Manufacturers of smart heating controls certainly think so!
If you do an internet search, you’ll find plenty of bold claims like Tado – who say you could save as much as 31% on your heating bills!
But is this too good to be true?!
In this article, we look at what smart controls are; how they work; and whether you stand to save as much as the manufacturers claim.
What is smart heating?
You’ve probably heard the terms: ‘smart heating’ and ‘smart controls’ being thrown around, but what do they mean?!
The terms that are often used interchangeably to cover a wide range of devices that have been designed to improve how your central heating system works.
In the past, heating controls were pretty basic. But we’ve come a long way from a single mechanical thermostat that you turn up and down to control your boiler!
Smart heating is designed to be much more flexible. It enables you to have different temperatures across different rooms, at different times, so that you’re not wasting money heating rooms you’re not using.
Smart heating enables you to control your heating remotely from an app on your smartphone. This means you can change the temperature of your home while you’re out and about, and always come home to a warm home.
Some smart controls use motion detection and geo-fencing to switch the heating on or off depending on your location. Again, you won’t be wasting money heating an empty house.
And some smart heating controls are so clever, they actually learn the temperatures you like, when you typically come and go, and how long your home takes to warm up.
They can use this information to programme themselves to maximise your comfort, whilst reducing your energy consumption. And less energy consumed is better for your wallet, and the planet!
Smart heating system components
When it comes to choosing a smart heating system, you’ll be spoilt for choice!
There are multiple manufacturers to choose from, all offering different options, depending on your needs and budget.
Smart heating systems are flexible enough to provide a simple option for a small home, to a much more complicated zoned system for a sprawling mansion!
But regardless of the size of the project, most smart heating systems have at least 3 key components:
- a smart thermostat;
- thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs); and
- an app to control the system.
1. Smart thermostat
A smart thermostat is at the heart of all smart heating systems. As its name suggests, it shares some similarities with a traditional thermostat, but it’s smarter!
At its simplest, a thermostat controls the temperature in your heating system. You set your preferred home temperature, and the thermostat works to keep your rooms at this set point.
With programmable thermostats, you can set a schedule to run your heating at certain times of the day, to suit your lifestyle. So, how is a smart thermostat different?
The most obvious difference with a smart thermostat is that they are Wi-Fi enabled and can be controlled from your smartphone, tablet or computer. This gives you greater control of your heating, from wherever you happen to be.
How a smart thermostats different to standard thermostats?
Smart thermostats also go above and beyond what you can do with a standard programmable thermostat. You’ll be able to fine-tune your heating. You can set much more complicated schedules, and different ones for the weekends.
Altering your schedules is a doddle too, with just the tap of a button.
And you won’t need to lift a finger with a learning thermostat, because they learn your routines, and do the scheduling for you!
Smart thermostats learn how long it takes your home to warm up. So, if you set your preferred temperature in advance, your smart thermostat will calculate precisely when it needs to turn the boiler on, to meet your needs.
Some smart thermostats even take account of the weather when adjusting your heating. If you’ve read our blog on heat loss, you’ll know that the colder it is outside, the longer it will take your home to warm up. Your smart thermostat knows this, and acts accordingly.
Geo-fencing is another nifty feature offered by some smart thermostats.
Geo-fencing technology tracks the location of the smartphones in your household. By detecting where you are, your smart thermostat can switch your heating off if you’ve left it on by mistake.
And it will know to switch the heating on automatically when you’re nearing home, so you always come home to comfort!
Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) are heating controls that fit on the side of your radiators. They monitor the temperature of your room, and adjust how much heat the radiator emits, so that it stays at a comfortable temperature.
TRVs allow you to turn the temperature on your radiators up and down, by changing the flow of hot water to the radiator. This means that you can enjoy different heats across different rooms and can switch individual radiators off.
Without TRVs, individual rooms in your home may overheat and waste energy.
The result is a more comfortable home; improved energy efficiency; and lower fuel bills.
Research by BEAMA concluded that the average energy saving potential for TRVs in homes is 18% of the heating costs.
You can also get smart TRVs, which can be adjusted remotely via your smartphone or thermostat (rather than manually turning the dial from low to high).
If your smart thermostat is compatible with smart TRVs, you can control each TRV in your home from your app from wherever you are.
3. Smartphone app
Your smart heating system will include a smartphone or a desktop app that allows you to control your heating remotely.
Controlling your heating from your phone gives you full control of how you use energy in your home.
You can make instant changes to your heating schedule at any time, regardless of where you are.
This is handy because if you get struck in work late, or go away and forget to switch off your heating, you’re not wasting energy heating an empty house.
