The war over the thermostat and the psychology of air conditioning

The war over the thermostat takes place every summer and winter in every city in the country, with no exceptions, according to one heating and cooling expert.

Even if you have a thermostat in the office, an expert says it might be a 'dummy'

A House Divided Cannot Stand: the fight over the office thermostat 1:55

Believe it or not, air conditioning offers a fascinating window into human psychology.

"Yeah, it can be," said Todd Baker, the president and owner of Air Design Services, a commercial and residential heating and cooling in London, Ont. "It's a funny thing." 

I've learned in this business no two people like the same temperature, you're never going to make anyone happy.- Todd Baker

Baker said that in most offices, in every city in the country, every summer and every winter, there's a war going on for control of the office thermostat because people can't agree on how warm or cold their workplace should be. 

"It's the just the way it is," he said. "I've learned in this business no two people like the same temperature, you're never going to make anyone happy," he said.

"What one person is comfortable at, the other is cold." 

'Dummy' thermostats

Todd Baker is the owner and president of Air Design Services Heating and Cooling in London, Ont. (Todd Baker/ Air Design Services Heating and Cooling)

In fact, employees in some offices fight so much over the office temperature that Baker says some employers install 'dummy' thermostats, where the only thing it offers employees is the illusion of control. 

"We can hide the thermostat in the closet with the sensor and then they've installed dummy thermostats that people can play with," he said. "I've seen that done before because some people just need to feel like they're changing a thermostat." 

High summer is Baker's busy season. His 20 employees are constantly busy when the temperature rises into the mid 30s, like it's been in southwestern Ontario for the past five days. 

"When it gets this hot, things break down." - Todd Baker

"These last couple weeks have just been insane," he said. "When the heat and humidity get this high, it causes a lot of breakdowns." 

"The guy on call this weekend put on 35 hours," he said. "He worked more than three full days on-call. When it gets this hot, things break down." 

One of the most common reasons air conditioners shut down in the summer is because they overheat, according to Baker. 

Dirty air conditioners

When the temperature goes up in the summer, the air conditioner goes on and it gets so cold for some office workers, they outside just to warm up. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

"An air conditioner is pulling the heat from the inside of your house and throwing it outside. Well on a hot day it's hard to expel that heat into that air because it's just so hot." 

It means a homeowner can end up getting a new unit if they lose their compressor. The way to avoid it in hot weather, according to Baker is to wash your air conditioner. 

"These are the days they're going to break down if they're not clean," he said. "Most people don't realize their outdoor unit gets as dirty as they get. Quite often if they look at the coil between the house and the wall, it's just completely covered and that's how breakdowns happen." 

In terms of how to wash an air conditioner, Baker says just shut the power off and use a garden hose. However he cautions against using a power washer on an air conditioning unit. 

"You got to be careful you don't bend the fins," he said. "You gotta know what you're doing if you use a pressure washer." 

About the Author

Colin Butler

Video Journalist

Colin Butler is a veteran CBC reporter who's worked in Moncton, Saint John, Fredericton, Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Hamilton and London, Ont. Email: