Help our workspace be not-so-freezing!
May 10, 2007 9:36 AM   Subscribe

FreezingOfficeFilter: Are there any minimum temperature requirement laws for US office spaces?

Just relocated to a new office space that seems to be the hub of air-conditioner activity. It's absolutely freezing. A numbness in the fingers kind of cold. There are four other people in the area that feel the same way. There are plenty of other sections and workers on the same floor who are experiencing fairly normal office temperatures; it's just our specific little nook that's especially unbearable.

We contacted the office facilities manager and he said there was nothing he could do and we should just bring jackets and sweaters to work. This response was not acceptable to me or my colleagues, so we're just wondering whether there are any legal limits on office temperature. Please note that we're dealing with a smaller division of a major, major national corporation here.

I'm wearing a sweater right now, but my fingers are frigid and we're all still shivering in our boots. Please help us alleviate our discomfort!
posted by kmtiszen to Work & Money (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What state?
posted by Meagan at 9:42 AM on May 10, 2007

What temperature is it? Have you measured it?
posted by voidcontext at 9:44 AM on May 10, 2007

Minimum for Minnesota is 65° F.

In the UK it's 16° C (60.8° F).

Found using Google for minimum temperature and minimum temperature OSHA. There doesn't seem to be a national OSHA standard for minimum temp.
posted by MsMolly at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2007

This is in New York City.
posted by kmtiszen at 9:46 AM on May 10, 2007

A quick search on the OSHA website did not produce any regulations regarding the temp in your office.

Given that there are many jobs/tasks that experience much colder conditions (construction workers during the winter, for example), I would believe that this is not regulated.

Probably not much you can do other than, dress warmer, bring a space heater, wear gloves, or quit.
posted by HuronBob at 9:47 AM on May 10, 2007

I really sympathize, if my fingers get too cold and I spend all day typing, it's agony. And of course it's impossible to type with gloves on.

Are you allowed to use a space heater?

Can you tape up cardboard over one of the AC vents?
posted by voidcontext at 9:51 AM on May 10, 2007

See if you can find a flat, magnetic sheet that will stick to the metal vent grate (if its on the ceiling). I believe it would be in any old run-of-the-mill office supply catalog.
Alternatively, bring in a ceramic space heater and create a fire hazard.
posted by ijoyner at 9:52 AM on May 10, 2007

This site recommends 65-75° in New York. This looks like an advocacy group, not an official governement agency, though.
posted by MsMolly at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2007

Thanks for the super quick responses, everyone! You guys are great!

Just some extra info:

We're just regular office workers in Midtown Manhattan -- run-of-the-mill eight-hours-in-front-of-a-computer types. I'd assume that minimum requirements for more active, labor intensive jobs would be lower than what we'd be expected to endure.

We're just really uncomfortable right now. It's currently 65 and dropping (which would make it illegal in Minnesota, apparently), which doesn't seem that cold but the small space makes it feel like friggin' Narnia in here.
posted by kmtiszen at 9:56 AM on May 10, 2007

Don't complain to the facilities people anymore, complain up your own reporting chain. The facilities folks are more likely to listen to managers, especially about problems like this one, which is non-trivial for them to fix. The other benefit is that the management can just move your desk, which is a lot cheaper than having the HVAC team alter the physical plant to even out building temps.

Go to Home Depot and buy some outside thermometers (they're like $7 each), so you can accurately complain about the temps.

I have used the duct tape over the vents strategy myself. Be aware that doing this is basically declaring war with the facilities people.

