Where Is the Manual?

We are still learning the ins and outs of our new house, including the HVAC system. We have a nifty heat pump system.

Now, I know what you are thinking, because I thought it, too. “You live in New England, Johanna. A heat pump? What are you thinking?” We have backup radiators for when the temperature gets below the teens in the winter. This would not work for northern New England, or the midwest. But it should work here. (Famous last words.) The people who installed it assured us it would work. (Famous last words.)

One of the things they told us is that the house would be balanced. The entire house would be the same temperature. I looked the guy cockeyed. “How are you going to do that, with all three bedrooms on one zone, the kitchen/family room on one zone, the living room/dining room on one zone, but all those zones are only for the radiators? The heat pump is all one zone for the entire house, right?”

“Of course. The heat pump works on the entire house.”

“We have windows all over the house. We have different size rooms all over the house. But each room has the same size vent and we have three returns. I’m not an HVAC person, but I do not understand how the same size vent and three returns in different size rooms will create the same temperature in each room.”

The guy gave me the “little woman is too stupid to understand look.” He said, “Believe me, it will work.”

I read fantasy. I read science fiction. I read paranormal romance. I suspend belief for those. I want to live in this house and not believe in magic.

I didn’t tell him I have a Master’s degree in Systems Engineering. Maybe I should have. But I don’t have any courses in HVAC. I don’t understand HVAC. I do understand flow and return. I do understand systems. I am a terrific problem solver. I don’t understand if you put the same amount of coldness or heat in the same pipe into different size rooms, how the system “understands” how to cool or heat them. It’s magic. Yeah, right.

Our first two weeks here, I had a terrible head cold, so I walked around with my winter jacket, because the house was so cold. In my office, the temperature was 70 degrees. (Everything here is Fahrenheit. Sorry, my Celsius readers.) But, the kitchen/family room was 75 degrees. The thermostat was set at 73. Something Was Wrong.

Mark and I started to fight about the temperature. I kept turning it up, because I was freezing. We finally closed the vent in my office. My office was still freezing, if I left the door open.

We went on a family vacation to Key West last week, where I finally got warm. (Ah, the temps were in the high 80’s, low 90’s, and it was humid. I felt great. Everyone else said it was oppressive, but I only felt oppressed in the sun. My cold finally cleared up. Ahhhh.)

When we returned, the house was at 69. 69!!!! Clearly, the magic thermostat had magically gone haywire. It’s not just me being cold. It was Broken. Mark agreed. The Magic thermostat was Broken!

That night, the AC stopped working, and I woke up at 2:30 am hot. Great, the one time I need to be cold, and I wake up hot. The program was not working. Darn software.

I decided the thermostat that was supposed to determine the temperature was not calibrated. I was either going to calibrate it, or I was going to take it offline. I was going to reprogram the thermostat. I took control. (You are not surprised, are you?)

I sent an email to our builder, asking for the manual. Mark had been programming the thermostat, but it wasn’t working. “Auto” was clearly not working. What happened if we used “Cool”? The thermostat has Auto, Cool, Fan, and Heat. I want the manual, so I know what I’m doing.

The very nice guy calls while we are eating dinner. Mark thinks he’s going to intercept the call. Ha! No chance. I’m the one who works out of the house. We both need to be on the call. I want the manual. Believe me, I want this manual.

First, this nice guy talks us through bypassing the thermistor in the thermostat. He has the manual. Of course. I want his manual. But it’s the tech support manual. I can’t get it. But his manual is so bad, we get an error code. He has to call the manufacturer tech support.

Ten minutes later, we get a call back. Here is the right way to change the settings to avoid the thermistor.

We think we have a handle on the thermostat now. We think we have programmed it correctly, although, I’m not sure. I still think the thermostat is out of whack. The thermostat is located in the internal hallway. That hallway might be the coldest part of the house. I have a travel clock with a thermometer, which I will set out later today, to see. The thermostat is acting as if it’s the warmest part of the house. Why? Because there are no vents. (Aha!) There is one return.

We could have avoided all of this craziness with a fine manual. (As in “read the fine manual”.) Those of us in the software business will recognize this as RTFM. Some of you may choose to translate the F as something else. That is your choice, of course. This is a G-rated blog.

If you have embedded software, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you sell a product to a consumer, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product owner or a product manager, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. If you are a product development team, agile or not, YOU NEED A FINE MANUAL. I hope you heard me.

I have a scale that allows me to choose up to four people to record their weight. It comes with a manual. I have a food scale, so I can decide how much food I consume. It comes with a manual. (Yes, I have those manuals. I read them.) I paid a lot less for those products with embedded software than I paid for this HVAC system. I have a new Viking oven and microwave. They are embedded software products. I have been reading the manuals (and enjoying them!).

There is no excuse for not having a manual.

If you are a product owner or a product manager and your product team has convinced you that your product does not need a manual, they are Wrong. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong. If I had a manual, I would be singing the praises of this system. Right now, I’m pissed. It’s the middle of summer, and I’m wearing a winter coat in my office because in order to keep the rest of the house cool, my office is still freezing. Why? Because we cannot figure out how to use our own HVAC system. This is nuts.

If you are a product development team, and your product owner thinks you don’t need a manual, show him or her this post. Every consumer product needs a manual. It doesn’t have to be a large manual. I shouldn’t have to mess with the field settings, as I did this week. We still have some problem solving to do. But, with a manual, I could do some, before I call the manufacturer or the sales rep.

Do you develop software? Do you develop embedded software? Keep the customer happy. Where is your manual?

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