Thursday, January 16, 2003

Life Imitates Dilbert: Hot air in the summer, A/C in the winter; an article in the 1/15 WSJ explains why you can't do anything about it (it's subscriber only, but I will quote liberally).
Looking for an office thermostat that actually works? Good luck and Godspeed.

You may never find it. The controls for your company's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) are likely hidden in the office ducts. If you do spy a thermostat, it's probably locked, or encased behind shatterproof glass.

Even worse, HVAC experts acknowledge what millions of office workers have suspected all along: A lot of office thermostats are completely fake -- meant to dupe you into thinking you've altered the office weather conditions.

The specialists are unrepentant. Fed up with of complaints from sweaty men and shivering women, HVAC technicians install dummy thermostats to give workers the illusion of control. In some leased buildings, even the corporate tenants don't know the thermostats are useless. Other times, it's the companies themselves, barraged with calls from workers, who ask the landlord's HVAC technicians to "fix" things.
And there's more.
Richard Dawson, an HVAC specialist from Homer, Ill., who has several landlord clients, says too many office workers feel their environment is "anything but what they want it to be." Better to install a dummy when they're out to lunch, he figures. He estimates that 90% of office thermostats are dummies (others say it's below 2%).

Does he feel bad? "I did what my employer told me to do," Mr. Dawson says. The complainers in the cubicles wore him out. "You just get tired of dealing with them and you screw in a cheap thermostat. Guess what? They quit calling you."
I guess we know what becomes of over-the-hill game show hosts now. But wait there's more.
That's just one of several examples where the mere illusion of control seems to satisfy us. Plenty of placebo buttons give the same false impression. That "close door" button on elevators? It won't work unless you're a fireman or an elevator operator with special access to the system. The rest of the time, in deference to various building codes, it's deactivated, according to engineers at Otis Elevator.
I don't know if I buy that. I swear those buttons work; maybe only 10 percent of the time, but still.
The average office worker almost has to be a NASA engineer to get these thermostats working. That's exactly what Scott Packard is. The 39-year-old staff engineer, who works for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., has used various illicit techniques to control climate at the different offices he has worked in, including obtaining a rare wrench to remove a thermostat cover.

He and other suffering employees have been known to hold a desk lamps or computer monitor up to the sensor to fool thermostats into turning on the AC. For heat, they strap a baggie full of ice water to it.
Non-working thermostats would be a luxury for me. The thermostats where I work are designed to react randomly to any adjustment. To address the problem the HVAC folks posted a sign over the thermostat that says, "Watch the swearing, please."