The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting.

To defend my sisters, I stake out a position by the thermostat like a goalie, ever vigilant. If I duck out to go to the restroom, though, if I leave my post for even a minute, inevitably some unnamed man will crank that AC up to the max. When Gospel Doctrine ends, and the women are the only ones left in the Relief Society room, the sisters unite in complaints about the low temperature, huddled together like sides of beef in a meat locker.

Apparently, this phenomenon has sexist origins beyond the dress code at church. Who knew? An article in Fortune magazine explains why the thermostat is also conspiring to make women uncomfortable in the work place. Yes, men are literally freezing women out of male spaces. The article points out the dress code problems already mentioned that apply doubly at church. At least in the workplace women often wear pants and even jackets, although I noticed real problems dealing with the AC living in Singapore. Outside temperatures are so consistently high that I found pants to be much less comfortable than skirts, but interior temperatures were so low to combat the humidity that I was often freezing indoors. Just walking from my car to the office, I was often soaking from the heat and humidity. Within minutes in the office, I’d be shivering under a cardigan. In the US, I had my own thermostat in my office, so I didn’t have a problem, but in Singapore, the office wasn’t built that way.

“Many men, they wear suits and ties, and women tend to dress sometimes with cleavage. The cleavage is closer to the core of the body, so the temperature difference between the air temperature and the body temperature there is higher when it’s cold. I wouldn’t overestimate the effect of cleavage, but it’s there.”

Joey Barge, 20, came to work in a bright pink dress as a 'protest' at the firm's dress codeEven if women aren’t wearing something that shows cleavage, they aren’t generally buttoned to the neck either, and menopausal women often have temperatures that range broadly during the day. The dress code problem led to a creative solution from one 20-year old male worker in Buckinghamshire who was sent home for wearing “smart shorts”:

But rather than changing into a stuffy suit, the call centre worker decided to don a bright pink dress as a ‘protest’ against the rules. Predicting that he’d be sent home again, Joey posted a chic selfie to Twitter, racking up dozens of likes and retweets.

Instead his act of defiance sparked a change in the rules – with bosses sending out an email allowing ‘gentlemen in the office’ to wear three-quarter length shorts in ‘black, navy or beige only’. Despite the u-turn – which Joey branded a ‘partial win’ – he opted to wear the colourful dress for the whole day in an act of defiance against the policy.

While I doubt the men at church are going to be this progressive to help regulate the differences in male and female comfort, a girl can dream! Beyond traditional dress codes, the other issue that causes the comfort disconnect is physiological, and changing our clothing isn’t going to do much about that.

Most office building temperatures are set using a decades-old formula for a “thermal comfort model” that takes into account factors like air temperature, air speed, and clothing insulation. That’s converted into a seven-point scale and compared to the Predicted Percentage Dissatisfied, which gauges how many people are likely to feel uncomfortably cool or warm.

The problem is that one variable in that formula is inherently sexist. Turns out that the resting metabolic rate, or the measure of how fast we generate heat, that’s used in the calculation is based on a 40-year-old man weighing about 154 pounds. But women, who make up half of today’s workforce, typically have slower metabolic rates because they’re on average smaller and have more body fat. Thus, the study says the current “thermal comfort model” may overestimate women’s resting heat production by up to 35%.

In fact, this disparate cooling ability is actually a cause of more global warming. As a NY Times article points out:

“If women have lower need for cooling it actually means you can save energy, because right now we’re just cooling for this male population,” said Joost van Hoof, a building physicist at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

I’m saving the fricken planet, guys.

The war continues. Men and women responded to the NY Times article, weighing in on these issues, but mostly just talking past each other.

“It’s the men who are discriminated against, as we are required to wear heavy shirts, shoes and socks, and long pants. Women get away with T-shirts and flip flops, literally.” Dan, Palm Beach FL

Susan W. in NY fights back:

“The suggestion that women should dress differently (ie, in warmer clothes) makes sense, except when you consider the enormous pressure women are under to look ‘fashionable. Apparently women’s comfort just isn’t important, whether it’s what they wear or where they work.”

