What is a thermostat…
What happens when you’re feeling chilly? Or when you’re feeling too hot?
Chances are, that you’ve noticed yourself shivering, or sweating, depending on whether you need to warm up, or cool down.
That’s because our bodies are amazing at self-regulating our body temperature; to keep it close to 37°C (98.6°F) all of the time.
Without you even noticing it, your body will be making subtle changes depending on what environment you’re in. And you can thank your hypothalamus for that.
The hypothalamus is a bit like a thermostat.
It works with your nervous system to monitor your body temperature. And if it varies from the normal range of about 37°C; it will jump into action and tell your body to generate or lose heat. This is called maintaining homeostasis.
So, your body controls your internal temperature, but what about your external temperature?
Why we developed thermostats…
In the past, we had to switch heaters on and off; and open and close windows; to try and get the temperature we wanted.
This wasn’t great, because our homes would be freezing one minute, and too hot the next; it required action from us; and wasted a lot of energy.
But thankfully, we’ve developed technology that works a bit like a hypothalamus for the home – room thermostats.
And in fact, that’s where the thermostat gets its name. It’s based on two ancient Greekwords: thermo (meaning heat) and statos (which means standing or static).
So, the name tells you that a thermostat (like the hypothalamus) wants to keep the heat the same.
Once you set your desired temperature into your thermostat; it monitors your room temperature; and jumps into action by telling your boiler whether to generate heat or not. And more advanced room sensors tell it precisely how much.
This helps to maintain a comfortable temperature in your home, preventing energy from being wasted.
In today’s blog, we want to look at what thermostats are; how they work; and how you can get the best out of them.
What’s the difference between a thermometer and a thermostat?
People are sometimes confused between a thermometer and a thermostat – perhaps because a thermostat is also marked in degrees. But they are two very different things.
A thermometer is a tool which measures the temperature in a room; whereas a thermostat is a device that tries to maintain the temperature in a room.
What is a thermostat?
There are lots of different types of thermostats – which we’ll get to later.
But, at its simplest, a thermostat is a control used to regulate the temperature in your heating system.
Once you have set a preferred temperature, your thermostat works to keep your rooms at this desired level.
It works by monitoring the ambient temperature in your room; and then turning your heating on or off to maintain your chosen temperature.
How do thermostats work?
A thermostat is a control unit for your boiler.
It has a dial or a digital display which allows you to choose what temperature you would like your home to be. Your thermostat then monitors the ambient temperature of the air and instructs the boiler to turn on or off accordingly.
Alt attribute: Relaxed woman lay back on a sofa.
If the temperature in your room is lower than the temperature you have chosen; your thermostat will tell your boiler to fire up.
If your room temperature goes above your chosen temperature, your thermostat tells your boiler to switch off. This will keep your home at a comfortable, regular temperature.
And because your thermostat tells your boiler to switch off when it’s no longer needed; it will save you money on your energy bills, because you won’t be wasting energy overheating your home.
What types of thermostat are there?
There are a huge variety of different types of thermostat available. But don’t be overwhelmed, The Heating People are experts in helping you to choose what’s right for you.
But we’ve summarised some of the broad differences for you here.
The first thing to note is that thermostats come in two broad categories – analogue mechanical thermostats that operate with a dial; and the more modern digital thermostats.
Within this basic framework, there are a number of different options:
Room thermostats turn the heating on until the room reaches the temperature you have manually set; and then off until the temperature drops below your desired temperature.
Programmable thermostats use a set schedule to run your heating at certain times of the day. Unlike the standard room thermostat, you won’t have to manually adjust the heating. Once set, it will automatically switch your heating on and off, according to your daily routine.
Smart thermostats learn and adapt to you. ‘Smart’ stands for “Self-Monitoring Analysis & Reporting Technology”, and covers a large group of controls.
Smart controls can often connect to the internet and can be controlled remotely through a tablet or smartphone. This means that you have much greater control over your heating, from wherever you are, at any time of day.
There are a huge variety of options available with smart controls, such as zoning, geo-fencing and intelligent learning systems.
How do thermostats save energy?
If you want to reduce what you’re spending on your fuel bills (and who doesn’t?!); you need to improve the efficiency of your heating system and save energy.
Thermostats can help you to save energy.
A 2012 report from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) found that three of the top-six energy-saving behaviours related to the use of thermostats; including thermostatic radiator valves.
Besides keeping your home at a comfortable temperature, thermostats help you conserve energy (and save money) in the following ways:
Thermostats save energy by preventing overheating
Thermostats prevent your home from getting warmer than necessary. Because they turn the heating on until the room reaches the temperature you have set; and then off until the temperature drops.
This means that you’re not wasting energy (and money) overheating your home.
Programmable thermostats save energy by allowing you to program a schedule
Programmable room thermostats have a built-in timer which lets you schedule your heating to come on and go off automatically at different times of day.
Unlike the standard room thermostat, you won’t have to manually adjust the heating. Once set, it will automatically switch your heating on and off, according to your daily routine.
