i spend somewhere between 40-50 hours/week* working in a research laboratory facility. There are offices, along with lab modules, set up for chemistry, physics and engineering endeavors using big, shiny, stainless steel thingies** – many of which require some form of cooling. We have chilled water lines plumbed into labs, as well as liquid nitrogen lines in some modules. Many experiments require strict environmental controls, and managing humidity is often a challenge here in the midwest.
Our facility has a
n archaic complex heating and cooling arrangement – which amounts to a “push/pull” system. The steam to the building (which provides heat) is always on, and the air conditioning runs constantly against it to allow control of building temperature and humidity. This works reasonably well – unless something happens to the steam system, or something happens to the air conditioning system. Over the past two decades, I’ve had the joy to experience sauna-like conditions and artic chill while attempting to earn my pay.
While i was on leave, staying in The Park with Mom, the steam shut down due to construction of another building nearby. i was on travel for most of the following week. With only brief visits in the office during both of those weeks – utterly sleep deprived and frantically busy – it didn’t fully register that my colleagues were dressed like members of Admiral Byrd’s party.*** Last week was my first full week dealing with an office environment cold enough to make my nose run wild and free.
There is an obvious solution, of course, since it’s Spring, and the weather is nice outside Why not open the doors and let all that warm air in? GONG! Condensation. All that warm, wet air hitting those frigid bricks**** would lead to water everywhere. Including condensation inside of expensive tangles of stainless steel equiment. Which brings us to the second obvious solution – Space Heaters! Surely people could bring in their own heaters to keep from turning blue during the day! Wrong! That would be a fire safety issue. No space heaters.
On my first full day of hypothermia, i went home at lunch, coming back to the office with my “Camping Woobie” – a large, smelly, black-and-white plaid quilted flannel shirt – as well as a knit hat, a scarf and a pair of gloves. For thermal footgear, i’m already in pretty good shape – keeping a pair of fuzzy slippers under my desk.***** The brighter folks in the office – having already suffered through two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures, shared a great idea – heating pads and electric blankets! Not specifically banned by the fire marshall, many people were sitting on electric bun warmers to survive the day. i also brought my heating pad from home.
Wearing my big, grungy flannel shirt, a black knit hat, fuzzy slippers, a scarf and gloves, I went about my daily business – even conducting a meeting with a group of shivering, blue-lipped graduate students while looking like i’d just come from months in the wilderness. By midweek, the boss wandered into my office – and recoiled in disbelief at the sight of me. He said I looked like i should be holding a “Peace Now!” protest sign, or better yet, pushing a shopping cart looking for aluminum cans. i suggested he take a picture, send it to the civil engineering office with a note saying “For the Love of GOD people, get the steam back on! The horror! THE HORROR!”.
It got so miserable, i started taking my electric heating pad with me to meetings that would last more than 30 minutes. One colleague made an observation that gave me pause…
Ninjaneer: Do you think that’s safe?
daisyfae: It’s not violating the fire code. And certainly safer than if i go postal because i can’t feel my extremities.
Ninjaneer: I meant at your age. What if you sneeze? You could be electrocuted…
*There are those who would take exception to both the number of hours claimed and use of the word “working”, but they can get their own fucking blogs.
** i apologize for my use of highly confusing technical terms. i am a scientist, after all…. And we take great pleasure in confusing those without technical training.
*** They’re not generally known for their fashion sense.
***** i wear these when it rains, when I’m having a crappy day, or when I’m in heels and my feet protest against pain for the sake of fashion. Oh, and not just at my desk. I’ve been known to wander the halls in them. Especially on rainy days.