Summer heat or summer freeze?

With the summer heat and humidity upon us, it is nice to escape every now and then the mugginess and soaring temperatures. Escape into a slightly cooler space, except that those spaces are impossible to find.

I think this is a recurring summer topic. Last year, I wrote that instead of cooling off some, we are sent into a deep freeze. I dread stepping into and out of any grocery store, which usually has been turned into one giant freezer. Going to the movie theater requires extra warm clothing in order to avoid hypothermia. The first thing we do when stepping into a restaurant or bar is scoping out the location of the air vents in order to find a seat that is outside the reach of the freezing draft.

I wrote about the industry standard for air conditioning including the recommended temperature ranges, and contemplated the need for a more adaptive approach. An approach that sets indoor temperatures somewhat proportional to outdoor temperatures, making the transition from the outdoors to the indoors much more pleasant, and less like a temperature shock.

The constant transition from the outdoor 90’s into the conditioned mid to lower 70’s cannot be good for our physiology. Or is it? Well, that’s what Google is for.

I searched for negative health effects associated with air conditioning or excessive air conditioning, and found … nothing!

All I found were references to excessive heat and associated health risks; or the spread of bacteria and mold spores through AC systems or reported cases where Legionnaire’s disease has been spread from cooling towers. But nothing really on the effect on our physiology.

I tried something else: I Googled the same subject in German. Et Voila, (pardon my French) I stumbled on a couple of references to sources that discussed the issue of temperature differentials between air conditioned spaces and the outdoors, and associated health issues.

One recommendation that showed up a couple of times, was to restrict the differential to 10 degree Fahrenheit. Admittedly, this has to be set into the context of central Europe, which doesn’t all that often match our Midwestern summer temperatures.

The German web references also mention that the transition across a broad temperature differential makes our circulatory system work extra hard. On reference compares it to a sauna experience, except that in the case of the sauna the cooling down time is relatively short, followed by a resting time in a normal temperature environment. Plus the cycles from hot to cold during a sauna experience are typically limited to two or four times.

Running a number of errands during a hot summer day can in fact exert more stress on our physiology and circulatory system than a typical sauna visit.

Now, why is it that this is not discussed in the English language? Or is it just me, doing a lousy job on Google? Have you come across serious articles and publications that address this topic? If so, I really would like to know about it! Please leave a comment.

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

4 thoughts on “Summer heat or summer freeze?

  1. I haven’t seen serious articles on this, but it seems like a topic someone should research – beyond mold and similar issues. I tend to encounter more sick people when we have conditions like the extremes we’re facing now than in more moderate summer temps. It seems logical that all of this shuttling from extreme heat to chilly temps should cause some extra stress on the body.

    I’m not a fan of the common tendency of businesses to overreact and supercool their spaces. I hate having to carry a jacket to enjoy a movie or indoor concert in summer. I’m with you on seeking out the draft-free spaces in movie theaters. I can live with 80ish indoor temps if the air is moving and it’s not too humid.

  2. Personally I think up to the low 80s is fine, especially if you have fans to move the air. We’ve found that one problem with higher indoor temperatures is electronics, which are often not as forgiving. We had a computer hard drive die when the temperature first hit the 90s in our un-air conditioned home, and higher temperatures definitely strain refrigerators and freezers.

    We also like it a bit cooler where we’re sleeping, but both issues can be mostly solved with good zoning. If common areas are a bit warmer while bedrooms and offices are cooler, there is less of a “shock” transition, plus most electronics can stay cooler as do sleeping spaces.

  3. Sounds specious to me: an old-wive’s tale. Our bodies are very adaptable. If this were a problem, wouldn’t it also apply to a 20- or 30-degree temperature differential in the winter? (i.e. it’s warm inside, but cold outside)

  4. You can protect yourself from the cold by dressing accordingly. This way you keep your body at a comfortable temperature range during wintertime. It cuts the temperature differential from your skin (under the clothing) and the conditioned indoor air to a minimum, even though the outdoor air may be 60 or 70 degrees cooler than inside the house.

    All we can do with heat is to shed clothing, until we would be buck naked. After that we have to rely on sweating and the associated cooling effect. In this case it is more difficult protect ourselves from the temperature differential.

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