2014 has been billed as the year of the smart thermostat, but what exactly is a smart thermostat and should you get one?
Heating systems are not typically associated with smart technology. Few people in the UK have a room thermostat and fewer still use them regularly to control their home’s temperature.
The past few years, however, have seen a real explosion in terms of smart heating or smart thermostat technology. Why is this? Well there are a number of reasons.
Firstly, the price of energy has skyrocketed by almost 170% in the past decade. Smart thermostats are an important step towards creating smart homes and helping consumers better manage their energy costs. About 60% of household energy is consumed through central heating.
Secondly, the popularity of smart devices, such as phones, tablets and desktops, has made home automation technology much more practical and affordable. Say you go on holiday and forget to turn the heating off. With a smart thermostat you can simply use your tablet to turn it off from wherever you are in the world.
What is a smart thermostat?
Whereas a typical room thermostat just lets you change the temperature in your home using a dial or control panel, a smart thermostat gives you full control over your home’s heating.
Smart thermostats allow you to manage your home’s temperature based on the time of day and from a remote location, using your smart phone, tablet or desktop. Another key feature of some smart thermostats, such as the Nest and the tado°, is that they learn and adapt to your behaviour.
Most smart thermostats will also display your real-time energy consumption and even adjust this automatically based on factors such as humidity and weather conditions.
So how does a smart thermostat benefit me?
Well, in addition to giving you in-depth insight into your energy consumption, and hopefully helping you use this information to reduce your energy bills, smart thermostats should help make your life a bit more comfortable.
For example, say you head out to work one morning and the temperature falls throughout the day. You can leave the heating off until just before you get in, so that you don’t waste any energy heating an empty room, but still come back to a warm home.
Most smart thermostats tell you how much time it takes for your home to reach a certain temperature. This means you can manage your heating system to ensure your home is always at the temperature you want it. In the long term this should lead to significant savings.
Types of Smart Thermostat
There are a number of smart thermostats available – we take a look at some of the most popular.
British Gas’ Hive
Unlike Google’s Nest, the Hive doesn’t want to run your heating with as little input as possible from you. The Hive Active Heating is built around a dashboard which enables users to manage their home’s temperature using a smart device.
Kass Hussain, Hive’s director of technology, has explained this choice by saying customers don’t yet trust technology to make this type of choice for them, nor are they comfortable having home automation devices collecting their personal data.
In this context, Hive allows users to design heating schedules and alter their home’s temperature whenever they want to. Very useful, particularly as British Gas says 7.8 million empty homes are heated every year. The device can also automatically turn the heating on if your pipes are going to freeze due to cold temperatures.
Nina Bhatia, managing director British Gas Connected Homes, Strategy and M&A, said: “[Hive] puts control of heating and hot water ﬁrmly in the hands of our customers. No one is better placed to do this than British Gas. We can join the dots between the supply of energy, insight into consumption and the means to control it, with a British Gas-installed product and a beautiful, modern, intuitive app.”
Anyone looking to get hold of a Hive can buy the technology for £199 (including installation) on the Hive website.
Google’s Nest Learning Thermostat
Nest made headlines at the start of 2014 when it was purchased by Google for about £2bn. Designed by the brains behind the iPod, Nest’s Learning Thermostat’s main claim to fame is that it is designed to adapt your home’s temperature to your behaviour.
By monitoring the user’s habits, i.e. what time he/ she leaves the house on weekdays, Nest’s device is able to create a personalised “heating schedule”. The hope is that, eventually, the Learning Thermostat will know so much about your habits that you’ll never have to change the temperature by hand.
The Nest Learning Thermostat also has a motion sensor, which can detect when your home is empty and doesn’t need to be heated. It also allows you to control your heating via your smart phone, tablet or desktop.
Speaking in relation to the product’s UK launch, Lionel Paillet, general manager for Europe Nest, said: “Nest Learning Thermostat customers in the U.S. experience savings of approximately 20% on average off their heating and cooling bill and we’re looking forward to helping customers in the UK save as well.”
