Home > General > Dencor Energy Control Systems – Bad Idea Or Worst Idea?

Dencor Energy Control Systems – Bad Idea Or Worst Idea?

July 16th, 2011

I’m going to deviate slightly from what I normally post about on here, but I guess this is somehow tangentially related to technology. I bought a new house a few months back and it had a Dencor Energy Control System in it. Of course, I had no clue what this system does (and frankly, I’m still not entirely sure), but it wasn’t that big of a deal until recently.

Basically, the system consists of a programmable interface inside the house and a relay disconnect outside of the house. I’ve spoken to two different electricians about the system and they both say they also know nothing about it. The system that I have was installed by the original builders back in the late 70s or so, so we’re talking about pretty old technology here. I’m sure things have progressed since then, but that’s not really the point of this post.

The problem is that I have 3 electrical outlets on different breakers that mysteriously stopped working. This may or may not be related to this Dencor Energy Management System, but since I have no idea how this thing works, it seemed like a good thing to investigate. When I first bought the house, I was kind of curious how the system worked, but when I called the Dencor headquarters, they told me it was going to cost me $20 or $30 to get a copy of the manual. I wasn’t that curious.

So now that I can’t charge my razor or my fancy electronic toothbrushes once these outlets died, I decided to try again and I emailed the president of Dencor Energy Control Systems, Matt Essig, with this email:

I purchased a home back in February and it seems the original builder installed Dencor energy management systems throughout the neighborhood (back in the 70s). We’ve recently had a handful of outlets on various breakers stop working and I can’t figure out any reason why other than possibly this system. I’ve asked all of my neighbors if they know how this thing works and no one knows anything about it.

It says DDS-809 on the outer cover and on the circuit board it lists 809-1002.

I spoke with someone a few months back and they said you would have to charge me $20 or $30 for a manual for this, but that seems a bit extreme just to buy some instructions for a product.

I can find no information about this system online and your website isn’t very informative. If you have a manual for this, can’t you just scan it and post it on your website or at the very least email it to me. Or if that’s too much effort, simple photocopies of the manual pages would be fine and I can stop by and pick it up since I live in south Denver. I’ve attached a picture of the control panel (sorry it’s blurry.. i can get a real picture if needed) and I can provide photos of the relay box in the back of the house if that helps too.

If I can’t figure out how it works, my next step is going to be trying to figure out how to disable the whole system without killing myself by electric shock.

-eric

That seems pretty reasonable to me. But then something strange happened. Here is the email exchange between me and Matt Essig, the president of Dencor Energy Control Systems.

Eric,

The manual and spec sheet are attached.

I know actually charging for products and services when you are a for profit business in a market driven economy seems odd but maybe your approach is the right one; when I’m at the grocery store I’m going to insist they give me everything for free because the prices they charge are excessive.

We stopped producing the 809 decades ago; in 20 years would you support a product you stopped developing and selling, or giving away, today? How about Microsoft? Oracle? Thought so….

Maybe you should disconnect the system and watch your power bills go up (assuming the system is currently programmed properly)…

Matt

Since Matt is a big fan of free market economics, I figured I’d teach him a thing or two. So I responded with this:

Matt,

Thank you for the manual.

I am well aware of how markets work, but it seems you are not. In a market driven economy, customer service is incredibly important. This is increasingly more important now that the masses have such innovations as the Internet in order to share information about how companies treat their customers.

I see that you’re beginning to understand this since you responded to “Sandra’s” 2008 post on ripoffreport.com just a week or two ago on July 5th, 2011. I agree that Sandra was a being a bit unreasonable, but given your response to me, I can see why she might be a tad bit upset with you.

Now there’s a pretty distinct difference between what I’m asking of your company versus what you suggested I should ask at a grocery store. I think a more apt analogy would be me contacting the grocery store to help me out with instructions on how to microwave a pizza I bought. Or even better yet, contacting the *manufacturer* of the pizza… say Red Baron (via the toll free number on the back of the box that says “questions?”) and asking them how to microwave it. Now granted, I’m not going to ask how to microwave a 20 year old pizza, but we’ll discuss that next.

You see, you think I want something for free, but I am not asking you to give me any actual product or service for free unless you consider the instruction manual for your real product yet another product. That’s quite the stretch. But you asked quite an interesting question. Can I, in fact, find support for say…. Windows 3.1? You bet your ass I can. As bad as Microsoft support is, they appear to be doing a better job than your company. It’s unfortunate that you happened to pick the industry I am in for your examples.

