Sunday, May 27, 2007

More Geekery in Response to the A/C Going Haywire

I've probably been having problems with my thermostat for a while but didn't realize it until yesterday when I was being a nasty bitch and making sarcastic comments about using a thermometer to check the room temperature -- and I turned out to be right.

The thermostat is a contentious issue around here; I've been threatening to buy a thermostat lock box because I am ALWAYS cold.

I can tolerate being cold in the winter. Saves money, saves the Earth*, blah blah blah. But there is no reason for me to be cold inside when it's warm out. And I was freezing. I had closed all the a/c vents anywhere near me and then covered them with calculus books and whatnot. And I was not swayed by arguments that the thermostat said that it was 74 in here.

So a thermometer was consulted: 68 degrees! Brrrr!!!! Seems that when you set the thermostat to a new temperature, it will wait until it's over that temperature to turn on the a/c, but then it will never turn it off! So the cold spirals out of control, and the thermostat thinks that it's still warm in the house. And I end up spending a lot of time on the porch because I have to go outside to get warm.

Now the question is what type of thermostat to get.

I don't see this as an annoying home repair; I see this as a chance to buy a new gadget. Now, the old (broken) thermostat that came with the house was a bit of a gadget itself, allowing you to separately program heat and a/c for all seven days of the week. And, yet, all I ever used was the "hold" function. I know, since I have an uninsulated house I should probably have tried to anticipate when the house was going to be empty during the day and turned down the heat then. It costs over $300 a month to heat this house in the winter. 1400 square feet. And I live the sort of place where the forecast of 1/2" of snow is enough to close schools (not the actual snow -- just the forecast!).

And then I was browsing Home Depot and Lowe's, I saw an RF thermostat. You mount the part with the actual switch in it on the wall where the wires come up from the heat and a/c, but the actual controls that you fuss with (and the thermometer) are in a separate piece that communicates with the switch by RF.

And that started my quest.

Do they make thermostats that work via Bluetooth? Thermostats that would communicate with my wireless network?

While neither of those turned up, I did find an IP thermostat, but you had to run ethernet cable to it. And all manner of sites devoted to home automation. Hardware that detects motion and the opening of doors. And software that can receive those signals and in response turn on the lights when it senses that you've come home. The ability to write an AppleScript that will send you an email if someone comes on to your porch. Quiet alarm clock features that will use dimmer switches to slowly bring up the light level in your bedroom in the morning. Forget trying to find a RFC2324 compliant coffee maker so that emacs can make coffee -- with home automation, you can retrofit most coffee makers to do your bidding.

But none of this solves the problem of the thermostat, and I've resolved to stop spending money on frivolous things. And I've stopped drinking coffee.

So I will probably go to HD or Lowe's today and buy a boring, normal-people thermostat that would be sadly out of place on The Jetsons, and I'll try to install it on Monday. If things are still going badly on Tuesday, I'll have to call an HVAC contractor.

*I'm not one for environmental arguments phrased as "save the Earth." What people really mean is, "Keep Earth as a relatively comfortable place for people to live." My hunch is that no matter what people do, this hunk of rock is going to keep spinning around the sun for a long, long time. If we go extinct, there are plenty of insects who won't even notice.