Hi Everybody,


I would like to ask your help in finding examples of folk labels on energy controls.


Some interfaces are so opaque that people find it necessary to add their own explanations to assist them in operation.  Attached is a photo of a lighting control (although the fact that it controls lights is even unclear). Somebody tried to help users with the colored “please” labels (cut from “post-its”?).  Even that wasn’t clear to one person; if you look closely, somebody penciled in “ON” and “OFF”.


We call these “folk labels”.  We think folk labels appear when the manufacturers have done a really poor job of explaining the controls (what they are and what they do).  Unclear controls probably cause unnecessary use of energy.


We want your examples of  folk labeling. Controls of energy-using devices (lights, thermostats, etc.) are preferred, but actually any kind will help make our point.  If you spot one, please photograph it and send as much background information as possible.


thanks in advance


Alan Meier


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Hi Alan, funny topic,

I know you want pictures, but the signs are long gone and with just the wife and I left at home, the need to remind everyone about how to use the thermostat is almost gone as well.  But the stories are related to energy, I was an energy nerd long before I became an auditor, so I'll share.

The first one is common, the stat that has been set back and someone is first to arrive home to a cool/cold house, so where do they go?  Yes, the thermostat.  Now it was set back to 60, and needs to be moved to 68, but for some unknown reason everyone in the family besides myself believes the house will warm up faster if the selection is moved to 80°.  Of course it doesn't, but their error in logic doesn't become obvious until someone notices the house has turned into a sauna.  The sign above the stat read, " 60° when you leave, 68° when you return".  Not earth shaking, but it helped.

The other issue is still a problem today and despite my training efforts the sign should probably go back up.  This is our "in between" season when it is beautiful and warm during the day, yet cool in the evening.  What happens is, the windows get opened and even the back door.  Later when it cools down, someone (now just the wife) would invariably turn the heat on.  Doors and windows wide open and the furnace running full blast, not a good receipt for energy efficiency.  That sign, while the kids were living at home, was a reminder in capitol letters to "CLOSE THE DOORS AND WINDOWS!"  It worked most of the time.

My travels are much more limited than years past, but I will keep my eyes open for some energy related "Folk Labeling".  Instruction books are often another source of confusion and can be related to a mismanagement of energy.





Oh, man, off topic for the thread, but the whole thing Bud mentions about setting it to 80, thinking it'll warm up faster is so so true.Drives me crazy. "No darling, the AC/heater goes at one speed, no matter what. It's just how long it goes for."


All that said, it'd be great to get better variable speed gear in HVAC out there - but then, I guess, cranking it to 80 might actually heat the place faster.


And not actually labels, but that photo of the pre-set dimmer switch makes me think of all the really fancy programmable systems and automation gear that gets used as very expensive on/off switches once knowledge of their operation is lost (or where the knowledge never existed). You get that building manager who was there at the start leaving and the replacement guy hasn't ever seen this sort of gear before and there's no overlap between the two guys for knowledge transfer - and no ongoing contact with the installer/manufacturer of the gear.


At home there's some nutty wiring from decades of renovation and non-expert DIY - where it's taken me a long time to figure out what's going on, I've taped notes to the inside of switch plates and around wires for posterity. E.g. in my bathroom: "Vanity light and ceiling light / fan are on different breakers/circuits! [found that out the hard way myself - ouch!] Vanity light shares breaker with kitchen refrigerator." (you idiots...)

I have a newly built house with a 4-gang switch box served by two circuits (one is part of a 3 way).  I think it is lazy planning, or inexperienced installers, plus your code inspectors will never spend the amount of time at a house to actually find something like that. My house, which includes an in-law suite, has 2 panels side-by-side with 40+ breakers.  That switch box has one circuit from each panel...

Yeah; I think my case is due to retrofits on top of retrofits.


1930's house, I assume the bathroom once only had one light that went off what's now the vanity light wiring (old armored cable - and the circuit also includes everything but a single plug in the kitchen, which is the other side of a wet wall, so while working on the vanity light there's no power to the fridge). At some point, someone added wiring that allowed the fan and ceiling light to be added (on a different circuit that is shared with some lighting far away in the house and that one kitchen plug - relatively modern shielded wiring... and the fan duct goes up and just sort of stops below an attic exhaust fan rather than having a hole in the masonry wall) - but because it was all switched from one three-switch junction box, I assumed, despite the different ages of wiring, that the power was off to the whole bathroom (hey, I flipped the breaker and the one light that was on went off, so...). Grabbing a live wire with bare fingers taught me otherwise. :)


You live, you learn... Always check for live wires, kids!

Not sure where it came from (thereifixedit.com perhaps), or that it is homemade, but the simplicity is great and I use it as an example to builders...

Thanks!  This is exactly what I am looking for.


- alan


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