Show Me the Money & Warn Me About the Liability
It all comes down, ultimately, to the money. And in our world, that centers on the rebate. Here’s what we can safely surmise, the amount of money that induces someone to act is open to debate. In certain regions, we offer a $5 rebate to contractors on mercury thermostats collected.
Our challenge lies in determining a price that is high enough to prompt participation but not so high that we bankrupt the budget.
And the added crunch to the issue is the good news-bad news syndrome. The good news – we believe that our success has led to a drop-off in collections since 2014. The bad news? The cost to administer the program continues to increase, especially when we view it through the lens of cost-per-thermostat retrieval.
The Influence of Smart Thermostats
Consumers (leaving aside a small number of DIYers) will generally remove and replace a thermostat by calling a contractor. But there can be a motivation for consumers too, as many are now becoming interested in smart thermostats that offer more options. A combination of falling prices on certain smart thermostats, and utilities offering rebates, make it far more likely to impact consumers’ decisions than a rebate we pay to a contractor. So, in a sense, the change is more likely to initiate from the consumer (for all the benefits of a smart thermostat) yet is tied to a contractor who has the added incentive of a rebate for following proper recycling protocols.
The thermostat product landscape has changed too. A decade ago, who would have thought that having a neat-looking thermostat in your home could be cool (forgive the pun)?
The benefits to utilities is they help their customers save on energy costs with a smart thermostat, while also building their database of consumer usage and preferences. The advantages of having a utility involved is they often will have an approved contractor who knows the installation process and how to recycle a mercury thermostat.
It’s not just about the Incentive
While economic incentives are appealing and have played a significant role, Tom Murray, an environmental consultant (www.ensuringtheirfuture.com) suggests an alternative messaging we must not overlook.
Murray says the appeal to a higher cause — our environment — is the carrot, and drawing attention to the liability issue is the stick. “Many people simply aren’t aware of the statutes out there that address the issue of properly disposing of mercury-containing thermostats,” he said. If a problem occurs, the contractor – if he leaves the mercury thermostat behind – could be liable.
He also offered his thoughts on how to affect behavior of DIYers who might buy a smart thermostat from a retailer, bypassing the contractor altogether. “Why not include in the box with their purchase, information on how to properly dispose of the old mercury-containing thermostat,” he said. “The consumer might not realize that his old thermostat represents a hazard, and you’ve given him an easy answer to deal with its disposal.”
Another reason why we shouldn’t be afraid to mention the liability issue are personal injury attorneys – some of whom may be trawling for class action suits and just might find enough cases to prompt action dealing with mercury-containing thermostats. It has not happened yet, but there’s no saying it could not.
Aside from incentives, the environment or legal compliance, sometimes the motivation to remove an old thermostat rests simply on wanting to be “smarter.” Jason Powers, founder of Powers IoT (www.powersiot.com), turns homes and multifamily units into “smart” homes with the latest in thermostats, lighting and cameras. While transforming dwellings into digital command centers for IoT homes is his business, Powers also adds, “The rebate is a boost, but we also do it because it protects our environment.”