If Your Office Temperature Is Uncomfortable, Look at Your Footwear

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Offices are notoriously bad at thermal comfort. It’s either far too hot or far too cold, regardless of outside temperatures; and often, it manages to be both at the same time—too hot for some workers and too cold for others, depending on where they sit or their gender. There may be a better way to warm up at the office than sticking a space heater under your desk. Keeping your feet comfortable could be a much more effective way of dealing with thermal issues at the office, according to The Atlantic.

As reporter Sarah Zhang writes:

Feet, it turns out, are exquisitely sensitive to temperature. When you get cold, the blood vessels in your extremities are the first to constrict, which is your body’s way of preventing more heat loss. “You feel uncomfortable because your feet get numb or getting close to numb,” says Edward Arens, an architect at the University of Berkeley, who also studies thermal comfort. If building managers could heat or cool the feet alone, they could cut energy and costs. So at Berkeley, researchers are focusing on thermal comfort from the feet up.

The models that help engineers and office managers determine a building’s air conditioning demands are based on studies of men’s metabolic rates, and assume that workers will be wearing full suits and, yes, thick socks and shoes. Meanwhile, women might come to the office in the summer in dresses and strappy sandals. No wonder it feels so chilly.

Arens is developing a foot warmer to keep people warm with an eye toward efficiency. In 2013, he and his team estimated that their Personal Comfort System could cut electricity use by 30 percent. One of Berkeley’s assistant professors of architecture, Stefano Schiavon, is studying how putting ventilation in floors rather than in ceilings could make buildings more comfortable. To test these systems, he monitors research subjects working in flip-flops—ankles, it turns out, are very sensitive to cold air blowing at them.

It may be a while before your office gets state-of-the-art foot-warming devices or in-floor cooling systems, but knowing how easily the temperatures around your feet affect your overall comfort, a high-tech solution isn't strictly necessary to make cubicle life a little easier. Just change your shoes.

As I write this, my feet and ankles are going numb in the office tundra. Excuse me while I go change into some woolen work socks.

[h/t The Atlantic]