Why Your Office Air Conditioning Is All Wrong

Why Your Office Air Conditioning Is All Wrong

If you work in a large office block, chances are the air conditioning is set to run at 21.5 degrees Celsisus. That temperature is so widely accepted as being “optimal” that it’s often written into lease conditions — but it’s actually not a good idea.

Picture by William J Sisti

At The Conversation, University of Sydney expert Richard de Dear notes that the figure is widely quoted and often enforced on a building-wide basis but not backed by science:

There is a widespread belief that the “optimal temperature” for human productivity is 21.5 C. But if you look at the science of indoor environmental quality (my speciality), there’s no basis for this belief. This figure has been picked up and repeated so many times many businesses accept it as the truth, never questioning why so low or so specific. In fact, research demonstrates Australian air-conditioned offices perform better at 24-25 degrees in summer.

The practical consequence of this decision is that offices can often feel too cool, even when they’re hot outside. More significantly, it means we’re wasting massive amounts of energy (and money) making the temperature lower than is sensible.

Is your office too cool or too hot? Does complaining to management make any difference? Tell us in the comments.

Shivering in summer? Sweating in winter? Your building is living a lie [The Conversation]


  • Our office is freezing during winter, the owners have a heat-pump in their office. But the rest of us in the main area wear gloves and jackets. Apparently we get heating “when the company can afford it” meanwhile the owner buys a new motorbike he never uses…

  • It’s a difficult problem to solve, because even on an individual level people are comfortable at different temperatures. I’m quite tolerant to heat but hopeless with the cold, probably a side effect of living in Queensland without air conditioning at home. These days I’m lucky enough to have my own office where I can control the temperature, but I used to frequently have to wear jackets and gloves at work, and then deal with the UK expats ribbing me for it… Of course, now they all complain that I keep my office unreasonably warm because I set the air con to 24-25. Amazing what a difference a couple of degrees makes!

  • i’m yet to work in an office where the temperature is the same in every area, I’ve worked in a lot of office and they always have little pockets of hot and cold, rooms that a vastly different temps to the others, so it always comes down to finding a happy medium for everyone.

  • I’m usually freezing cold in offices. I’d definitely be more productive if not continuously distracted by a chill across my back (with a singlet, shirt and cardy on)and absolutely icy hands. 23-24 sounds great to me.

    • Being stuck inside a cold office all day is just as awful as any other experience. Working outside in the wind and rain or under the hot sun is no better or worse, It’s all something the body has to get used to and cope with. At least outside you get more naturally varying conditions and fresh air.

  • My office fluctuates throughout the day, no matter the season. It will be freezing in the morning, heat up just before lunch, be freezing again by 2pm and then boiling hot from 4pm on.

  • Most people I know working in offices (with the exception of the memopausal women) are predominantly too cold. They (including me) keep jackets, scarves, gloves and/or a blanket at work, and heaters for under the desk – as we freeze away all year round. I find it makes winters particularly miserable, and summers a lot harder to adjust to as we spend 40 hours a week being cold, then go home to boiling houses.

  • In summer ours feels like its set to minus 3 in winter it feels like its set at 50 today it feels like its pushing 40 degrees Im sweatin my ass off in here dammit!

  • I’ve been in the air conditioning industry for over 15 years and specifically the last 8 in building automation on commercial buildings (high rise, shopping centres and the like) in Queensland and I can tell you without a doubt that 21.5 is not normal up here.

    The average is around the 23.0 – 23.5 with a +/- 1 degree tolerance and that is what is written into most CBRE, Jones Lang LeSalle and Knight Frank leases in commercial premmies and as such that is what most air conditioning techs see so it filters through .

    8 – 10 years ago 22.0 to 22.5 was normal but with cost of power rising over the years it has been noticed by the bill payers that colder offices means dramatically higher power bills and as suck there is a slow trend to go higher that the 23.5 mark. however once you get into Queensland you run into humidity problems up in the 24 / 25 range.

    from someone who’s been around I can tell you if it hits 21 you get a phone call, if it gets up to 25 you get a phone call 23.5 is the golden number around here.

  • One problem with having it set on 21.5 C is that the air conditioner systems may struggle to reach this temperature and therefore never switch the compressor off. So the poor person directly under a vent is coping very cold refrigerated air all day . Another problem is the office air conditioning system may have the thermostat in the larger communal office but not the single offices. So when the air conditioner pushes out cold air to get the temperature of the larger room down the smaller rooms will become a lot colder.

  • Office is too cool because a silly coworker keeps turning down because… I have no idea why. She just gets super hot every 10 minutes or after moderate exertion and decides that because she’s a little too warm that’s all that matters so the entire office has to freeze.
    It’s annoying but I’ve given up. I just make sure I have an extra jacket with me at all times.

  • I came to the realisation long ago that the A/C was not for the benefit of the people but for the electronic equipment in the rooms. It always made me laugh (in a bad way) when the A/C techs would drop in for a minute to “check the air” and then leave proclaiming, “everything’s fine”. It’s not fine if you sit in it all day, you tosser!

      • You people are only as good as the people under you who are actually the ones doing all the work and they are the ones keeping you in a job, so lets have some mutual respect here.

  • You bloody whingers are the reason why buses and trains in Brisbane are so stinking hot! In winter, they either don’t turn the ventilation on at all (resulting in a very stuffy bus/train) or they have it set to some ridiculously warm temperature. And in summer, it doesn’t matter what temperature a bus is set to, all of the vents have been blocked with duct tape

  • Why a constant temperature. I can tell you now that the less difference to the outside temperature is more pleasant to come into and go out of. 18 in winter max, 23 in summer min. You should be able to comfortably wear a jumper inside in winter when it’s cold enough to wear it outside. Not having air-conditioning would be fine having worked in factories in the summer, but the big tall sheds make fairly pleasant shade structures. Without cooling in summer an office would be icky with the number of people they try to squeeze in the space these days and their computers heating it up!

  • My office is freezing too. We have enormous glass windows the whole way round – each pane multiple stories high. It’s horrible in winter. Making things worse the air con is set at 20C.

  • I find the temp doesn’t bother me too much – it’s the airflow, or lack of, that really affects me. We have a couple of floors in our building, one has virtually zero air flow, so it stinks during the day, and the other is the same temp, but has lots of vents, so it’s quite pleasant.

  • Definitely prefer less of a difference between inside and outside temperature – taking a jacket to work in the middle of summer because it’s so air-conditioned inside is just ridiculous, and a waste of electricity. I’d rather not have to wear eight layers to allow for outside and inside conditions…

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