MONEY Leisure

How Daylight Saving Time Costs You Money

two women looking in shop windows at dusk
Daylight saving: energy conservation measure or Chamber of Commerce conspiracy? Betsie Van Der Meer—Getty Images

The tradeoff for later sunsets during daylight saving time is that you're more likely to be out and about, dropping cash.

At 2 a.m. on Sunday, November 2, the observation of daylight saving time will end and the clocks will “fall back” to the standard time, 1 a.m. Despite the fact that the shift grants the vast majority of Americans a much-welcomed extra hour of sleep, many would prefer to do away with the twice-annual time change.

Arizona and Hawaii already don’t bother with daylight saving time, and it looks like Utah could be next. In an online survey that collected more than 27,000 responses, two-thirds of Utahns favored staying on Mountain Standard Time year-round, like Arizona does. “Convenience really stood out” as a major reason why folks want to get rid of daylight savings, the leader of a government committee studying the topic explained to the Salt Lake Tribune. “People don’t want to move their clocks forward, backward … They just want to set them and leave them.”

OK, so doing away with daylight savings would make life simpler—but only very slightly so, since our computers and smartphones and other gadgets change their clocks automatically. More important, what’s the argument to keep daylight saving observation in place?

Daylight saving time was first embraced during World War I, when the idea was that the spring shift would help conserve coal because people would need less light and heat since they had more daylight during their waking hours. The concept that daylight saving saved on energy costs persisted for decades but has recently been declared patently false. Later sunsets during the warm months mean a higher likelihood that Americans will spend their evenings driving around and doing stuff, meaning more need for gas and air-conditioning during waking hours.

The ability for Americans to be out and about enjoying the later sunset amounts to an economic stimulus, because odds are we’re spending more money when we’re out. Michael Downing, a Tufts University professor and author of Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Savings, explained to The Takeaway public radio program that the main beneficiaries of daylight saving include the golfing, tourism, and recreation industries—all of which attract more business when there’s more daylight after the traditional work day is done.

For that matter, all manner of shops and small businesses love what’s perceived to be a longer day, because it pushes consumers outside later into the night. “Since 1915, the principal supporter of daylight saving in the United States has been the Chamber of Commerce on behalf of small business and retailers,” said Downing. “The Chamber understood that if you give workers more sunlight at the end of the day they’ll stop and shop on their way home.”

A Tufts blog post noted that in 2005, daylight saving time was expanded from seven to eight months, including the key step of delaying the “fall back” until the first week of November—a move spurred on thanks to pressure from lobbyists supporting candy manufacturers and convenience stores. Why would they want such a change? Kids would get an extra hour of daylight for trick-or-treating, meaning more candy consumption and more candy purchases. Later sunsets for more of the year also mean more people out on the roads needing to swing by convenience stores to gas up or grab snacks.

As a result of these changes, we somewhat bizarrely now observe daylight saving for the vast majority of the year. “Today we have eight months of daylight saving and only four months of standard time,” Downing said. “Can you tell me which time is the standard?”

To some extent, the autumn return to standard time balances things out. With earlier sunsets, we’re out on the roads less, and therefore there’s less need to gas up the car. So there’s some savings there. Still, for much of the country, people wouldn’t be playing golf or having barbecues or visiting national parks anyway at that time of year because it’s just too cold.

And remember: Daylight saving is eight months of the year, versus only four months for “standard” time. Also: While daylight saving serves as an economic stimulus for two-thirds of the calendar year, standard time has its own epic consumer stimulus, in the form of Black Friday and the ever-expanding holiday shopping season.

TIME recreation

Inside the ‘Surprise House’ on Governors Island

Laura Parker

Something mysterious is happening inside an abandoned house a stone's throw from Manhattan

At first glance, the only way to distinguish the crumbling Governors Island residence from its colonial neighbors is a small sign on the front door bearing a bright orange question mark — but this is no ordinary house.

Free and open to the public every weekend during summer, the Surprise House is one of the latest projects to take advantage of the island’s growing public programs. An immersive, multi-sensory “experience,” each room has been designed to appeal to the viewer’s curiosity. It’d be cheating to reveal much more — just think of it like a haunted house without the haunted, where cheap tricks or tawdriness have been replaced with down-the-rabbit-hole delights. It’s the work of New York consulting company Surprise Industries, who took up residency inside House 7A last month.

“We want people to feel like children again, exploring and discovering every nook and cranny,” says Surprise Industries co-founder Tania Luna.

Although the concept is similar to other immersive theatrical experiences like Sleep No More and Then She Fell, there are no actors or behind-the-scenes goings-on in the house. People enter in groups of five or six and are left to explore at their own pace. Luna says she didn’t want the house to feel too exclusive. “A lot of similar experiences in New York are built up because they’re so hard to get into,” she says. “We wanted our house to be accessible.”

To achieve this, Luna enlisted the help of NYU grad school student Adrienne Carlile. Carlile is currently studying theatre costume and set design — unlike her previous projects, this one called for an environment people would feel comfortable touching. “On stage, you work with actors who are told very clearly, ‘Do not touch anything unless it is your prop,’” Carlile tells me on the day I visit the house. “This is the exact opposite. I had to find objects that appeared delicate without looking off-limits.”

It’s a testament to Carlile’s skill that it takes a while to for this to sink in. It took me five minutes to shake off my initial reverie, and another five before I found the courage to reach out and tentatively poke something. Curiosity and exploration is vital; sometimes, you can only leave a room once you’ve found the door to the next one. Celebrating this kind of ambiguity is one of the reasons Surprise Industries exists. “Adults can become too serious,” Luna says.

Luna founded the company in 2008 with her sister, Kat. They began curating surprises for small groups with varying budgets — everything from trapeze classes to musical saw lessons. When this became financially unsustainable, they switched to public surprises, charging $25 a head, and corporate team-building activities for private companies. Last year, they learned of plans to give abandoned houses on Governors Island — once officers’ homes during the island’s days as a military base — to different artistic and cultural organizations to create free public programs. They applied, and were granted a summer residency.

Although the houses are free, some have been abandoned for more than twenty years. Luna, Carlile and Surprise Industries director Carolyn McCandlish spent a week peeling crumbling plaster from the walls before they could officially move in. They used money raised during a Kickstarter campaign to buy furniture and props.

Luna is waiting for me on the porch when I finally wander out. She asks for my thoughts.

“I think I need some time to process everything,” I say, truthfully.

She smiles. “Everyone says that.”

Surprise House, located at Nolan Park, No. 7A on Governors Island, is open every weekend from August 16 to September 14 from 1pm-5pm. Cost: free.

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