Why The Thermostat’s Wrong

Thermostats are a great technology in principal. They automate a simple issue: if cold, turn on the heater. Before thermostats, someone would have to either stoke a fire or open a valve for hot water to flow. By comparison, any automation should seam brilliant, but there is a slight flaw.   Single Point of Reference In most homes and even small businesses, there’s a single thermostat, and it measures the temperature in a single place. Even in a smaller home, this can lead to drastically different temperatures across the building. Typically a thermostat’s in the center of the building to get the best ‘average’ temperature. This average however, is almost never correct. In the case of my own home, we can actually measure the temperature difference between rooms. My room is the second on the heating loop, and consequently has some of the hottest water delivered to it, the most available energy. By the time this water has reached the kitchen and living room at the end of the loop, the water’s significantly cooled, resulting in a potentially 10 degree temperature difference. These differences can be exacerbated by design flaws. The bedrooms in this house, for example, have base boards that are about half the circumference of the rooms. This allows for a ton of heat to be left in these rooms. The living areas of this house however, have a much, much lower ratio. Those baseboards are only able […]

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Glas’s Growing Pains

The smart thermostat market is a crowded, complex mess of competing designs, features, and ideas. Some designers are integrating popular assistant tools like Alexa. Some are integrating with smart home standards like Z-wave to expand their ecosystem. There’s some out there that are just trying to enter the market before it becomes too crowded, regardless of how ready they are to do it.   Johnson’s Glas Last spring, Johnson Controls released a new smart thermostat of their own: Glas. They created a cool, futuristic design. There’s a transparent screen, support for multiple assistants, and a rare sensor in these thermostats: an air quality sensor. On paper, this sounds like a winner in the smart thermostat market, but there’s a catch: the software’s not quite perfect yet. Johnson has managed to put out the hardware of a really cool device, but it’s real promise is in the future, the features yet to come. Right now, reviewers and customers alike have come across some short comings we all hope Johnson will address in software updates in the months to come. Users have complained about the lack of support for remote sensors, the lack of custom events, and other shortcomings in just how much of their smart thermostat they can control. We’ve already seen over the past few months some improvements. Customers’ complaints have gone from the thermostat having bugs or being slow, to a desire for new features instead. The good news […]

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A 30 Year Old Smart Thermostat

We’re in an era of cheap, affordable, and common smart thermostats. You can walk into near any sort of hardware store and pick up a thermostat that thinks about the temperature in your building rather than merely following a program. The thing is though, the common, consumer technology we have today started life as advanced, expensive, and complex industrial hardware decades ago. The Grand Rapids Amiga The Grand Rapids Public School System used a Commodore Amiga 2000 to power their HVAC System for just about 30 years straight. This system was set up around 1985 or so when it was considered cutting edge. At the time, a cell phone probably weighed a good 20 pounds, a powerful computer might run at 7 megahertz (the first iphone was about 80 times faster than an Amiga 2000), and airbags were over a decade away from being mandatory in cars. This begs the question: how could such a system ever work? Like any computer today, the Amiga just had to be programmed. It had a special radio transmitter/receiver which would communicate with each of the district’s buildings’ HVAC equipment. It received sensor data and transmitted when to turn the heating or cooling on or off.  It was just like a modern thermostat, but in a bigger, more power-hungry package. What we find particularly incredible is that this system was built by one of the district’s students. Anyone can learn programming, plenty of people […]

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Multizone System: With Voice Control

We’re getting closer and closer to the day when I can walk into my office and say “Computer, Tea, Earl Grey, Hot. And crank up the AC.” While researching for our recent series on Multi Zone systems, we came across an interesting press release: Honeywell’s Smart Thermostats can work with multi-zone systems and they can integrate with Google Home, Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit, Samsung Smart Things, and the ever-popular If This Then That (IFTTT). This is a pretty incredible idea for us, mainly because it’s been in Sci-Fi since the 80’s and it’s finally becoming part of our day to day lives. The possibilities here are pretty near limitless. I could use IFTTT and a phone app to detect if anyone’s in the office. Office empty? Thermostat goes to a predetermined “low power” temperature. On the way to my office? “Ok Google, cool office to seventy degrees.” It’s a step towards being able to control our homes and offices from anywhere, with smarter automation, and become more of a couch potato when I don’t feel like walking over to the thermostat to crank it down a few more degrees. Automation like this has it’s risks and challenges, but as we’ve posted before: automating the environment can save time and money. Let it cool itself down before your employees arrive and automatically shutdown when they leave. Let the lights turn themselves off when we don’t need them. Let technology […]

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