Friday, February 1, 2008

Programmable Thermostats: Turns Out I'm Not The Only Idiot!

A programmable thermostat is an industry standard, hugely effective in increasing energy efficiency - if you can program the damn thing! Ours has the instructions in a panel which you remove to read, and once you've removed it, it's really hard to figure out which buttons correspond to the diagram - if you can follow the multiple steps to begin with. My husband has more patience than I do for this task, but even so, he has to refamiliarize himself with the system everytime we change anything.
It turns out Energy Star, the entity which awards its seal for the most efficient appliance in a genre, has problems awarding the coveted Energy Star status for such poorly designed products. Here's what they say:

Here’s a technology that should—and does—save energy when consumers know how, and remember, to use it. A programmable thermostat fails to deliver energy savings because the user has not been sufficiently taken into account. Indecipherable controls, baffling commands required for programming, and inadequate feedback deter even the most sophisticated consumers from effectively using the programmable thermostat.
We are very disciplined about this, but many people probably just get frustrated and adjust it manually, and don't realize that most systems override their new setting in the next cycle. I am reminded of a great book, The Design of EveryDay Things, which analyzes the challenge of the designer. I am old enough to remember the first VCR's. They were, in fact, simple to program. But as they added more and more options, and people switched to incompatible cable service, the whole thing bred: TiVo. TiVo really addresses a problem with an easy to manage solution.
While researching this post I came across one solution to the No Way Can I Program this Thermostat problem - a Talking Thermostat. Sounds good to me!

If you have any advice, experience, or recommendations, share away.

1 comment:

Michael said...


Apparently the new generation of programmable thermostats are touchscreen models that are easier to program. I have seen this one promoted pretty heavily by environmental groups:

I just played with the interactive demo (left-hand side of the web page) and it looks fairly easy to use. There is also a more expensive "Visionpro" line of thermostats that, they say, need to be professionally installed by have more features and a longer warranty.

No personal experience, but we are buying some thermostats for our synagogue soon, so I have been doing some research.


--Michael Fessler