Alexa, turn up the heat
My 2018 foray into the "Internet of Things" (IoT) was running full steam by the time November rolled around. Echo Dots discretely decorated the table tops in many rooms. Lights glowing with soft ambiance and subtle color came on and off with my voice commands. I sat at the bar enjoying a dram of smoky, 16-year-old Lagavulin when I realized there was a slight coolness in the autumn air.
I eyed the thermostat located a distant 20 feet from me on the wall. The ancient Honeywell control box seemed uncomfortably far away from where I sat. I knew that asking Alexa to turn up the temperature would produce the inevitable response, "I'm sorry, but I don't know how to do that." I was clearly missing out on part of our brave new world of smart homes.
I reached out and dragged a laptop computer from the corner of the bar, flipped open the top, and googled "smart thermostat reviews." Ecobee, Nest, Lux, and Bosch, everyone seemed to be in on this bit of consumer action. Even Honeywell was vying for my attention. Ten to fifteen percent energy savings was the general claim being made for a switch to smart technology.
After nine months in the home technology trenches, I was not a rookie anymore. I applied my main filter to the problem and only looked at devices that collaborated with Apple HomeKit, Siri and Alexa. Google Assistant was a plus but not a necessity. That narrowed it to three out of PC Magazine's top seven models.
Since I was on a research roll, I reasoned that it would be wise to see what other people thought about must-have features in a smart thermostat. You have probably already determined that my top criterion was not moving from the bar when I needed a temperature adjustment.
The Nest Learning Thermostat follows your daily activity for a while and teaches itself when to turn the temperature up or down. Sort of cool, but a little creepy to be stalked by a thermostat. I was also interested in the motion detector functions that allowed most models to automatically bring the room to a perfect temperature balance when you walked in. A bit more like a butler than a stalker.
Ecobee would let me have an extra wireless sensor to put in a separate part of the house from the thermostat. This setup promotes even heating throughout multiple rooms and is an excellent feature to avoid keeping a wool sweater in your office.
I learned that some models have geofencing to track your location when you are away from home, turn down the temperature when you depart the house, and turn it back up when you are detected coming home. Again, too much like stalking for me.
I finally decided on the Ecobee thermostats. The Ecboee4 model conveniently has Alexa built into the thermostat for us sad individuals who like speaking directly to our appliances. My sense of efficiency was soothed by the fact that I could move some of my Echo Dots to alternative locations after replacing them with the thermostat.
A quick trip to Best Buy left me as the proud owner of two Ecobee4 devices and one Ecobee3 Lite. The Ecobee4's each had remote sensors to help me achieve that perfect temperature throughout the house. "Balancing cost and comfort" was my motto of the day.
I had been careful to determine beforehand that my existing thermostats had the necessary "c" wire, which is required for easy installation and eliminates the need to install a power extender kit in each furnace.
Out with the old and in with the new, my installation seemed to be running like clockwork. Success was elusive though, and the sleek touchscreen on the device remained black and cold. The real work began when I opened up the front of my furnace and stared at a set of unfamiliar circuit boards and wires. After some experimentation and the initial disappointing realization that I was working on the wrong furnace, I got my bearings straight.
It is true that the old thermostats were wired with the "c" wire, but it turned out that the wire was not actually connected to the furnace controls. I was forced to pull up YouTube and watch multiple videos on how to not electrocute myself or blow myself up when working on a furnace. After several false starts and a significant dent in my time schedule, I was able to successfully install the "power extender kit" and like magic, the digital display of the Ecobee came to life.
The Real Deal
I was feeling good with three thermostats installed, walls touched up with paint, and no injuries to speak of. I used the Ecobee app to program the thermostats for maximum energy efficiency. I was three hours behind schedule, and the yardarm was at five, so I sat at the bar and said, "Alexa, set the pub temperature to 70 degrees." The furnace kicked in, and the fans began to hum.
I retired that night thinking about the efficiency and energy savings of the new system. I awoke the next morning to confusion. The room was too warm. In fact, the entire house was too warm. All the thermostats sat at a steady 71 degrees. I reviewed the programming on my phone, and all seemed to be in order.
It wasn't until breakfast that the root of the problem revealed itself. It seems that the ease of simply sliding your finger along the edge of the display to set a new temperature was too tempting for my wife and daughters, and 71 degrees seemed a reasonable enough comfort level to them. Of course, this was precisely the philosophy that had been employed with the old Honeywell devices. Energy efficiency appeared to be fading over the horizon.
After some soul searching and research, I found the settings to make all temperature changes temporary and force the thermostats back to my master plan after two hours. I reset the system and decided that this type of information was best kept to myself. Plausible deniability would be my strategy next time the subject came up. My wonderful wife and daughters could change the temperature as their hearts desired, but the system would cleverly revert
to my maximum efficiency program after
several hours, when their attention was diverted. New technology can definitely have its charms.