Why Don’t Timers Keep Good Time?

Timers are built into different devices that serve a variety of purposes.  You’d think that they would all have one thing in common, right?  Keeping accurate time.  After all, it’s right there in the name!

But, while this may be true for many devices, it doesn’t seem so in our house.

Four Timers, Three Fails

While we have many things that keep time, we have four timers in our house where keeping accurate time is pretty important.

  • Lamp Timers (x2) – We have one each in our living room and our family room, which of course turn lights on and off at designated times.  They’re two completely different brands of timer.
  • Thermostat – Our programmable thermostat adjusts the temperature at various points of the day, keeping us comfortable and saving us money.
  • Lawn Sprinklers – They’re currently turned off until spring, but our sprinklers water the grass overnight to keep the yard looking good throughout summer.

Out of these, three of these consistently keep bad time! Only the lawn sprinkler timer, once set, actually keeps proper time for as long as it’s plugged in.

The other timers all start keeping improper time at the rate of about 1-2 minutes per month.

The lamp timers get reset every few weeks as the amount of daylight changes, and every single time I notice that they’re at least one minute off, sometimes two.

The thermostat makes its poor timekeeping known when I get up in the morning and notice that the heat hasn’t kicked on like it ought to have.  We have a pretty specific schedule, and even a few minutes difference is noticeable after awhile on arctic nights.  If I wake up shivering, then sure enough, the time is inevitably a few minutes off.

Why Do Timers Lose Time?

So what gives?  Why aren’t timers keeping accurate time.

mb-2015-03-alarmclock
This thing could very well be more accurate than some fancy digital timers!

I honestly have no idea, as I’m not an engineer.  I know that all of them contain circuit boards and that there’s programming built in to cover the tracking of time.  Now, my own simple mind tells me that keeping time should be about one of the most basic functions of modern circuitry, but my 25% success rate clearly tells me that my assumptions are wildly incorrect.

The only two possibilities that I can think of are:

  • The devices are old and going bad – Do these things have a shelf life?  I would think that with all of the devices they would either work or not work, but maybe there’s a ‘middle ground’.
  • It’s a battery thing – All of the devices that lose time have one thing in common, in that they have batteries.  The thermostat runs fully on batteries, and the lamp devices have batteries so that they can be taken out of the wall for reprogramming and so that they don’t lose their settings if the power goes out.  Maybe the battery power has something to do with it?

It Can’t Be Just Me

Am I the only person that has noticed that devices designed to keep time simply don’t work as you’d expect they should?  I took a couple of statistics classes back in school, so I know that my sample of four isn’t meaningful enough to actually draw a theory, but it’s just….weird.

Readers, what do you think?  Do your timer-based devices keep time or do you find that they’ll eventually deviate?  Can any engineers out there that can explain why this happens?  Tell me if I’m crazy for expecting that timers keep time?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Why Don’t Timers Keep Good Time?”

  1. It’s really a batter thing or it’s time to change the device, Money Beagle. Or, maybe you can bring it to a repair shop to have them checked.

    • Well, the lamp timers are probably $15 and the thermostat is pretty old and probably near end of life anyway, so any repair costs would be way too costly. I guess I’ll just grin and bear it for now.

  2. My watering system control box is hard-wired…lose the power, and it forgets what time it is. But as long as it gets juice, it keeps accurate time — and it’s an old guy now. I’d guess your problem is probably a battery thing.

    No two clocks in my house say the same thing, except for the day/time function on my two computers and the clock on the microwave, which always agree. All the other clocks are battery-operated. Even if you run around the house and synchronize them all, pretty quick some are running fast and some slow.

    Some devices that you think are hard-wired also have a battery. Might be worth checking.

Leave a Comment