They'll never let you have a space heater, so just forget about it.
posted by popechunk at 10:04 AM on May 10, 2007

do you know where the thermometer which regulates the temperature is located? this happened to me in an office once - turned out the therm. was located just behind a guy's heat-emitting computer monitor. when he was out, the temp was fine, when he was in, the a.c. was on full blast.
posted by wayward vagabond at 10:06 AM on May 10, 2007

My office is usually 60 degrees. I take frequent trips to the bathroom to run hot water over my hands, it thaws them out for a while so I can type. I totally feel your pain.
posted by Alpenglow at 10:08 AM on May 10, 2007

A bit of googling turned up the 2006 New York State Property Maintenance Code, which says in section 602.4 (that's in Chapter 6) that the minimum temperature is 65. But act fast: after May 31st, there seems to be no minimum.

IANAL, however, so I don't know how or whether this can be enforced.
posted by blue mustard at 10:09 AM on May 10, 2007

I had to get the building engineer in to fully block the A/C vent that's right above my head. It hardly mattered. I have to have a secret space heater. Otherwise, I'd to quit. It is routinely very, very cold in here. I sympathize! I also bought, at Walgreens, an extra-large heating pad and affixed it to the back of my chair. It was a lifesaver. Try that.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 10:09 AM on May 10, 2007

There is no national health and safety temperature reg (see here), and state laws are in the minority. There is a "general duty clause" that applies to anything that is likely to cause death or serious physical harm, but as the cited letter states, temperature is deemed a matter of comfort, not a danger to health.

I'd assume that minimum requirements for more active, labor intensive jobs would be lower than what we'd be expected to endure.

Well, look at it from a 180 degree angle: Do you know how hot it gets in a foundry in the summer?
posted by pardonyou? at 10:10 AM on May 10, 2007

Section 602.4 of the Property Maintenance Code of New York State specifies that "Occupiable work spaces" must be heated to at least 65ºF during the winter months — in particular, it says "indoor occupiable work spaces be supplied with heat during the period from September 15th to May 31st to maintain a temperature of not less than 65ºF (18ºC) during the period the spaces are occupied."
posted by RichardP at 10:11 AM on May 10, 2007

Get a space heater! It's terribly wasteful, but you have to be able to get through the day.
posted by footnote at 10:21 AM on May 10, 2007

I've had the opposite problem (not "too much A/C" but "too little heat") in my office. The physical plant people aren't going to listen to you -- they have a limited budget of time and materials, and they're not going to spend it based on the complaints of a line worker -- for them to do anything is going to take a mid- or upper-level manager, if it's like my office.

We got a big outdoor thermomenter (really obnoxiously large, I think it was like 12" or 14" dia., and it was obviously an OUTDOOR thermometer) and we stuck that in the coldest cube in the office, so it was visible from everywhere in the cube farm. Everyone pestered their managers about it, and after a few months it got fixed. I don't doubt we'll have to go through the same thing next year, but welcome to life in an office.

The heating-pad idea sounds pretty decent, actually ... I'm going to have to suggest that to people next winter.

I'm not sure that pursuing a legal remedy here is going to be productive. Particularly if you're an at-will employee, they can probably just fire you if you start to cost them money and/or look like a troublemaker. Also, they may not be liable under the Property Maintenance Code, because they're not supplying heat, they're air-conditioning it. It's a technicality, sure, but it's the sort of thing that a lawyer could argue endlessly over. You're not going to win that way; work within the system if you like working there.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:27 AM on May 10, 2007

You know I have the same. exact. problem in my office - we freeze and freeze and freeze, especially on Mondays because the building does not heat in the weekends because ostensibly no office workers are there.

Listen, I understand that "STFU and bring a sweater" was not really an acceptable response, but think about it like this. What if you finally got a comfortable temp, and others were too HOT? On my office, there is a sunny side of the office and a dark side - we went through years of the sunny side people turning on the AC because they were too hot and the dark side people like myself turning it off because we were cold - it resulted in every person being uncomfortable all the time. Save yourself a lot of making-yourself-look-like-a-whiny-greasy-wheel and buy a space heater. We are talking about like $25 here. Just buying it, bringing the extra sweater just in case and actually GETTING YOUR PROBLEM SOLVED rather than wasting your time researching federal law minimum heat standards and looking like a difficult employee with little likelihood of success is priceless.