And as Carolyn of NY points out:

“Let’s not pretend that women just need to put on a sweater and our fingers will stop turning purple. All of the whining from male commentators completely disregards the point of this article–that indoor temperatures are calculated based on men’s body temperatures ALONE. In what world is that not inherently discriminatory?? It needs to change.”

In the meantime, I will be at my post every Sunday, on the lookout for sweaty, self-centered men who think nothing of freezing their faithful sisters with the touch of a button.

Viva la resistance!


  1. Men are literally freezing women out of the workplace? That must be why all the statistics show more women than men in colleges and workplaces. Because they’re LITERALLY FREEZING.

  2. Ryan Mullen says:

    Just eliminating the neck tie would do wonders for the male wardrobe IMO. In the rush of getting kids to church, I genuinely forgot it one Sunday and it was glorious.

  3. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    I always wear pants to church and no one has complained yet–

  4. If bishoprics on up aren’t going to dress like bankers and politicians, then how should they dress? Like … like … mere commoners?

  5. John Shaw says:

    Quick Hint… on Sunday’s the little buttons often don’t mean a dang thing. The Facilities group for the Church will generally turn on the Heat/Cooling on Sunday’s from about 7am to 5pm based on their own decisions (the church probably has a setting they follow). They also do the same for Tue/Wed/Thur, typically…. The buttons on the Thermostat only work outside those time windows where FM hasn’t already determined and over-ridden the ability to make a change.

    If you’re cold/hot every Sunday it’s the HIgh Councilman over Facilities that needs to be contacted and worked with.

  6. Also, to the credit of the Church, Our meetinghouses are ‘zoned’ and heat/cooling can be turned on for example. the Relief Society Room only… facilitating a meeting but NOT heating/cooling the entire building. Those zones are extremely responsible in facilities management.

  7. John/John Shaw – it entirely depends on the building and what Facilities Management group it’s in. Our building (and presumably the OP) has thermostats that can be adjusted and aren’t just decoration.

  8. I really do with kilts were more acceptable. I wonder if Polynesian and Irish wards, where men can wear open-legged apparel, this problem is so pronounced.

  9. Rachel Whipple says:

    Let’s bring back seersucker suits. Come on, guys, dress appropriately for the weather.

  10. Not a Cougar says:

    John Shaw, interesting that you say that, but it’s not been my experience. The buttons in my building seem to work – a month ago the building was quite toasty until about 30 minutes in, I walked over and hit the button. A/C kicked in immediately (of course, maybe I’m just one of B.F. Skinner’s superstitious pigeons and it was all coincidence). Also, I avoid wearing suit coats altogether and opt for a fleece jacket in the winter. Crossing my fingers that my wardrobe choices will insulate me from consideration for leadership callings.

  11. The Church spends ungodly amounts of money on electricity every year for HVAC; excessive cooling should be eschewed. (And winter heating, too, but that usually doesn’t present the comfort issues that the cooling wars have.) It is ludicrous to expect men to wear a wool suit jacket to church in the Southwest in the summer; if Elder Oaks can wear a short-sleeve dress shirt to conduct a meeting in the Philippines (as well he should, because it’s insanely hot there), I have no idea why a bishop or stake president in Texas or Arizona shouldn’t be able to do likewise.

    In states like California, Nevada, and Arizona that have net energy metering for behind-the-meter solar panels, it would make an awful lot of sense to put solar panels on the south-or west-facing roofs of meetinghouses, some of which are quite enormous (peep, for example, the Valencia California Stake Center, which I’ve heard colloquially as having one of the highest energy bills of any meetinghouse in the Church). The Church also owns an awful lot of surface parking at meetinghouses and temples; covering large portions of these with solar carports would be an excellent idea. (Throw some EV charging stations in there for good measure, too.) The Church doesn’t even necessarily need to own either the panels or the solar carports (and therefore assume the liability associated therewith), although I’d imagine there’d be some resistance to third-party ownership of assets on Church property.

