Your complete guide to smart heating:
✓ Saving money on your energy bills
✓ Which smart heating system is best for you
✓ What is smart heating?
Given that your heating is to blame for an eye-watering 60% of your energy bill it’s easy to see that there is the potential for significant savings to be made. As much as 20-30% in fact…and we don’t mean by turning the heating down and sticking another jumper on.
Wifi-controlled, smart thermostats deliver what for many people is the holy trinity of technology requirements: they make life easier, more comfortable, and potentially – cue fanfare – cheaper. Yep, the triple whammy.
So cut to the chase…which smart heating system is the best?
Rather than looking for the best smart heating system, you should look for the best for you.
Different thermostats come with different stand-out features. Which features you want will determine the brand and model of thermostat you should pick. Here are our top four most highly recommended thermostats along with the different features they offer:
Compare features of the top selling smart heating systems:
|Learning capability||Frost guard setting||Multi-zone option||Location tracking/geofencing||Hot water control||Remote control option|
|tado°||y||y||x (due 2015)||y||y||y|
|Heat Genius||y||y||y||x – but planned for 2016||y||y|
|Scottish Power Connect||x||x||x||x||y||y|
|EDF Energy HeatSmart (Netatmo)||y||y||x||x||x||y|
A hidden sensor triggers the screen to come on as you approach the dial ready to respond to your every temperature whim, and it is super-simple to control either by adjusting the display itself or remotely via app.
The Heat Link – the component that attaches to your boiler – is a lesson in subtlety and unlike most other smart heating systems has built-in wifi which allows your system to connect to the internet rather than requiring a ‘bridge’ to be plugged into your router as the go between. However this will require that your wifi signal is good enough wherever your boiler and the Heat Link are located.
Nest is compatible with most heating systems but if you have a more unusual heating system installed at home you get the full compatibility low-down here.
Other than its sleek looks, one of Nest’s most impressive features is its learning capabilities. During the first few weeks while you are manually making adjustments to the thermostat or setting timers for your heating, Nest is busily learning your schedule so that it knows how to behave in the future. And if your schedule changes, it’ll learn that too.
From the get-go Nest’s sensor will also track whether anyone is home so it can turn off when no-one is in, and turn on again when you return – saving you money from day one.
The downside of Nest, is that it isn’t a multi-zonal system UNLESS you fork out for additional thermostats – which is a pricey solution.
The Nest app is decent, though not exceptional.
Unlike other smart thermostats, you can also incorporate Nest smoke alarms to the system which allows to you receive smoke alarm notifications to your phone or tablet too which is a useful extra.
Nest has earned itself a big, and justifiable, fan club and is a guaranteed fixture in every tech experts short list for best smart thermostats.
Heat Genius is a multi-zone heating system that takes smart heating to the next level. It allows you to control the heating separately in different areas of your home. Whether room by room, or in ‘zones’ where you group rooms on a similar schedule together e.g. all bedrooms, or all of your downstairs rooms, this enables you to make heating choices based on how, when, and how often rooms are in use.
So, if you have a spare room that is empty except for a few weekends a year when you have guests staying, you can create a ‘zone’ for it, and set it to heat just in time for the mother-in-law to ring the doorbell – assuming you want your mother-in-law getting comfortable in your house.
And it’s not just ideal for those of you are lucky enough to have a spare room, or entire wing, in your mansion. We all have patterns to our day that affect when we use certain rooms in our homes, for example, using bedrooms at night, and our kitchen at breakfast and dinner times. So why waste money heating rooms during the times they aren’t being used?
You don’t have to with Heat Genius.
As well as scheduling options, Heat Genius also uses sensors to track your presence, not just in the house, but in a specific room or area in your house, so it can to determine which areas to heat, and to not heat, at any one time.
As Heat Genius factors in the ambient room temperature when calculating how long the heating needs to be on to achieve your desired temperature at the preferred time, it doesn’t waste a single bit of energy warming rooms ahead of the time you are using them.
Heat Genius has an additional hot water control option that you can purchase with the rest of the kit.
And, like all of our smart thermostats, everything is controllable remotely via an app so you can make adjustments to your heating from wherever you happen to be.
