personally at work.

"It's always an argument over it's too cool or too warm," Patton said.

He added with chuckle, "I've always been outnumbered by the women in health care. ... I have to have it cold, I sleep with it cold in my house. But I'm not exactly a little guy either."

So, are there any real consequences, physical or otherwise, to a constant breeze giving you the shivers at your desk?

"It would be highly unusual for someone to get hypothermia in a cold building," Hamilton said. "The temperature would probably have to be in the 60 to 65 degree range and folks would have to be inadequately dressed for it."

However, according to the International Facility Management Association's Web site, a 2004 research study by Cornell University shows that productivity falls as offices get colder.

The Web site reads, "Maybe the reason for the decrease in productivity is due to the amount of time workers spend complaining about the temperature."

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