Is your home a mess of bits of advice on how to run your boiler scrawling masking tape, cryptic notes on post-its and electronic edicts complete with illustrative clip art?

It seems that people’s homes are becoming a canvas for useful personalised ‘graffiti’, explaining their temperamental appliances, gadgets and energy controls. So much so, in fact, that the prestigious Berkeley National Laboratories in the States have done a whole study on it – summarised neatly in this presentation.

The report looks at numerous uses of ‘folk labelling’ in homes and workplaces – but there are some devices that need more DIY additional information than most. It will probably come as little surprise that heating controls have to be explained more than most.

We give advice on heating controls. Other organisations are also doing their bit to demystify them. But they’re still a bane for many, and it has to be admitted that questions about how to set them for best effectiveness in both heating and energy efficiency are oft-fielded by our advice service.

It’s down to Berkeley’s Alan Meier and his piece for the European Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (eceee) that we know about this research gem, and Alan has some great insights on the issue of where DIY labelling fits into our lives, not least where it concerns heating:

“Thermostats seem to be the most frequent targets of folk labels (at least regarding their operation).  For example, many hotels find it necessary to supplement the regular interface with a folk label like ‘for heat turn red switch to ‘heat’.  Some of the labels are unintentionally funny. A hotel in Korea used little pictures of chilli peppers to designate “more heat” on the room thermostats because South Asian visitors understand that image more easily than a fractured English or Korean explanation.”

We like heating controls: they can be a key part of keeping your home comfortable while keeping running costs down. Installing a room thermostat if you didn’t have one before can save you £70 and 280kg carbon dioxide a year; while fitting a hot water tank thermostat can save £30 and 130kg CO2. But of course, it helps if manufacturers make usability less difficult than reimagining War and Peace in Sanskrit.

We’ll leave it to Mr Meier to sum up:

“Folk labels are just as important to auditors and other energy efficiency professionals as to the occupants because they are signals of problematic operation and a clue that energy is being wasted.  Thus an energy auditor should be especially attentive when encountering folk labels.

“Do the occupants truly understand how to operate that thermostat or is the folk label describing an energy-inefficient workaround?  The designers of appliance controls should also monitor the appearance of folk labels on their products.  In many cases, a folk label is evidence of a design failure.”

Have you ‘folk-labelled’ your own appliances? Send a snap to estblog@est.org.uk and we’ll publish it below