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If you've ever struggled with the tiny, difficult-to-use settings on your furnace thermostat, you should check out the new Kelvin Talk-a-Therm. It is a fully interactive talking household thermostat -- which means it talks to you (tells you the settings, so you don't have to strain to see them) and it has speech recognition capacity -- you can talk to it; programming it with your voice. Just introduced, the Kelvin is marketed by a company named Action Talking Products, LLC, in partnership with the National Federation of the Blind.

With the fully programmable Talk-a-Therm, the homeowner can preset the temperature for specific times and specific days. During days when heating is required, it can be preset to lower the temperature during evening hours and then raise it again in the morning. It can also be preset to lower the temperature during hours or on days when the homeowner is away, at work or on vacation, for example, and to then automatically raise it again for an anticipated time or day of return. Every button and function speaks, making it easier to program.

The Kelvin will also control your air conditioning, making it useful in summer as well as winter. It will not, however, work with heat pumps.

Once the Kelvin has been programmed, temperature can be adjusted by voice commands, since it has built-in speech recognition. After saying a "keyword" to activate the speech recognition function, all the user has to do is say "raise" for each degree up and "lower" for each degree down, and the thermostat will verbally announce the new setting. The folks at ATP said it was necessary to use a "keyword" for activation, because if you didn't, and simply allowed the thermostat to function without the special activation command, you'd have a really hot poker game if the temperature went up every time someone hollered "I raise!"

The Kelvin is only marginally bigger than a conventional thermostat: 5.25 by 5.25 inches, 1.25 inches deep. Like a conventional thermostat, it can be installed by any competent professional.

The Kelvin Talk-a-Therm can be ordered by mail, e-mail, on-line, or phone, at a price of $130 plus $11.95 for shipping and handling. It is available from: Materials Center, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230; telephone: (410) 659-9314; e-mail:; website:, or from: Action Talking Products (or just ATP), 200 Robbins Lane, Jericho, NY 11753; website: