“If you know what’s good for you” is a big “if”

Assuming you’re the kind of person who prefers thinking about things—not always a safe assumption—here’s something to think about.

The Straight Dope: Does turning down the thermostat at night save energy?

Failing to grasp the subtleties of home heating can be expensive. At one time the U.S. Department of Energy was urging Americans to install programmable thermostats, which can be set to automatically turn the heat down when it’s not needed. These devices were thought to generate savings of 10 to 30 percent, and close to half of U.S. homes now have them. In 2006, though, the DOE stopped pushing the thermostats, which aren’t cheap, after multiple studies showed the actual savings was zero—not because the inventors hadn’t understood the laws of physics, but because consumers didn’t use the things right. They couldn’t figure out how to program the thermostats, didn’t believe they’d work and so didn’t bother, set the temperature higher during the day and thereby canceled out the savings from the setback at night, and so on.

Is this kind of thing really that difficult to work out? Or is it just that people are resistant to ideas that come from other people, even when those ideas are in everybody’s best interest?

I had hoped all along that Thomas Edison was being a pessimist when he said, “There is no expedient to which a man will not go to avoid the labor of thinking.”  But especially these days it’s getting harder all the time to find any evidence to contradict it.


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