In November 2014, the Nest Learning Thermostat received the 4.3 update, which helps the device learn even more about your heating preferences. The update includes an Enhanced Auto-Schedule feature which records when you turn the heat up or down.
If, for example, last Christmas you set your temperature to 23 degrees, the Nest will remember this and automatically do the same the following year. This new update will enable your Nest Learning Thermostat to better predict your preferred temperature and help shave up to 6% from your energy bill.
The Nest Learning Thermostat can be purchased for £249 (including installation) on Nest’s website or free as part of an npower's Intelligent Control October 2016 energy plan. npower's plan costs an average of £1,169 per year and represents a great deal for anyone looking to purchase a Nest Learning Thermostat
Energy supplier ScottishPower has also launched its own wireless thermostat system, the Connect. This device is similar to British Gas’ Hive in the sense that it is focussed on giving the user complete control.
Connect allows users to control their heating remotely and create a daily schedule, or simply turn it off when they go on holiday. The app, available on iOS and Android (but only to ScottishPower customers), also enables users to “boost” their heating if they need it to be warm in a short space of time.
The design also makes it easy to put their current schedule on “hold” should something change. So if, for example, you miss your train home, you can simply pause the schedule to avoid heating up an empty home.
There are two payment options for adopters: pay an upfront fee of £66 and then a monthly payment of £9.94 per month for two years, or spend £12.69 every month for two years with no other fees. Installation is handled by an engineer and takes about an hour.
According to ScottishPower, users of the device can reduce their gas consumption by up to 20%.
tado° has been operating in Germany and other European countries for more than two years and launched in the UK in October 2013. It follows the same philosophy as Google’s Nest and seeks to adapt to users’ lifestyles and create smart homes with as little input from them as possible.
The device learns from users’ behaviour and tries to match your home’s temperature to your preferences, in the most energy efficient way possible. It does this by tracking inhabitants using their smart phones.
This means that when everyone leaves the home it turns the heating off and, when it detects someone coming back from work, for example, it begins to turn the heating up. The system also takes into account weather conditions and, according to tado°’s manufacturers, can help users save 26% on their energy bills.
Johannes Schwarz, founder of tado°, said: “We were not convinced by any of the solutions available on the market. We were looking for a solution that, in terms of design and function, fits in perfectly with people's lives – not the other way around.”
As with the other devices mentioned, the wireless thermostat display is available via an app which you can download for your iOS or Android device. The product itself will set you back £249 or you can rent it for £6.99 per month. Anyone who opts for the rental plan will be happy to hear that if you don’t save at least £100 in your first year, you will have one year’s rental fees refunded.
The evohome, a smart thermostat produced by Honeywell, has the ability to split your home into various “smart zones”, in which you can control the heating individually. So if for example it’s a cold day and you have guests coming round, you can heat up the spare room to make sure they’re comfortable when they arrive. According to Honeywell, the device can help homes save up to 40% of their annual heating costs.
The technology incorporates the usual array of smart thermostat features, including allowing you to remotely control your heating, as well as providing you a better understanding of your energy usage. The system is part of the smart thermostat do it yourself family and requires your input to function it does not learn from user behaviour in the same way as the Nest Learning Thermostat and the tado°.
The evohome understands how your heating system warms up your home and will be able to reach your preferred temperature more efficiently. It also detects temperature changes, such as an open window, and adapts accordingly.
Honeywell’s evohome is available to purchase online with prices starting at £249 for the base unit (installation not included) and a further £70 for each device needed to create a smart zone.
Launched in January 2014, Heatmiser’s NeoKit2 is designed to provide homes with a simple way to upgrade their current thermostats and hot water programmers. The NeoKit2 does not require any re-wiring as the product simply uses the previous system’s wires.
The standard neoKit2 package has everything you to upgrade heating and hot water controls, as well use the neoApp. The latter performs in much the same way as apps for other smart thermostats and allows users to control their home’s heating remotely. Heatmiser’s NeoKit2 costs £265.