I have a space heater (which was expensed back because it was an office necessity) and its glorious - when I am too cold, it goes on, when I am too hot I turn it off. Freakin technology, wow!
posted by bunnycup at 10:44 AM on May 10, 2007

Well what do you know!!
We have just been informed that everyone in our building is being sent home because it is TOO HOT!
The air conditioner is broken, and the rule here is:
If it is 26 degrees celsius or more for more than three hours, we are sent home. Conversly, if it is less than 17 degrees celsius for three hours, we can also be sent home.
posted by BozoBurgerBonanza at 11:17 AM on May 10, 2007

So are you not allowed to get a space heater?
posted by cashman at 11:28 AM on May 10, 2007

I worked for a dot com in 2000 and we had the same problem until somebody sent a message to

Iitsw gettinng hard to otype with fglkovpes onb. Caan msomebnodfy ficx the AC?

Somehow it got fixed real soon after that.
posted by chillmost at 11:29 AM on May 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Look, you've already done the "right" thing, which was talk to the property people and complain, and they had their opportunity, which they responded negatively.

Therefore, it is time for you to do the "wrong" thing: get a space heater and regulate your own environment. Do it secretively if you have to. Plead ignorance and desperation if caught.

Also, as said above, find the thermostat and make sure something is not unduly applying heat, such as a piece of equipment or direct sunlight, etc. For instance, years ago i had an office complain of being cold all the time. I located the thermostat and the photocopier, which was being used all day, was underneath it. They put off A LOT of heat, so the thermostat consistently thought the office was 5 degrees warmer than it really was.

I also like the magnet over the vent thing. I'm about to try to locate a few of those right now.

There is no solution to the "my office is too hot/too cold" argument. It has raged since the beginning of time.

In my office, if it dips below 75 degrees, summer or winter, the women in the back go crazy and get downright testy about it.

Today, for example, it is 85 degrees outside, the AC is set on 75, and they are currently running their space heaters.

I would strongly prefer it be about 70, hell 68 would be fine, and even though I'm "the boss" I don't want my employees to be miserable. I realize that being cold is just as miserable, if not more so, than being hot. I'm also the only male in the building, so I realize what I'm up against.

I would also question the accuracy of whatever thermometer you're using, because quite honestly 65 is not "cold" by any stretch of the imagination. Most people would not wear a sweater, gloves, and a hat outside if it were 65 degrees. I doubt 65 would induce "shivers". I'm suspecting it is actually much, much colder than 65.

What amuses me is when my girls complain about the office being too cold, while they are wearing sleeveless tops, skirts or Capri pants, and sandals. Meanwhile I'm wearing slacks, socks, shoes, and at least short sleeves if not long and burning up. Of course, I happen to like them wearing sleeveless tops, skirts or Capri pants, and sandals, so I have a fan in my office.

So again, the lesson is to take steps to modify your own environment.
posted by Ynoxas at 11:31 AM on May 10, 2007

Most people would not wear a sweater, gloves, and a hat outside if it were 65 degrees.

They would if they were sitting still for 8 hours at a stretch and mostly only moving their fingers and forearms enough to type and mouse. 65 is cold if you're very sedentary, and most desk jobs are.

My section of the office is freezing, too, so I feel your pain. If you get a space heater, save your work before you plug it in and turn it on, and warn your trusted cube-mates and nearby friends to do the same. Every office I've been in, heaters haven't been allowed because they tend to blow out fuses. (How many monitors and computers and whatever elses are already plugged into that same power strip?)