This means that you won’t be wasting energy by heating your home while you’re asleep; or out at work; but you’ll know that your home is warm when you want it to be.
Smart thermostats help you save energy by keeping track of your energy consumption
Some smart thermostats allow you to view your energy usage on a report on your phone. This means that you can keep track of your energy usage and cut back if you need or want to.
Thermostats help you save energy by allowing you to reduce your temperature
Although many people make the mistake of turning their thermostats up, thinking this will warm their home up quicker; you should actually be turning yours down!
Research by Uswitch.com shows that turning your thermostat down by just 1°C; could save you as much as £80 per year on your heating bills.
According to this figure, if the 17.7 million households who set their thermostats above 20°C could save £1.4billion; if they turned the temperature down to 19°C.
Some thermostats save energy with zoning technology
Your heating system can be split into zones; to allow different areas to be heated to different temperatures and/or at different times. This is known as zoning or micro-climating and is particularly useful in larger homes.
Zoning can be achieved using wireless systems to avoid disruption, or by making pipework alterations and installing hard wired controls.
How much money could I save with a room thermostat?
As well as saving you money on your energy bills; using thermostats helps the planet too, by reducing your carbon footprint.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, the typical savings for a three-bedroom semi-detached home, heated by gas, are as follows:
- You can save £60 and 310kg of carbon dioxide a year by turning the room thermostat down by one degree.
- Save £75 and 320kg of carbon dioxide a year by installing and correctly using a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves.
Precisely how much you stand to save; depends on the type of thermostat you choose, and how you use it.
What we can see from the figures from the EST; is that a pre-installed room thermostat can save about £60 for every degree centigrade you turn it down.
So, if you normally have your home at 25°C; but then choose to turn it down to 21°C; you should see energy savings of over £240.
How much money could I save with a smart thermostat?
Manufacturers of smart controls make bold claims about how much money you could potentially save after installing their products:
Tado says that its smart thermostat ‘will pay for itself within a year’ by reducing your heating bills by up to 31%.
Netatmo claims that its smart thermostat will reduce the energy you use by 37%.
Ofgem states that a smart thermostat can bring savings of around £150 per year.
British Gas says that its Hive smart thermostat could save you up to £130 a year on your energy bills.
Nest reports that the average smart thermostat can reduce heating costs by 10%.
But all these estimates assume that you previously left your heating on all the time, to maintain a constant temperature. So, if you already turn off the heating when you leave your home; you’re unlikely to save as much as the manufacturers claim.
What temperature should I set my thermostat to?
There is no ‘one-size fits all’ setting when it comes to what temperature to set your thermostat to, because we all feel comfortable at a different temperature.
You might prefer a very hot home, whereas others prefer a much cooler environment.
The trick is to set your room thermostat to the lowest comfortable temperature, typically between 18 and 21 degrees Celsius.
We recommend starting at the lower range and working up from there, until you’re comfortable. This is because you will save money and energy by having your central heating set at a lower temperature.
In fact, an estimated 17 million households in the UK could save as much as £1.4 billion by turning down their thermostats by just 1°C!
Will turning my thermostat up on a chilly day heat my house quicker?
No! Whilst a survey by the EST revealed that 52% of people crank up their heating when it gets chilly out, this is a mistake because it doesn’t make your home warm up any quicker.
Thermostats are designed to maintain a selected temperature all year round, whatever the weather.
And they don’t have any control over the speed at which your house heats up, all they do is set the maximum temperature that you want your room to be.
So, if you’ve let your home get freezing cold, and then you crank your thermostat up to 28, it will still heat the rooms at the same speed that it would if it was set to 21.
The result is that you’ll get uncomfortably hot and have wasted a significant amount of energy by overheating your home.
Government research has shown that turning down your thermostat by just 1 degree can save up to 10% on your heating bills.
So, if you want to be comfortable and save money, resist the temptation to turn your thermostat higher than your comfort level, and put an extra jumper on until your room gets to your desired temperature.
Of course, the reverse is also true, just as you don’t need to turn up your thermostat in the winter, you don’t need to turn it down in the summer, since your thermostat will detect the warmer ambient temperature and will act accordingly (Although many people find they are comfortable at lower temperatures during brighter weather).
Where should I position my thermostat?
Since your thermostat is monitoring the temperature of the air in your room to instruct your boiler; it’s important to position it in a place where it can get an accurate reading, which reflects the overall average temperature of your home.
This is important because if you don’t get an accurate temperature reading; your thermostat won’t be able to keep your home at the temperature that you want.
If you were to place your thermostat in a very hot position, right next to your oven; or in a cold draughty spot next to your front door, your thermostat will think that your home is warmer or cooler than it is; and will send the wrong message to your boiler.
The Heating People will be able to find the ideal location for you, but here are some general tips on positioning:
- Place on an interior wall.
- Place in a frequently used room.
- Position near the centre of your home.
- Position approximately 5 ft above the floor.
- Place above a radiator.
- Position in direct sunlight.
- Put in the kitchen.
- Place near windows or doors.
- Place above air vents.