Here is Microsoft supporting 20+ year old products:

Oh? I can download an updated vshare.386 binary for Windows 3.1? Yep… right here: http://www.microsoft.com/download/en/details.aspx?id=16991

Holy crap! Look at this! Windows 3.0 instructions on editing an autoexec.bat and config.sys file? Wow, that brings back some memories of the 80s…. http://support.microsoft.com/kb/85194

Of course, there are plenty more examples, but I think that should be sufficient for now. If you want me to give you some more examples (maybe HP printer manuals from the 80s?) I could certainly dig that up as well if you’d like. But at any rate, that’s not really the issue anymore now, is it? I possibly would have hired someone to come fix and/or upgrade the system, which of course, would benefit you, because as you well know, in a market driven economy if people can make money working on your products, your product’s future value increases in non-real terms (hint: think advertising).

But back to the point: The issue now is that your level of customer service has made my decision quite easy. I will post my email to you as well as your email back (and this one too) in its entirety on my website. I think others would be glad to hear how the president of Dencor responds to requests from users of their products.
I’ve also noticed that you seem to have a bit of litigious streak in you. You can contact “Christian Onsager, at Onsager Staelin & Guyerson” and let them know that you want to file suit against me when I post this information online as well. There’s no need for a John Doe subpoena though, you can have them serve notice directly to me at the following address:

Eric [redacted]
[redacting my actual address here as well]

Remember…. all I asked for was a simple manual. And again, thanks for the manual as well as the incredibly quick response.

Eventually, however, you’ll learn one of the greatest lessons of the market driven economy: Don’t be a dick to your customers.

-eric

Now I assumed that’d be the end of the story. Only an idiot would respond to that email. But Mr. Matt Essig, the president of Dencor Energy Management Systems didn’t want to leave it at that. He said he would sue me if I posted these emails:

Eric,

If you would like to post the emails on your website then go ahead. The email was meant for you, and you only, hence it was addressed to you. I will litigate over this if you choose to do so…just try me.

Matt

Well, not to let him down and of course I haven’t been sued in a long time, here we are. So I responded with this:

Matt,

Seriously? Emails are certainly not confidential. Furthermore, Colorado doesn’t even require two-party consent for recording and publishing of phone calls, let alone other electronic communications. You may want to contact your attorneys before you continue digging yourself into a bigger hole. You would think that for a president of a company, you would be a little better informed about the ramifications of your communications and your business conduct in general. But again, you have my address. Instead, you sound like a petulant toddler trying desperately to undo the damage that you’ve already done. Feel free to have your legal team serve notice of a lawsuit.

I will contact you again when I post the information online with a web address where you can find your emails and my commentary on my dealings with you today.

Kindest Regards,

Eric

P.S. The manuals you sent don’t mention anything about programming the system. I appreciate the documentation you provided, but if you could send the actual programming manual, that’d be incredibly helpful. Thanks again.

Well Mr. Matt Essig of Dencor Energy Management Systems, your move. Best regards and I would appreciate that manual if you could foward over a copy. You have my physical and email address.

Also, I’ve sent him a link to this post. I look forward to hearing from you again Mr. Essig

General

  1. Lee
    July 21st, 2011 at 21:16 | #1

    Well, talk about your serendipity. I just came across this web page, just 5 days after you posted this, while searching for information on the very-much-unwanted Dencor unit in my house. (I might note in passing that I did this immediately after exiting a cold shower, as the &%#! thing evidently had turned off my hot water heater for the 2nd time this week.) I was hoping to find information somewhere about how to TURN IT OFF.

    I bought this house 10 years ago, and the Dencor unit had been installed just a few years earlier by the previous owners (one of many unusual “improvements” they had made, but that’s another story). Like you, I had no idea what the thing was or what it did, but fortunately (or so I thought) the previous owners left behind the manual, as well as a little booklet in which they had penciled in their settings. I don’t know how many times I have sat down with this manual over the last ten years to try to figure out how to operate the thing, to absolutely no avail. Now, I’m no electronics whiz, but I do have a Ph.D. and it seems to me I ought to be able to at least discern, with manual in hand, how to TURN IT OFF. I cannot. It is apparent that use of the system — or, for that matter, disabling it so as NOT to use the system — requires the services of some kind of expert programmer (wizard?). Whether such programmer/wizards exist in the modern world remains something of a mystery.

    I suppose I’ve been fortunate that as it is currently programmed, I have noticed its effects only occasionally. I assume that the particularly hot weather today, for example, and thus increased AC usage, is what caused it to shut off the water heater. Nevertheless, it makes me absolutely crazy to know that this thing is controlling my electrical system behind the scenes, despite the fact that I don’t want it to do so, and that I cannot figure out how to TURN IT OFF. (The only comparable thing I can thing of that I find as aggravating is the fact that MS Word believes it can write better than I can, no matter how many “auto” features I disable. But again, that’s another story…)

    Anyway, I would greatly appreciate it if, at some point in your ongoing exchange with this public-relations moron, you can somehow get him to reveal the magic secret of how to TURN IT OFF.

