Energy use and gas heater stuck on

I stopped by the makerspace around 1 a.m. this morning and found a lot of lights on as well the two radiant heaters in the metalshop. I don’t like highlighting problems without proposing a fix so I’ve included some ideas below.

Both heaters had their thermostats set to the mid-60s and one was actively firing, even though the temperature had hit the 70s. Switching the stat to OFF had no effect, I had to actually set the temp above the room temp to get the relay to close, then turn the stat back to off, to get the unit to shutdown. I think this problem has been identified before, I am not sure what we did about it though. I could see fixing this with a line voltage stat, or a relay controlled from the stat on the AC side. Also, since the heaters aren’t needed all the time, what about putting a 2 hour windup timer on it, so it can’t be left on longer than that? If freeze protection was needed (unlikely, I think), a freeze stat could be wired in parallel to close the relay at 40 degrees.

When I walked around I noticed the entire metalshop, textiles, classroom, halls and kitchen lights left on. Could we fix this with some occupancy or vacancy sensors? I know a lot of people don’t like automatic lights, and many times they aren’t needed due to natural light, so a vacancy sensor might be a good way to go. They are turned on manually and turn off automatically after a while if they sense the room is vacated. This time the marquee was off, but I have seen it turned on a bunch of times in the past. How about an astronomic timer that tracks daylight to turn it on at dusk and off at a fixed time?

I own a commercial property and energy is my largest expense, costing even more than the mortgage. At MakeICT I think “how many memberships do we need to cover our utility bill” and I imagine the number to be several dozen. I am happy to help install any energy management equipment to reduce our energy use and footprint.


Good ideas, all.

For the sign, I had acquired an Arduino Nano to control a servo that would flip our sign on and off at the switch. Doing it this way would avoid having to worry about getting a robust enough relay, etc, etc, and would simply turn the switch on at dusk and off at some point in the night (no need to keep it on after midnight, I’d think). And it is uninstalled with two screws and easily taken with us for the next building we occupy. I printed the 3D printed mechanism, and gave the servo and Nano to someone who was going to complete it, and then lost track of it. If the person who has it would return it, I’ll finish and install it. If I haven’t heard from anyone in a few days, I’ll print another one and do it myself. That will at least take care of the sign.

The heaters absolutely need attention, and sensors for rooms, mounted at the light switches, seem like something that 400+ makers could solve easily with an Arduino and PIR sensor (or ultrasonic, or RADAR, or LASER, or any of a half-dozen other sensors). For that matter, we could put switch modules on all the switches that go off at night and put an Echo Dot by each door, so the last person to leave could say “Alexa, turn off all the lights” when they set the alarm. Hell, we could make a class of it and have them all built in a day. Or it could be integrated to the alarm. I guess my point agrees with yours. With an entire makerspace full of smart folks, this problem shouldn’t be left unaddressed. Even store-bought solutions save money in the long run, and much more so when we can reliably do the same type of thing with a little board, a few cheap components, and an hour of brainpower. We should be coming up with solutions that others want, rather than wringing our hands over our energy bill.

Of course, there are even more examples of Logan’s observations that are easily found. I can’t say how many times I’ve walked into the makerspace only to find that I’m the only one there, but the laser (or both lasers), the exhaust, and the chillers are all running, as if someone did a job and just walked out the door. Perhaps our NFC key authorizations for equipment should be implemented on all of our power equipment, with a single swipe allowing for an hour of power. Set it up to beep with 3 minutes remaining, and leave it to the user to bother to swipe again in that 3 minutes or the machine powers down.

So does anyone have other ideas to solve this problem? Or better yet, does anyone have any ideas that they are personally willing to implement right away to solve this problem? It could certainly count as volunteer time. Document it and put it on YouTube. Make a great solution and do a Kickstarter. Make it into a class, like I said. Lots and lots and lots of options that only take a bit of thinking.

Thanks, Logan.


Good observations (and thanks for speaking up).
At my own house I have Google Home hooked up to the lights and heating it is super simple (but does require a power outage.
(Hmmm… I wonder what else we could do with that google or alexa… we should definitely get one and get a bunch of ideas thought up. Maybe we could get like a nest or a some such thing to control the temperature.

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oooh… even better we should all do our homes at once (i still have a few switches to go) and get a discount from one of the companies. … hell or both of the companies.

Also if we needed a light switch in say the bathroom that senses when a fellow leaves, I might have one or two of those left over when I finish out installing the rest of the lights.

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In several of our areas, a simple motion activated wall switch replacement would be more than sufficient to handle lights left on. Nothing fancy, a two pack of them at Costco or Walmart is usually under $20. Of course, with some of the old ballasts and lights, they may cause issues, but it’s a cheap, simple, off-the-shelf solution that would take 10 minutes to try, and doesn’t require anyone to maintain anything ever. Sometimes, simple is better.

I do think as we continue to look at new buildings we need to remember to look at energy conservation / smart building systems as an important part of that project. LED lighting, presence sensors, smart heating and cooling, making our equipment ‘smarter’ so it can turn itself off, etc. Every penny we save is a penny we can use to make our Makerspace better for all of us!

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They don’t always work well with all types of lights and we should test … often with mine I didn’t move enough:)

Both of the heaters were stuck on this evening. Both thermostats were set to 65, but the temperature in the room made it up to 82. I followed @Logan’s suggestion above an got the south heater to shut off by running the temp up above room temp and switching it off. The north heater didn’t work that way, so I got a stick from the wood shop and gave it a good technical tap and it shut off. I left both heaters off, since I don’t know if they should be left on if they are continuing to malfunction like this.

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