I’ve been reading a great blog called No Impact Man. It’s about a guy, his wife, and their toddler daughter who live in downtown New York. They’re trying to live for a year without casuing any impact to the environment.
This means: no electricity, no garbage, no packaged products, no driving, no flying, etc. It’s pretty extreme.
I enjoy the blog and I respect what the guy is trying to do. It’s not for everyone, but it’s an interesting expirement.
Colin, the guy, recently wrote a piece for the New York Times about what he’s doing. He said something in this piece that has totally stuck with me.
[we] feel entitled to heat our empty homes all day…
That has really hit me hard: I heat an empty house all day. This has really started to bother me. I mean, we could turn the thermostat down if we wanted, but we don’t. Additionally, there are other things in my house that are burning energy that need to be regulated other than just the thermostat.
Because of this, I’ve decided that my house needs “modes.” This correlates with the fact that there are different modes of activity in my house. At any given time, myself, my wife, and my three kids could be:
- All at home, all over the house
- Asleep in our bedrooms
- All in the basement for several hours every night
- Out of the house at school and work, but due back later
- Out of town for days at one of my son’s soccer tournaments
Each of these modes requires different heating, lighting, and water requirements. I want a quick way to put my house in a mode, and have the mechanics of my house react accordingly.
A couple of days a week, both my wife and I are out of house. I work, and Annie teaches preschool. I’d love it if, on the way out the door, my wife could press an “At Work” button. This would turn the thermostat down to 50 degrees and shut off all the lights in the house (more on this later) and selected outlets (the TV, the radio in the bathoom, etc.).
When Annie comes home, she could press the “Active” button which raises the thermostat (she can turn on lights as she needs them).
Later that night, after dinner, and after we all head down to the basement, we put the house in “Basement” mode. This localizes heat to the basement, and shuts off all the lights and selected outlets on the upper two levels of the house.
When we got to bed, we press the “Asleep” mode, which lowers the heat to 65 degrees, and shuts off all the lights and selected outlets.
The next day, when we leave for a soccer tournament, the put the house in “Out of Town” mode, which lowers the thermostat to 45 degrees, shuts off everything in the house, and turns off the water heaters.
(Now, I know that there is such a thing as timed thermostats, but we can’t make this work for us. Annie teaches part time so there’s no set schedule that we can wrap a timer around.)
If you think about it, there’s a lot of things you could wrap up into modes. For instance, “At Work,” “Asleep,” and “Out of Town” should probably turn the burglar alarm on. When you’re home, perhaps the answering machine picks up on four rings instead of two (and a big neon sign above your house says, “Come rob us, we’re not home…”).
Another idea: be able to change modes via your cell phone. So when you leave the office, you can switch the house to “Active” mode remotely so that it’s toasty warm when you get there (wussie).
So, that’s the idea. All you home automation junkies: how close is the do-it-yourself technology to this ideal? Could I make this happen now, if I wanted?
Now, a little more about light switches…
The light switch is a fundamentally broken device. It has two modes, and you have physically present at the device to change the mode. This is stupid.
Don Norman, in his book “The Design of Everyday Things” solved this problem for his research lab. They had a central console that would allow them to turn lights on and off around the lab, or turn them all off at once.
While my house modes idea is neat, I would settle for something even more realistic: the ability to turn the lights off in my house en masse. On the way out the door every morning, or before I go to bed, all I want to do is press a button that says, “Shut off all the friggin’ lights in the house.”
Is that too much to ask?