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What you need to know about smart controls and thermostats

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What you need to know about smart controls and thermostats

You’ve probably heard plenty of talk about smart thermostats – but what do they actually do, and can they actually deliver on the promise of reduced heating bills?

And what’s more – how do you make sense of all the different products that are out there?

If you’re conscious of your heating costs, as well as your environmental impact, you’ll already be used to actively using thermostat controls to heat up your home only when people are likely to be there.

Smart thermostats aim to take this control to another level – making it quick and easy to establish multiple levels of control, and to make changes even when you’re away from the house.

The problem with a standard timer is that it can’t make changes depending on what you actually do. Normally want the house heated first thing in the morning, but tomorrow you’re staying away overnight? Let’s hope you remembered to reset your manual settings – and that you remember to change them back again once you get home.

But with a smart thermostat, in principle, you should be able to have an intelligent system that can sense whether anyone is home, can learn how you like your heating at what part of the day, and can understand how long it takes for your boiler to bring your house up to the desired temperature.

Some systems use the GPS in your phone to detect when you’re away – and just as importantly when you’re on your way home, so it knows to fire up the boiler before you arrive.

And some of the smartest systems will utilise wireless thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) so heat can be controlled in individual rooms, not just the whole house.

Do they actually save you money? The answer is ‘yes’, but it does depend on what you do already. The companies give estimates of how much money they will save you based on typical behaviour by people that don’t already do everything they can to reduce their heating bills.

If you assiduously adjust your timer to suit your movements, you’ll save less than if you set it and forget it. Of course, what you will regain in that case will be time. No longer will you need to worry about constantly adjusting things – the system will do it for you.

The Nest thermostat says it will save you 10-12% on heating, which means it should pay for itself in under two years. Tado says it can get it up to between 14% and 26%. No surprise that it’s the more expensive system to install.

Some of the real value comes as more and more things in the house become connected. Tado, Nest, Netatmo and Honeywell all communicate with other devices in the house, enabling you to add greater levels of control. For instance, Nest also provides a camera for home security. The nest thermostat can detect when the house is empty and get the camera to activate.

In a future blog post, we’ll look in more detail at some of the different systems you can buy, and how well they perform.

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