There are many different smart heating products around today, with brands such as Nest, Honeywell, and the Hive range all seeming to offer convenient ways to control the warmth of your home from anywhere, but also claiming to save money at the same time. So, will changing your old thermostat to a smart heating system actually mean a healthier bank balance each month? We take a look at how these new devices can keep the home fires burning without torching your wallet.
How much does smart heating really save?
As part of the whole smart home landscape, smart heating is centred around intelligent, internet-connected thermostats that work with apps on your phone and sensors to help ensure that you get the best efficiency from your boiler and radiators.
There are a number of advantages to using a smart heating system, most of which can cut the cost of staying warm. However, don't pay too much attention to the cost-saving aspect: it's more about convenience and the novelty factor than actually saving money.
Expect to save around 10-20% on your bills with most smart thermostats, but how much you actually save will depend upon the features available in the system you choose, how effective they are, and how much you spend in the first place.
Obviously, investing in a smart thermostat costs money - Hive Active Heating 2 is £249 with installation for example - and therefore you will initially be out of pocket. You can save by installing it yourself, but the Nest Thermostat E is designed for self-installation and costs £199 and can be fitted by yourself. Nest provides a detailed installation video to take you through the process.
It will take at least a couple of years to make that back and break even, and you'll only start making any savings after that. If you want to kit out radiators with smart valves (TRVs) so you can avoid heating rooms unnecessarily, you'll have to wait considerably longer to break even as they cost around £50 each.
Up until then, you’ll be paying off the cost of the system. So, if you own your home or intend to rent for a least two or three years, then switching to a smart heating system will definitely be a solid investment. Energy firms say you'll save around £70 / $75 per year by turning down the temperature by one degree, so if you really want to save, we recommend turning down your thermostat by a couple of degrees and stocking up on fleeces, thermals and blankets for the winter months.
Attempting to calculate savings and comparing systems is almost impossible, because you might pay less one year because of unseasonably warm temperatures, then a lot more the following because of cooler temperatures and higher energy costs.
How do smart thermostats save money?
Here are a few common features most systems share which make them more efficient than a traditional 'dumb' thermostat and programmer.
1. Only heat when you’re home
Say you’re running late due to a delay on the trains or decide that you want to go out after work rather than return home as you’d planned. A traditional heating system will follow its pre-programmed settings, meaning that the boiler will kick in and warm up your empty rooms regardless of whether you're there or not.
With a smart heating system, you can use the app on your phone to turn off the boiler while you’re out. If you don’t want to come home to a cold house, then you can adjust it so that the heating turns on a little while before you return. In some cases, you can use your phone's GPS (and those of other family members) so that the heating system can automatically make your place toasty when it spots that you’re heading back. And, conversely, it can turn off the heating when the last person leaves.
2. Only heat the rooms you’re using
Unless you judiciously go around the house manually turning all the radiator valves on and off, then a non-smart heating system will unilaterally warm them all whenever the timer comes on.
This can waste money, as there’s no need to have the back bedroom at 25 degrees C when you’re the only one home, spending your time binging Netflix in the living room.
Smart systems, including Hive Active Heating 2 which has its multizone feature, allow you to set up different zones in the home which can be controlled independently. So, if you will be downstairs all day then you can have that zone turned on, while the upstairs heating zone can be disabled or set to come on in the evening. Unfortunately, that only works if your heating is plumbed for multizone, so the only alternative is to install smart TRVs on each radiator you want to control.
3. Use the intelligent features
If all of the above feels a bit hands-on, then systems like Nest can actually monitor your behaviour and preferred temperatures, then automatically adjust things without you needing to program a schedule at all.
Thanks to its sensors and smartphone app, Nest can see when you’re home, then turn off the heating if you go out, all by itself. It also learns how quickly a room takes to reach the preferred temperature, thus ensuring this is done so by the time you’ve set and not overshooting the mark. It can also intelligently control your boiler, as can most smart thermostats, and ensure it doesn't fire up unnecessarily.
Temperature sensors and internet access (for local weather information) also mean that the Nest can monitor the weather and factor that into the heating schedule. So, if a heatwave hits, you won’t have the radiators running at full tilt when you get home.
See our Nest thermostat (3rd Gen) review for a more in-depth look at what it can do.
Most systems also have holiday modes that turn everything off when you’re away, while some also have a feature that checks if the outside temperatures get too low, then turn on your heating to avoid any freezing pipes and the bills they bring.
4. Understand your energy use
One big advantage of using a smart system is that you can easily see how much you’re spending. Traditional methods would have you blindly racking up a bill, only knowing the extent of the cost once the postman delivered the bad news.
Smart systems let you see a constant running tally of your usage, making it easier to budget. It can be the difference between boosting up the heating on a colder night or realising that really you just need to put a jumper on instead.