Originally created 11/13/97

Running hot and cold



The battle lines are drawn early, marked off by sweaters and space heaters and fans.

The sides advance by increments: Here, a nudge of the dial up. There, a tap back down.

In an effort to avoid a full-scale war, some resort to locked glass or metal cases, elevating the dial to almost sacred status. Safely shrouded like a religious relic, it's barely seen but always sought -- and confined to use by an elect few.

Winter's approaching, and the thermostat wars are heating up.

In every office and many homes, wherever two people are together in one room, somebody needs a sweater. Somebody's too cold. Somebody else is too hot.

And building managers are caught in between.

In workplaces where employees have access to the thermostat, an uneasy detente may be reached. A benevolent dictator may agree to shift the dial a few degrees.

Or it could turn into full-scale guerrilla warfare.

"People will take butter knives and break into the box," admits Dwayne Holloway, a manager at the International House of Pancakes restaurant, who once posted a sign threatening those who changed the thermostat with termination.

"I've taken that down -- we did have some fun with it," he said, laughing. "But it's definitely a problem. It used to be open, but I had to get a lock box for it."

He has found the temperature pushed as high as 90 degrees, he said. Usually, he sets the heat at about 74 degrees in the winter, the air-conditioning at about 72 degrees in the summer.

In the Augusta-Richmond County Municipal Building, where a single unit in the basement controls the temperature throughout the nine-floor structure, workers can't even make a sneak attack on the thermostat.

"People in each office have no control over the temperature," said Walter Hurley, a maintenance repair worker. "The only thing they can do is turn the fan in their office up or down. You'll get some people who are cold-natured, some people who are hot-natured, and they'll ask about the temperature quite often."

Tanya Rowland, a clerk in the civil division of Superior Court, already feels the nip in the air. She's ready for the heat to be turned on, and her co-workers are already suggesting that she wear long johns under her work clothes.

"I'm cold all the time," she admits with a laugh. "I just usually keep a sweater at work. In the summer, when they have the air-conditioning on, I wear long sleeves, never short sleeves. At home, I wear sweat pants during the summer because my husband and my son keep the air-conditioner running.

"But how can I wear long johns under my dress?"

Different comfort levels may be a simple matter of preference -- some people prefer to feel cool, while others would rather be toasty, said Alan Roberts, a doctor of internal medicine and an associate professor at the Medical College of Georgia. But physical reasons can make some people feel cold at higher temperatures.

A person's metabolic rate -- a measure of how fast energy from food is burned -- may have an effect on how people perceive cold, he theorized. People may have faster or slower metabolic rates and still be in a normal range. But if your metabolic rate is slow, and you don't burn energy as quickly, then your body isn't working as hard and won't generate as much heat.

"If your metabolism is slower, you may feel colder," Dr. Roberts said. "But if you're sort of a go, go person, you might not be able to tolerate the heat quite as well. I'm not sure there's clinical data to support that, but it seems like it would make sense."

Problems such as underlying illness or malnutrition could also leave the body susceptible to cold, while extra weight and the increased calorie use that goes with it could make heat more bothersome, he added. People with high blood pressure also are bothered by heat, while those with low blood pressure are more likely to feel cold.

Bruce Parker doesn't care about the physics of the temperature. He's just glad he has the thermostat in his office at CSRA Advertising Specialties, in the Lamar Building on Broad Street. One thermostat controls the temperature in a suite of three or four offices -- and his hand is on the dial.

Most office residents in the building try to compromise on where the heat will be set, they said.

"I don't have any complaints from my neighbors," Mr. Parker says. "I usually set it at about 70 degrees, and I'm very pleasantly warm. Of course, most of us are on the front of the building, where the sun hits it. There's one office on the back of the building that's always cold. I know -- I used to be in that office before I moved to the larger one I'm in now."

In fact, his wife, Carol, is in that back office now. With her space heater.