It’s Not In Your Head: Thermostats In Hotels Are Actually Tricking You


If you’ve ever been to a hotel and found the room either freezing cold or boiling hot and tried to adjust the thermostat, you know it’s futile. Hotel thermostats have long been a source of utter distress for travelers as they fruitlessly push buttons in an attempt to, oh, I don’t know, control the temperatures of their rooms. Well, it turns out that we’re not insane — these thermostats really are rigged.

A Wall Street Journal investigation found that even when you adjust the thermostat, it often doesn’t work because the system is locked.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have awakened sweating bullets at 3 a.m. and the a/c was off,” Houston finance and accounting consultant Jay Callahan told the Wall Street Journal.

So travelers are taking things (and thermostats) into their own hands and learning how to bypass the system with a number of codes. The internet has helped these travelers band together, and one blog, thermostatbypass, even collects bypass instructions for a number of different models. You can also find YouTube videos on various thermostats if that’s more your speed. Even the happiest place on earth is not immune — a Disney hotel discussion board also has bypass instructions.

Thermostats used to be just a temperature sensor and fan switch. Now, they’re far more complicated and rely on sensors, movement and a number of other factors to control the temperature of the room. This is where problems start to arise.

If you’re a sound sleeper who doesn’t move a lot, sensors can shut off in the middle of the night because the system is operating as if there’s nobody in the room, and thus attempting to save energy. Hotels say they know this happens and can be uncomfortable, but if a guest merely waves an arm, the air conditioning will resume. They also say, however, that lack of cleaning and maintenance can make hotel thermostats inaccurate by nearly 20% of the temperature.

For hotel giant Hilton, the goal has been to keep rooms at comfortable temperatures, so guests don’t have to fiddle with thermostats as much. For example, the New York Hilton employs a system that keeps empty rooms at 78 degrees, the Wall Street Journal reports. When a guest checks in, the room’s thermostat automatically readjusts to 74 degrees, cooling down in about five minutes. These new temperature controls have helped the hotel chain reduce its energy usage by 14% since 2009.

According to sites like Expedia or TripAdvisor, complaints about the thermostats are infrequent, the Wall Street Journal reports. But there are some guests who have had terrible experiences. According to one review from the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Northeast in Wichita, Kansas, a guest said they repeatedly had to “get up and wave” at the thermostat. After the complaint, the hotel decided to stop using the motion sensors. And in an interview, the hotel manager says there hasn’t been a complaint about the thermostat since.

So if you’re too hot (or freezing) in a hotel room and have pummeled the thermostat to no avail, don’t fret. Just get on YouTube and look up an override code — you’ll be feeling cooler in no time.

Curiosity, Travel

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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