Who needs a “smart” thermostat when you can
trick your dumb one into lowering your heating
bill? By Ross Orr
Here in snow country, winter heating bills can get
alarming (mine was $128 last December). Many
people install programmable “smart” thermostats, which turn down the temp at night when
you’re in bed or during the day when you’re away.
Good idea, but these $100-plus thermostats
assume that each day, you robotically follow one
rigid schedule for that day of the week. And you
might have to program 28 different events and
temperatures for your one-week cycle.
Forget all that. For about $3, buy an incandescent night-light — the kind that turns on and off
with a photocell. Take a length of string and an
extension cord, and hang this on the wall below
your regular, “dumb” thermostat.
At bedtime, when you turn off the room lights,
the night-light switches on and acts as a localized space heater — fooling the thermostat into
thinking the room is warmer. You burn less fuel,
and environmentalists cheer your virtuousness.
Experiment with string length; the closer the
light, the greater the effect. And unlike a “smart”
thermostat, this adapts to your actual bedtime.
Morning light turns off the night-light and
restores the normal thermostat setting. So if
you get up before dawn, it could be a little chilly
before you flip on the room lights. If you’re feeling
truly obsessive, you could plug the night-light into
an appliance timer set to turn power off just before dawn, but that spoils the simplicity of things.
I’m still wondering how to adapt this idea for
when the house is empty during the day. (
Covering the windows would work for some homes,
but my shades aren’t opaque enough.) And what
about my friends in Texas, where the scariest bill
is for summer air conditioning? Any ideas?
Ross W. Orr hacks low-tech gadgets and invasive plants in A light-activated night-light keeps your thermostat
Ann Arbor, Michigan. warmer at night.