Nine-to-Fivers Fight Over A/C

It's freezing — it must be hot outside.

Sound strange? Well, for many American office workers, it's a way of life: When it's cold outside, they spend their days comfortable or too warm, but when it's warm outside, the air conditioning makes winter clothing indispensable.

"I'm wearing a scarf and a jacket right now," said magazine editor Julia Wang, sitting under a vent she taped up with heavy-duty masking tape. "I always carry a cardigan and I always keep a pair of socks in my desk drawer."

Wang, who works in New Jersey, is not alone. Even in Florida, temperatures in the office often get frosty.

"It's cold in here every day, all year round," said Florida Panthers employee Vanessa Rey-Fischel, who relieves her goosebumps by taking "warmth breaks" outdoors. "We keep individual heaters under our desks and bring sweaters to work."

But not everyone considers the chilly temperatures uncomfortable. For some people, especially men, work is not bearable without the cool air.

"No way, the temperature's just right," said Chris Junghans, Rey-Fischel's co-worker. The 6-foot-2-inch, 215-pound D.C. native added that most of the men in the office are on his side.

"We all feel as though women can always put more on, but we have to wear a shirt and tie every day, so there's not much we can take off."

Wang said the situation at her office is similar.

"The guys complain more when it's off. Our director even has a fan on all the time, he's so hot," she said. "One person shuts the vent and another person opens it. Half the staff is unhappy either way."

The women are also upset they can't wear their lightweight summer frocks to work.

"Why bother shopping?" Wang said. "I always wear closed-toes shoes and I never buy sundresses."

Health experts say the a/c-haters have a point: It's not healthy to work in the freezing cold and play in the blazing sun.

"While there haven't been any studies on the subject, every time you "stretch" your body in a rapid change of temperature, you open it to infection," said Edgar Charles, a medical resident at NYU Medical Center. "And in my personal experience, when I sleep in an air-conditioned room overnight I get a sore throat."

Environmental health and safety expert Andrew Port agreed.

"Quick changes make us more susceptible to the normal germs around us everyday," he said. "It's also a psychological morale issue, as far as company productivity goes. You don't want people out sick and complaining."

Port added that moaning to your boss may be no use if you work in a building with many businesses. Building owners generally have control of the temperature and, even if your office has its own thermostat, if the company below you is cold, the heat will even out between the offices.

Businesses might benefit from turning the a/c down a notch. In 1999, businesses spent $12.4 billion cooling commercial buildings, according to the Energy Department.

There is no national requirement for commercial air conditioning, only a recommended standard for energy efficiency.

But Rey-Fischel for one is not optimistic about the issue.

"I have yet to find an office where they can find a middle to suit everyone," she said.