Indoor Space Temperature Guidelines

Columbia University Facilities, depending upon the time of the year, sets forth targeted interior space temperature ranges in commonly (temperature controlled) zoned areas for academic, administrative spaces and residence halls.

Reason for Policy

The policy provides the University a number of benefits from various viewpoints.

Pragmatically, the policy provides a formalized standard on indoor temperature ranges to be expected by building occupants depending upon season. It provides Columbia University Facilities a documented policy to stand behind in addressing indoor environmental comfort complaints with regard to temperature. Without the policy, occupants might not know that these temperatures are consistent with policies of our peer institutions and with research performed by the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). More importantly enforcement of the policy will prevent inefficient and wasteful operation of centralized equipment from occurring.

From a financial perspective, the policy reduces utility costs associated with the consumption of energy generated from electricity or the burning of fossil fuels. The policy is a change from current practice where the temperature has been several degrees warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Finally, the policy supports the University's educational mission and commitment to environmental stewardship. Energy reduction resulting from this measure helps curtail global social and environmental impacts including the country's dependency on foreign fossil fuels and reduces the production of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Responsible University Office & Officer

In Columbia University Facilities, indoor temperature control falls within the responsibilities of the Department of Engineering and Utility. The Assistant Vice President for Engineering and Utility is the responsible officer.

Revision History

The policy has come under "draft" review in October 2006, and is effective November 14, 2006.

Who is Governed by This Policy

Columbia University Facilities operated buildings on the Morningside Heights campus serving academic, administrative and student residential areas.

Who Should Know This Policy

This policy should be universally known to building management, employees and occupants governed by it as well as the greater University community as an environmental stewardship initiative.

Exclusions & Special Situations

Select building uses, such as certain research, medical, and computer room applications, require special indoor design environments outside of those established within this policy. It is not the intent of this policy to limit or not support these applications.

This policy is not geared towards individually zoned offices or where there is agreement amongst all occupants on thermostat settings. Occupants knowledgeable in the benefits of energy conservation should determine where to set the dial. However, if the HVAC equipment cannot achieve the desired temperature, and that temperature lies outside the ranges set forth in this policy, no corrective action that requires central system operational changes will be undertaken by Columbia University Facilities.


The Department of Engineering and Utility will administer the policy.

Building Heating and Cooling Indoor Space Temperature Guidelines
Heating Season

The heating season generally is from mid-October to mid-May. In residential spaces New York City has established the heating season as October 1st through May 31st. Heat will be provided to maintain interior temperatures at approximately 68o F during normal occupied hours. In implementing this policy, Facilities seeks to ensure that all heated spaces are as close to 68o F as possible. In practical terms, this means temperatures may be in the 66-72o F range. During off-hours, temperatures may be allowed to drop to as cold as 55o F. A temperature of 68o F has been researched by ASHRAE (Standard 55 - Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy) to be comfortable for most people (10% dissatisfaction rate) who are dressed appropriately for the season. Temperature readings are taken at the thermostat or desk level.

Cooling Season

The cooling season generally is from May to October. Cooling is provided to maintain air conditioned facilities at 76o during normal occupied hours. During off-hours, temperatures may rise above this level.

In implementing this policy, Facilities seeks to ensure that all air conditioned spaces are as close to 76o F as possible without being higher than that threshold. In practical terms, this means temperatures may be in the 74-78o F range.

Temperatures in the 74-78o F range should be comfortable for most people (10% dissatisfaction rate) who are dressed appropriately for the season, as researched by ASHRAE (Standard 55 - Thermal Environmental Conditions for Human Occupancy). Temperature readings are taken at the thermostat or desk level.

Definitions / Acronyms

HVAC - Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning.


Seasonal Changes

It is difficult to present a simple description of the seasonal temperature switchover policy because of the variety of buildings and building HVAC systems. When determining the exact switchover date for each building, Facilities considers prevailing weather patterns, the building's HVAC system, the system controls, and building usage. Switchover is approximately a two week process that is not readily reversible. In the spring and autumn, outside temperatures can be extremely variable. Statistics show that there are a couple of isolated days in the heating season that actually require cooling. The same is true for heat required in the cooling season. Please be aware that, though during these unpredictable days in the "intermediate" season indoor temperatures might drift beyond the comfort guidelines in many buildings, little can be done other than to endure the event. In the event of a severe cold spell, all heating services will be turned on as quickly as possible.

Unoccupied Hours

Most buildings have designated occupied hours. To help save energy, the building temperatures may be changed from the normal operating set points during expected unoccupied hours (after hours temperature setback).