Building a Better Thermostat

December 13, 2010
Bill Stribling

Thanks, Mike Murphy, for the recent column on thermostats [“Technology Went Too Far This Time,” Nov. 1, 2010]. You have just touched my hot button. In the editorial, the wrong question is being asked: “… Who in their right mind would want to jazz up something as boring as a thermostat on the wall?” I think it should be more appropriately rephrased as: “Who in their right mind would want something as boring as a thermostat on the wall?”

Think about it - prime space is being devoted to something that constantly displays a number. It’s not pretty, is seldom monitored and, in many instances, it is only touched two times a year when switched from heat to cool and back. Most of the time the number is wrong and, if you think about it, irrelevant. What does it matter if the number is 75 or 95? The real question is: Am I comfortable?

A big problem is most thermostats are designed and built by engineers but used by women and men who are less technical and more intuitive. Ask your spouse what he or she thinks about your thermostat at home.

As an industry, we seem oblivious to the importance of, and thus the potential for, the thermostat. By far the greatest single complaint of customers is: “Something is wrong with my thermostat.” What they really mean is: “I’m hot/cold and can’t communicate with my system; it won’t listen.”

The old thermostat joke is telling and true. A customer responding to the service rep question “What brand of equipment do you have?” says, “Just a minute, let me look. It’s Honeywell.” Ha ha. We all know Honeywell doesn’t make equipment; our customer is way off base.

The real joke is on those who do not understand that the thermostat is the most visible and personal connection that homeowners have to their systems. In recognition of its importance, how many of us put our company logo and phone number on the thermostat?

Let’s use this knowledge to design something better. The perfect thermostat will measure 8½ by 11 inches and fits any picture frame the customer chooses. Upon being touched, it back lights and displays all the important information we’ve come to expect. It will occasionally beep, override the background, and light a display if the filter needs changing (due to measured airflow, not the passage of time), show the diagnostic information available from the furnace or outdoor unit, or any other information the homeowner needs to know. It will also call our office with the same information, allowing us to alert the customer to a problem they may not even know they have.

During the other 364 days, 23 hours, and 55 minutes of the year, it shows what the customer wants to see - uploaded family pictures, digital art, or maybe just a color that matches and blends perfectly into the wall. Placement will no longer be a contentious issue, with customers wondering, “How can we hide this thing,” but rather an opportunity to further please homeowners with our caring nature and understanding of their needs.

Talk about an easy sale and a way to cement the contractor-homeowner relationship - this is a no-brainer.

Publication date: 12/13/2010
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