Smart thermostats are a smart technology that let you remotely control your home's temperature via a tablet, smartphone or desktop for greater control over your central heating. (They should not be confused with smart meters, which digitally send meter readings to your energy supplier.)
How smart thermostats work
A typical room thermostat just lets you change the temperature in your home using a dial or control panel. A smart thermostat gives you more efficient, more user friendly and more accessible control over your home’s heating using three basic components.
The first component plugs directly into your boiler and can wirelessly talk to the second comonent, the in-home device that is the thermostat and main control.
The third component is an app that is downloaded to a smartphone (or tablet). Users remotely control the thermostat/main control device via the app, allowing them to adjust their heating from wherever they may be.
This is the basic makeup of most smart thermostats. Some smart thermostats offer more, such as 'learning' your schedule by detecting when your smartphone is in the house, or even taking it step further by detecting when you're on your usual route home, and preparing your home to the desired tempature.
So how does a smart thermostat benefit me?
The ability to remotely control a home's temperature appeals to those with hectic schedules; if you have a late-running meeting there's no reason to heat an empty home, right? On holiday and realised you forgot to turn off the heat? Fixing the error is just a few taps away on your smartphone.
Smart thermostats don't directly save you money the way switching energy supplier can. However, they provide the ability to heat your home more efficiently which should save you in the long run. You will also receive reports about your usage, which can help you better understand your heating usage, and adjust your behaviour and preferences accordingly to save money.
Types of Smart Thermostat
There are several smart thermostats now available to the market. We take a look at just some below:
Energy supplier ScottishPower has also launched its own wireless thermostat system, the Connect, which works in conjunction with the ScottishPower Energy App. This device is similar to British Gas’ Hive in the sense that it is focussed on giving the user complete control.
The ScottishPower 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, 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: 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° had been operating in Germany and other European countries before launching 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 up to 31% 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, Android or Windows device. The product itself will set you back £199 or you can rent it for £4.99 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.
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.
In late 2015, E.ON was the latest big six supplier to announce the launch of their own smart thermostat. Their Touch system allows users to adjust both their heating and hot water via a smartphone app, therefore giving them better control over their usage and costs.
The supplier issued a statement outlining that the average home now has up to three mobile devices, and that heating accounts for up to 60 percent of the household's energy use — hot water adds another 15%.
The Touch aims to offer a simpler and more convenient way to manage these costs. In addition to away-from-home control, users get monthly reports and personalised information about their usage.
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 man 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.”
Read independent reviews on the Nest smart thermostat here.
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.
In the past, big six supplier npower offered an energy plan bundle that included a Nest plus installation, but is not currently offering such a plan.
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.
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 2014, Heatmiser’s NeoKit2 is designed to provide homes with a simple way to upgrade their current thermostats and hot water programmers.
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.
EDF Energy's HeatSmart
EDF Energy is the most recent big six supplier to partner with a smart heating device, announcing its collaboration with the Netatmo's HeatSmart thermostat in 2015.
Like the Nest and the Hive, the HeatSmart smart thermostat is available to anyone — not just EDF Energy’s own customers — for £199 including installation.
Designed for Netatmo by famous French designer Phillipe Starck, the system includes remote control ability and a schedule creator, so you never have to pay to heat an empty home.
The HeatSmart smart heating system also features Auto-Adapt to account for weather changes, and includes a “frost guard” function which means your heating system will be protected from freezing over in very cold temperatures.
The HeatSmart system works with smartphones including iPhone and Android. It can also be customised by using interchangeable colored films located on the back of the device.
Developed by heating specialists, the miGenie works just like other smart thermostats: there is the thermostat and controller device, and a "Gateway" device that connects to your boiler.
The miGenie app is available for iPhone and Android devices. This app can be used to control your home's heating and temperature from anywhere.