Before I get going on this, you might like to check out this recent article published by the BBC about rising indoor home temperatures in the UK. For those not wishing to read the entire article, or who are unfamiliar with how Fahrenheit and Celsius stack up against each other, in brief it states:
Average toasty living room temperature in the UK, where you can happily sit snugly in your jammies with a cup of tea and watch Inspector Morse on the telly (I miss John Thaw) – has been a fairly constant 19C (66.2F) since 1986.
Average bedroom temperature for a quality night’s sleep: between 14C – 15C (57.2F – 59F).
The big change in recent years has been the heating of extraneous bits of house like hallways, shifting from 16.3C (61.3F) to an outrageous 17.9C (64.2F).
I grew up in Ireland and the weather was cold for a large part of the year. We had a heater in the living room which we turned on when we went in there to watch telly; the kitchen didn’t need any extra heat as the stove would give off ample heat when the meal was being cooked and the residual heat allowed us to sit around the table and enjoy our meal in comfort. Our bedrooms were heated up a little before we popped between the sheets – if it was extra cold in the depths of winter, we’d snuggle up with a hot water bottle and an extra blanket – and in the mornings we’d heat our clothes over a radiator before hurtling out of bed and putting on those lovely warmed garments. I always slept with an open window, even when snow was on the ground – I still do. We dressed for the weather – if it was cold, you put on a jumper (sweater for the uninitiated); if it was warm, you didn’t.
At school we played sports outdoors all the way through the winter – in shorts or culottes, thank you very much (our concession to winter was long-sleeved shirts). Our faces and legs would be red with the cold, our breath turning into white clouds of vapour and our spirits sky high. And the result of this recklessly unheated childhood? A healthy, happy kid, armed with a jumper and a duffle coat for when it got really cold. No sneezing, no coughing, no fevers, not even a suggestion of frostbite.
Now come with me on a magical journey across the sea, to the land of the free, the home of the brave and the realm of the over-bloody-heated. Yes, I swore, sort of. I’m that passionate about this subject. Who was the bright spark that declared that 72F (a whopping 22.2C) was the sweet spot on an American thermostat? Whoever it was, I’d be willing to bet massive amounts of money that they were shareholders in an energy providing corporation. And whoever it was, I would dearly love to meet them and tell them what they can do with their thermostat.
The result of this habitual overheating of buildings (quite apart from the obvious; the outrageous squandering of resources) is that in winter you are continually going from hot, stuffy buildings into freezing cold streets, then into clammy subways, back out onto chilly sidewalks and into yet more overheated buildings. The amount of time wasted layering and unlayering your clothing throughout the course of the day is beginning to get ridiculous. In Ireland, if you put on a jumper in the morning, you wear the jumper all day. Here, if it’s cold enough to warrant a jumper on the way somewhere, you’d better be sure to add at least a t-shirt underneath, because it’s almost a guarantee that your destination will be cranked up to 72F and your jumper will be coming off about 30 seconds after you walk in the door.
I walked into an office today in Times Square and when I opened the door, I was blasted with a wave of stale hot air. I glanced at the thermostat which was set to – yes, you guessed it – 72F (22.2C). Now this office was probably about a degree hotter because it was an inner office with no ventilation – and the thermostats on the two outer offices which had windows also clocked in at 72F – but even those offices, though cooler, still felt a bit like a laundry basket full of unwashed socks. To refer back to the BBC article, they provide a handy guide to comfortable temperatures for a living room, which should therefore also be applicable to work environments. The comfortable range is from 18C-21C (64.4F-69.8F). The World Health Organization’s standard for warmth says 18C (64F) is suitable for healthy people who are appropriately dressed. I am healthy. I was appropriately dressed. Again, from the article: above 21C/69.8F it becomes uncomfortable. Let me repeat that. UNCOMFORTABLE. 72F is uncomfortable. To normal people. From Europe.
Now, this is not a new experience for me. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in America, and have noticed this overheating phenomenon in many parts of the country, although New York seems to be the biggest offender. But today, things took a rather unexpected turn when I casually mentioned how stuffy it felt in the office. I had not one, but two ladies of a certain age turn to me and suggest, in all sincerity, that perhaps I was experiencing early menopause. Holy hormonal mother of God, I know I’ve been burning the candle at both ends a bit lately, but to speed up the ageing process by that much I’d have had to be burning the candle at both ends, in the middle and thrown the remaining wax into a furnace. Happily armed with a recent ob/gyn visit that indicates I am still ovulating like a bunny, I thanked these kind ladies for the suggestion that perhaps HRT would be the best way to deal with an overheated office and beat a hasty retreat, stopping by the ladies room on the way out to see exactly how dark the circles under my eyes were and making a mental note to get to bed early tonight. In a bedroom with an open window and a temperature that hovers comfortably between 14C – 15C (57.2F – 59F).