Cold in Your Cubicle Job? Use an Underdesk Heater

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Many Americans working full-time cubicle jobs freeze during the winter from poorly regulated office thermostats. Instead of accepting the cold, office professionals can try some of the suggested tips below to stay warm, along with using an underdesk heater.

Across the country, nearly 122 million Americans have full-time jobs. That means a huge chunk of the population is away from the comforts of home for at least 35 hours each week. So where are these working Americans spending their time? According to the most recent data available from the good ole’ Bureau of Labor Statistics, most workers in the United States have one of these ten occupations:

Chart of the Top Ten Largest U.S. Occupations

Taking a closer look at this data, we can see that of these leading jobs, at least 7 million folks (office clerks, customer service representatives, and secretaries/administrative) are working in an office-type setting where they’re probably spending most of their time sitting and typing. And that’s not even counting all of the various other office positions that Americans hold. In short, you’re not alone if you spend a large part of your time in a cubicle job setting.

One problem with office jobs and their ilk is that while your brain may be working in a hot frenzy, your body is usually just sitting there, not doing much of anything at all. Occasionally you may cross your legs, tap your toes, or crack your back. And certainly your fingers are probably typing up a storm. But let’s face it: the office lifestyle is a very sedentary lifestyle punctuated by short walks to meetings where your stiff legs don’t know what to do with themselves.

This can be an especial problem in the winter if the temperature in the office building isn’t adjusted according to the dropping temperature outside. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has recommended temperatures for indoor offices during the winter precisely for this reason. That ideal temperature range is 68-76°F. Unfortunately, there’s no set regulations on this, so it’s ultimately up to the whims of the employer whether the thermostat gets set in that range. And sometimes it’s up to the whims of the office building itself whether the temperature is going to stay in that range.

Office Cubicle Skyscraper in Winter

Although OSHA describes this temperature as a matter of “human comfort,” being too cold has actually been proven to reduce work productivity. Studies show that workers make more errors when the temperature drops and they end up typing much slower. Based on this info, OSHA’s bottom temperature recommendation might even be a little low, with the aforementioned studies finding that 71°F is the optimal temperature for office workers.

Quick fixes for staying warm at your office desk

If you ask your manager to turn the thermostat up a notch and they say no, there are still a number of solutions to staying warm in an office setting:

  1. Put on some clothes. Layer, layer, layer. The goal is to fill up the space between your goose-bumpy skin and an outerwear coat so that the warm air next to your body doesn’t escape. For example, wear an undershirt, a shirt, and a sweater, and then stick a coat on top to keep all that warmth in. Clothes made out of natural materials, such as wool, will generally hold the heat better than synthetic materials. Also note that because the brain really is the most important part of the body, the body sacrifices its own heat to ensure that the head is nice and warm. Keeping your noggin’ warm with a hat will keep your whole body warmer. Ideally, if everyone could go to work in long johns and a Santa hat, there’d be a lot less shivering typists. Unfortunately, most offices require you to maintain some form of casual business attire. That’s why you can also:
  2. Get up, stand up for your right to take a break at work. Although there’s currently no federal law requiring employers to give employees lunch or coffee breaks, in states such as California, full-time workers must take two paid ten minute rest breaks throughout the day. If you get breaks at work, take a brisk walk around the block, jog in place at the water cooler, or drop and give someone fifty — anything to get your heart pumping blood to your skin and warm you up. You can also do desk exercises while you’re working, such as pumping your arms over your head, or seated crunches in your office chair. Just don’t exercise enough to break a sweat, because you’ll end up being colder than when you started when the moisture evaporates from your body. Of course, time doesn’t always permit for exercise at work, and your co-workers may not always want to hear you grunting in the cubicle next door. That’s why you should also:
  3. Snuggle up in a blanket. ‘Nuff said on this one. Swaddle yourself in it, and then take a small nap when nobody is looking. Actually, that’s probably the only downside to bringing a blanket at work — there’s a high chance you might get too comfortable and end up being even less productive than if you were shivering in your pantsuit.Office Worker on Computer Holding Coffee
  4. Drink hot cocoa, coffee, or tea. This one’s really all mental. Imbibing hot liquids doesn’t change your internal body temperature, but the idea of the warm liquid can make you think that you’re warmer. Plus, holding the toasty mug in one hand will give you some very minimal spot heating. Then again, this will instantly make you a keyboard pecker with a typing speed slower than your grandma, and again, isn’t a technique that you can employ all day in your cubicle job.

