What are heating controls?
Heating controls are a vital part of your heating system. They they allow you to keep your home at a comfortable temperature without wasting energy or money.
Sounds simple enough, but if you’re confused by all the jargon, it’s hardly surprising.
Although heating controls have been around for a long time; we’ve come a long way from the simple thermostats of the past.
Demand for providing better comfort and economy; as well as reducing damage to the environment, means that there’s a lot of choice out there.
From thermostats, TRVs, programmers, smart controls, weather compensation controls, it’s difficult to know what’s best.
In this guide, we explain the benefits of using heating controls; and give you a brief overview of the different types of heating control that are available.
Why are heating controls important?
Heating controls are important for two main reasons.
Heating controls allow you to keep your home warm and cosy; whilst simultaneously keeping your energy bills as low as possible.
What are the benefits of using heating controls?
Here are some of the main benefits of using heating controls:
Heating controls will save you money on your energy bills
If you were to just turn your heating up to full blast in the winter, hoping for the best; this would trigger a huge (and unnecessary) energy bill.
When you think about it, you don’t need the heating to be on full blast 24/7 to be comfortable. And you probably don’t need all your rooms to be always at the same temperature.
Do you even use all the rooms that you’re heating?
According to the Energy Saving Trust (EST), if you live in a typical three-bedroom house without any controls; and then you were to install and correctly use a programmer room thermostat; and thermostatic radiator valves; you could save £75 a year, whilst still being perfectly comfortable.
You might like our related blog: Does smart heating save money?
Heating controls reduce your carbon footprint
We have come dependent on our boilers to keep us warm and comfortable all year round; and to keep up with our demands for hot water.
But to produce heating and hot water for us, boilers need to burn fuel, usually gas.
Unfortunately, the by-products of burning the fuel are damaging to the environment. When we use our boilers, we release some Carbon Dioxide (CO2) from our flues into the atmosphere.
CO2 is one of the main greenhouse gases which causes climate change. According to the Energy Saving Trust, around 45% of the UK’s man-made CO2 emissions come from energy we use at home and in our cars.
The UK is committed to reducing our emissions to net-zero by 2050. And that’s where an efficient boiler and appropriate heating controls comes in.
Heating controls can help you to reduce your carbon dioxide emissions, by making sure that you’re only using your heating when necessary; in rooms that you use; and up to the temperature you want.
This means that you’ll be burning less fuel and reducing your emissions.
According to the Energy Saving Trust, you can save 320kg of carbon dioxide a year by installing and correctly using a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves.
And if you turn your thermostat down by just one degree, you can save a further 310kg of carbon dioxide a year!
Heating controls are more convenient and improve your comfort
Heating controls make your heating work for you and your schedule. They allow you to schedule your heating and hot water to go on and off when needed.
You’ll have the peace of mind in knowing that your home will be nice and cozy when you get home from work, without wasting energy heating an empty home.
You’ll also find that your home is a more consistent and comfortable temperature because heating controls avoid the unpleasant situation where you have spikes in over and underheating.
Another advantage with heating controls is that you can select areas of your home to heat and the required temperature for each room, rather than having the whole house heated to the same temperature.
This is perfect if you have family members who like a different temperature to you, or you have rooms that are rarely used.
What does Boiler Plus say about heating controls?
Boiler Plus is a new(ish) set of rules on energy efficiency designed to improve the way you use energy in your home. They came into force in April 2018.
Boiler Plus gives you greater choice and control over your energy usage, which results in savings on your energy bills.
From April 6th 2018, all boilers must now have a minimum ErP (Energy related Products) rating of 92% and all gas and oil boilers must have appropriate time and temperature controls fitted.
In addition, when installed, combi boilers must have one of four of the following requirements fitted:
- Flue Gas Heat Recovery – a system that enables the boiler to reuse heat that would have otherwise been wasted
- Weather compensation – flow temperature can be modulated based on the outside temperature
- Load compensation – flow temperature can be modulated from the boiler based on room temperature
- Smart controls with automation and optimisation functions
Any boilers installed without the measures set out in the Boiler Plus standards, will be non-compliant with the Building Regulations.
So, Boiler Plus has made it mandatory to have time and temperature heating controls fitted to all boilers and combi boilers must also have an extra energy-saving device, which could be smart controls.
How does a heating control work?
Broadly speaking, heating controls achieve energy savings in one of two ways:
- Increasing the energy efficiency of the boiler; or
- Reducing the amount of heat that is wasted.
There are lots of different types of heating controls (more on this later!) But at its simplest, when you set your thermostat to the temperature you want, your boiler will come on when the room temperature falls below this and will switch off when the desired temperature is reached.
More sophisticated compensation smart controls will adjust the output of the boiler up and down in small increments to meet the room temperature exactly. These save energy and reduce fuel bills.
Can I upgrade or install heating controls without replacing my boiler?
You can upgrade or install heating controls without replacing your boiler, and it’s a particularly good idea to think about this if your controls are more than 14 years old. Room thermostats, for example, are much more accurate now than they used to be.
What types of controls are there?
There are a huge variety of heating controls available, but we’ll talk you through some of the main ones:
Time switches are the simplest type of control because they simply turn your boiler on and off at preset times.
Generally, time switches offer on and off timing options over 24 hours only. So, if you wanted the heating to come on at 7 am and turn off at 10 pm every day of the week, a basic timer could do this.
However, if your days can vary, and you want to be able to make last minute plans, they wouldn’t be suitable.
Time switches are generally not used on modern systems where more appropriate programmable thermostats or compensating control is used.
Time switches can be useful for hot water systems though.
Programmers automatically switch your heating off when you’re not at home, or when you don’t need it, by allowing you to set ‘on’ and ‘off’ time periods.
