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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Overcooling of Offices Reveals Gender Inequity in Thermal Comfort

  • Author(s): Parkinson, Thomas;
  • Schiavon, Stefano;
  • de Dear, Richard;
  • Brager, Gail
  • et al.

Growth in energy use for indoor cooling tripled between 1990 and 2016 to outpace any other end use in buildings. Part of this energy demand is wasted on excessive cooling of offices, a practice known as overcooling. Overcooling has been attributed to poorly designed or managed air-conditioning systems with thermostats that are often set below recommended comfort temperatures. Prior research has reported lower thermal comfort for women in office buildings, but there is insufficient evidence to explain the reasons for this disparity. We use two large and independent datasets from US buildings to show that office temperatures are less comfortable for women largely due to overcooling. Survey responses show that uncomfortable temperatures are more likely to be cold than hot regardless of season. Crowdsourced data suggests that overcooling is a common problem in warm weather in offices across the US. The associated impacts of this pervasive overcooling on well-being and performance are borne predominantly by women. The problem is likely to increase in the future due to growing demand for cooling in increasingly extreme climates. There is a need to rethink the approach to air-conditioning office buildings in light of this gender inequity caused by overcooling.

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