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Thermostat wars can send tempers running hot and cold

January 06, 2011|By Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz

In homes, cars, offices and any other confined space, otherwise amiable people often find themselves waging bitter battles over temperature control, whether it's a heating feud in cooler regions or air conditioning combat in warmer climes. Businesses are frequent battle grounds, as office mates find themselves at the front lines of climate combat.

A 2010 CareerBuilder survey found that among more than 4,000 U.S. workers surveyed: about 27% said the temperature at work was too hot. Another 19% said work was too cold. About 22% said a work environment that's too hot makes it difficult to concentrate, but 11% said the same about a too-cold workplace.

One ouf of ten said that they had fought with co-workers over the office temperature.

Even otherwise enamored couples have trouble negotiating their comfort zones. When Simon and Paola Sandoval-Moshenberg moved into their home in Annandale, Va., in the fall, they discovered a marital clash as common as it is vexing: thermostat incompatibility.

He liked the house at 65 degrees. She, freezing, preferred it at 70. She'd nudge the heat up, he'd turn it back down, and back and forth they went until Simon, "in my inimitable passive-aggressive way," figured out how to program the thermostat so that it always returned to 65.

Classic thermostat warfare: Team It's Too Hot outsmarted Team It's Too Cold, who now survives with layers of sweaters.

"I just don't want to spend $100 a month on the heating bill," said Simon, 31.

With basic comfort at stake, experts said finding thermal harmony is a tough yet crucial test of negotiating skills. It helps to remember that inconsiderate stubbornness isn't to blame (usually), but physiology.

While the reasons people tolerate temperature differently are varied, a lower basal metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn while at rest) tends to make people feel colder, said Christopher Minson, head of the human physiology department at the University of Oregon.

Genetics, diet and off-kilter circadian rhythms are other reasons people might have different core body temperatures, Minson said. But body temperature doesn't tell the whole story. People with the same body temperature can perceive cold or heat differently, for reasons largely unknown -- possibly because of what they are accustomed to, he said.

Shlomo and Marnie Weinstein of Bethesda, Md., suspect their thermostat incompatibility stems from childhood. He, the chilly one, grew up in a house without central air conditioning; she grew up in a house that was consistently 68 degrees.

They bickered for years about the temperature. Now, different thermostat zones have allowed them to divide control. Shlomo, 35, who likes it at 72 degrees, is in charge of the upstairs, while Marnie, 31, who prefers 70 with windows cracked, is in charge of the first floor, which includes their bedroom. The all-important sleeping temperature stays at 70.

"I can't wear less clothes, but he can wear more clothes," Marnie said.

Knowing that they're saving money gives Paola Sandoval-Moshenberg, 32, some comfort as she shivers in her 65-degree home. But she also knows justice awaits her in summer, when she can argue electricity costs to keep things balmy.

"I guess you pick your battles," she said. "This is one I'm willing to let go of."

Only when thermal rivals stop trying to win the thermostat wars can they find a degree of peace, said Victor Olsen, a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Trumbull, Conn.

If it's a money issue, review your budget. "If it costs just a little more to bump the thermostat up, you might consider whether that is cheaper than eventually having to go to therapy," Olsen said.

--Elejalde-Ruiz writes for Tribune

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