My Sept. 25 missive on this page ("Losing the Thermostat Wars") was met with a barrage of comments. Most notable were those from a distributor, an Environmental Protection Agency employee, one California Energy Commission employee, and a couple of equipment and thermostat manufacturers. In deference to their positions, I'll not identify anyone.

What was notable about their comments? Several things. For one, nobody was mad at me, which is unusual. Second, only one person thought I was an idiot, which does occasionally occur. Upon further review, this no longer qualifies as notable. Third, every one of these people found the plight of programmable thermostats and the Energy Star® labeling program to be quite entertaining. Some were LOL (laughing out loud) in their e-mails.

However, during the process I learned some serious things about exceptions for programmable thermostats from these people:

  • Programmable stats should never be used with radiant heating systems because the recovery time would be too inefficient.

  • Be careful which stat you install on a heat pump. Most manufacturers have special setback devices; using a mismatched thermostat can increase the cost of operating the heat pump.

  • Several studies have shown that programmable thermostats may actually be inefficient.

    One gentleman shared an interesting analogy to support his opinion: "Would you get on the highway, rapidly varying your speed from 45 to 75 mph, and expect to get the optimum fuel efficiency? Why would you think that a temperature swing of up to 15°F in a home would provide energy savings? Depending on the outside temperature, the system could easily cycle wildly as it intermittently satisfied the immediate air space near the thermostat for short periods of time, while taking much longer to warm or cool the entire house and its contents."


    I'm sure many of you already had heard most of the above, but here's something you are not aware of - my programmable thermostat hasn't worked properly for seven years. Well, that isn't entirely true. I'm sure that if I actually programmed the stat, it would work. It did work for the first year I lived in the house. After a year I tired of constantly resetting it because of the frequent power outages in our rural neighborhood. And, my wife and kids always hit the manual override button, negating any perceived savings that we were getting from the setback function. I finally gave up. Frankly, our savings would be quite minimal because our home is only unoccupied for a couple of hours each day, in a very random fashion. (The last phrase was thrown in to ward off common criminals. Not to say that you ...)

    However, I really like the big numbers on the programmable stat; I think that was worth $150.

    Perhaps the fact that many people don't know how or don't care to use their programmable stats properly doesn't mean that the tiny boxes on the wall can't be beneficial. However, it does appear that the results may vary dramatically depending upon factors such as the climate in which one lives, the amount of insulation in the home, the temperature set point, and the rate structure of the local utility.

    Still, one can't help but believe that if energy management systems used in commercial buildings are providing energy savings, a residential programmable thermostat should be able to do the same thing under the right circumstances. Of course, if we all started sleeping at our offices, perhaps that would change things. Soon, there would be studies showing that commercial buildings don't benefit from setbacks and that homes were actually saving more energy because of programmable stats. However, if we all slept at our offices, that could give rise to other problems.

    Regardless, we'll be hearing from the Energy Star program soon.

    In response to one insane person who had the audacity to question my loyalties and Super Bowl expectations for the Green Bay Packers - ‘it ain't over 'til it's over,' - but I will admit that I'm growing a fondness for ‘da Bears and ‘da Colts.

    Publication date: 10/16/2006