In case an environmental change is not forthcoming, I've found temporary relief with the following techniques:
- running my hands under hot water for several minutes
- climbing up and down the stairs in the back stairwell for a couple minutes
- bathroom jumping jacks or lunges
- fingerless mittens. I started with fingerless gloves (they had had half-fingers worth of fabric for each finger), but I found that the extra bulk between my fingers made them sore. Then I found a pair of fingerless mittens at urban outfitters that are perfect - who knew there was even a difference? The mittens go most of the way up my forearms, and don't have any fingers at all - they stop right at my first knuckle, with one big hole for four fingers and one small hole for the thumb. Googling "fingerless mittens" will give examples. They're a lifesaver.
- hot tea/cocoa/coffee/water. I hold the mug when I don't need my hands for typing, and drinking it helps warm me up through and through.
posted by vytae at 12:05 PM on May 10, 2007

Speaking from the point of view of a on office manager who spends a lot of time trying to solve this problem for my staff, I have come to believe that this is an unsolvable problem, because people are comfortable at different temperatures. I had the HVAC people in dozens of times to no avail, and finally we decided to put temperature guages in every office to figure out what was going on. Wouldn't you know, the temperature registered at the correct 68 degrees or whatever the thermostat was on in every workspace! Bunnycup is right-- some people feel cold and some hot at the same temperature. Further, a lot of the times that people *felt* cold air blowing on them, it was actually just regular air that was being circulated. It makes you feel cold because you are stationary all the time, and it is blowing right on you. Redirecting the air vents could also help a lot if that is an option.

I have done some reading on HVAC design, and I found out that the goal temperature-satisfaction prercentage is 80%, meaning that if 80% of the people are comfortable, the system is functioning properly! That means there will be 20% who are uncomfortable.

I buy space heaters for anyone who asks for one (even though we are an environmental organization) because there is just no other solution-- it's not that the facilities people don't care or they are lazy, this is the way most office buildings are designed!

Anecdotally, I am almost never uncomfortable one way or the other (even though I have felt your pain when I worked for other companies) because I am running around all the time. It might help a great deal if you got up and took a stroll around your office every hour or so to get the blood flowing.

Hope this helps!
posted by paddingtonb at 12:08 PM on May 10, 2007

Light summer clothing should be perfectly appropriate in the summer months when the temperature is high outside. I understand the practical need for space heaters, and why it is difficult to regulate the temperature of a large building, and how convention often requires formal attire that is uncomfortable in the heat. But the environmentalist inside me is angry about the whole thing.

Excessive air conditioning is wasteful. You are paying a large amount of money in energy costs in lowering the temperature of the building. Then you are paying even more by radiating heat to raise it back up again. I think the public is receptive to environmental arguments these days, and management should be receptive to an economic argument. Even raising the temperature by a few degrees should save your company a lot of money.
posted by PercussivePaul at 12:12 PM on May 10, 2007

can anyone find that wall street journal 'personal journal' story from a few years back that showed how many, many thermostats in offices aren't actually hooked up to anything?

story ran jan 2003

found it!
posted by Salvatorparadise at 12:17 PM on May 10, 2007

Well, obviously the best solution is to get management to fix things, but in the mean time there are some things you can do to make yourself more comfortable. Get some lightweight long underwear that you can comfortably wear under your normal clothes. This will help a lot. Wear a heavy sweater. Most importantly wear a warm knit hat. About 30% of your body heat is lost through your head.

Once you have the rest of your body toasty, your hands and fingers will be quite comfortable to very low temperatures. In mountaineering we often say that if your fingers are cold, it means you need to put on a hat. It really works.
posted by JackFlash at 12:21 PM on May 10, 2007

The hat would serve two purposes: It would keep you warm, and it would be a visual reminder that you think the temperature is inappropriate (in case they can't see your blue fingertips). It would also look silly. As someone who finds 72 degrees intolerably hot while I'm in business attire, I can sort of relate. No one will let me bring in a window AC to keep my cube cool though, and wearing just boxers and an undershirt is frowned upon...
posted by jaysus chris at 12:32 PM on May 10, 2007