    Of course, I’m sure Facilities Management has thought quite a bit about this; one of the problems is which contractor they’d go with. There are very good reasons for the Church not to enter into any business relationships with Vivint (the #2 player in the residential/small business rooftop solar biz), but there’d also be a lot of butthurt in the Utah Valley if the Church went with another provider.

  12. Can I offer a fifth option? Meet at a (Chicago) public school that doesn’t have central air. Sure, maybe the church pays for a handful of window units, but then you have to decide whether (a) you want people to be cool/cold, or (b) you want them to be able to hear the lesson.

  13. Holy cow, Sam, I just looked at Meetinghouse Locator and there are four units meeting at that school on Willow. That’s nuts. I was wondering why the Church was spending all that money on a building in River North, but now I know.

  14. Bro. Jones says:

    I don’t wear a jacket to church between April and October. I have zero problem with the thermostat being raised to non-freezing.

    Optional alternative: support from the highest leadership for sisters covering their freezing porno calves with pants. :)

  15. It’s always middle aged ladies turning down our thermostat at church (I am also in Arizona.) It has caused me no small amount of resentment towards our relief society president, who apparently thinks we’re all going through The Change.

  16. I almost never wear a skirt or dress to church any more. I almost always wear dress pants, and for that matter, almost always the same outfit. Our chapel is always freezing. The men on the stand always wear jackets, and even they complain. No amount of thermostat tweaking can compensate for bad HVAC design.

    The “dress code” for women is almost entirely internally driven these days. I can’t imagine a woman showing up in dress pants and a nice shirt being chastised for it. If I would wear it on a job interview, there’s no reason not to wear it to church.

  17. When I was RSP I deliberately kept the RS room quite chilly. It was important to me that the sisters with MS be comfortable.

  18. My stake must be filled with thin-blooded individuals, because they all seem to be in agreement as far as temperature goes. Our ward has the second block (11 a.m., after another ward starts at 9) so by the time I get into the Relief Society room, it’s hosted two gospel doctrine classes and one Relief Society lesson. And it is invariably 88 degrees, stuffy, steamy and stinky.

    I’m not complaining – but I do sit by the door!

  19. In our relatively recently built RS room/Gospel Doctrine class room with its independently zoned HVAC, most are united in their complaints, though some of the women have differences of opinion that may be partly age related. (My female secretary told me some years ago that female baby boomers were the cause of global warming. I would never dare originate such a joke!) No, we are not approaching Zion, it’s just that we have an HVAC system that functions to New Testament standards and not as purportedly designed. Revelations 3:16. We are almost all almost always either hot or cold in that room. The OP has a good point about design, but functioning to design might also be a nice change. [Please don’t even get our sisters and their allies started on the demographic- and physiology-ignoring presumption that equal square footage in men’s and women’s restrooms was ever appropriate.]

  20. Angela C says:

    JR: “Please don’t even get our sisters and their allies started on the demographic- and physiology-ignoring presumption that equal square footage in men’s and women’s restrooms was ever appropriate.” Now that you mention it . . .

  21. Little Sister says:

    It’d be one thing if sometimes the men were hot and the women comfortable, and sometimes the men comfortable and the women cold.

    But its ALWAYS the women who are freezing in the blistery winds of EVERY church building, and ALWAYS the men who are perfectly comfortable. Every Relief Society I’ve been to has a closet dedicated just to afghans. I’ve never heard of Priesthood keeping fans in every building.

  22. Little Sister, Small comfort, but the Priesthood is allocated no closets to keep anything in. Maybe more women should take up guard stations at the thermostat (if functional), at least until the men take off their coats (and ties!).

