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Heating controls often aren't used effectively

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 24 September 2012 at 9:21 am

Difficulties using heating controls are widespread according to Consumer Focus which has reviewed a wide range of research on the subject (click here to download the full research results). Displays are difficult to see, buttons difficult to use, they don't tend to be intuitive to use, they are often mounted in inaccessible places, and people aren't given clear instructions of guidance on how to use them.

This matters because effective and easy-to-use tools are an important tool in saving energy. If you don't know how to use them, or can't easily reach them, the chances are that you won't be getting the best from your central heating - either in terms of comfort or cost effectiveness.

The research also shows that most people don't have at least one of the main controls required by building regulations.

One of the reasons that controls have not developed to become more user friendly is that most decisions as to what controls are installed are made by installers without any consultation with the consumer. This means that consumer feedback does not get back to the manufacturers.

The impact of this is considerable in both cost and carbon emission terms. Research indicates that households can save an average £59 per year on heating bills just by installing a room thermostat. By upgrading every home to have a room thermostat and a full set of thermostatic radiator valves the Government estimates that it would reduce carbon emissions from domestic heating by 8 per cent (about the same as estimated savings from loft insulation).

The lessons for homeowners from this research is that it's worth taking an interest in the controls your heating engineer installs: make sure that they will do what you want them to, and that you know how to use them.  

The lessons for installers are to ask your customers about how they live, and what level of control they need to get the best out of their heating. Finding out this will enable you to design the system to meet their needs. Talk to them about where would be most convenient to put the controls, teach them how to use them, and (last, but not least) don't put the room thermostat in the hall, but in the room that's most used.


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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5 comments - read them below or add one

Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 11 October 2012 at 1:01 pm

Hi John

The advice that I include in the blog comes from an engineer who does a lot of field trials and tests of boilers and heating systems. I am confident he knows what he's talking about and has data to back it up. However, if you actively manage the temperature in other rooms using the TRVs then it's probably not a huge issue. The problem comes, as AdamW points out below, if people haven't set individual radiator thermostats appropriately, or if they don't have individual TVRs. Looking forward, more people are likely to have heating zones, with separate controls, so you can turn them on separately. We have separated our upstairs and downstairs, so that we can programme them separately.

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John Broad

John BroadComment left on: 8 October 2012 at 4:12 pm

So who is right? My "room thermostat" is in the hall, right outside the room with the boiler, and was set at 18 degrees till I found myself freezing in the front room with the heating not coming on. I think someone must have fiddled with the trvs during the summer. Worked OK last year.

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Adam W

Adam WComment left on: 4 October 2012 at 10:27 pm

I believe that the thermostat should be in the room that heats up to the required temperature last - for me this is the hall as my heating system was designed this way. If the room with the thermostat has reached the configured temperature then the rest of the house will not be heated any more. The temperature in the rest of the house should be controlled by thermostatic radiator valves.

If you are boiling in your lounge because the thermostat is in the hall then you have the TRV set too high.

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Cathy Debenham

Cathy DebenhamComment left on: 29 September 2012 at 9:29 am

Hi John

A room thermostat is the one that goes on a wall - ideally in the room you use most. It's where you set the temperature you want the house to be at, and then you can fine tune for individual room using the room thermostats. 

Quite often they seem to be put in hallways, which makes them much less useful, as they are likely to be colder, and so you'll sit boiling in the living room, while the hall is still getting up to temperature (is this a conspiracy by British Gas engineers to sell more gas?).

As to what temperature it should be at, that's up to you really. It depends how warm you want your home to be. We have ours in the kitchen, and have a wood burner in the living room, and tend to have it somewhere between 19 and 21 degrees, depending on the time of year, and how much sitting at a desk I'm doing.

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John Broad

John BroadComment left on: 28 September 2012 at 6:37 pm

What's a room thermostat? How does it differ from a thermostatic radiator valve? Which room should it be in? What temperature should it be at?

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