Another benefit of this software is that you’ll be able to see reports on how much energy you’ve been using compared to previous weeks.
This allows you to make little changes to your habits, and potentially save more money on your energy bills.
Benefits of smart heating
We’ve touched on a few of the benefits of smart heating already, but we’ll summarise the advantages here:
1. Smart heating is convenient
Let’s face it, we all use our phones a lot. So, being able to control your heating from your phone is convenient.
You can change your heating schedule from wherever you are, with the touch of a button.
Learning smart thermostats allow a completely hands-off approach to home heating, because they learn what you like, and schedule everything for you!
Features such as geo-fencing, and holiday mode also means that you can forget about your heating altogether, knowing your smart thermostat has got you covered.
2. Smart heating improves your home comfort
Smart thermostats learn how quickly your home loses heat, and some also use weather data when communicating with your boiler.
These features prevent spikes of over or under heating, providing a more comfortable and consistent temperature.
Being able to zone your heating, and have different temperatures in different rooms means that you can cater to different preferences of members of your household.
Lots of people prefer their bedrooms to be cooler than their living rooms, and smart heating allows you to do this.
3. Smart thermostats help your boiler to be more efficient
Many smart controls use the open therm protocol which means they have an intelligent conversation with your compatible boiler allowing your boiler to work more efficiently more often.
4. Smart heating allows you to stay on top of your bills
Your smart heating app will give you lots of data about your energy usage, so you can easily see how much you’re spending.
This avoids any nasty surprises when your bill arrives and gives you the chance to make changes to your habits, if you need to.
The Nest learning thermostat uses a green leaf symbol to help you see when you make a more energy efficient choice with your heating.
Smart meters can also submit your energy use directly to your provider, which is convenient, and prevents your energy supplier making estimates.
5. Smart heating helps to save you money on your energy bills
There’s nothing magical about smart heating. It’s just smart.
With a traditional central heating system, you’ll inevitably waste money having it on when it’s not needed, or when nobody’s home. That won’t happen with a smart system.
Smart heating uses its intelligent technology to use the least amount of energy possible, whilst still keeping you perfectly comfortable.
Smart technologies such as geo-fencing, weather compensation, and load compensation allow the heat to be turned up or down at precisely the right moment. And being able to zone your home prevents wasting energy heating rooms that aren’t in use.
This is a lot more accurate than someone at home turning a dial when they feel chilly, and every room being heated to the same temperature! It’ll also avoid the associated spikes of over and under heating that happen with a traditional system.
So, the burning question: how much money can you save with smart heating?
What can I save with smart heating?
As we mentioned earlier, some manufacturers make very bold claims about how much you stand to save by installing their smart heating controls.
But you need to exercise caution here. A lot of these ‘potential savings’ will have been calculated using an example where a household left its heating on constantly and didn’t use any energy-saving measures before getting smart controls.
There are lots of factors that will affect how much you’ll save, such as:
- How you used your heating before installing smart controls;
- the type of smart control you choose;
- how you use your smart control;
- what type of boiler you have;
- how many people are in your household; and
- how well insulated your home is.
With this in mind, let’s look at what the manufacturers have to say…
What the manufacturers say
Tado says that it will save users ‘up to 31%’ a year on their heating bills using its smart heating.
Netatmo reckons its smart technology can reduce energy usage by 37%.
Wolseley found that homeowners had a 20% decrease in their heating costs when using smart controls compared to the previous year with a standard thermostat.
Ecobee says that its customers in North America saved up to 26% on their heating costs, based on an internal analysis conducted in April, 2021. Their claim is based on a household that leaves their current thermostat set to a constant temperature of 22°C.
Ofgem says that a smart thermostat can bring savings of around £150 per year.
Google Nest says that UK customers saved on average between 8.4% to 16.5% on their energy bills with a Nest smart thermostat.
Since all heating systems, homes and lifestyles vary, it’s hard to get a one-size-fits-all estimate of how much you’ll save with smart heating.
But looking at these estimates, it seems that most people can expect to save around 10-30% on their bills with smart heating.
You’ll also have to factor in the cost of buying your smart controls and having them installed.
Who will save the most with smart heating?
The households that will save the most money with smart heating controls are the ones that previously left their heating on at a single temperature constantly; or didn’t fully utilise their programmable thermostat.
If you’re already quite energy conscious, you’ll see lower savings and a longer payback period.
With gas prices going through the roof, we all want to make savings, and smart heating will certainly help.
Although it’s hard to put a precise figure on it, you could save around 10-30% on your annual heating bill with smart controls. And they make life easier and your home more comfortable too!
If you want to take control of your heating, and your energy usage, it’s time to get smart!