Thermostat Wars: How to Make People Happy, Increase Productivity and Save Money

No matter what season it is, there’s an insidious war going on in offices around the country. The conflict is so pervasive that it’s been given a name; The Thermostat Wars. While it may not be as significant as the war on poverty or the war on drugs, it’s still contentious because it touches millions of office workers on a daily basis.

The Struggle is Real

When the International Facilities Management Association (PDF) did a survey back in 2009  of more than 400 of its members, they found that the top two complaints had to do with the office temperature either being too hot or too cold.

Thermostat Wars: Common HVAC Complaints

Take a minute to check out the chart above. Notice that the “too cold” and “too hot” categories are almost even. That means that on any given day, someone is uncomfortable in the workplace to the point that they may have trouble doing their work.

Blame it on an Outdated Standard

A lot has been written on the subject of Thermostat Wars. After decades of men turning the temperature down and women turning it back up again, Nature and Climate Change published a study whose results are trivia worthy.  Here’s just a bit of the summary:

“Indoor climate regulations are based on an empirical thermal comfort model that was developed in the 1960s. Standard values for one of its primary variables — metabolic rate — are based on an average male, and may overestimate female metabolic rate by up to 35 percent. ”

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According to The New York Times, this outdated standard was based on the average male being 40 years old and weighing about 154 pounds. As a point of reference, the CDC published figures for 2007-2010 that have the average male over 20 years of age weighing 195 pounds and the average woman weighing 166 pounds.

This explains why both men and women fight over the fahrenheit, but what’s the impact that this temperature toggling has on your business?

The Biggest Casualty of the Thermostat Wars is Productivity

You might think that Thermostat Wars are an employee morale problem, but in truth being too hot or too cold at work can seriously impact productivity.  So if you’re trying to get control of your energy budget by turning the thermostat down, you may be paying for it by losing productivity and employee efficiency.

Wondering what to do?  A recent Cornell University study (PDF) found that when the room temperature was below 68 degrees, employees made 44 percent more mistakes. So if you want to increase productivity, set your temperature to 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

The same Cornell study says that setting the temperature at a more comfortable level for all employees can save an average of $2.00 per worker per hour, saving up to 12.5 percent of their wage costs.

Proven Battle Tactics for Thermostat Wins

Now that you have some battleground history, here are a few strategies you can use to bring a Thermostat Truce to your office.

Get people involved in setting the ideal temperature for your workplace. People are more comfortable at the same temperature if they have control over the setting. Survey the people in your office to gather each person’s preferred temperature, then find a middle ground and stick with it. If your goal is the greatest energy savings, folks will sacrifice a bit of comfort. According to the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc. (ASHRAE) Year-round settings of 68°F for heating and 78°F for cooling provide the most savings. To achieve a good balance between controlling your business energy budget and comfort use year-round, set the thermostat to 70°F for heating and 76°F for cooling.

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Institute flexible work hours or telecommuting.  If you have the kind of business that allows employees to work from home or to work on a flexible schedule, this may be a boon to productivity.

Try some of these new smart thermostat solutions.  You may have seen those “smart thermostats” that have a motion sensor that can adjust the temperature up or down based on the usage of the space. Comfy is a brand new smartphone app that will send a blast of hot or cool air to an area when needed. Then there’s CrowdComfort. This smart technology gives the power to the people and allows them to send temperature complaints via their smartphones. The great thing about using these kinds of technologies is that you can customize them so that the temperature will only adjust if two or more people complain within 10 minutes.

Let’s face it, Thermostat Wars aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, but if you put the focus on clear and open communications about what temperatures work best for your employees, you just might find gains in energy efficiency and productivity.

Thermostat Photo via Shutterstock


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