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Hot in one room, cold in the next

This worker's desktop thermometer read 86 degrees when he arrived at his cube for the day.

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: I've never been so grateful for air conditioning as I was this past weekend. Good grief, it was hot. The thing about air conditioning is, it's finicky. Hot and cold zones, especially at work. We asked our intrepid reporter Janet Babin to look into this.


Janet Babin: I'm in the studio where I record my voice for the show. It's quiet as can be in here and it's freezing cold, always is.

But my colleague Keith Westin has the opposite problem. In the kitchen area the other day, I found him wiping his forehead with wet paper towels.

Keith Westin: You know, it's just too, too darn hot.

And then he admits he's already tampered with the building's thermostat.

Westin: I asked around. I said can we turn it down 1 degree please, just, I'm only asking, one degree.

We can laugh now, but it can be hard to work if you're too hot or too cold.

Engineer Jeremy Morrison says optimal climate comfort can depend on where you sit.

Engineers typically mix outside and inside air to achieve a uniform temperature, around 72 degrees. To do that, they set inside air at a cold temperature to chill the hot air coming in.

Jeremy Morrison: So if you're sitting under a supply air vent that's blowing 55-degree air, you're gonna be cold.

Morrison also blames fluctuating indoor temperature on poorly installed air ducts.

But design consultant Keith Aldridge with Advanced Energy says the reason we can't get the temperature right is dated design.

He says AC systems overcool the air, but don't dehumidify and too much water in the air is what makes us most uncomfortable. So, we're wasting millions of dollars trying to control humidity with air conditioning.

Keith Aldridge: Ten years from now we'll see buildings starting with: Let's put a system in that provides fresh air, and then let's put a system in that dehumidifies the air, and then let's add cooling and heating in if we need it.

For now, even workers at Aldridge's office have to resort to 19th Century techniques to deal with 20th Century climate control. Here's his colleague Vicky McCann:

Vicky McCann: We tape an ice bag up against this thermostat with masking tape, to trick it into thinking that my office is very, very cold, so the heat will turn on and the AC will turn off.

Until design improves, you might want to keep the ice bag handy.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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