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Will Americans Go For the Chop-Cloc?

Chop Cloc

Hey, who doesn’t want to save fuel? And who doesn’t want to sell stuff that saves fuel?

That was my first thought when I got a Google Alert about this new product coming out of Scotland and heading for England. The Chopping Company (and isn’t that an arresting name?) is working with City West Homes, which maintains social housing in Westminster, a suburb of London. The plan is to install The Chopping Company’s Chop-Clocs in 21,000 homes.

Nice work if you can get it.

Garry Stewart came up with the idea for this thing in 2009 and started the company. He was tired of paying for all the fuel his boiler was gobbling, so he decided to shut off the boiler for so many minutes out of each hour, thus making his boiler 100 percent efficient during those off times. No burn, no bill. Simple.

I wondered whether Americans would go for such a thing. This Chop-Cloc can shut down a boiler from 15 to 45 minutes each hour, making it quite a serious setback control. There is no deeper setback than off.

The company claims that the Chop-Cloc will maintain the temperature of the home during the time that the boiler is off, but I’m having a tough time visualizing that. I mean when the boiler if off and the heat loss continues, which it will, how is it possible to maintain the same temperature inside the house?

I am such a cynical American.

The company also notes that the Chop-Cloc will save more than £120 a year and cut nearly 600 kilograms of CO2 emissions. They’re selling the thing on their website for £69.99, which makes the payback time look pretty good, but you also have to get an electrician to install the thing, so don’t forget to figure that in.

Oh, and they call their customers Happy Choppers! I like that.

Here’s how it works: First of all, this is not a thermostat. It’s not sensing the temperature in the room. It’s just there to shut off the boiler and then turn it back on again every hour. You begin by deciding how long you’d like the first cycle to last each morning (which I suppose means that you’re going to have deep setback overnight from some other control). You have a choice between 30, 60, or 90 minutes for that warm-up cycle. They recommend beginning with 60 minutes and see if that works for you. Once the house is warm, you twist the big knob on the front of the device to set the amount of time you’d like your boiler to be 100% efficient (meaning off) during that hour. You can choose any time between 15 and 45 minutes, in five-minute increments. They recommend you begin with 30 minutes off and see if you’re comfortable. If not, you can adjust it. If there’s more than one person living in the house, well, good luck with that.

I know, you’re waiting for something more complicated, but that’s it. You save fuel because you just shut off your boiler. It is the ultimate in non-combustion efficiency.

But I wonder whether Americans would go for such a thing. Chop-Cloc is sort of a Nest thermostat that didn’t go to school. It’s not connected to the Internet; it’s not going to be watching you; it’s not going to send you email or text messages. It’s not going to team up with other companies that Google buys to do who knows what down the road. Nope, no acrobats and dancing bears with the Chop-Cloc. It’s just going to shut off your boiler, which I suppose you could do with a toggle switch, but then you’d have to get up off the couch twice every hour to toggle off and toggle on, and that could be tiresome.

I asked an American friend, someone not of our business, what he thought of this thing. Here’s what he said:

“My initial reaction to the product is that the inventor has effectively found a way to charge a little more for a thermostat with a little less functionality. The basic job of a thermostat is to turn the heat off periodically to keep the temperature of the room from climbing higher than a set point. It is a ‘smart’ device that knows what the temperature is in one location, and controls the heat source based on that information. To arbitrarily shut the thermostat (and the boiler) off for a preset time, regardless of the temperature, will mean that during that time the thermostat is now ‘dumb’- that is, unable to act on any temperature information that it has.

“Their website implies that the device will save money (which I guess it probably will) without making the people in the house uncomfortable (I have my doubts about that). They don't elaborate on this claim, but my best guess is that they mean that people generally set the thermostat too high, and that if these people are forced to live in a slightly cooler space they will still be comfortable. So, if I am right about the underlying theory, approximately the same result could be accomplished by charging a hundred bucks, and telling the customer to turn their thermostat down.

“I have tried to come up with a complicated alternative theory- like maybe they believe that spreading out the application of heat to a space into multiple short-cycles instead of fewer long cycles might reduce the amplitude of the temperature cycles, thereby keeping the temperature within a narrower range, but I think this is bogus. I'm not a heating guy, but I am pretty sure that normal thermostats and boilers already have been designed with the thought for keeping the temperature within a set range, while also taking into account how short a cycle is tolerable by a given type of boiler. A product like the Chop-Cloc just assumes that an even shorter cycle by any boiler would be better. I doubt this is true.”

Thus speaks the American consumer.

I next I asked a friend who grew up in Ireland and now works for a manufacturers rep here in the U.S. He said:

“As a rep, my first thought was, Could this make us money? And then I realized that, in this case, absolutely not! This device is the personification of the wide divide that exists in the expectations of opposite sides of the Atlantic, which, in turn, reminds me of the incompatibility of European mores when it comes to heating in the US.

“Ideally, yes, it would be nice from an environmental- and economic perspective if American homeowners were to take a more-active role in the distribution of energy throughout their homes. But realistically, I don't see it happening anytime soon.”

And I have to agree with him. Americans like to save fuel, but we don’t like to sacrifice comfort while saving fuel. We want it both ways.

No Happy Choppers here.


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