Friday, April 8, 2011

Smart house (or not-so-smart resident)

It’s true that my first 48 hours in a new house made me feel pretty incompetent.

Moving is a humbling experience. First you pack everything you own into boxes and realize the heartbreaking amount of material goods you’ve acquired. You face up to your own bad habits when it comes to purchasing, borrowing, hoarding or retaining. Even with the best of charitable impulses, you watch trash bag after trash bag fill up, and you wonder why it’s so hard to live lightly, not generating or consuming so much matter.

But I got through that part, and finally reached the point where everything we cared about keeping had been transported three miles across town. We’d already resolved to take our time unpacking, going by the principle that we’d take things out as we needed them and thereby figure out over the course of the next year what we never actually used at all.

So it was time to begin settling in. And that was where I discovered what a non-mechanical person I was. This house is not particularly high-tech. It doesn’t have motion detectors to turn the lights on and off or appliances that self-regulate. It’s just…a house. But it was proving more than I could master by the first morning when I finished showering and couldn’t figure out how to turn the water off. I realize that this seems particularly strange given that I’d already turned the water on to start the shower, but somehow that part came instinctively, and I couldn’t seem to re-create the motion in reverse when it was time to dry off. I tried turning the knob hard; I tried pushing it in; I tried pulling it out. Finally I realized the problem; I was using the temperature knob rather than the water pressure knob located just above it. I tried the other knob. The water turned off.

I hadn’t been able to find the coffee I’d packed, so my mother gave me a pound from her pantry. But I couldn’t plug in the coffee maker. The outlets looked normal from a short distance, but I couldn’t get the plug prongs into the openings. I asked my husband for guidance. He showed me how you have to insert the prongs of the plug just a little bit and then slide the whole thing to the side in order to activate the outlet. “And you just knew that by looking?” I asked, feeling increasingly inept. “Well, no,” he admitted. “One of the movers and I spent about twenty minutes trying to figure it out yesterday.” So in that case it wasn’t just me.

The biggest inconvenience that remains yet unresolved is that both garage door openers open the garage bay that we’ve filled with storage, and we can’t figure out how to reset it to open the empty bay. So we still use our garage the old-fashioned way: pull up, get out of the car, open the door, get back into the car, drive into the garage, park, turn off the engine, remember to close the door.

And then there’s the washing machine, which the first time I used it locked like a self-cleaning oven as soon as I closed the door despite the fact that I hadn’t put the clothes into it yet. And the central vacuum system. And the multi-unit thermostat. And the drain in the bathroom sink that I couldn’t figure out how to open and close.

As I say, it’s not that this house is so fancy or state-of-the-art; it’s just all different from what we are used to. I’ve read articles about genuine “smart homes” that turn your oven on for you when you’re heading home and lower the heat after everyone leaves a room. Technically, this isn’t a smart house. But it’s proving itself to be smarter than I am.

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