All of these tips are quick fixes for staying warm in the office. However, doing them also requires time and energy, and you have to rinse and repeat every day that it’s cold at work. Chances are, you’re going to be in a rush on more than one morning, and won’t have time to make that hot pot of coffee. Or, you’ll finally get irritated at the blanket snagging on your desk and cast it aside in favor of the cold. A more efficient, effective, and one-time-long-time solution is to:

Get an underdesk heater for your office cubicle

If maintenance, at the command of the manager, doesn’t want to up the office temperature even a few degrees, or if all the other employees seem to be warm enough, a small underdesk heater can help you stay warm while working without bothering anybody around you.

Some bosses may be of the mindset that small space heaters shouldn’t be allowed at work. They may think that the heater will be noisy and ugly, and will disturb nearby coworkers — considering that around 70% of U.S. offices now have low cubicle partitions or none at all, according to the International Facility Management Association. They may also think that even the smallest space heater will be a fire hazard or that it will use too much energy. Such bosses have been spending too much time in the office.

In fact, personal heaters have come a long way since ye olde unvented natural gas heater monstrosities that were notorious for carbon monoxide poisoning. In contrast, many modern heaters operate quietly and don’t sacrifice style or space to bring the heat. This is important because according to the below chart from the Harvard Business Review, the only things that workers hate more than temperature in cubicle job spaces, is the lack of sound and visual privacy:

Chart of Office Cubicle Job Complaints

Many modern personal heaters, such as the NewAir AH-400 Low Watt Oil Filled Underdesk Heater, seen below, run without a fan, and so operate silently. Co-workers a foot away won’t even be able to hear that the heater is on, let alone see its slim profile by your feet, nor will they be disturbed by the focused heat of this underdesk heater.

NewAir AH-400 Low Watt Oil-Filled Underdesk Heater

Such heaters also have built-in safety features like a tip-over switch. This causes the heater to turn off if it gets knocked over by accident, thus reducing the possibility of an office fire to almost zilch. Another key safety feature is overheat protection, which means that the heating appliance will shut down if it gets too hot. Design elements such as these make underdesk heaters a viable, safe option for cubicle job environments.

Beyond safety and ambiance concerns, the biggest misconception people have about space heaters is that they use up a ton of energy. And energy = money, with this equation especially relevant in a workplace environment. In reality, space heaters don’t use that much energy, and some only cost as much as a light bulb would to operate. For example, the aforementioned AH-400 underdesk heater uses only about 400 watts of energy. The oil inside it also heats up quickly and then remains warm for some time after the heater is turned off, keeping you warm at your desk without using electricity.

How to calculate cubicle heater energy usage

Business Manager Underdesk Heater Meeting

If you’re still meeting with resistance on bringing a space heater to work, have these calculations ready to whip out for your boss. Electricity is priced per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Kilo means 1,000 so a kilowatt-hour is 1,000 watts/one hour. This can also be thought of as 100 watts/10 hours and 1 watt/1,000 hours. To get the kWh for a particular appliance, multiply its wattage by the number of hours it’s used for, and then divide by 1,000. So a 400 watt heater used for a full 8-hour workday would look like:

400 x 8 = 3200 → 3200/1000 = 3.2 kWh

We’re almost done. Now that you have the kWh, you have to figure out the cost of electricity in your area, and this really depends on where you live. However, the average electrical cost for most of the United States is about 13 cents per kWh. So the majority of office workers across America can use the AH-400 Underdesk Heater for:

$0.13 x 3.2 kWh = $0.416 per work day.

Less than 42 cents. Considering that workers who are even a few degrees too cold type over forty percent slower they do at warmer temperatures, 42 cents/day sounds like a good compromise with management to keep you functioning at maximum productivity.

In conclusion, first talk to your boss about regulating the whole office temperature, as this would be the easiest fix, and would ensure that everyone is working at optimal speeds and accuracy levels. If this isn’t an option, then suggest that they allow you to use a small space heater during the cold months — making sure to note that models such as the AH-400 cost less than 50 cents to run for the full work day, and they’re also safe. And best of all, you’ll become a better worker without disturbing your cubicle job neighbors. While you wait for approval, just keep on jogging in place with your mug in hand and your finest snowsuit on.

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