For an extra touch, you can also add smart plugs to your package allowing you to control other electronic devices via the same connection.
Up front this is the most costly of our recommended smart thermostats, but the potential for savings will pay for it many times over in the long run so it’s all down to whether you can bear the initial cost.
Visually speaking Hive is not going to be stomping down a catwalk any time soon, unlike its beautiful competitor, Nest. However, it does have several features which set it apart from the other front runners of smart heating.
As well as controlling your heating, with Hive you can control your hot water too. And as the two often go hand-in-hand this is pretty useful and means you can REALLY make your energy consumption as efficient as possible. You can check whether Hive is compatible with your boiler here.
Hive also has geolocation functionality allowing it to control your heating in the most efficient way without compromising on comfort. It switches off or down when you, or anyone in your household with the linked app on their phone moves outside of a pre-determined local area. Then switches on again when you re-enter in time for you to walk in to an already heated home, a real plus over systems that only react once you trigger the sensor inside your home.
The Hive app is a simple one but is nicely designed and useful.
The downsides? Well, with all smart thermostat systems, with the sole exception of Nest, Hive requires a internet bridge to be wired to your router in order for your system to function, so you’ll have more clutter and wireless around your router.
Hive also lacks any learning capabilities, so regardless of how diligently you adjust your heating over time it’s never going to take the hint and make the adjustments itself. Ultimately this probably makes Hive a system that better suits itself to households with more consistent routines that your heating can be programmed around.
However, despite this, the pros of Hive outweigh the cons and it regularly scores highly with users and tech experts alike so is well worth considering for your household – and although it is a British Gas product, you don’t need to be a British Gas customer to install it in your home.
Unlike some of it’s competitors, Tado isn’t designed to be conspicuous. A white square unit with white light display leaves this smart heating system appealing to those of you NOT looking to make a feature out of your thermostat.
However, this subtle little system delivers a features-packed punch. Boasting geolocation settings AND motion sensors it is able to operate in the most efficient way without you sacrificing your comfort levels. Roll on significantly lower energy bills!
Like Nest, this little puppy is a learning dog. So while you’ll need to spend your first few weeks with it tweaking your schedule and temperatures, after that you should be able to largely leave it to get on with scheduling your heating itself.
Plus, because Tado takes the weather forecast into account when setting the temperature it is able to heat your home in the most efficient way.
Tado doesn’t have a multi-zone option available just yet, though the company says it’s coming this year. However, as with Nest, this will mean you’ll need to buy as many multi-zone thermostats as areas you want to control making your up-front costs somewhat higher.
That said, multi-zone control, particularly in larger houses, can allow for the very highest savings to be made as it will allow you to heat just the areas that you want to use, when you want to use them.
To maximise your savings potential you can use Tado to remotely control your hot water control too, but you’ll need to buy an extra piece of Tado kit in order to add this functionality.
All in all, Tado is an impressive product and it’s regular appearances on the experts Top 3 lists earns it a recommendation of our own.
What features do smart thermostats have?
A number of smart thermostats now come with an element of ‘intelligence’. Sadly this doesn’t mean they are going to help your kids with their homework or fill in your tax return, but it does mean they are able to learn and adapt to your behaviour allowing them to function in the most efficient way.
Every adjustment you make helps the system automatically deliver the best heating programme for your home. Nest and tado° are both leading brands in intelligent thermostats.
Some systems give you individual control of the temperature in different rooms or areas of your house. So, for example, if your daughter is away at university, you can reduce the sub-tropical climate in her room without shivering in the rest of the house.
This feature is great if you have areas of your house that you use less often – like a study, or a guest bedroom, why waste money heating them during the days/weeks that they are not being used? And this works equally well on a hourly basis. Why not limit your heating to the times that you mostly use each room – early mornings and at night for the main bedroom, breakfast and dinner time for the kitchen, and so on.
Heatmiser and Heat Genius are two of the front-runners in multi-zone temperature control.
Ultra low temp/frost guard
Many smart thermostats now have ultra low temperature settings so instead of being either tropical, or off, you can set the system to operate at a super low level that is triggered when the temperature drops below a specified level. Perfect for keeping your pipes from freezing if you are away over winter or if an unexpected cold snap occurs but without wasting money on heating an empty home. Hive and Nest thermostats both have this feature.
