Research Press Release

Gender bias in the heating and cooling of office buildings

Nature Climate Change

August 4, 2015

The standards dictating the temperature in office buildings are based on metabolic rates for an average male, which may make office heating and cooling systems inherently inefficient by misrepresenting the heating and cooling needs of women, reports a paper published online in Nature Climate Change. The research shows that adjusting indoor climate standards, established in the 1960s, to account for gender differences in metabolic rate could reduce a building’s energy consumption by avoiding unnecessary levels of cooling in the summer and heating in the winter.

Climate control systems in office buildings reduce the need for occupants to maintain their own body temperature through regulatory changes such as shivering or sweating. The design of these systems is based in part on the resting metabolic rate of one 70 kg, 40-year-old man and may overestimate the amount of external heating or cooling women need in order to maintain a comfortable body temperature.

Boris Kingma and Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt studied the physiology of 16 young women who performed light office work and find that their metabolic rate is significantly lower than the standard values, which suggests that they may require lower levels of cooling in the summer to feel comfortable. The authors argue that the current metabolic standards should be replaced with the actual values to avoid wasteful heating and cooling. In addition, they suggest that further benefits may be gained by accounting for the effects of age, sex, and body size and scaling the associated metabolic rates to the type of activity undertaken; however, more research is necessary to clarify if this is the case.

In an accompanying News & Views, Joost van Hoof writes, “These findings could be significant for the next round of revisions of thermal comfort standards…[but] a large-scale re-evaluation in field studies may be needed in order to sufficiently convince real-estate developers, standard committees and building services engineers.”


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