Is it Warmer at the top of tall buildings?

As a private pilot, I agree fully with Cecil’s assessment of the variation in mean air temperature with altitude. However, I feel that he has missed the point somewhat.

Given that the question relates to buildings, one would assume that the individual would actually be inside the structure (there are very few tall buildings where you can actually step foot outside). In this case, you are then faced with two things. Firstly there is the ubiquitious air-conditioning which strives to maintain a constant air temperature throughout the building (let’s just ignore the fact that there can be different temperature settings in different offices). Secondly there is the fact that this does not always work as effeciently as desired.

Now, as you all know, heat rises (an oversimplification I know, but bear with me). Heat in a large commercial building can be generated from several sources including computers, trapped warmth from the sun, and people themselves.

Without a venting mechanism to let warmer air escape from above and cooler air enter from below, the warmth will have a tendency to be trapped in the building, and the higher you go, the greater the cumulative effect of this.

Therefore, yes, it is true that it can be warmer at the top of a tall building than the bottom. However the degree of this difference and the threshhold at which this statement becomes true does depend on such things as the efficiency of the internal air conditioning, the material and insulation involved in the buildings structure and the outside air temperature among other things.

In order to see this for yourself, just find an older building on a hot summers day, go to the lower floor, then travel to one of the upper floors and watch the poor suckers sweating as the air conditioning vainly tries to cope with the heat.

Hi and welcome to the SDMB! It helps if you include a link to the column in question so we can all get on the same page.

Is it warmer at the top of tall buildings?

While all this is true, as soon as you bring in air conditioning the question becomes meaningless, like “Which holds more, glass or plastic bottles?” If Cecil missed the point of the question, it is only because he answered the only interpretation of the question that made any sense.

Point well noted, Duck Duck Goose. Thanks.

In reply to John W. Kennedy’s point, he obviously has never worked in a glass-fronted office building on a hot day. My point regarding air-conditioning is that it can be a factor involved in the degree of thermal variance, but will almost never cancel it out as anyone who works with air-conditioning mechanisms will testify, and therefore the original point still stands.

While Cecil’s interpretation does make sense in it’s own right and is fully valid, the context of the original question and a sensible interpretation of it would lead you to the conclusion that the writer’s friend was talking about the interior of the building, not the exterior.

In talking about being on the outside of the building, I would disagree with Cecil’s assessment in terms of being too simple due to the involvement of microclimatic factors keeping warmer air trapped in lower city air layers (very complicated - involving smog/vapour layers, thermal sheer etc), and such things as wind-chill factors that come into effect when you are not protected by surrounding buildings and so on…

Basically…I’m right, so’s Cecil, but I’m righter in context.

It still all depends. If the air conditioning (or heating, for that matter) is done by small zones (one floor or less) and works, the question becomes meaningless.

Agreed…my argument here being that air-conditioning is not as exact a technology as we imagine, and does not work as well as we expect it to, and even supposing that it does, and manages to keep the ambient air temperature within the working zones at a constant level, this would have to be achieved by pumping progressively colder air out at each level in order to counter the increasing heat in areas outside of the air-conditioned zones, such as lift shafts, wall spaces, internal inter-office corridors and so on. Even assuming a constant temperature in the working zones at the bottom and top of the building, there are still these other areas to consider which cause the average temperature at the top to be still greater than the bottom (pause for breath).

I don’t know about you, but I’m having fun here. Maybey I should change my longin to ‘argumentative bastard’?

To davethekiwibloke:

You say the original question leads us to belive the person wanted to be on the inside of the bulding? Since when does one take a bottle of coppertone and a beach towle and camp in some office space?

And Cecil did answer the question the way it was asked. And being in constructionn ( I install Ductwork by the way) and having worked on tall buildings; one of Cecil’s micro-conditions is a little thing called wind. There usally is a lot of wind way up there, usally making it much cooler than down below. It can feel warmer if it is a sunny day with no wind.

Inside if the AC works it will be for the most part an even 70 deg all over. Many times the AC doesn't work, this can result fim a whole host of reasons; bad desingn down to a cloged filtter.

Oh I just read your last poast dave…

The unconditioned spaces, inside cielings etc, are all usally very warm. But ecah floor is well sealed from other floors, ( some exceptions). And again form experience, the inside of a office ceiling on the 80 th fl feel the same as the 8th. Rizer shafts for plumming do get warmer. Elevator shafts have way to much happening to build up a lot of heat; although the mech. rooms for the elve. moters do need additional cooling.

I just reread the original question, and it seems to me that it was Connie who misunderstood her friend.

As a meteorologist, I feel that I must chime in and straighten this out…

 Cecil failed to recognize a very common phenomenon called a 'temperature inversion'.  The inversion happens nearly every morning due to radiational cooling at the surface.  The ground cools faster than the air above it, say at 1000 feet.    In fact, on cold mornings there can even be a temperature contrast between the air at one inch and the measured air at 6 feet above the ground.  (This is how we get frost when the measured air temperature is above freezing)

 A temperature inversion is also a characteristic of cold air masses.  Cold Canadian air masses can be very shallow and the initial push of cold air may be only 1000 feet deep.  Therefore, this is a second way that air could be warmer on the top of the Sears Tower than on the ground.

 So, Cecil's answer would be correct on many afternoons, but not on many mornings or after a cold frontal passage.

His understanding of temperature falling with height (known as the lapse rate) is correct, but it often isn't the case in the lowest layer of the atmosphere known as the PBL or planetary boundary layer.  In this layer, the effects of the ground are much more pronounced, thus the "temperature falling with height" concept does not work as often.