Those HVAC professionals with longer memories may be aware of the series “Sex in the City”, which was very popular in the 90s. One of the characters, Carrie Bradshaw, was played by an actress called Cynthia Nixon. After the series, she took up a career in politics, and she’s now standing to be Governor of New York. And boy, has she got some things to say about air conditioning.
According to Ms. Nixon, as reported in The Times on August 30th 2018, aggressive air conditioning is most certainly a feminist issue. She’s stated that the air temperature in cooled offices is “notoriously sexist”. And she doesn’t just say this kind of thing for effect. She’s due to take part in a candidates’ debate that will be filmed for TV. Her election strategy manager has told the TV channel that the studio temperature must be 76F, or 24C. The temperature favoured by the current New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, is described as “meat locker” level by female critics.
The Times reporter, Hilary Rose, supported Nixon 100%, saying that she personally has been cold at work since 1992. She reports that office air conditioning is set so that a man wearing a suit can work comfortably, and describes female colleagues who have to keep fan heaters under their desks. She also says that she is forced to wear a hoodie to keep warm sometimes, which is hardly her choice of professional look.
Cynthia Nixon has commented that she can’t be at her most productive when she’s cold, and the Times writer similarly points out that the need to make warming hot drinks dents her productivity. The problem could be solved by increasing the temperature a few degrees.
So there’s definitely an issue here that the HVAC industry needs to take on board. If you’re setting the thermostat for a largely female workforce, it surely needs to be set higher than for a largely male workforce.
So how is the poor HVAC system designer or installation engineer to keep everyone happy? As employees demand more individually tailored working environments, will the HVAC engineer’s job become impossible? Should employers give up and issue every workstation with a cooling fan and a fan heater?
Actually, there’s a big opportunity for the industry here. Some Western HVAC markets are now considered mature, in that the businesses and buildings that need and can afford HVAC already have it.
But if HVAC systems can start to be designed to produce individually adjustable micro climates, at desk level, there’s a whole new market that could come into being. Men and women are never going to agree on the “correct” temperature – witness the thermostat wars that are a feature of many households, with men constantly turning the controls down, and women turning them back up again.
HVAC is part of our society, and going forward, we’re going to be demanding more individually adjusted heating and cooling zones. Men may have to compromise by leaving off their suit jackets, women may have to meet them halfway down the temperature scale by wearing warmer clothes. Welcome to HVAC in the 21st century – never a dull moment!