With the temperature soaring yesterday, Valencia Taylor turned on the space heater in her office at FedEx Field.
"It's always cold in here," said Taylor, a marketing executive for the Washington Redskins. "But I'm cold natured." Other workers don't seem to mind the arctic air and often joke about Taylor's space heater, she said. "A lot of people say, 'You just need meat on your bones.' "
In many offices across the region, the battle over the office thermostat is raging. One shivering employee will call for the air conditioning to be turned down while the person in the next cubical demands cooler air.
"We're always having air-conditioning wars," said Elizabeth Braman, general counsel at District-based Learning Objects Inc. "The guys in the office will turn it cooler, and I'll turn it warmer." To cope, Braman has amassed a pile of sweaters by her desk.
The perfect indoor temperature, of course, is highly subjective. Some of Braman's colleagues tease her for having a special affection for indoor heat. Two weeks ago, the air conditioning broke down and the building heated up to the mid-90s, said Hal Herzog, a vice president at Learning Objects. Even then, he said, Braman was not clamoring for cool air.
"I can't really think of a time when she said it was just about right in here," he said. For his part, Herzog said he is fine with the room being a bit frigid. "I never feel like it gets too cold in the office," he said.
At the FedEx Field offices, Taylor said she noticed other female employees wearing blankets when it gets cold inside. "The guys are comfortable," she said. She added that her side of the building, which has many large windows, is particularly cool in the morning but tends to warm up by the end of the day.
Opinions range widely on why people react differently to office temperatures. Clothing plays a role. Women who wear lighter clothing such as skirts and sleeveless blouses tend to feel the coolness indoors more than men in long-sleeved shirts and slacks. Others argue it is just a matter of the difference in male and female rates of metabolism.
"I'm convinced it's a guy versus girl thing," said Braman, noting that women have tended to react more to the cool air in offices wherever she has worked.
Studies have shown that men's and women's body temperatures adjust at different rates to outside temperature changes, said Benjamin J. Ansell, head of the cardiovascular disease prevention program at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. Ansell added that a number of factors, such as age and cardiovascular health, can determine how someone responds to varying temperatures.
To keep their systems from being overloaded, the power companies might side with those preferring higher indoor temperatures. As offices crank up the conditioning, the energy suppliers are reporting record consumption levels. Regional power operators such as Pepco are asking customers to turn the thermostat up a bit.
"We suggest they dial the thermostat up to 78 degrees, which is reasonable, though it may be a bit warm," said Robert Dobkin, spokesman for Pepco.
For those who run large office buildings, pleasing everyone can be difficult. Buildings that District-based John Akridge Cos. manage are regulated by a computerized temperature control system that works to keep offices at a comfortable level, said Kathy Barnes, senior vice president of property management. Technicians do respond to individual complaints and make appropriate adjustments when feasible, she said.
Still, the extremes in temperature are enough to make people grumpy. At JBL Associates Inc. yesterday, Abby Miller said she was having a hard time adjusting to the lack of air conditioning in her small office in Bethesda.
"I'm tempted to tell them I'm going home," Miller said. "Heat just bothers me a lot more than being cold does. When you're cold you can do something about it; when you're hot there is nothing you can do."