Jan 022010

We’re having a new high-efficiency boiler installed in our house. An HVAC contractor is doing most of the work, but over the New Year’s holiday I have been installing thermostat wires so we can be ready when the boiler is ready to go into action.

After three days of studying thermostats on-line, I’m coming to the conclusion that the type of thermostat I had hoped for does not exist. Not even close. What I want is programmable thermostats with good override features. There are programmable thermostats, so-called, and there are override features, but they don’t do what I think we need in order to save energy.

Some explanation: For the past 30 years we have lived in an old farmhouse without central heat. Our main heat has been a wood stove in our dining-room/kitchen that is strictly radiant. No forced air. We burn 10-12 face cords of hardwood in it each year. Also, our electric bill also goes up in winter because we use radiant space-heaters in certain other rooms on an as-needed basis, as well as a couple of electric heaters with fans in the bathrooms for extra-quick heat when it’s needed.

We really like the warmth of the wood stove and don’t plan to give it up. It’s the central gathering point in the house. But we have also been getting tired of tending the stove in the middle of the night. It’s a small one that can’t hold a fire all night in cold weather. If we let the fire go out at night, it takes too long to get the house warm enough in the morning to be comfortable again. There usually comes a time in February when the constant getting up to tend the fire once or twice in the middle of the night starts to wear on me, and I feel an overall loss of energy.

We also don’t like the fact that it’s hard to go anywhere in January or February, because someone needs to be home to tend the stove. When we do go away for extended periods in winter, we drain the water from the pipes, add a little RV-type antifreeze to the toilet bowls and drains, and drain the electric hot water heater. It’s not a big deal, but when we return, it’s a while before we have hot water again, and it typically takes two days to get the house back to a comfortable temperature and no longer need to huddle around the wood stove.

So it’s time to re-join the modern age of central heat. We’ve also built a new addition with a two-car garage for our one little car, and about 240 sq feet of sun-room, entryway, or breezeway, depending on what we’re calling it at the moment, and 240 feet of workshop/office rooms for me in the back of the garage. Some might call that a man-cave. I’ve put pex tubing in the floors of these two rooms for radiant floor heat.

So now we’re having a modulating, high-efficiency boiler installed that will produce low-temperature water for these concrete floors and higher-temperature water for baseboard and panel radiant heat. There are seven heating zones, two for future use when more remodeling gets done, and five for right now.

We’ll take the tax credit for the boiler, and I’ll rebate some of it to help elect people to Congress who vote against such credits. Congress should be encouraging energy conservation through net-zero carbon taxes, not through tax credits.

For now I have five zones, each of which needs a thermostat. The programmable thermostats that are available will probably work OK for a couple of the zones, though even there it would be good to have something better.

Here’s what I want: I’d like a thermostat on which I can program a base schedule of cool temperatures during sleep hours and higher temperatures when we’re likely to be up and about. Whether it’s the same program each day, or a 5-2 or 5-1-1 schedule doesn’t matter a lot in our case. But for some of the rooms even the “higher” base temperature for early evening hours would be a relatively cool temperature, because we don’t use those rooms a lot. I’d like to be able to specify and store even higher temperature setting for when we’re actually using the room, which will be on a very irregular basis. When we want to use the room I want to go up to the thermostat and do something like we do on our microwave: Tell it we want the high temperature for the next 3 hours, or 4 hours, or whatever.

The problem with most of the so-called override features is that you can press buttons repeatedly to select a higher temperature, which will stay in effect until the next change-point on the schedule is reached. But I don’t want that. I want to press one button to specify the pre-specified temperature, and I want it to stay in effect until the specified time period has passed, at which point it can revert to its regular schedule.

One can do analogous things with microwave timers, so why not with house thermostats?

(I realize the radiant floor heat will not be nearly as responsive as what I’m talking about above. But that’s just one zone.)

But I’d also like to be able to go to the thermostat, and with a very minimum of button-pushing specify three things: 1) I want the high-temperature override. 2) I want it to begin in 2 hours, or at 6pm, or whatever. 3) I want the duration to be X hours.

I have not been able to find a thermostat that would give me that kind of control. Without that, I’m afraid we’re going to do a lot of unnecessary heating, or else we’ll just shut off certain zones for extended periods of time and not have the full benefit of our expensive new heating system.

We don’t have air conditioning, or a complicated two-stage heating system. A lot of thermostats have features to deal with that, but those are unnecessary for us. What I’d like is a simple programmable thermostat that is truly programmable. I now suspect that such a thing does not exist. The existing ones seem to be designed by a bunch of lemmings who just follow each other, and who abuse the words “programmable” and “override.”

I’d even be willing to forget the programmable feature, and (for some of the rooms) have a thermostat with two buttons. One button would be for the pre-set cool temperature, and one for the pre-set high temperature. But not even that is available. With the non-programmable thermostats, you now have to push a button 15 times to go from 55 degrees to 70 degrees or vice versa. That’s a step backward (actually, 14 steps backward) from the old dial thermostats that used to be available.

Jan 022010

I figure it’s the sound of somebody’s ox being gored.

But one commenter says that anytime he sees someone telling us to be civil, he grabs his copy of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

There’s no reason both couldn’t apply when the founder of Wikipedia starts lecturing on the topic in the WSJ: Keep a Civil Cybertongue: Rude and abusive online behavior should not be met with silence.

It figures. Wikipedia has become increasingly authoritarian and less democratic of late, but not necessarily more accurate.

And you’d be right if you’re guessing that the authors of the above article don’t say a word about the rude and abusive behavior that Wikipedia is accused of engaging in by James Delingpole in his article, Climategate: the corruption of Wikipedia.