December, 2008

  • Michaeljon Miller

    Why are thermostats like a VCR?


    Actually, I don’t have an answer. For some reason thermostats still seem to follow a 1980s user paradigm. There are days where a simple T-50 (you know, the round thermostat) model would work tremendously better. I needed to change my thermostat settings, first to deal with the newer insulation and windows, and second to deal with out of town situations. Both changes require setting the “program” for multiple days.

    My thermostat is powered by the 24VAC provided by the HVAC system and doesn’t use a battery backup. That’s pretty typical. But, it means that there isn’t an “armchair” programming mode, and that means I need to stand in front of the device running through an arcane sequence of key presses. Sure, after three or four cycles, assuming I want every day to be just like every other day (and I don’t, weekends are clearly different, but so are a few of the week days), my fingers get into a groove and I can just press Next Day, Program, Copy, Save. However, those buttons are in a criss cross pattern – a big X – and it’s unnatural feeling to press them given their placement. And if that groove gets interrupted, all bets are off.

    There are days where I’m convinced I’m going to walk by the thermostat and see it flashing 12:00 at me in warm LED red. Really. I’m convinced of it. For those of you too young to remember VCRs, before DVD, before TiVo, before DVR, they were devices capable of recording your favorite TV shows as long as your either had a Ph.D in VCR programming or were sitting in front of the TV and pressed the Record button right when you were ready.

    It wasn’t a pretty picture. And because it wasn’t a pretty picture, nobody could ever figure out how to set the clocks, so they always flashed 12:00. (And if you can’t figure out how to set the clock, you certainly can’t tell it to record Sunday’s football game.)

    Yeah, I know, I can buy a remotely controlled thermostat, or one of those “armchair” models that lets me take the thing off the wall and program it from the comfort of my favorite chair (in better light, with a martini in hand). But, the remote control versions are really expensive or have some weird requirement to install software on my PC or take a “programming remote control” over to that same armchair. If the experience wasn’t so horrible the armchair model wouldn’t be bad, but it just moves the discomfort from the hallway to the chair. I would still need to do the criss cross thing.

    I want to make my house comfortable, I want to save money, and I want to save the planet by using less energy. My thermostat has a big sticker on the box that says it’ll do that for me. I don’t believe it right now.

  • Michaeljon Miller

    Temperature inversion


    Well, turns out doing a bunch of home “tightening” has some interesting effects on the climate in the house (and helped locate a few external leaks that were missed). My house is what’s called a tri-level. That is you enter on the main floor which has all the common living spaces, and can go up or down a half-flight of stairs to the bedrooms / office area or to the media room. Well, the rooms that used to be cold (defying logic and physics) were the upstairs (warm air is supposed to rise, right?) are now the warm rooms, and vice versa. So now the office and bedrooms upstairs are almost uncomfortably warm when the downstairs rooms are at a comfy 68°F. Turns out that the thermostat in our house is located near the stairs, but on the main floor. So, the main floor follows all the rules and seems cold when you walk down to it.

    Sounds like it’s time to revisit the air return ducts (one at the top of the stairs and one downstairs in the media room) to see if they can be tweaked to move the right air at the right time. Or, time to figure out how to tweak the thermostat so it does the right thing. And no, my house is too small to have multiple zones (trust me, it’s small for the area, and small in general).

    By the way, those external leaks were places where the old cable TV lines were pulled into rooms, but the siding wasn’t replaced during remodels we’ve been doing. There was an actual paper-moving draft in my kitchen a few days ago coming from between two upper cabinets. Yup, there was a hole on the outside wall right behind that. I still don’t know where the path is, but plugging the source helped.

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