“January in July”: The Mysterious Case of Over-Cooling in the Summer

ColdIn the sweltering heat of the summer you may have noticed the contrast between the high temperatures outside and the frigid indoor temperatures of certain buildings. In the New York Times‘ Sunday Review, Elisabeth Rosenthal noted this common disparity, pointing out how she often needs to wear a sweatshirt indoors when the weather outside is close to 100 degrees.

The recommended setting for a thermostat during the summer is 78 degrees, which helps conserve energy costs and fights against increasing greenhouse gas emissions. However, many homes and businesses set their thermostats to temperatures in the low 70s or high 60s. Many are aware of this trend, which explains why some will go to a movie theater simply to escape the heat.

Rosenthal explains that this is likely attributed to the expectation of having “January in July.” Alan Hedge, a Cornell University professor specializing in Design and Environmental Analysis, states that “in the United States there is a strong marketing emphasis on cold. When you get a soda it’s chock full of ice. We serve beer chilled. We make a virtue of freezing things.”

And certainly it’s the people being chilled too. Low indoor temperatures were once a necessary trend, but many wonder if it’s necessary now when air conditioning has become such a staple of residences. Businesses across the world have started to reduce what is known as “over-cooling.” Whether it’s Italian energy company Eni or Japan’s Cool Biz initiative to increase thermostats to around 80 degrees, the issue has been noted and solutions are being offered.

While some may enjoy the cold or not deem it necessary to do anything about over-cooling, Rosenthal argues that the rising cost of energy and the increase of greenhouse gas emissions make this is a necessary endeavor.