TRC Blog

Michigan, Goldilocks and Bears, Oh My!

Posted Dec 11, 2017 by Ryan Kiscaden

A few blogs ago, I wrote about a phenomenon at Thermostat Recycling Corp. which we call the Goldilocks Zone. This “zone” has little do with the discovery of new planets. In fact, it has nothing to do with the necessary elements for human life in galaxies. Instead, it is a relatively reliable source of criteria which indicates where mercury thermostats come back from generally. These products remain stubbornly in areas which share most to all of these commonalities. 

These predictors of locating and estimating mercury thermostat stock are attributable to a myriad of factors including: 

·    Presence of a particular HVAC system (boiler vs. other HVAC systems).

·    Determining which region the collection location resides (Midwest vs. all others).

·     Propensity for residential retrofit and replacement.

·     Presence of a disposal ban or mandatory mercury thermostat recycling.

·     Activity level of engaged HVAC wholesalers.

·     Establishing the climate zone of the region.

Speaking of climate zone … it’s an important factor. If a collection location resides in the Energy Star characterization as Cold to Very-Cold regions, this area has historically doubled the collection of the next climate zone. This is sensible because these regions are more likely to have equipment which lasts longer (boilers). In addition, these regions have access to relatively inexpensive fuel sources, such as natural gas. A boiler can last an average of 18 to 22 years versus a furnace, which may last 12 to 15. The Northeast is responsible for more than one half the boiler sales in the U.S. and three-quarters of the U.S. markets for furnaces with an AFUE rating of 82 to 94 percent. They share the climate zone in common … think that’s a coincidence?

What about the collection locations themselves? This is an important point for mercury thermostats. Since 2012, two HVAC wholesalers are responsible for one-third of all U.S.- based collections, with all HVAC wholesalers representing almost 90 percent of recycled thermostats. These HVAC wholesalers are unsurprising in that they also correlate with the white paper I wrote titled, “Not all HVAC Wholesalers are Created Equal When It Comes to Mercury Thermostat Recycling.”  These two particular wholesalers serve the residential/light commercial service and repair market, have a high percentage of counter sales, use tools to increase the program at their counters and engage employees. 

This moves us to the story of Michigan. Michigan is not just known for the Motor City, the birthplace of Motown and the Wolverines (grrr…. We ARE Penn State). It is also home to the epicenter of mercury thermostat collection efforts. The Wolverine state can check off almost all of the attributes. Does it fall within the Cold to Very-Cold Climate Zone? Check. In the Midwest? Check. Active Utility programs stimulating replacement activity? Check. The presence of R.E. Michel’s and/or Johnstone Supply? Check, check, check and check. I’m starting to sound like a Chess Grandmaster.

Of course, there are many misconceptions of what drives mercury thermostat recycling. I’ll cite a few, briefly.

Population size. Per capita literally means every individual.  Often, we compare the fact that there are more people in a state than another. Comparing mercury thermostats to people doesn’t account for how many live in a house or share office space. That would translate into every person, every age, of every profession, owning their individual mercury thermostat at the very same moment. It’s like being born in a hospital and the doctor sending your baby home with his or her own mercury thermostat. Simply, population centers are a poor predictor. If true, coastal regions would produce most thermostats, yet the Midwest leads. 

Mandates drive recycling. Although there is an undeniable link between the presence of collection locations and the resulting mercury thermostat collections, this alone does not guarantee high collection numbers.  The presence of a law helps in collections, but that by itself is not more influential than self-interest or personal choice of the generator of the waste. Mandates also do little regarding enforcement, which is a  crucial requirement for any legislation. Without the fear of sanctions, there is little chance that the public or business will adhere to the law. Did you drive 55 mph on the highway today? I doubt it.

You may then ask, what are the best predictors? It all goes back to the Goldilocks Zone. These indicators appear more consistently and frequently than anything else, which I have cited.  Check out this nifty chart of our top ten states for further validation. The chart shows population doesn’t matter much (top 2, 3, 6, 8th most populous states don’t show up). Nor does state legislation (6 out of 10 states do not mandate mercury thermostat collections). 


The conclusion I’ve reached with this data is that mercury thermostats will become available through recycling when good actors (wholesalers and contractors) participate AND it correlates with the Goldilocks Zone. The behavior of HVAC techs, HVAC contracting company owners and generators of waste matter, too. We can also agree that there are other secondary sources of indicators such as the replacement rate of thermostats (smart and digital), the presence of utility incentive programs and HVAC equipment shipments, and these certainly all tie together too. But in the end, the bears in the forest will probably lead us to Goldilocks.

Now, with all this talk of Goldilocks. It really makes me yearn for a bowl of porridge. Has anyone ever said that?