My Take

Keep the air con cool unless you like sitting next to sweaty fat guys

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 1:25am
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 August, 2015, 1:25am

It's a relief everyday for me, especially this summer, to enter the air-conditioned office of the Post after a long walk from the MTR. Being shall we say "weight-challenged", I love the cold. And that means I am in a constant battle over the thermostat with my more sensible, not to say environmentally correct, colleagues.

Yesterday, all the talk in the office was about air conditioning. There is the front-page story in today's paper about the scourge of dripping air conditioners across the city, as complaints topped 19,700 last year, doubling the number from a decade ago.Being born and raised in Hong Kong, dripping air cons don't really bother me. It has always been the price you pay to negotiate the city's narrow and crowded streets.

What instead caught my eye was a front-page report in The New York Times about freezing offices being a gender-biased, possibly even sexist, practice. The report is based on a new study published in Nature Climate Change. The study claims many offices around the world turn their air conditioning way too low for the comfort of female workers, and not just them, because a widely used, half-a-century-old thermal comfort equation used the metabolic rate of an early middle-aged man weighing 154 pounds (or 70 kg) as the main reference.

Things have changed a lot in the global workforce since the 1960s, and you have as many women as men in most offices. There is no problem with the equation per se. The problem, the researchers say, is that it neglects the fact that women and older people tend to have slower metabolic rates - which measure how fast our bodies generate heat. The comfortable temperature levels for men and women, the study finds, may vary as much as five degrees. It goes without saying that people like me who weigh more get warmer faster.

After reading the Times article, I can see my comfortable days are numbered. Visions of angry female and older colleagues demanding control of the thermostats come to mind. And I would have no defence against them. Not to mention it's good for the environment to waste less energy and use less air con. I can only appeal to self-interest: sitting beside sweaty, fat guys like me in the office all day is not pleasant.