Social presuppositions in a thermostat

I just bought a dauntingly complicated fancy-pants touch screen thermostat for our house.  But Honeywell has encoded so many social presuppositions (into a thermostat!) that I can’t believe they’re able to sell them.

The device assumes that you have a regular daily schedule with wake up times, departure times, return times, and sleep times. It lets you adjust those times and the heating/cooling temperatures that you want for the different times.

For simplicity, it comes programmed with all of the temperatures and times preset, which is a nice feature — if you don’t do anything, it will work like its supposed to, more or less, out of the box. So, for example, it turns on the air conditioning before you get home from work but turns it down after you go to sleep and then back up when you wake up and down again when you leave the house for the day.

But that’s not how I live my life. I work from home so my idea of a ‘regular daily schedule’ is a bit different than this thermostat; I don’t come home at 6:30pm, toss my hat onto the hat rack, and expect that the house will have been pre-cooled, or warmed, by my charming stay-at-home thermostat.

And anyway, in our house, the thermostat only controls a couple of rooms — our television/play room and a guest bedroom. When my father-in-law is visiting, for example, I want to make sure that the rooms are always at a comfortable temperature for him. But when he’s not there, I want to save as much energy as possible. Except when we are there watching TV. Nothing about waking up and leaving the house. Nothing about different days of the week. Those variables are comparitively unimportant to us. Perhaps months would be more useful variables — then we could adjust the temperature settings based on the season of the year.

I understand the value of a ‘regular daily schedule’ mode, but I can’t believe that its the only available mode.

For me, I’d like to be able to set up a mode with three or four states which I could reach via buttons on the touch screen; a default “econ” state with energy-saving settings, a “present” state with more comfortable temperature settings again regardless of the time of day (although it would be nice for this state to revert to “econ” after a period of time), a “guest” state with the temperature constantly set to maximum comfort regardless of the time of day, and perhaps a “vacation” state with extreme energy-saving settings.

That way, the thermometer would map much more closely to the way we live our lives.  Those rooms would be set to “econ” unless we hit a button to change it: if we go on vacation, or we have visitors, or if we’re going to be watching television for a while.

Another mode, also indifferent to days of the week, might make decisions about heating/cooling based on outside temperature and the cost of electricity — we now have a smart electric meter which transmits consumption data hourly and it would be nice to get cost info back from the utility to make smart decisions about consumption, especially during summertime peaks.

But I imagine that other people would have entirely different modes that they would need for their lives and their homes.

2 thoughts on “Social presuppositions in a thermostat

  1. Or how about a thermostat you can control with your phone. If you are approaching home after 6 PM (easy to determine with GPS), it can start up the heating/cooling as needed.

    I agree with you. It’s time for a smarter thermostat.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I have the exact same model and had a very similar reaction.

    The weekends are even weirder to me. “dad, why is it so cold?” “I’m sorry honey, I promised the thermostat we would leave by now.”

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