    While I can’t generally recommend my one-time approach to the unbearable winter heat at the organ bench (vents both above and below, south-facing window behind the organist’s back), maybe you can find something creative to do. I got my heat problem at the organ bench solved after about 5 years of suggesting reflective coating on the window. Step 1, Greet the bishopric’s “How are you?” with the comment that I’d rather go to hell than to sacrament meeting because it would have to be cooler. Step 2, Before beginning the prelude, (a) remove jacket and tie and throw them down to the first pew (b) roll up shirt sleeves and unbutton the shirt. Step 3, When participating in blessing a baby dressed like that, respond to the bishop’s rather loud, but friendly “Aren’t you sorry you did that?” with an equally loud “No, fix the window.” The congregation was mostly amused (those shocked wouldn’t tell me anyway). The next week the window was fixed — voila!, no more strip shows in sacrament meeting. Now I just don’t wear a jacket or tie when I don’t feel like it. That may be a more mature approach.

  23. Thermostat wars was one of the biggest reasons I did not like sharing an office with others. I was willing to compromise to a degree. I preferred the office temp to be about 69-70F in the summer and the secretaries wanted it at 75 or higher. I would have lived with 72-73, but . . . it was a war: they didn’t want to be cold and I didn’t want to be hot, and I had a hard time understanding why they were unwilling to compromise.

    My last office had a thermostat in my room, which solved the issue for me, and now that I work from home I can dress down for the weather and keep my office cooler. Church is another issue, and I agree that it can often be too cold and too warm. About a third of the time I’m perfectly comfortable.

  24. Aussie Mormon says:

    Is JR secretly Robert Kirby from the SLTrib? That sounds exactly like something I’d see him saying in one of his columns.

    We’re lucky with out meeting house. Every room has its own individual heater, either electric set-temperature fan based, or fan-forced radiator based. It’s fairly easy to just set them at a comfortable temperature where everyone is happy.

  25. Aussie Mormon, I am not Robert Kirby, but I am flattered. With Robert “I believe … God … will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the colossal foolishness of the entire human race,” but most likely my own will come first. BTW, it’s not just something I wrote; it’s something I did. But I haven’t blown anything up (except the high school chemistry lab oven).

  26. Nevada Grami says:

    As another organist, I am always cold summer and winter. The vent above the organ blows right down on me. It does not matter whether it is summer or winter cold air is all that blows. I have to leave after Sacrament meeting to go sit in my car with the heater on to get warm. On top of being a female, I have arthritis, and cold really makes it much worse. Now, when I return from missing Gospel Doctrine class to go to RS, I go right to the RS room thermostat and set it for occupied-warmer–winter and summer. All sisters agree with me.

  27. megsdad says:

    I’ve been tempted several times to break out my family tartan here in the Arizona mountains, where we are the third unit of the day this year. However I’m a convert and am already looked at askew by the powers that be in the stake. Peer pressure keeps me looking like I’m going to my Wall Street job every Sunday. Maybe my wife and I will have to do a mission in the South Pacific when our daughter grows up in another 16 years.

  28. Sorry to break your broad generalizations but I used to bring a fan to teach Elder’s Quorum many times in Murray, Utah in the summer.

    EQ’s generally get the worst room in the building to meet in … the room no one else wants. This room is usually temperature disadvantaged.

  29. it's a series of tubes says:

    In my AZ ward, Gospel Doctrine is held in the RS room, and on top of the piano is a big wicker basket of afghans for any attendee who wants one. Last week, a man took one, and his wife was wearing his suit jacket.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    This past Sunday, for the second time in the past few weeks, a sister (different from the first one) asked me to turn down the temperature in the chapel (I sit in the next to the last pew on the left hand side and so can reach the button.) I obliged, and having this thread in mind I asked her whether she ever had any push back from other sisters in her quest for lower temps, and she said absolutely; she does battle in this area all the time. I had no idea these contests were going on.

  31. There is a continuous war between older and younger women about the temperature in the RS room in my ward. Older women want it warmer.

    I have read in a number of places that as one gets older, one is less able to feel one’s extremities (especially in the case of diabetes, which afflicts an ever-larger percentage of elderly people), and one therefore feels cold at higher temperatures. Inability to sense heat would of course explain why you see so many elderly men out golfing in places like Palm Springs and Phoenix in infernal temperatures…and dropping dead from heatstroke sometime before the 18th hole.

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