Dear Americans,

While spending a holiday in the New Orleans and Mississippi region, I was baffled by the typical temperatures in air-conditioned rooms. The point of air conditioning is to make people feel comfortable, right? It is obviously very bad at achieving this. I saw shivering girls with blue lips waiting in the airport. I saw ladies wearing a jacket with them which they put on as soon as they entered an air-conditioned room. The rooms were often so cold that I felt relieved the moment I left them and went back into the heat. Cooling down less than to the optimally comfortable temperature would make some economical and ecological sense, and would make the transition between outside and inside less brutal. Cooling down more seems patently absurd.

What is going on here? Some possible explanations that come to mind:

  • Employees who have to wear suits and ties prefer lower temperatures than tourists in shorts and T-shirts.
  • Overweight people prefer lower temperatures than skinny girls, and the high obesity rates in America are well-known.
  • Some places (like airports) may intentionally want to prevent people from hanging around for too long without a good reason.

Still, the above points seem nowhere near sufficient to explain the phenomenon. The temperatures seem uncomfortably low even for people wearing a suit with a tie. Places like cinemas clearly want their customers to feel comfortable, and their employees don't wear suits.

Thanks for clarifying.

Showing 3 of 5 replies (Click to show all)

First, the temperature will be uneven throughout any given building. In order to ensure that the outskirts of a large building are adequately cooled, the interior may end up frigid. This effect is more pronounced with larger buildings. Please complain to your nearest HVAC contractor, not to us poor Texans.

Second, people who are just coming in from 115 F outdoor temperatures actually tend to want it to be nice and cold inside. Believe me.

Third, the outdoor temperature varies over the course of a day. A thermostat setting that resulting in an acceptable actu... (read more)

2bogus4yThere is no "optimally-comfortable temperature" - different folks want different temps! The optimum choice is in fact to have two rooms/environments, one of which cools down a bit more, the other less (or not at all). If you feel cold, just spend some time in the warmer room.
3Viliam4ySome form of signalling? Air-conditioning is higher status than no air-conditioning. Higher-status people are more likely to live with air-conditioning; lower-status people are more likely to live without it. Lower-status people will feel more inconvenienced by too much air-conditioning, because it is a greater shock for them. Complaining about too much air-conditioning is an evidence of lower status. People who want to seem higher-status will avoid complaining about air-conditioning (and maybe just dress warmer). If all high-status people agree that the air-conditioning is okay as it is, it will remain as it is, because higher-status people make the decisions.

Stupid Questions December 2016

by pepe_prime 1 min read19th Dec 201682 comments


This thread is for asking any questions that might seem obvious, tangential, silly or what-have-you. Don't be shy, everyone has holes in their knowledge, though the fewer and the smaller we can make them, the better.

Please be respectful of other people's admitting ignorance and don't mock them for it, as they're doing a noble thing.

To any future monthly posters of SQ threads, please remember to add the "stupid_questions" tag.