Your Feet Could Be The Secret To Office Discomfort

by Lily Feinn
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As someone with perpetually cold hands and feet, when the weather turns chilly I am the first to reach for gloves and wooly socks. This is especially true in the workplace where the thermostat is out of my control. New research suggests your footwear affects your body temperature in the office quite a bit, and the answer to office temperature discomfort may lay in our extremities. Does this mean that those who run cold are sentenced to a lifetime of wearing electric socks and fur-lined boots to work? Not quite.

I have always blamed my cold feet on poor circulation, but that is not always the case. Feet are incredibly sensitive to temperature, The Atlantic reports. When we feel a chill, the blood vessels in the feet and hands constrict as a way to fend off further heat loss, leaving our toes numb and uncomfortable. Up to this point, the field of thermal comfort has primarily focussed on clothing, and how well certain fabrics insulate. Finally, thanks to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, your tootsie are getting some long overdue attention.

"Ten years ago, about all they had data for was men’s shoes with thick socks, going back to the 60s when everyone was wearing suits," Edward Arens, an architect and thermal comfort researcher at the University of Berkeley, told The Atlantic.

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As I can attest, not everyone wears brown leather wingtips anymore — yet outdated data still informs how many buildings set their thermostat. The thermal comfort model developed in the 1960s is still used to determine heating and cooling in many offices, The New York Times reports. However, it is based of of the resting metabolic rate of a 40-year-old man weighing 154 pounds, and you know he is wearing a wool suit and wool socks.

For many women, storing an extra cardigan in your desk just doesn’t cut it when it comes to a frosty office. Some turn to mini heaters (an inefficient fire hazard) or full-on blankets (not the most professional look). Relaxed dress codes in offices means that not only does this negatively affect women, who have very different metabolic rates, but also flip flop wearers of both genders.

To tackle this issue, Arens is developing a foot warmer that could cut electricity use by as much as 30 percent. Instead of blowing hot air onto the feet like a space heater, Aren's product prototype uses a lightbulb to warm those tootsies. Stefano Schiavon, an assistant professors of architecture at Berkeley is researching how putting AC ventilation in the floor, rather than the ceiling, could solve the over-cooling problem. Heating and cooling buildings from the ground up may not only be more effective but environmentally friendly as well.

Until these prototypes become an office reality, the blanket and extra sweater aren't going away.

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