Energy efficient timing
Most smart thermostats can calculate exactly how long it takes for a room, or your whole home, to reach a desired temperature – this means your system can function in the most efficient way possible, coming on at exactly the right time for it to be the perfect temperature as you walk in and not a moment earlier.
Aside from it being pretty pleasing not to have to sit around in your coat for an hour after you get home while the house warms up OR having to fork out to keep your home warm even when you are not in it, you will also save a pretty packet on your energy bill in the long run.
Honeywell are one of the brands offering this feature.
Remote access and control
All smart thermostats are wifi connected giving you the ability to control them remotely via an app on your mobile or tablet. So, with a wifi signal and the relevant app you can adjust your heating from wherever you happen to be…which in our case is usually at the departure gate about to leave the country for two weeks accompanied by the words “oh blast (or similar), we forgot to turn the heating off again”.
Some systems are able to track when you are out of your house, so if you forget to switch your heating off or down when you leave, your system is smart, not to mention helpful enough, to do it for you which’ll save you money on your energy bills.
Some do this this with sensors that monitor for movement in your home and can therefore tell when you are out. Others access location data on your phone in order to switch off when you, or more accurately, when your phone leaves your house, and turns back on as you head home…perfectly timed for your house to be toasty by the time you walk in the door. Bliss.
Honeywell, tado°, Heatmiser and Nest all have a location tracking feature.
Hot water control
You can also choose from systems that control your hot water with as much precision and flexibility as your heating, and via the same app too – ahhh, to never have that moment in the shower when the hot water runs out.
Hive and Scottish Power Connect thermostats offer this option.
What else might you want to know about smart heating?
Do I have to use the company’s own installers to fit the system?
All smart thermostat brands will have a list of recommended professionals who are trained to fit their specific system, however you are likely to pay a premium for this service.
Alternatively, you can buy the components from any retailer and fit them yourself – if you have the necessary skills – OR for the less electrically brave, find your own qualified professional to fit it for you.
How do smart thermostats work?
With smart thermostats you are no longer tied to a single, manually-programmed schedule to control your central heating.
The best models are able to learn what you like and create a personalised schedule for your home. If your schedule, or the weather changes they are easy to adjust from home, or anywhere else in the world as long as you have access to the internet and the relevant app on your phone.
Will a smart thermostat work in your home?
We may have convinced you of the benefits of intelligent heating but are you still concerned about difficulty of installing it in your house? If so, check out our guide on smart thermostat compatibility.
Do I have to get the smart thermostat offered by the company that supplies my gas/electricity?
You do not need to switch suppliers in order to get a particular type of smart thermostat. That said if you are looking to cut your energy bills, it’s well worth regularly checking the latest energy tariffs to see if you can get a better deal on your gas and electricity. Introductory offers don’t last forever and you may find that a deal that seemed like a bargain when you first signed up becomes one of the more expensive options once the opening offer expires.
What wiring do I need for a smart thermostat to work?
All smart thermostats require a wifi connection in order for you to control your heating remotely, and the majority use it for the thermostat to communicate with the boiler control – telling it when to turn on and off.
However, when it comes to powering your thermostat you can go for a wired or a wireless model.
Wired connection – If you are building or rewiring a house from scratch or already have a wired thermostat in a convenient location, then you can install a wired connection or use the existing thermostat wiring to connect your new smart thermostat.
Wireless connection – For anyone not starting from scratch or who doesn’t have an existing wired thermostat and doesn’t want to start channelling crevices into their nicely plastered/painted/wallpapered walls, a battery-powered wireless connection is an option.
What wifi speed to do I need for smart heating?
One of the big features of smart thermostats is your ability to control your heating from outside of your home. And, of course, in order to relay instructions from an app on your mobile or tablet to your thermostat at home you are going to need a reliable signal, 256Kb (that’s 0.25Mb) should be sufficient. Plus, your thermostat and boiler control panel will both need to be within wifi range.
If you haven’t got sufficient wifi speed or range then it might be time to consider getting a new router or looking for a broadband package upgrade.