Looking for a more intelligent heating control system?

Are the old dial thermostats destined for the scrapheap?

For most of us, the room thermostat is a simple dial on the wall that allows you (in theory at least) to control the temperature of the home. I say ‘in theory’ because during our home surveys we go into a great number of homes who actually have their thermostats turned up to 300c, but the house very rarely gets anywhere near that sort of temperature.

The downsides of a classic room thermostat

Now – don’t get me wrong, thermostats are a fantastic invention, but they are pretty limited. We go into homes where the thermostat is situated right by the front door. It is exposed to an almost constant stream of cold air, which means that the thermostat is will invariably send a signal to the boiler to fire up since it is recording the ambient temperature as very low.

>>> Is the Nest thermostat all its cracked up to be? <<<

One of the other most obvious downsides of thermostats is their inflexibility – a dial on the wall is not exactly the most efficient way to control the temperature of a home with 10 radiators. It is also incredibly manual – you need to move the dial each time you want to adjust the temperature.

Our independently commissioned research also shows that achieving the desired temperature for everyone in the household is a tough ask – in fact constantly moving the thermostat dial and changing habitable room temperature frequently sets off bickering in the home.

So, how do you go about managing all these demands effectively?

Intelligent heating controls – the smarter way to heat your home is here!

A new breed of thermostat and heating control is available for the home – one that will allow for the busy modern life; varying temperatures between the outside and inside; variability between rooms and some will even learn about your habits too!

So if you have an old thermostat – like the one you can see in the picture to the right, you may be better off replacing it today!

What is the best intelligent heating control system for me?

There are a few different intelligent heating systems available, so in the rest of this blog we are going to look at each of those available and try and draw out the key features and limitations of each based on their basic functionality, intelligence and zoning capabilities (ability to heat different parts of the house to different temperatures) – hopefully this will give you some decent insight to shape your purchasing decision.

What are the current comparable intelligent heating control products on the market?

There are a few really intelligent heating systems available – of which you will have probably heard of some – Nest – which was recently bought by Google and Hive from British Gas, which is currently getting heavily advertised, in the British press. Others are the Heat Genius and the Honeywell evohome, so scroll down to read more about them. We like Netatmo products.

>>> What about Heat Genius, Owl, Heatmiser, Insteon and the Lyric thermostats? <<<

We know that there have been other intelligent heating systems released since we first wrote this – to get our take on them, click on the link above.

Nest Intelligent Thermostat

At the beginning of 2014, Google bought out Nest for a whopping £2billion – at which point their only product was the Nest Intelligent Thermostat and Nest Protect, a speaking smoke alarm. This suggested to us at least, that intelligent heating controls have a hugely bright future. The product is now available in the UK, following the announcement in April 2014, whereby Nest is also closely working with NPower to target the distribution to some of their energy customers.

Nest intelligent thermostatEssentially the Nest Intelligent thermostat is like your existing thermostat albeit a very advanced version. On the simplest level, you can move swipe your finger over the touch sensitive screen to change the temperature up and down like a traditional thermostat.

Once installed, the Nest Intelligent thermostat will begin to learn your heating patterns as you manually change them over the first couple of weeks and develop an auto – schedule to automatically do this going forward.

The thermostat also has temperature, humidity, activity and light sensors behind the sensor window, to help it react more intelligently to changing conditions, for example it will turn off the heating when it notices you have left the home to help save on your heating bills. It will also take into account the impact of direct sunlight falling on the unit and still read and set the correct temperature.

In addition the thermostat can also be remotely controlled – having the capability to work with both Apple and mobile Android software, so on your tablet, computer and phone you can check usage and operate it away from your home. The great thing about the nest is that it has the capability to communicate with the broadband router without an additional ‘dongle’ that many of the other intelligent heating systems have. This means you only need the two units – the thermostat itself and the receiver that plugs directly into the boiler.

The product itself is quite easy to install, if you have some experience of changing a light fitting or performed basic electrical DIY in the house. At the moment there is a really easy to follow ‘how to’ video on the Nest website, but this is designed for the US market – although a UK version should follow shortly shortly.

The are two downsides to the Nest thermostat – the first is that it will only control the hot water that is used to heat your home, not the hot water the comes out of the taps (which is an issue for heat only boilers). The second is that it needs to be plugged in to an electrical circuit at all times, there is no battery backup.

It currently retails at £180 as a standalone unit or £250 with professional installation.

The British Gas Hive

Next on the list is the Hive Intelligent heating system from British Gas. If you live in UK, I am sure you will have seen all the press coverage for this product – British gas are obviously keen to exploit the gap in the market before the Nest makes its way over to these shores!

The Hive Intelligent thermostatSo, the actual hardware is sold as part of the ‘Hive Active Heating Kit’, which essentially includes the following items: the receiver which is installed by an engineer to the boiler; a wireless thermostat; a hub box that plugs into your broadband router that allows you to control the wireless thermostat with a computer app.

