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how thermostats work

I mentioned to someone that our house was awfully cold this week but we were powering through it on principle. The last week of April, we had a string of really hot humid days, so we caved and turned on the air conditioner for the first time. We tried just opening lots of windows but were generally miserable and we knew we had a party and houseguests coming so might as well make the switch, no point in making them all sweaty.

Then the next week the temperature dropped into the 40-60°f range and things cooled off FAST, you'd wake up in the morning and the house was 63. But with the forecast calling for 80s a few days later, I was not going to flip the heat on. We got the sweaters out. Our meal ideas all involved some long baking times.

Talking to friends I got a lot of "oh you're not part of the modern world?" type comments about my week. Most people have thermostats now that do the heat/AC flipping for them. If you want your house constantly between 68-73, it'll do it... heat in the morning! AC in the afternoon! Just always using whatever energy it takes, never taking advantage of what nature is doing, never being aware of the fact that tomorrow's forecast will call for AC so why not cut back on the heat, let the house get colder to prepare for it? Everyone just rolled their eyes at me for not figuring this out and for my house not being "smart".

I was proud of us for suffering through a few days with blankets and sweaters, in the name of energy efficiency and thriftiness... apparently that is not a source of pride if you've got technology.

So I guess I won't talk about my old house temperature woes since it gets me laughed at. And I won't talk about my gas or electric bill being close to nothing this month, most people just auto-pay that so who cares anyway.

I am curious to know if there are smart thermostats that are really MY kind of smart, that can anticipate the craziness of a Kansas springtime and open up the temperature variation in response to the forecast? If it's going to be 110 out, cool extra in the morning to prepare. If it's 50 today but 80 tomorrow, don't heat to 68? Smart thermostats for very cheap people, that do more than just hold to a single range for all seasons. I'd invent it but something tells me it wouldn't sell at all... people would complain. They would have to be uncomfortable sometimes.

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( 23 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 4th, 2016 03:07 pm (UTC)
We don't have an AC so one half of the equation is solved for us.. and we primarily heat with wood, so we *have* to think ahead. Although I do have to admit that at this time of year, when we don't need to bring the temperature up from, say, 20F but only from 50F, we do use the furnace at times, if it's going to stay coolish all day. If it's going to warm up, it's spend the morning wearing a knitted hat time!
May. 4th, 2016 03:09 pm (UTC)
I don't even HAVE central AC! We have a few expensive wall units (basically window units, but the $400 good quality versions). They are certainly not even attached to a thermostat. LOL

Old houses...
May. 4th, 2016 03:33 pm (UTC)
There's no A/C anywhere in England. Not even in hospitals. Like, when I had my baby in July I had to open a window because I was too hot! Presumably they have it in the OR though.

Anyway, Nest is a smart thermostat that learns your patterns. It also has access to the internet and has forecast data. I'm not sure its learning algorithm is good enough use the forecast data as part of its input, but it's possible!
May. 4th, 2016 03:39 pm (UTC)
There was AC in the shop I worked in as a teen, I hated it - always cold, nasty dry air... I turn the wretched things off wherever I encounter them if I can (pricey hotels tend to have AC too, at least in cities). But of course England is rarely especially hot, so AC is less useful.

Our house doesn't even have a thermostat, which some people (my Mum) refuse to believe... we turn the heating on when we want it and off when we don't. But I'm a bad environmentalist because I haaaaaate cold, so the house is usually warm and snuggly (if I had it to myself it would be 25 whenever I was in)
May. 4th, 2016 03:35 pm (UTC)
I think our thermostats will both set the temperature to whatever you want it to be for them to kick on...so if you want to set the AC temp to 80 and the heat to 60, you could do that, and then it just wouldn't turn anything on if the temperature is between those ranges. (We have a thermostat upstairs and one downstairs since we have two units.)
May. 4th, 2016 03:51 pm (UTC)
I live in Texas so I know all about off and on weather. It will be 40 and 80 all in the same day. Last week we had sunshine, then storms, then tornadoes and back to sunny all in one day. lol. I too am thrifty with our electricity. I try to keep windows open as often as possible. I have ceiling fans in every room. We have a thermostat and still sometimes I will shut off the vents in one room and leave the door shut to save money. I don't understand people laughing at you because your house isn't 'smart'. Those things cost money!!!!
May. 4th, 2016 04:51 pm (UTC)
lol... I am with you!

The other day, we complained to management to get the screen on our window fixed. They couldn't figure out what screen we were referring to, because apparently we are the only ones in the building that opens windows??
May. 4th, 2016 04:53 pm (UTC)
My house is 116 years old with hot water heat, so AC is not even an option for us. I'm in Central New York where temperature range is -20F to 100F depending on the time of year. However, even in the summer I get complimented on how cool I manage to keep my old house. I do have modern windows which helps, I simply open the house up when it gets cool in the evening and close it up tight and dark in the morning before it gets hot. Unfortunately it does tend on the cold side in the great room in the winter, but we have an electric fireplace to cover the difference.
May. 4th, 2016 05:58 pm (UTC)
As I was talking to you on Twitter about, we do have a smart thermometer. You could totally set it for a range of 50-80 if that would make you happy. Since ours is hooked up to the internet and shows us the outside temperature, I'm wondering if it could be predictive. Why not write to the companies and suggest it as a feature.

