PLACEBOS are everywhere. Drugs firms sell red pills because customers are convinced that they are stronger than white ones. Pressing the button at some pedestrian crossings makes no difference to when the green man appears, but makes us feel proactive. And the “doors close” request in a lift serves no purpose other than to soothe the frustration of impatient riders.
Add another placebo to the list: thermostat controls in hotel rooms. An investigation by the Wall Street Journal has confirmed what many of us already knew deep down: “It’s not your imaginations. Hotel thermostats often aren’t under your control.”
The Journal reports:
The humble hotel wall thermostat, once just a mechanical temperature sensor and fan-speed switch, has become an infrared heat and motion detector wirelessly networked into building controls that cut costs by reducing energy consumption. Many are tied to door switches, shutting off when people leave the room or even open a window or balcony door.
…The New York Hilton has a system that keeps unoccupied rooms at 78 degrees [25℃] and then automatically sets the thermostat to 74 [23℃] when a guest checks in. The system cools the room down in about five minutes. Companywide, new temperature control systems have helped Hilton reduce energy use by 14% since 2009.
Old-fashioned thermostats, it seems, are being retrofitted so that they can be centrally controlled. In other words, fiddling with the buttons will make no difference to the temperature—although, given how effective placebos are, some people will feel a phantom cooling or warming in the room.
Guests, though, are fighting back. Blogs have been started that explain how to override systems and take back control of the temperature. YouTube videos explain the procedures for bypassing specific models. Some regular travellers have vowed never to stay in establishments unless they can take full responsibility for their climate.
Power to the people, you might say. But a lot of energy is wasted in hotels. Hotel guests do not pay extra for the water and electricity they use. They do, though, pay collectively for every other guest’s excess. The rational course of action, therefore, is to be excessive yourself. And hotel guests, many of whom are on hard-earned vacations, want to feel pampered. For many of them, the normal rules of responsible energy use do not apply. The planet suffers as a result, too.
In short, people cannot be trusted. Hotel managers in hot countries, for example, sometimes complain that when guests go out for the day they slip business cards into the key-slots that control power to the room. That way they can keep the air conditioner blasting away in their absence and not have to suffer a few minutes’ stickiness upon return while the temperature falls. The charge for all that extra electricity will be spread around future patrons’ bills equally. Having motion sensors in the room seems like a sensible alternative. And, in theory at least, we will all benefit through cost savings, because people can no longer abuse the system.
This all sounds dandy. But anyone who has ever shared a house knows that compromises can be reached on nearly every aspect of daily life—from what is on the television to which colour to paint the walls. The exception is temperature. And if couples cannot agree on the correct thermostat setting, what chance a tower-full of hotel guests? The only answer, as any right thinking person knows, is to keep the temperature below 20℃, and tell anyone who complains to put another on another layer of clothing.