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Office air conditioning is too cold, women think, and science says they're right

A new study says that office air conditioning may be biased against women, with temperatures more suitable to the average male of the 1960s.
/ Source: TODAY

To all the women bundled in sweaters and blankets in your office air conditioning even though it's 100 degrees outside: A recent study says that it's not all in your head. It really IS cold.

As many women bundle up against the arctic air conditioning, their male counterparts one cubicle over have no idea what all the fuss is about. It turns out that science says the office A/C may be biased toward temperatures that more comfortable for men — thanks to a formula from more than 50 years ago.

A 2016 study in the journal Nature Climate Change notes that the temperatures in many office buildings are based on a formula developed in the 1960s that employs the resting metabolic rate of 154-pound, 40-year-old man.

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More than half a century later, the workforce is much different, but the thermostat isn't. Half of the workforce is now female, and many of them are wrapping themselves up in blankets to be able to type without shivering. The new study finds that females prefer the average temperature at home and in the office to be 77 degrees, compared to 71.6 degrees for men.

"Women tend to have lower basal metabolic rates, so they tend to burn off energy a lot slower,'' Dr. Devi Nampiaparampil of NYU School of Medicine told TODAY. "They actually give off less heat than men, so they tend to be colder."

The summer heat also usually dictates clothing choices that can have women taking outdoor breaks to thaw themselves out in order to escape their air-conditioned offices.

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"Women tend to wear skirts, so maybe they have their legs kind of bare and cold, and their arms might be out,'' Nampiaparampil said. "Men wear more layers. They tend to wear jackets or suits. You add all these things together, then it's more likely that that difference between men and women is going to be more pronounced."

Those chilly temperatures aren't great for productivity, either. A study cited by the The New York Times showed that people make more mistakes and get less work done when the air temperature is between 68 and 72 degrees Fahrenheit compared to when it's 74 to 76 degrees.

The other benefit of nudging a home or office thermostat up a few degrees is to save money. Raising the temperature from 72 to 77 degrees can save you about 11 percent on power bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Every degree above 78 saves two percent on your energy bill, while every degree below 78 costs an extra six percent.

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Another tip for saving money on the power bill is to keep appliances like televisions and lamps that give off heat away from the thermostat, because they can cause the cooling unit to activate when it's not necessary. Regularly cleaning the filters on your air conditioner also can reduce your energy consumption up to 15 percent.

Follow writer Scott Stump on Twitter and Google+. This story was originally published in August 2015.