It's ironic when you think about it. In the summer, few public buildings or places of work would be without air-conditioning. To stay cool is to stay sane. But those responsible for these things don't seem to realise that in the age of global warming, a spot of air-conditioning in the winter wouldn't go amiss either. What we don't need is the blast-furnace effect every time we step through a door.
What seems to happen is this. Around about the end of August a leaf falls from a tree. Panic! Winter's here. Can't be too careful. Might catch our death. On with the radiators. Janitors everywhere - sorry, building services managers - reach for the big red lever and plunge us all into a hell of stultification and perspiration that goes on until the following May. It's uncomfortable, unhealthy and a waste of energy.
Nigel Oseland, an expert in thermal comfort, is a project leader at the Healthy Buildings Centre, part of the Building Research Establishment, where studies show a 30 per cent dissatisfaction rate with the environment in which people work. Temperature is the biggest area of concern, and in winter it's not because it's too low but because it's too high.
"There is legislation that buildings should not be heated higher than 19 degrees centigrade," says Oseland. "In practice, average temperatures are more like 22 or 23 degrees centigrade. What people forget is that the modern workplace is full of computers, photocopiers and other electronic equipment, which all generate more heat. Stress makes people hotter too. And in winter people are travelling to work in warmer clothes, but they are too hot in them once they get there. We're not controlling the work environment properly."
Shops and hotels are surely the worst offenders, though. Customers, they obviously feel, aren't happy in anything other than an equatorial climate, in which the desire to shed all one's clothes is somehow thought to be linked to a desire to spend lots of money. The huge shopping centre in Milton Keynes is fairly typical in that if you close your eyes and pinch your nose you could easily mistake it for a souk in Cairo. The place is insufferably hot. "You are bound to be wearing a jumper and a coat at this time of the year," one shopper there said last week. "And if you've got children you're probably going to be a bit frazzled anyway. The heat just puts you off going."
Nigel Oseland blames the problem on businesses gearing the temperature of their premises to inactive, shirt-sleeved staff rather than to the heavily-clad shopper constantly on the move. "What really gets me is the heated air-curtain effect," he says. "That hot blast from above that you sometimes get when you walk into a shop. I just can't see the point of it."
Hotels in winter can be equally hazardous. You have to hope you haven't a room with a sealed window. What, I wondered, as I opened the door to cooker number 414 recently, is the point of this place having a sauna? Still, you know what they say. One man's heat...Reuse content