    Or maybe this information is only available in the $100 version of the manual?

  2. July 21st, 2011 at 22:09 | #2

    I *think* (and granted, I’m just guessing here), that if you cut the power to the control unit, the relays that control the power default to closed (i.e. on). I had a breaker in my box that seems to power only the control unit. I flipped that breaker and the control panel in the house lost power and the control unit in the outside relay box lost power as well.

    I finally found an electrician to come out and take a look and he told me he could figure out how to program it since he’s seen a few before. But I told him I wanted the stupid thing gone merely out of spite at this point.

    As it turns out though, that wasn’t even my problem. But complete accident today, I noticed that an air freshener in my downstairs bathroom wasn’t working. I noticed the GFCI tripped and pushed the button. All of the sudden, all of my other outlets were back!

    Whoever installed this piece of junk wired my backyard outlet, and all 4 of my bathroom outlets serially into the same circuit (I wasn’t aware I was losing power to my main floor bathroom). They’re all tripped by a single GFCI outlet in the main floor bathroom. Something has managed to trip that GFCI outlet, which cuts all of them out.

    Conincidentally, those same outlets go through the Dencor box. Perhaps it’s the Dencor box causing the problem, but hell if I know how that retarded thing works. Good riddance to it, I say… and I’ll put my bathroom outlets on each bathroom’s breaker. (What a concept!). Dencor Energy Systems is the dumbest concept ever.

  3. Lee
    July 22nd, 2011 at 10:00 | #3

    My research has also led me to an unexpected surprise. I understand that the purpose of this unit is to limit your power usage during “peak” hours by shifting lower-priority circuits (in my case, as previously programmed, a hot water heater) to non-peak hours. This, of course, is useful only if your utility company bills you according to a plan that differentiates peak from non-peak usage in a way that leads, at least in theory, to cost savings. The Dencor unit then has to be programmed by a magical wizard so it knows what hours count as peak hours, what the difference in rates is between peak and nonpeak, which circuits get de-prioritized, when daylight savings time happens, the current price of tea in Malaysia, and so forth.

    What I’ve just discovered is that, for the last ten years, I have unkowingly been on such a plan, which apparently I inherited from the previous owners when I bought the house and put the power in my name. (Figuring this out, between a copy of a recent bill and the utility’s web site, was itself no mean feat.) I personally do not want this kind of plan nor the retarded Dencor unit. I prefer to decide myself when I can and cannot take a hot shower.

    It turns out that I have an electrician coming out next week for other reasons, so I’ll have him kill the beast while he’s here, but now I know that it will be important that I change my billing plan with the power company to the “standard” plan at the same time.

    Um, I think. Or maybe I should just move.

  4. July 23rd, 2011 at 15:35 | #4

    Wow… thanks for the heads up. I got off the phone with power company and I had the same thing. As it turns out, it’s going to be about $30 cheaper per month!

  5. Bob S
    January 16th, 2012 at 20:24 | #5

    Eric – fantastic response to the President. I struggled to figure out how to use mine and did exactly as Lee, killed the entire unit and threw it out. Here is a taste of capitalism…..everytime I talk to a neighbor I let them know the unit is a worthless piece of junk! Wait until i get off the grid!

  6. Dave
    June 3rd, 2012 at 14:43 | #6

    @eric
    I’ll take any Dencor unit you want to throw away, and pay for shipping it to me. That being said, I can understand the frustration caused by these units. I am trying to set one up at my house, and I am a licensed electrical contractor!

  7. mike
    April 23rd, 2013 at 07:43 | #7

    my email to dencor president in response to him bullying you:

    How funny to read the website just below yours in a google search for Dencor.

    Then to go to YOUR site and see there is no link at all for support.

    Get a hint buddy, no one will buy your product if they cant get support from your website.

    I’m an operating building engineer in a high rise hotel. One of the first things I look for on a products website is if there is a support link.

    If it doesn’t exist, and I have to even email for support, I DO NOT buy from that company as it shows a complete lack of consideration for the buyer/end user.

    Not to mention that if I cant get documentation for the product from the website itself, when I need this info when the company’s offices are closed (after hours), then that company is useless to me.

    In that case, I will buy from someone who better supports their product.

    Its the 21st century. Get with the plan or watch your company pass into oblivion.

