"Don't you just love being in control?"

I don't know who designed the heating system in our house, but they could do with attending a usability course or two.

We have a gas combi boiler, which has three controls. One is a master on/off switch, with two settings-- "off" and "radiators" (according to the icons). The second is a thermostat, with no numerical legend, just another "radiator" icon. The third is a 24-hour timer with those annoying tiny pins you have to pop in and out, which also has its own three-setting on/off switch (on, off and timed).

On top of that, there's a thermostat in the hall with temperature markings on it, and a lever beside the hot tank to switch between "radiators and water" and "water only". Add to that the variable controls on the radiators themselves, and it certainly becomes quite a challenge to decide what to adjust when you're feeling a bit chilly.

Anyway, right now we have it set to "water only", and all the radiators are off, as it's 25C+ outside most days at the moment. This morning, I went for a shower (which takes the water from the hot tank), and there was no hot water.... the combi boiler hadn't come on in the early hours like it was supposed to. Went downstairs, checked the gas supply on the cooker... fine. Switched the timer switch from 'timed' to 'on', which should light the gas immediately... nothing. Tried switching the boiler off and back on again... nothing. Pressed the Reset button... nothing. The boiler doesn't have a pilot light, so I knew that wasn't the problem. And the front is screwed on, which suggested I shouldn't really try poking around in it.

Was on the verge of calling a heating engineer when I decided that the only control I hadn't played with was the thermostat in the hall, which was set to a reasonable enough 24C (well, "reasonable" if you disregard the fact that the radiators aren't turned on anyway). Turned it down... nothing. Turned it up, and... click, the boiler lit up. That's right, in our house you can't have hot water unless the radiator-controlling thermostat is set to something above room temperature, even when the radiators have been turned off for months. Marvellous.

Update: As somebody pointed out, the fact that I have a hot tank means the boiler isn't actually a combi, it just looks like one :) Doesn't really affect the gist of the tale though, so I won't bother editing it out...

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I am an Interaction Designer in the Systems Experience Design team, arriving at Oracle via Sun where I've worked since 2000. I currently work on sysadmin user experience projects for Solaris. Formerly I worked on open source Solaris desktop projects such as GNOME, NWAM and IPS.

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