Why are thermostats like a VCR?

Actually, I don’t have an answer. For some reason thermostats still seem to follow a 1980s user paradigm. There are days where a simple T-50 (you know, the round thermostat) model would work tremendously better. I needed to change my thermostat settings, first to deal with the newer insulation and windows, and second to deal with out of town situations. Both changes require setting the “program” for multiple days.

My thermostat is powered by the 24VAC provided by the HVAC system and doesn’t use a battery backup. That’s pretty typical. But, it means that there isn’t an “armchair” programming mode, and that means I need to stand in front of the device running through an arcane sequence of key presses. Sure, after three or four cycles, assuming I want every day to be just like every other day (and I don’t, weekends are clearly different, but so are a few of the week days), my fingers get into a groove and I can just press Next Day, Program, Copy, Save. However, those buttons are in a criss cross pattern – a big X – and it’s unnatural feeling to press them given their placement. And if that groove gets interrupted, all bets are off.

There are days where I’m convinced I’m going to walk by the thermostat and see it flashing 12:00 at me in warm LED red. Really. I’m convinced of it. For those of you too young to remember VCRs, before DVD, before TiVo, before DVR, they were devices capable of recording your favorite TV shows as long as your either had a Ph.D in VCR programming or were sitting in front of the TV and pressed the Record button right when you were ready.

It wasn’t a pretty picture. And because it wasn’t a pretty picture, nobody could ever figure out how to set the clocks, so they always flashed 12:00. (And if you can’t figure out how to set the clock, you certainly can’t tell it to record Sunday’s football game.)

Yeah, I know, I can buy a remotely controlled thermostat, or one of those “armchair” models that lets me take the thing off the wall and program it from the comfort of my favorite chair (in better light, with a martini in hand). But, the remote control versions are really expensive or have some weird requirement to install software on my PC or take a “programming remote control” over to that same armchair. If the experience wasn’t so horrible the armchair model wouldn’t be bad, but it just moves the discomfort from the hallway to the chair. I would still need to do the criss cross thing.

I want to make my house comfortable, I want to save money, and I want to save the planet by using less energy. My thermostat has a big sticker on the box that says it’ll do that for me. I don’t believe it right now.

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