Here is the offending thermostat. Check out the mercury switch under the dial! Thank goodness we don't make them the way we used to do.

Our motto at Home Energy, especially today, could be, We Love Houses. We do, and I have to admit to being a little house-proud. I feel good about the simple lifestyle we live at home, and the low amount of energy we use compared to our neighbors. But “pride goes before the fall,” paraphrasing Proverbs 16:18.

Since moving into our home seven years ago, my wife Michele and I have proudly kept our thermostat set in the winter to 68F during the day and 64F at night. I know, it’s not that great given that we live near the coast in Northern California, but it still allowed us to feel superior to our less-virtuous neighbors. It all changed when we decided to swap out our thermostat. My wife noticed that the temperature on our old thermostat didn’t match the temperature on an inside-outside thermometer that we have at home. Turns out we weren’t being so virtuous.

The usual 68F felt a little chilly after the thermostat swap. So we checked it against the freestanding thermometer and found out that when the old thermostat said 68F, it was really 72F. It seemed so easy being an environmental hero before, and now I knew why.

I’m still not quite adjusted to the true temperature and the ego bruising, but our heating bills are down significantly from last year; that sooths my pain. We still very much love our house. And the lesson learned? Pride does go before the fall—in utility bills.

(Check out Alan Meier’s editorial on a shift in the way we think about thermostats in the upcoming, March/April issue of Home Energy. It may not be what you think.)

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Comment by Dennis Heidner on February 21, 2014 at 12:37am


Jim's original blog - was simply about replacing a defective thermostat - realizing that he hadn't verified the correctness of its operation for quite some time - and had was using that as his reference for his discussions.  A reasonably fair discovery and simple reminder on thermostats.

The issue of set backs vs fixed thermoeters is quite different.  Your argument that a fixed setting makes no difference doesn't match data I have collected  (lots of data logging -- perhaps five years of daily gas/electric meter readings, diaries and lots of detailed records)

Nor does your claim match that of Allison Bales Phd, that you named earlier,  or that of Micheal Blasnick.  Their comments on set back thermostats is here:

I have no problem sleeping in hotel rooms when the temps drop below about 67/68 at night.  I can't sleep in 72/73 room... and honestly  most of the year we never heat the house above 69.   And yes I've verified that temperature with numerous K type probes an my Fluke meter.

By the way, the link you suggest people visit is a nice site,  the comfort level is based on ASHRAE research for predicting the probable comfort level of people during the daytime - non sleeping periods.  I can provide the ASHRAE document for how they run those surveys if need be....

Comment by Dennis Heidner on February 20, 2014 at 10:20pm

Ted,  I routinely bring along RH & temp probss.  Its not the humidity.  I understand that.  You are discounting the physiological.. issues.

Sound isn't a problem,  humidity isn't the problem  I use a CPAP with a humidifier... its the room temp.

Try looking at some of the NIH papers...


Comment by Bob Blanchette on February 20, 2014 at 7:28pm

Our equipment is very quiet and the temperature fluctuations are minimal with equipment cycling. During spring/fall when it's cool out at night I like to have the windows open for the breeze.

I will say tedkidd is spot on about smaller equipment being quieter and more comfortable. Well worth giving up the ability to recover from extremes. Still undecided if smaller equipment saves money on utility bills.

Comment by tedkidd on February 20, 2014 at 5:53pm

Dennis, I find Hotels incredibly dry and difficult to sleep in also.  If you'd like to better understand the various drivers of comfort, Robert Bean is one of the people I most admire.

If you want to think it's just about temperature, that's ok.  I get it, I used to think that way too. 

Comment by Dennis Heidner on February 20, 2014 at 5:39pm

If you want to look for some of the medical studies... an easy start is National Institute of Health..

Comment by Dennis Heidner on February 20, 2014 at 5:18pm

Ted,  we have tried leaving the thermostat alone.  Neither my wife or I sleep at night.   When we travel and stay at various hotels... we've made the same observation.  And I have stayed at some multi-star hotels in which you can not hear any HVAC in the room... but there is plenty of ventilation... we still don't sleep.

Bodies adapt to climates.  And while in deep sleep the body temperature drops... lots of medical journal reports and studies on that...  no need to check the ecobee.  It becomes a personal preference.

From national sleep foundation... simple explanation of the sleep process.

Comment by tedkidd on February 20, 2014 at 2:48pm

some of us sleep better at night when the house is cooler.

Let's look into that a bit.  

Because I hear that a lot recently I've been watching a bunch of Ecobee thermostats in client homes, that statement doesn't reconcile the way it used to.  I'm OCD about having statements align, and that no longer reconciles to $0 for me.  I'm starting to think that might be at the least an oversimplification, and possibly more accurately superstitious "flat earth" wives tale.  

False belief widely disseminated in the public psyche that has become "truth unquestioned".  As Building Scientists we see this all the time, right?  

Let's poke at this one and see if better thinking can result...  

Do we sleep better when it's colder?  Or is it that we sleep better when noisy equipment doesn't kick on and off?  Maybe we sleep better when hot dry air isn't blown upon us randomly throughout the night, exacerbating comfort issues that this dryness causes?  

One thing that strikes me is how slowly a good home loses temperature.  Just because you set it to 60 doesn't mean it'll ever get CLOSE to that.  So is the house really colder?  If it does get significantly colder, you've got a great opportunity.  You have a crappy house - fix it.  If the equipment sucks, opportunity.  Get great equipment.  

The other thing that become apparent is if the equipment is oversized, recovery from setback of even a couple degrees ends up being the longest run cycle of the day.  Short running equipment tends to correlate with comfort issues and high energy bills.  

On the reports temperature rise looks like a rocket taking off.  So there is a good chance that part way into recovery that home ends up being more evenly heated and comfortable than that oversized equipment can ever make the house without a long pull.  If there is a humidifier, that long pull might actually deliver significant moisture NOT provided by short cycles.  That's out of whack.  The right furnace cures this need to game comfort.  

So is it "Cold" - or is it something else like noise, humidity, or a comfortable house in the morning when we shower...  All the things we bring into balance when we fix houses.  Take some time to think about it.  

After fixing someone's house I don't think they find it comfortable when it's colder.  If they have setback programed, I see them bump it during setback.  This tells me they are uncomfortable. 

We bring everything into balance.  Make your clients comfortable all the time, and they leave the thermostat alone.  This is when really impressive energy savings occur. 

Comment by Jim Gunshinan on February 20, 2014 at 2:00pm

Very good point Dennis. Houses aren't built to save energy, but to shelter people in comfort, in the most efficient way.

Comment by Dennis Heidner on February 20, 2014 at 1:31am

Maybe I missed it in the thread and response... but there is another reason for setting back the thermostat that is completely independent of any energy savings... some of us sleep better at night when the house is cooler.

Comment by Bob Blanchette on February 19, 2014 at 5:11pm

You have a customer who wants it 72f all the time while they are home, why run the heat while they are at work just so they can run the AC when they get home?

Take a spring day where it's 55f in the morning and 85f in the afternoon. If left at 72 the heat runs until noon, then the sun adds another 4 degrees. Customer gets home and runs AC to bring it back to 72.

If Customer has thermostat set back to 68 when they leave for work at 8am, the house will cool from 72 to 68 in the morning then sun heats the house back up to 72 by time they get home. Customer saved  money not heating OR cooling the house !!

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