P.S. my cheapo space heater from Staples has a thermostat setting and high/low to control energy use. Sure I guess there is some waste involved but sometimes just a low setting and a thermostat on a reasonable temp. can get my office space warm by 11am and it stays that way all day. I realize we all need to be conscious of environmental concerns, but it's not all or nothing and responsible use is possible.
posted by bunnycup at 12:40 PM on May 10, 2007

My roommate in college had rheumatoid arthritis - she coped with the perpetually-chilly dorm by getting one of these little heater fans. It plugs into a normal outlet and doesn't get too hot, but warms things up nicely. I can't find the exact model she had, but here's one that's similarly-sized by the same company and only costs $40.
posted by mdonley at 1:06 PM on May 10, 2007

(And here's a slightly cheaper one.)
posted by mdonley at 1:07 PM on May 10, 2007

I have an AC vent directly above my cubicle, which used to blow directly on me.

I got a manila folder and slid it into the grating. Now the vent is about 80% obstructed, and the air blows in the other direction (toward an area where no one sits).

It's been that way for almost three years, and no one has called me on it yet.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:21 PM on May 10, 2007

Are you in a former conference room? They usually have the AC beefed up to allow for more occupants in a small space. If so, maybe they can give you another room.

I've worked in a few places where people do the "cover the diffuser in cardboard" trick; the supers/managers/whoever always removed them (you're just diverting the air elsewhere in the space anyway) but it may be worth a try.

This is one of the frustrating things about open offices, isn't it? We have what seems like a daily battle over the thermostats in my place. I'm one of the "always warm" people.
posted by jamesonandwater at 3:45 PM on May 10, 2007

Seconding the fingerless gloves/mittens, at least until you can come up with a better solution. I used to work at a job where all I did was sit at a computer and type (USPS remote encoding center) and a pair of those stretchy knit gloves you can get for a buck, with the fingers cut off, really did wonders.
posted by flod logic at 3:46 PM on May 10, 2007

Another search term to use for the fingerless mittens is "wristwarmers". If you knit at all, those are a really popular knitting item these days and you can knit up a pair in a day or two. If you don't knit, maybe you can convince a pal who knits to do it. Look for "wristwarmers" or "armwarmers" on this page.
posted by litlnemo at 3:59 PM on May 10, 2007

Knitting author here (really!) -- if you don't knit...

(and wristwarmers are dead easy if you do -- just cast on enough stitches to go around the widest part of your hand and knit in rib for 6-7 inches)

...go to your friendly neighborhood thrift store and find a sweater with a decent amount of ribbing at the wrists. Amputate the sweater sleeves, to your elbow or so. Put 'em on. Will also make a statement about the temp.

(I can tell you how to make a matching hat out of the rest if you want!)
posted by at 5:34 PM on May 10, 2007

Thanks for the great responses and brilliant suggestions, everyone! I think I'm going to try to redirect the AC flow by blocking the vent and the space heater thing. I'm gonna remain stubborn on changing my wardrobe. It's going to be the middle of the summer soon and there's no way I'm going to be forced to wear long johns and mittens at any point in the next several months.

The cost analysis route is an interesting one, nakedcodemonkey. Thanks for directing me towards that article!
posted by kmtiszen at 8:05 PM on May 10, 2007

Could you trade locations with co-workers who are more likely to feel warm? Often, the more naturally-insulated people in a workplace wish fervently for colder environments.

Also, you lose a lot of body heat through your head. A hat might make a surprising difference.
posted by amtho at 8:12 PM on May 10, 2007

If you go the space heater route, get a surge strip with a fuse and plug it into that. Then the fuse will pop without taking out the whole office circuit (if you're lucky). It also matters whether it's on low or high.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 5:35 AM on May 11, 2007

Almost forgot: In addition to the folder in the AC grating, I keep a sweater in my cubicle, for days when I need it (mostly in summer, when I wear short sleeve shirts).
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 3:33 PM on May 11, 2007

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