    I’m speaking as a professional, not a homeowner. That you would treat homeowners wanting info on your product with such disregard is shameful.

    You are not Microsoft.

    Don’t act like you are such a big company that you don’t have to care.

    Maybe you really just do not care.

    I’m glad I don’t work for you or your backwards thinking company.

    That you do not even have an email address with your comany’s url really shows how behind you are compared to “real” businesses. (do you even know what a url is?)

    Really, an aol.com email address for your professional contact info? I could never take your company seriously if you can’t even afford email using your company’s url.

    So, good luck surviving in the 21st century.

    And stop picking on the little guy (residential customers.)

    Bullying is no longer in fashion. See what happens when you bully people. They get pissed and get guns and do horrible things.

    It happening all over the country lately.

    Shameful as it is. People with attitudes like yours cause those type of events.

    No this isn’t any kind of threat. Just letting you know that bullies like you, when you act the way you do, affect EVERYONE in this country.

    So…

    Stop…

    Being…

    A…

    Dick-head…

    Somehow, I’m guessing your employees feel the same way about you.

    I just cant wait for your intelligent (NOT) response.

  8. Dave in AZ
    July 9th, 2013 at 20:21 | #8

    Well thanks, you saved me from buying a Dencor.

    I need a replacement and was considering Dencor until I came across this web page. It looks like a few other companies that make energy management computers, either Braden Automation , or Pensar.

    If your power company has a “peak demand” plan the power can be 1/3 the normal price, but you are penalized heavily for using too many things at once. So these devices prevent you from running the AC, clothes dryer, and water heater, etc all at the same time. Instead, you must run them sequentially. In the end you use the same amount of power but it’s not at the same time which lowers the peak usage.

    Also as someone above has mentioned, if the management computers are turned OFF or disconnected, the control relays should default to “ON” so it will allow you to run everything and the computer will not interfere. There will usually be one circuit breaker dedicated just for the management computer. Turning that breaker off will disable the computer and it will no longer cut off water heaters, AC, the dryer, or whatever.

  9. J. Random Crank
    January 22nd, 2014 at 16:07 | #9

    “Bullying is no longer in fashion. See what happens when you bully people. They get pissed and get guns and do horrible things.”

    heh. Pot, meet kettle – full of righteous indignation!

    Never seen one of these, but I’m guessing it just about predates the internet to some extent. This explains the stance of the pres of this tiny company, who hasn’t figured out where the money will come from to keep the lights on – and thus hasn’t subscribed to the Stallman ethos, nor that of “the customer is always right” and “infrastructure wants to be free”.

    I’m sympathetic (much, much worse things are coming soon from power companies) but really, this is like moving into a house near an airport and then whining because planes actually fly into it. It’s a box with a bunch of relays and a micro-controller… not exactly rocket science!

    You clearly know *nix and how to operate the blogosphere like a pro, so why not just learn how relays and electricity work and tear the dman thing out?

    Really, it can be replaced with copper wire by anyone with half a clue, and will be a day’s work at most. Heck, if you go to a salvage yard, you can probably get $30 worth of scrap wire and do the whole thing yourself. Lots of free information about electrical wiring on the internet. Go get some!

    And don’t be hatin’ on some pre-singularity company that couldn’t predict the future. There are already 14 year olds out there who know that *you* don’t get it, and they’re still laughing at you for thinking you could sell products to transit systems for $50 a month.

    The hip kids know that the way to do it is to PAY the transit systems $250 a month to USE your software. And if you can’t figure out how that works, well, you’re no better than the dude from dencor.
    Welcome to the future, man.

  10. January 22nd, 2014 at 16:22 | #10

    @J. Random Crank

    I get where you’re coming from and all that, but this isn’t like moving into the glide path of an airport and no one told you you were doing so. This is more like some bizzaro “engery savings system” installed in your house. It’d be more akin to buying a house on a superfund site. Imagine the idea that because the house had “Sylvania” light bulbs pre-installed, it was somehow a problem (It’s not… never had a problem with Sylvania). Perhaps the inspection would turn this up. But at the end of the day, trying to get information out of Dencor — even if it is to promote their product — is nearly impossible.

    Their business model is now “buy our manuals so you can figure out what our crap does.” If you are in the service industry of maintaining this model, this is good for you. For a homeowner… not so much. They’ve basically said “HA HA! We already got our money, if you want to figure out why, then pay us!” I suppose that is a business model. But it is not a very good one from a consumer standpoint.

    As posted, at the end of the day, cutting power to this disaster of a system probably saved me about $100 per month. The point is not that I *can* bypass the system to “fix it”… just that I shouldn’t have to. If you missed the point of the post, then you have my apologies.

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