January 4, 2008
“There is nothing wrong with your thermostat. Do not attempt to adjust the temperature. We are controlling your power consumption. If we wish to make it hotter, we will turn off your air conditioner. If we wish to make it cooler, we will turn off your heater. For the next millennium, sit quietly and we will control your home temperature. We repeat, there is nothing wrong with your thermostat. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… SACRAMENTO!”*
Building codes and engineering standards are generally good things. Updating and improving codes and standards better protect us against earthquakes, for example, as we better understand the weak points and failure modes of existing construction techniques. Requirements that ensure proper handling of sanitary wastes can be largely credited with the increased life spans in industrialized countries through the reduction of communicable diseases.
In California, we have 236 pages of state-mandated standards for building energy efficiency, known as Title 24. This prescribes methods for calculating the sizes of your home windows, the capacities of your air conditioner and heater, the thickness of the insulation in your attic. A small cottage industry has sprung up to perform these engineering calculations that are required for any new commercial or residential construction or major change to existing structures. While I’ve never personally been involved in this branch of retail professional engineering, I’ve had colleagues who would moonlight doing Title 24 calcs. It is now just part of the mandated paperwork involved in the construction business these days in California.
A new revision to Title 24 is in the works for 2008 and it includes a number of improvements and enhancements that are largely good sense items and should be non-controversial. For example a new swimming pool will probably need larger diameter pipes between the pool, the filter and the pump than was former practice. This will reduce the fluid friction losses that your pump must overcome and hence reduce the pump’s consumption of electricity, albeit at a minor increase in first cost for the larger pipes and fittings. Another good idea is a requirement for lighter colored shingles, the “Cool Roof Initiative.” That is intended to reduce heat loss over cold winter nights by emission and heat gain on summer days by absorption. My neighbor and I both recently discovered that it is difficult to get roofers to NOT use dark colored shingles for some reason. Having a little state muscle behind us will help, especially for renters.
What should be controversial in the proposed revisions to Title 24 is the requirement for what is called a “programmable communicating thermostat” or PCT. Every new home and every change to existing homes’ central heating and air conditioning systems will required to be fitted with a PCT beginning next year following the issuance of the revision. Each PCT will be fitted with a “non-removable ” FM receiver that will allow the power authorities to increase your air conditioning temperature setpoint or decrease your heater temperature setpoint to any value they chose. During “price events” those changes are limited to +/- four degrees F and you would be able to manually override the changes. During “emergency events” the new setpoints can be whatever the power authority desires and you would not be able to alter them.
In other words, the temperature of your home will no longer be yours to control. Your desires and needs can and will be overridden by the state of California through its public and private utility organizations. All this is for the common good, of course.