Friday, September 26, 2008

The Heat from Within

Looks like I spoke none too soon about the building heat returning to haunt me. Today, when I woke up in the morning, I noticed that the apartment seemed awfully stuffy and warm. I worried that a new heat wave had started. But no! It turns out that the management of my building has turned the heat on—in September!

It's 68° F outside, and the heating inside the building is blazing away, raising the temperature in the apartment by 14°. With enormous irritation, I was compelled to turn on the air conditioning, despite the perfect outside weather, in order to remove the heat added by the building's central heating system.

Once again, I'm paying for the fuel that is being wasted to overheat the building, and I'm paying for electricity to remove the heat thus generated. Without air conditioning, the temperature will climb to the high seventies and above indoors. I opened a window over one radiator so that it would exhaust its wasted heat to the exterior, but I still needed the A/C to remove the heat. Unless it gets really cold outside, this situation will persist until next spring.

The cognitive dissonance here amazes me. Europeans criticize air conditioning as wasteful and decadent, but they absolutely do not hesitate to squander untold amounts of fuel and electricity to dramatically overheat buildings for half the year. The City of Paris recommends that people set their thermostats to 66° F, but I can't even get the temperature down to that level with A/C, thanks to the blazing central heating of the building (plus the fact that it isn't cold outside to begin with).

The problem isn't limited to my apartment. If you walk into a department store, for example, you're struck by a blast of stuffy heat, and in no time you are perspiring. I suppose this is in part to accommodate saleswomen in the building who wear fashionable but extremely skimpy clothing that is completely unsuited to cool weather. Rather than offend Dame Fashion by wearing a sweater or something a bit more substantial, they continue to wear the flimsy t-shirt-like apparel and then complain that it's too cold. Of course, for clients who come in from the cold in sweaters or jackets, the heat indoors is exhausting, but clients don't matter. The problem doesn't arise with salesmen, since they are often required to wear suits, which include multiple layers of fabric and are more than warm enough for the mildly chilly weather that obtains at this time of year.

Sometimes I get the impression that nobody in Europe is happy at a temperature of less than 85° F.

I think this has to do with historical climate trends and current climate. In regions of the world where it's usually on the cool side, people become oversensitive to cold and wish for intense heat. In regions of the world where it's usually on the hot side, people become oversensitive to heat and wish for frigid cold. The only difference between the two is that it's a lot easier to stay warm in cold weather than it is to stay cool in hot weather. In cold weather, you can dress in a way that will keep you warm, making heating systems less necessary than they might otherwise be. But in hot whether, your only option is to refrigerate the environment. In the first case, you're working with Mother Nature; in the second case, you're compelled to work against her.

Anyway, rant off for now. But it's really frustrating to have to constantly air-condition, even in winter.

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