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Smart heating – the way forward?

As the cold weather bites, people are looking for ways to cut their heating bills while staying warm and toasty. Could an ‘intelligent heating system’ help?

What is smart heating?  

Smart thermostats and heating systems pair with an app to let you switch your heating on and off remotely with your phone, computer or tablet. So, you can warm up your home ready for when you get back. Manufacturers claim smart heating can reduce your energy bills by up to a third. For the average home spending £1,400 a year on gas and electricity it could mean knocking £450 off the annual energy bill. 

Some boast a multi-room function that allow you to control the temperature in different rooms remotely.  Depending on the system you pick, it can do other clever stuff such as working out if it’s an unseasonably warm winter day (based on weather forecasts for your postcode) and turn down the heating. Other features include using your phone’s GPS to detect your actual location. It can automatically switch the heating off when you go out and back on as you head home, upping the level the closer you get. The downside is you need to carry your mobile with you 24 hours a day, seven days a week – and have its location tracked.

Smart Heating
Smart Heating

What is new about it?

If you have a central heating system, your controls will include a boiler thermostat and a timer or programmer. This means you can already programme your heating to automatically switch off when you’re away at work or sleeping. One advantage of a smart heating system is that if your plans change you can adjust your heating remotely. For example, if you’re home from work later than usual, you can change the time that your heating comes on remotely. It’s also possible to activate smart heating with voice control if you have a compatible voice assistant. And it can prevent you having that awful moment when you realise you’ve left the heating on after you’ve gone on holiday.

Some more sophisticated models, such as Nest, boast the ability to learn your routine and ensure your home is always warm when it needs to be without you remembering. It does this by mimicking how you manually control the system for a few days. Others, such as Radbot, a system of thermostatic radiator valves, learn how you use different rooms in your home and adjusts the heating to match. Additional features include being able to turn your hot water on and off remotely and stay in an eco-mode where you are using energy most efficiently. Home owners are sent a monthly report showing how well they’ve performed.

How much does smart heating cost?

The initial cost isn’t cheap but there are often monthly payment options and you can soon start saving on your heating bills. The Nest Learning Themostat, owned by Google, typically costs around £219. It can be self-installed if you’re a competent DIYer or you’ll need find a heating engineer to fit it. The cost of an average installation is likely to be between £50 and £100. With the Hive system, you can buy a package for £179 or £249 with installation. Tado Smart Thermostat Starter Kit costs £199. Other systems include Honeywell (£249) and Ecobee (£192). Prices correct at the time of writing this article in December 2018.

How does it save energy?

Manufacturers claim being able to control your heating wherever you are via an app on your phone is a more intelligent way to control your heating and energy costs. No more heating empty homes or rooms. Tado states it can save up to 31% on your annual energy bill and pay for itself within the first year. A study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Building Physics showed the greatest factor that determines the savings potential is the location-based control with which savings of up to 24% can be achieved, mainly by turning off the heating while you’re away. A further savings of 7% can be achieved by taking the weather forecast into account.  

Be wary of the big headline savings made by thermostat companies, especially if you currently only have your heating on for a few hours a day on weekdays.

What equipment do I need?

A starter kit typically includes a smart thermostat, internet bridge, free app, thermostatic radiator valves and installation accessories. Many systems can be self-installed, according to the manufacturers. But It’s usually best to get a pro to fit the equipment as it can be fiddly.  After the hardware has been installed, you will need to connect your smart heating system to your home wi-fi network and download the partner app.

Smart heating has the potential to cut your energy bill, especially if you’re in the habit of leaving the heating on while you’re out of the house. Exactly how much you save will depend on which system you choose and how you use the different features it offers. Homeowners who are tech-savvy and familiar with apps are likely to benefit most. Other factors that affect your heating costs include how energy efficient your boiler is and if your property is well-insulated.