It may not solve global warming, but it couldn't hurt. This summer, how about a little office warming?
Every year, as the summer heat starts to rise, the indoor temperatures start to plummet. Aggressive air-conditioning is producing igloo-like conditions in too many offices and restaurants.
Look around your own office. You'll probably see people huddling over hot cups of coffee, swaddling themselves in sweaters, even running space heaters to keep off the chill.
This is crazy.
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It's got to be one reason the United States, with 4 percent of the world's people, consumes a quarter of the world's energy supply. Imagine if all those overly air-conditioned buildings all across the South set their thermostats to a more reasonable summer temperature, say, 75 degrees. Power bills would go down – especially in places where people are running electric heaters to keep warm.
We wouldn't need as many power plants to burn as much coal to produce electricity. That would lower the nation's carbon footprint. It would probably reduce the number of new power plants needed. And thousands, possibly millions, of Americans would be more comfortable during summer.
We might even be able to wear summertime clothes – short sleeves, cotton garments – indoors.
After years of watching people in the Observer newsroom sneak in heaters for the summer, I decided to do some detective work. I brought in my instant-read thermometer from the kitchen, and started measuring. My desk at the Observer was 72.5 degrees – although my nose and toes usually get cold during the day.
I took the thermometer around uptown, checking the chill factor.
Starbucks on North Tryon was the coldest spot, a frosty 67 degrees. The Bank of America Corporate Center lobby was a shivery 67.6. Other spots ranged from 68 to 73. As I pulled out the thermometer in the Hearst building lobby, I told the security guard what I was doing, so she wouldn't be suspicious. She said, “Yeah, the ladies who work upstairs are always going outside to stand in the sun so they can get warm.”
Nowhere I checked was following the advice Duke Energy's Web site offers to businesses: “Most people can be comfortable at temperatures … above 75 in the summer.”
Raising the temperature just 2 degrees, Duke notes, can reduce cooling costs by up to 5 percent. If those 68-degree offices were set at 74, they could see up to 15 percent savings.
It's appropriate, here, to include a responsible paragraph, noting that I really don't know the proportion of the world's energy being consumed by frivolously cold office buildings. I'm not a scientist; I don't know if you can directly link 68-degree buildings on 90-degree days to melting ice caps and doomed polar bears. Further, I recognize HVAC systems in tall buildings are complicated, and windows and sunlight will affect things.
Even so, 68 in August is nuts.
On Friday I wandered into the lobby of the Foundation for the Carolinas and asked receptionist Tishauna Gillard if I could check the temperature. Sure, she said.
Then she added: “It's freezing!”