Although programmers sound similar to time switches, programmers allow you to set your heating and sometimes hot water to switch on and off at different times on different days of the week (rather than only over a 24 hour period).
Again, a basic programmer is generally not used on modern systems where more appropriate programmable thermostats or compensating control is used.
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.
You don’t need to turn your room thermostat up when it is colder outside; the house will heat up to the set temperature whatever the weather but might take longer on cold days.
The Heating People generally recommend a programmable room thermostat over this option.
Programmable room thermostats
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.
You can have different temperatures in individual rooms by installing thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) on individual radiators.
Programmable room thermostats can be added to your existing heating system for as little as £150, with little disruption.
The word ‘SMART’ stands for “Self-Monitoring Analysis & Reporting Technology”, and covers a large group of controls.
They 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.
To give you an idea of what these devices can do, we’ll look at some key features of some popular smart thermostats:
Nest learning thermostat
- ‘Auto-Schedule’ where the control learns from you and programs itself.
- Energy history – allowing you more control over your bills.
- ‘Home/Away Assist’ adjusts the temperature after you leave your home, so you’re not left paying to heat an empty house.
Drayton Wiser smart thermostat
- Allows up to 16 individual heating zones, meaning that different temperatures can be set for each room in your home.
- Geo-fencing technology allows it to switch off the heating when you leave your home, so that you’re not wasting money heating an empty house.
- ‘Eco Mode’, which combines optimum stop and weather compensation to adapt to the weather outside.
- ‘Comfort Mode’ uses optimum start to learn how long your home takes to heat up, so that it switches on at the right time.
- This zoning technology works when it is paired with Bosch Smart TRVs, allowing rooms such as the living room and kitchen to be classed as different zones. Each zone can have several timed controlled settings per day, with different times for different days of the week.
- Allows you to control your hot water and heating when remotely, as well as heating different areas of your home to your desired temperature, whenever you want.
- Gives real-time information about how much energy you’re using.
- Wireless heating and hot water control and smartphone app, which gives you the ability to take control of your heating from anywhere, at any time.
- Features intelligent self-learning, meaning that it learns how quickly your home heats up.
- Offers multiple personalised usage profiles, providing a completely tailored heating and hot water system.
Here at The Heating People, Nest is our favourite smart control to retrofit to existing systems. As a guide, installation starts at £279.
Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs)
Thermostatic radiator valves attach directly to the top or bottom of your radiators, letting you control the temperature of individual rooms. This means that you can turn down the heat in rooms you are not using, which will save energy.
Programmable TRVs are useful in houses where only a small number of rooms are being used at a time.
They come in a few different forms, but the most common are those that work with a compatible advanced heating control.
Each of the valves can be programmed via the main control. As a guide, installation costs from approx £1000 for a typical system with minimal disruption.
If your hot water is stored in a cylinder, a cylinder thermostat will prevent it becoming hotter than it needs to.
Once the water has reached the temperature you have set, the heat supply from the boiler will be turned off.
For extra safety, it is possible to install a thermostatic mixing valve, which will automatically ensure that hot water is at a safe temperature.
Nobody wants to waste money heating empty rooms or unoccupied areas of the home, and zone controls allow you to heat different rooms at different times of the day.
Although you can do this by turning individual radiators on and off at different times, this can be inconvenient.
Zone control does this for you automatically by having separate heating circuits for different parts of the house, with a separate programmer for each circuit.
Zone control can be disruptive to retrofit and would need a survey by The Heating People before a price guide can be given.
An optimiser works out how long it takes your house to heat up and turns the heating on at the right time, so your house will be up to temperature just in time for when you need it.
For example, if you get up at 7.30am in the morning, you can set your programmer to 7.30am, and your thermostat to whatever you choose, and the optimiser will work out when to fire up the boiler so the house is up to the temperature you set by 7.30am.
In colder weather, it will fire up earlier and in milder weather it will wait, saving you energy and money.
Optimisation is one of several features that may be available if you fit a smart heating control system.
At The Heating People, we try to use optimisation as a minimum. Our optimising programmable room thermostats can be installed from approximately £150 with little to no disruption. They can be installed almost anywhere because they’re wireless.
Automation or Geo-fencing
An automated heating control system works out whether and when to turn the heating on based on whether there is anyone in the building, or whether you are approaching the building.
It may use sensors in the home, or it may track your phone’s location to decide when to turn the heating on. Automation is available as part of some smart heating controls, and generally includes an optimisation function to help decide when to turn the heating on.
Weather compensation controls
The weather influences the heat demand of your home. This is because the heat generated gets lost through the fabric of the building, and the speed this happens changes depending on the temperature outside.
Just as the weather changes, so does the heat load required to warm up your home. In winter, your home requires more heating, because heat is being lost faster than in the summer.
Weather compensation controls work by ensuring that the boiler burns the exact amount of fuel required to match the heat lost from the building.
Weather compensation controls can gather their data from an external sensor, or from local weather data. The Heating People consider weather compensation controls to be the gold standard of heating controls because of their enormous energy savings over standard controls.
They are also listed as a suitable measure to comply with the Boiler Plus regulations.
Load compensation controls
These controls work in the same way as weather compensation, but whilst weather compensation uses the outside temperature to determine the heat demand, load compensation uses internal room temperature.
Load compensation controls measure the difference between the internal room temperature and the desired room temperature to control the boiler’s output to close the gap.
As with weather compensation controls, load compensation offers significant energy savings and also automatically comply with Boiler Plus.
They are most beneficial in houses that react more slowly to weather changes, but cannot be fitted to all boilers, so check with one of our friendly team at the Heating People.
How much do heating controls cost?
Different suppliers offer different solutions but costs can start from £150 for a simple room thermostat. Contact one of our team at The Heating People to find out more.