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Clever heating controls may be the must-have new gadgets

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 17 April 2014 at 10:23 am

For most of us controlling our home heating involves setting a timer for the heating to come on morning and evening, setting a room thermostat, and that's about it. We might adjust the thermostat occasionally, or twiddle the individual radiator thermostats every now and then, but mostly the heating is on everywhere or off everywhere.

I find this particularly frustrating as I work from home. I hated having the heating on in the whole house just for me to sit in one room. We now have two zones in the house so we can schedule upstairs separately from downstairs, but that's still not ideal.

So I was pretty interested to see a couple of products at the recent Homebuilding and Renovating Show which put people totally in charge of their heating on a room by room basis. The great news is that they can be used with your existing wet heating system - you don't have to wait until you need a new boiler. These, coupled with the newly launched Google Nest and Todo, might be just enough to shift heating controls from something we fit and forget, to the latest must-have, are I even say sexy, gadget! 

The established market leader is Honeywell. It's an international company that has been making thermostats for years. Its Evohome system allows you to control the temperature in any room or zone in your home from anywhere using an app on your smartphone (Apple and Android). If you're going to be home early you can switch on the heating as leave work. Similarly you can turn it up or down, on or off wherever you are.

It's not just on and off though, you can set the temperature for different times of the day, for different zones of the house, for every day of the week. The system learns how long your home takes to warm up, and activates itself so that your heating and hot water reach the temperature you want, when you want it.

Honeywell claims that by upgrading your basic timer and thermostat controls to Evohome smart zoning you could save as much as 40% on your heating bill. These savings were calculated by the Energy Saving Research Unit at Strathclyde University in a three bedroom, two storey home modelling a family of 4 over a typical week.

The system consists of a central controller, individual digital radiator valves and a gateway which connects Evohome to your smartphone or tablet. It works both radiators or underfloor heating. The base pack costs £150, the gateway (which allows you to connect it to your smartphone) is £50 and a pack of four thermaostatic radiator valves costs £200. I used Honeywell's Evohome system builder to design a system for my three bedroom house, choosing to control most rooms and was quoted £1,195 (without installation) for a system that included 10 radiator valves.

New on the block is Heat Genius. The basis of its system is similar, but it has an extra bit of functionality which learns how you use each room and begins to schedule the heating automatically around the way you live. Like the Evohome you need a controller and Heat Genius wireless radiator valves. The extra bits of kit are motion sensors which you can install in rooms you want to operate in 'footprint mode'. Then the system will learn when you normally use the room, preheating it ready for when you come in, and turning the radiator off when you leave.

The Heat Genius also has a weather compensation feature - it checks the weather forecast so that if it's due to be sunny it can reduce the target temperature in your house. You can enable or disable this feature as you wish. There's also an Away feature for when you're on holiday.

The Genius hub is £249, radiator valves are £49.99 each, and the room sensors are £44.99 each. According to Simon Turner, who invented Heat Genius, a typical 4-bedroom solid wall house will save more than £250 per year in heating costs, paying for the equipment in under two years. It's offering free installation (usually £125) in April as long as you buy more than three valves (England & Wales only).

Also on the market, but not offering nearly the same level of functionality as Heat Genius or Evohome are Hive Active Heating from British Gas, Tado and the Nest from Google. 

Hive lets you control your heating wherever you are, but it doesn't allow you to zone your home or learn how you use it. It costs £199 installed, and claims to save up to £150 a year. Tado is a smart phone app that reduces the temperature in your home as you are further away from it and heats up again as soon as one resident approaches home. It costs £249 or you can rent the connector kit for £6.99 a month. Nest is a hi tech (and very good looking) thermostat which learns how you use your home to save you money. You don't have to programme it ("programmes are cumbersome and don't really work,"says Lionel Paillet, Nest's general manager for Europe). The more you use it, the more it learns.  Nest claims that US customers save an average 20% on their heating bill. It launched in the UK on 2 April 2014 and costs £180 (£250 with installation) and will partner with nPower in the UK.

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Comments

1 comments - read them below or add one

Tom Bragg

Tom BraggComment left on: 13 May 2014 at 9:50 am

Nice overview, Cathy.

With many (or is it most?) people not understanding their heating controllers, these more complex ones need good user-interfaces! Smartphones could help, but it's all in the detail. Honeywell's Evohome app seems to cost £57!

Remote control needs your broadband left switched on. Our Virgin Hub consumes 12.8W and so we switch it off when not in use. In addition the Evohome Hub consumes 1.25W (not in their datasheet, but Honeywell eventually emailed this).  So the extra electricity consumption is significant, but not major.

DECC's What people want from their heating controls lists "being able to monitor spending on heating" first. Doesn't look like the Evohome displays electricity cost: only kWh consumed.

But I’ve had good experience of Honeywell before and just haven't looked at the Evohome's rivals.

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