As luck would have it, I was up well before the doorbell rang at 7:45 Thursday morning.
It was garbage day, when we all celebrate the lobbying talents of Silver State trash-hauling employee Jennifer Simich, who somehow managed to convince then-Las Vegas Councilman (and former cop) Michael McDonald to land her outfit a zillion-year monopoly garbage contract. (No one known how she did it. Councilman McDonald swore under oath to the Ethics Commission that he and Ms. Simich weren’t “dating” at the time — though he did give her a big public smooch at the New Year’s Eve celebration downtown, that year. I mean — would a former Metro cop lie?)
For the record, unless it’s a medical emergency of the “Is this your squashed cat?” variety, I would advise anyone planning to ring a stranger’s doorbell in this town after 9 p.m. or before 8 in the morning to call ahead, describing precisely what’s on your warrant. In this home-invasion era, some folks react poorly to Strangers in the Night.
On the Thursday morning in question, three guys had arrived in a white truck with a ladder.
“We’re here to install the new thermostat.”
“The new thermostat. Clay sent us.”
Ah. We’d recently purchased a new rooftop heater and air conditioner. The guy had told me he’d throw in a free digital thermostat, since I’m such a good customer. (Since I rarely haggle, paying the asking price for such stuff, I suspect there are portions of the country where “a good customer” is an alternative spelling for the word “sap.”)
From the back of the house, the brunette asked what was going on. I told her.
“And you’re going to let them put it in?”
Sure, why not? On the old thermostat you just slid a little bar till it was set at APPROXIMATELY 70 degrees. This way you’ll be able to tap in PRECISELY 70 degrees.
“Have you forgotten how much you love to deal with the digital control for the lawn sprinklers?”
I had, actually.
Fifteen minutes later, thanks to the miracle of the battery-powered screwdriver, the thing was in.
“Is there an instruction book?”
“No, the instructions are right here, inside the cover.”
“Are they leaving the old unit?” asked the brunette.
Sure enough, they had my old thermostat in a box. They’d been preparing to spirit it out the door. I reclaimed it.
The thing was set to 72 degrees, and it thought the time was 9:20 a.m., although it was actually 8:10. To reset the clock, I hit “program” till the clock numbers flashed, then reset them. Then I bumped the temperature down to 68. Then I looked for a button marked “done” or “set” or “save changes”; “quit” or “alrighty then” or “get me the hell out of here.” Something.
There was no such button.
I pushed “program” some more. To what temperature would I like this thing to reset my home at 6 p.m. tonight? At midnight? At 6 a.m. the next morning? How about Monday through Wednesday, what temperature? Flash flash flash. How about Friday through Sunday? Flash flash flash. No matter what I pressed, it kept giving me new options, flash flash flash. If I’d kept at it any longer, I’m sure it would have asked me whether I’d like to have all my kitchen appliances turned on at 7 a.m. July the Fourth, whereupon my new, “smart” thermostat would play a tinny version of The Star Spangled Banner to advise us when the coffee was ready.
A short time later, I was on the phone to Clay, asking him precisely why he’d sent me this thing. I know the folks at Nevada Power — pardon me, they’re calling themselves “NV Energy” this month, “Green Clean Energy at Twice the Price” having already been taken, presumably — are hot to trot for these digital programmable wonders, since they want to be able to access them remotely by radio wave to re-set the temperature in your house during “peak load” hours, bumping up your thermostat on hot summer afternoons to reduce demand, stuff like that.
They’re already got a pilot version, called “Cool Share,” insisting they’ll “give you a rebate on your electric bill” if you sign up.
So if we all sign up they’ll operate at a loss? I don’t think so. Since the rates are going to be juggled to leave their authorized profits precisely where they were, I suspect you could also express the concept “giving you a break if you participate” as “adding a penalty to the bills of those who refuse.”
I’ve worked in retail. You think no one has ever bumped up the price of the $84 overcoats to $120 so they can announce a “Huge Blowout 30-Percent-Off Sale”?
Clay insisted there were no such hidden incentives. It was just a gift from him, “worth a hundred dollars!” He’d offered it to me “because it makes the unit more efficient. You can program it!”
Finally, I pushed something called “release” or “reverse” or “retreat,” I no longer remember precisely. The temperature setting returned to 72. The clock went back to thinking it was 9:20. Now I just used the little up-and-down arrows to click down the temperature to 71, 70, 69, 68. OK, as long as I avoided that whole “program” trap, I could live with the fact this thing was going to be an hour and 10 minutes fast for the rest of my life. No big deal. It was easy!
I stood there admiring the new technological wonder for 2 seconds. 4 seconds. 6 seconds. At which point — pop! — it reset itself to 72 degrees, 9:20 a.m.
Was that the “set temperature” or the “current temperature”? No way to tell. No instruction book.
The men came back and took out the new white monster within the hour. I wonder where my old thermostat would have been by then, if the brunette hadn’t insisted they leave it behind.
I contacted Chelsie Campbell at NV Energy that afternoon, asking if there are any commercially available units that come “already enabled” to receive the pager-like radio signals that allow the company to reach into your home and reset your thermostat, whether you’re there or not — the way we now expect televisions to arrive “cable ready.” I also asked if the company currently has any incentive arrangements to encourage contractors to install these “digital, programmable” monsters in new construction, or to retrofit them into older homes.
Ms. Campbell says no, so far as she knows there are no “radio enabled,” remote-accessible thermostats yet available on the commercial market. So, obviously, there currently isn’t and couldn’t be any incentive program to encourage or reward contractors to get such a unit into your home.
If you go for the power company’s “Cool Share” deal, they send folks from a private, “turnkey contractor” called “Converge” to install a special radio-accessible thermostat manufactured expressly for the utility. Then, if the utility does indeed remotely access your thermostat to bump up your temperature during high-demand summer hours, they’ll send you a rebate check each fall for “$1 per event after the first four events, up to a maximum of $29 per summer,” to reward you for your participation.
No word on whether they’ll have the thing turn on your coffee-maker, while they’re at it.