When buildings have too much control

Jun 15 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

My office and lab are in a fairly new building which has a lot of "automated" features that are supposed to make it more eco-friendly. Lights, shades, windows, doors, all have some element of computer control, which basically means that there is one technician or another here almost daily fixing one of these technological wonders.

Our bathrooms are no different. There is a motion sensor in the middle of the room that turns the lights on when people enter and then turns them off after a certain period without motion. I have no idea what the time setting for turning off the lights is in the bathroom on my floor, but I occasionally find myself on a different floor when I need to use more than just the urinal.

For some unknown reason the motion detector in this bathroom is set to 30 seconds. While I have never been one to require reading material in the bathroom, unless I'm just getting home form a habenaro pepper eating competition, 30 seconds is a tad on the short side to take care of business.

Of course, the motion detector is mounted near the door, with limited range in the direction of the bathroom stall, making a simple arm waving futile for re-illuminating the lights. Instead, one has to make exaggerated flailing motions to engage the small opaque eye on the ceiling. Every. 30. Seconds. The absurdity of sitting on the commode while gesticulating like a rhythmless cheerleader is not lost on me and I can only wonder if the timer was set to such a short length on purpose and scenes from that bathroom are being shown live to a studio audience in Japan.


The departmental retreat is going to be at a ski lodge? Great!

Certainly there have to be other instances of building "conveniences" gone awry. Many things that seem like a good idea on paper turn out to be a ridiculous hassle upon implementation.

11 responses so far

  • brooksphd says:

    I was at DCA years ago when there was a massive power outage. Thankfully my plane had landed before the lights went out. But the emergency generator in the building only kept the lights on... the automatic stuff in the bathroom didn't work...no flush, no water, no dryers... the stench rapidly became nauseating

  • gerty-z says:

    hahahaha! The bathroom lights here are not a problem. What is a problem is that every evening ALL the lights go off. To turn them back on you have to leave the lab and find the (unmarked) special "bypass" switch. If you are in the middle of something in the evening this is really frustrating, and could even be unsafe. But hey, we're saving energy, right?

  • Dave X says:

    See if you can open or pop-off the faceplate of the switch and adjust the timer. It is made so that the maintenance people can adjust it without the intervention of a full-blown electrician.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    It's a ten foot ceiling and my lab doesn't require a ladder for the work we do. Plus, it's not my floor and they might wonder why I've stolen a ladder to mess with their bathroom.

  • Dave X says:

    Ah. I was thinking of the ones that are more like a manual light switch mounted near the door. SOL then.

  • odyssey says:

    We have those automatic flushing commodes. When we first moved into the building they were on a very, very sensitive setting. This resulted in a massive waste of water and the renaming of the commodes as bidets...

    We also have automatic sensors on the water fountains. They're so sensitive you can't walk down the main corridor without setting them off.

  • WhizBANG! says:

    Our shiny building also includes lights on motion timers. When the overhead go out, I know to scoot my chair back 6 inches, reach over my head with my right arm, and wave at my door while leaning back.

    I don't know if we have saved any money with this system, but we all know exactly what we have to do to get the damn lights back on.

    Can anyone explain to me why we needed automatically flushing toilets? Most people I know will flush, and it seems like the random flushing events just waste water.

  • studyzone says:

    Heck, I'd be satisfied with a stall-door that stayed closed. Two of the three stalls in the one women's bathroom on our floor have broken latches, so the door won't stay closed unless you hold onto it, and budget cuts mean that those latches are non-essential repairs.

    In my old lab, the building's lights went off at 9pm, but every lab had a motion sensor, so a little dancing did the trick.

  • Hermitage says:

    I strongly disagree that most people flush the toilet. At least with automatic flushers there's a chance that their non-flushing dirty butts will trigger the comode and spare the next occupant a biological attack.

  • Odyssey says:

    Hermit,
    The way ours flush, no ones butt is dirty...

  • Zee says:

    We have alarms on all of our lab doors in case they are left open too long, why we need this I have no idea. One day the one next door to my PI's office malfunctioned and just keep beeping and beeping.... and beeping for hours. Facilities was 'on their way'. I believe my PI had a grant due that day or the next day. Anyways, I was walking down the hall when I saw him burst out of his office with a hammer, beat the shit out of the alarm thingy, then go back in. It is both the most scared and amused I have ever been of my PI.

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