I don't know about our electricity costs, as we've only had it for a few months. I do know that I like not having to worry about if the house is on heat or cold when it's 40 in the morning and 80 in the afternoon. I also like that I can make adjustments from my phone if needed. Once step closer to living in a Star Trek house. :)
May. 4th, 2016 08:53 pm (UTC)
Oh hey! This post was totally not directed at only you I promise!

I am not normally happy with a 60-80 degree range, if it's going to be 50 degrees for the next three months and heat is ON I'm not willing to live with months of being cold... I'd set my bottom temp at 68. But if the forecast will be 80 next week it can be colder to avoid flipping back and forth - that's the thing that seems really inefficient. I could use nature if I just hold out one more day! Really, I'm just not happy with the idea of a thermostat doing any flipping for me, the change should be concious, I think. Unless the thermostat is REALLY smart and thinks like me.

But to each their own, I'm not saying there's a right or wrong way to do it, I'm just really cheap.
May. 4th, 2016 06:08 pm (UTC)
I bet if it doesn't exist (it probably does) you could program a little raspberry pi to do it.... ;)
May. 4th, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
I don't use AC at all; I prefer to cool the apartment by opening and closing windows at various parts of the day to make use of changing temperatures from outside. I hate the cold, so I am more liberal with the heating during winter, but I try to conserve. Same with water and electricity. I hate it when people have lights on during the day when it's already bright out. Just open your blinds; there's more than enough light! Is it really such a radical idea to make use of one's environment?
May. 4th, 2016 06:43 pm (UTC)
Some people just love climate control. My husband is the type who keeps the heater on until the day he switches the AC on, and vice versa. I prefer programmable thermostat set to unpleasant extremes. No heat overnight until it's 62 inside (or until 5AM) or no AC until it's 85 inside (or an hour before bedtime).
May. 4th, 2016 08:04 pm (UTC)
I applaud you.

A smart house for temperature control would not only need to know about the weather to make the decisions you made, but also know when to raise and lower blinds as well as open and close windows, turn on and off fans.

May. 4th, 2016 08:54 pm (UTC)
oh I hate it when people leave fans on when they're not in the room.
May. 4th, 2016 09:16 pm (UTC)
When I was growing up, our house had a single window-unit air conditioner in the kitchen. If it was hot enough, we'd all sit in there. Otherwise, my mother had an entire summer regimen of window opening, shade deployment, window closing and electric fans: in the early morning, she'd open all the windows and put a box fan in them to draw out the warm air from the night and suck in the cool morning air. Then she'd pull down the shades on the side of the house that got the morning sun. At some intuitively-known point in the day, she'd close all the windows to trap the cooler air inside, pull down all the shades and move the fans to circulate the air. In the evening, when it was cooler outside, she'd open the windows again.

Of course, this was dependent on her being home all day, which she often was.

That being said, when Toby and I moved to Virginia, I declared that no one really needed air conditioning; they were just used to it. I felt that way until I ran a family day care and then I saw how huge a difference it made to cool the house off when tempers were frayed and everyone was sweaty. It sure made me wonder about all those Civil War ladies in their petticoats and chemises. They must have been pretty ripe.I'm not sure people ever get used to being too hot.
May. 4th, 2016 09:49 pm (UTC)
I'm dumb like you, and I save a lot of money every spring and again every fall. I love those days when we don't need nuthin'.

I'm going to do a whole post on the really clever idea our electric utility came up with that saves us and them $$ all summer. FanSee
May. 4th, 2016 10:51 pm (UTC)
I feel like what you want is something that lets you set an acceptable temperature range: not above this, not below this. Probably variable by times. I like it cold at night for sleeping, but not so much during the day.

I've been thinking about some of the super smart thermostats for reasons like this, and because apparently you can control when heat pumps decide to stop being heat pumps and instead use the insanely inefficient 'auxillary heat'.

I'm with you on adapting to temperatures and conserving both energy and money!
May. 4th, 2016 10:59 pm (UTC)
You are not alone. My thermostat controls only the heat, and I keep that at 65F. (I turn it down as low as it will go if I'm leaving town -- about 50F.)

When it gets too warm, I have room air conditioners that are turned on as needed, and turned off when there is nobody in them.

Man, I wish my oil and electric bills were next to nothing. I pay through the nose no matter what.
May. 5th, 2016 12:57 am (UTC)
my mom has a heating / cooling thing in here house and its noisy as shit. I hate it when I go there. yes it keeps the temp reasonable since she lives in a desert but fuck trying to sleep with it clicking on and off all night.
May. 6th, 2016 03:53 am (UTC)
haha, you sound like my dad ;) My mom gets too cold to abide by that sort of behavior any more, though.

As for me, I live in a coastal paradise. We have 1 space heater, windows, and 4 fans.
May. 6th, 2016 03:54 am (UTC)
Sometimes around september I start wishing we had an actual air conditioner, but there's plenty of businesses that will give me their chilly air in exchange for money.
May. 7th, 2016 11:52 am (UTC)
The Nest (smart thermostat but crazy expensive to buy) learns from your patterns instead of setting a range. It also has motion detectors so it knows when no one is home and auto sets into away mode.

But I'm pretty sure it couldn't "learn" that you let it get cooler/hotter if there's a weather change coming soon. On the other hand it does learn how long it takes your systems to get to a certain temperature so it plans ahead.

It's been proven to be more efficient than the "typical" programmable/smart thermostat, but probably not as much as a motivated human being, I bet.
( 23 comments — Leave a comment )

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