The Hive app, just like all the other intelligent heating control systems allows the household to control their heating remotely from any part of the country (internet signal permitting). So if you happen to be out and about and want to get home to a toasty warm house, then you simply log into the software on your phone – both Android and iPhone, and turn up the heating.

In the end the Hive is ultimately a thermostat that limits heating to one zone. It is also not smart like the Nest, so apart from the anti-frost control it doesn’t track the heating habits of the home and all the settings are adjusted manually.

>>> Our Detailed review of Hive <<<

So, although the Nest Intelligent Thermostat is not yet available in UK, were it to be offered at a similar price as the Hive, we reckon the Hive would struggle to compete with it on pure functionality. However this being the first model, we anticipate that further releases down the line will address some of these initial functionality shortfalls.

The one big advantage of the Hive over the Nest is that you can control the hot water using the system, so for those with a Heat Only boiler (i.e. a hot water tank), this might be a welcome addition.

Tado

The Tado is a fairly neat and straightforward system allowing you to control the temperature and the heating on/off times. The set-up is pretty simple, comprising of three pieces of kit – the Tado box, the Tado connector for your broadband and finally, the temperature motion sensor.

If you have a room thermostat already, you can simply wire the Tado box directly into this. If you don’t have a thermostat then you will need to wire the Tado box directly into the heating system. Most of the existing boilers will be fine to connect to, but if you are unsure refer to the Tado website for more information.

>>> Our Detailed Review of Tado <<<

The Tado connector then slots into one of the usb slots at the back of your router and you are almost ready to go. Finally the temperature motion sensor should be placed in an area that you intend to spend most of your habitable or living time. When this is plugged in, you simply fire up the app on your apple / android system and you are ready to start setting up your heating schedule and target temperature.

tado

The Tado

From here the device will work like any other thermostat – the heating will come on an off when you tell it to do so and if the room reaches its target temperature the boiler will turn off.

The key issue with the Tado intelligent thermostat is that you need an app to change the heating pattern or set your ‘virtual thermostat’. Unlike the Nest device or Hive systems, there is no way of seeing the temperature on any of the Tado kit supplied – you will need the app working on your phone or table to see this in real time. So, if you feel a little bit uncomfortable with this method then there are other systems you should consider.

One really nice feature of Tado though, is that it has geofencing functionality (like the Honeywell Lyric) – the system will know who is in the house (based on the apps on their phone) and will heat the property accordingly. As soon as everyone has left the property (provided they remember their phones), the boiler will turn down as it will assume there is no one home to benefit from the heating – quite scary, but intelligent nevertheless and maybe the next step in home automation!

Honeywell evohome

Many of our readers will probably be familiar with Honeywell, already having one of their basic Honeywell thermostat installed in their homes. The evohome is certainly an ‘evolutionary’ step away from these old thermostats though, since it allows the user to set up heating zones in their home, all of which can be set at different temperatures to one another for an even greater level of heating control – just like the Hive and Nest, the evohome can also be controlled remotely with a phone app.

Honeywell evohome thermostatThe company has tried to fight hard against Nest Intelligent Thermostat in recent years and has been playing catch-up somewhat in this rapidly expanding ‘consumer techy’ market.

The evohome product itself has to be wired to the central heating system. From that you have the central controller, which communicates to both the boiler unit and Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) that can be fitted onto the individual radiators in the rooms that you want to control – for each base unit you can create a maximum of 12 heating zones.

The central controller can then be controlled manually or remotely with the right software application. The neat aspect of the evohome controller is that it can be fixed to the wall like your existing thermostat or acts as a standalone like tablet that you can take around the house with you. However unlike the Heat Genius or the Nest Intelligent Thermostat this particular model does not learn user habits.

It is certainly not the cheapest model on the market, starting at £372 for the basic starter pack and the mobile access kit, but this assumes the home is one zone – a bit like your existing thermostat. If you then want to have multiple zones, it works out about £69 per radiator or per TRV purchased.

>>> What about Heat Genius, Owl, Heatmiser, Insteon and the Lyric thermostats? <<<

We know that there have been other intelligent heating systems released since we first wrote this – to get our take on them, click on the link above.

What do we think about the savings of having an intelligent heating system installed?

Going through various assertions of manufacturers talking about savings of 20% or more – personally we think these are ‘pie in the sky’ figures as it all entirely depends on the fabric and insulation of your existing property. If you have a poorly insulated home for example, then the idea of having a thermostat control the temperature of that are become redundant as in reality that room may never reach the desired level. So actually you are no better off as your existing heating system struggles to keep your home at the temperature that you want.

Also the savings will only result if you actually incorporate behaviours that make you think about the temperature and on-and-off times – and the Heat Genius for example will help you tackle the behaviours point. If you are one of those folks that keeps the thermostat at 300c, then no matter how ‘smart’ your thermostatic control system is, you will struggle to see the savings come through.