With the winter nights drawing in, and the temperatures dropping, it might be time to think about smarter heating controls. Imagine a situation where your thermostat learns from your preferences, knows when you are out and when you are home, and adjusts the heating accordingly? No more heating an empty house, and with geofencing, no more coming home unexpectedly to a cold home.
Save money and save your comfort. It seems like a win-win situation. Plus there may also be some help to upgrade your heating controls, with grants on offer from SEAI.
The Nest Learning Thermostat does exactly as you’d expect: it learns. So it takes a couple of weeks to get up to speed, learning when you are home and away, how warm you like to keep your home, and piecing it all together to create a schedule for you.
The Nest comes with two components: the thermostat itself, which controls the heat and can be moved from room to room on a stand or wall mounted in each room; and the heatlink, which is wired to the boiler and communicates with the thermostats around your home.
The Thermostat is a touchscreen device with a turning ring to select options. Those rings can be customised with a choice between stainless steel, white, black or copper, depending on your personal preference.
The beauty of the Nest system is that it just does everything without being told. Once it has your schedule committed to its memory, it will make its own judgment call on when to turn on the heating to make sure it’s at the temperature you like when you are home. There is one caveat to that: if you live with someone who likes to boost the heating over and over, the thermostat will learn that you like the temperature at 24 degrees all day (and even night) long. There is a way to remedy this, though; you can manually edit the Nest’s projected schedule in the Nest app.
The device also comes with something Google calls Farsight, which means it will sense movement from across the room. When the Nest thinks the room is empty, it will dim the screen on the thermostat; when it senses movement, it will light up the thermostat's display, showing the temperature, time or weather.
The third generation of the Nest Learning Thermostat controls hot water, too, which is a handy thing as you need never think about the hot water schedule either.
You can also link the Nest with other Google products. For example, if you have a Nest Protect smart smoke and carbon monoxide alarm, the two products will work together. In the event of a fire or a carbon monoxide detection, the Nest Protect will instruct the boiler to shut down.
What does it cost?
A single thermostat pack will cost you €245 at the moment. There is a cheaper option, the Nest Thermostat E (€215), which strips out some of the features such as hot water control and the Farsight sensor.
If you have zoned heating, you'll need more than one thermostat. You can control up to 20 Nest thermostats in your home.
The Irish company behind Climote promises a 30-minute install – and in my experience, that was what they delivered. The smart thermostat is essentially a digital version of the manual time clock on your boiler, mimicking the fiddly pins that we've all struggled with over the years but in a much easier to handle way. It has that air of familiarity about it, but it's much easier to use. There's a physical wheel on the Climote Hub to help you set up your preferred heating schedule, with a small display to show each zone as you edit.
The system has one thing that differentiates it from the others: you don't need broadband to control it remotely. The system has a smartphone app, so you can control it through your mobile, but it also has a sim card inside, so if you don't have a smartphone, or your home has little or no broadband access, you can still use the system. In that case you would send text message commands to the system, telling it to boost the living room heating, turn on the hot water or put it into holiday mode. If you live in an internet black spot, that may be more useful than you realise.
The downside? You can’t link Climote to Google Home to control your heating via voice commands, although it does support integration with Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant. Plus it doesn’t support some of the extras such as geofencing to turn your heating on as you approach your house. But you can just do that manually, by sending the command via your phone.
What does it cost?
You can buy the Climote Hub directly from Climote itself for €400, including installation. But Electric Ireland also offers the Climote to its new customers for €90, so it's worth shopping around.
When you get Climote installed, you get free service for a year. After that, you have to pay €19 a year to keep the sim active. That's just over €1 a month, so not much.
German company Tado pitches itself as an easy way to smarten up your heating system. And it certainly seems that way: you can install the Tado V3+ system yourself in just a few minutes, which puts it ahead of some of the other smart heating systems.
The company offers two options: a wired system, and a completely wireless one. The latter is a new addition and will also work for people who want to control their hot water system, or who don’t have wired room thermostats. It also means you can place the thermostats wherever you want.
Because the Tado system is easy to install, it makes it a viable option for most homes. It works with most modern central heating systems and underfloor heating, though it is worth checking if your boiler is compatible. There are about 16,000 systems included in Tado’s database, with step-by-step instructions; if your boiler isn’t there, Tado’s engineers will compile instructions for you.
The system is smart. It uses information on local weather to decide what to do with your heating system; if the weather is heating up outside, the system will automatically turn down the heating. Its geofencing capability will remind you to turn down the heating when the last person leaves home, and crank it higher in time for your arrival. If you leave a window open, Tado detects it and adjusts the heating to compensate for it so you aren’t heating the entire neighbourhood.
It’s also one of the more flexible systems in terms of integrating with smart home controls – it works with Google Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home and Apple’s smarthome system HomeKit.
The Wired Starter Kit will set you back €200, with the wireless kit setting you back €230. Additional wireless thermostats will cost you €80 each.
Tado has an Auto Assist service that automates the geofencing and the open window detection. Instead of asking you if you want to set you heating to away mode, or turning off the heating to save energy, the Auto Assist services will do it for you.
Another Irish company, Hub Controller promises a 10-minute install, and delivers a touchscreen heating control.
The control unit has a large colour display that is very easy to use. A boost button provides a quick way to heat up the house quickly, and the schedule can be adjusted as and when you see fit.
The Hub keeps it simple. There aren’t any geofencing capabilities. But you can remotely control the heating via the smartphone app, which is a reproduction of the Hub Controller interface, allowing you to set the schedule, boost the heating or change the baseline temperature for the room from your phone. You can add other Hub Controllers if you have a multizone system.
It will need a wifi connection, though, with software updates delivered automatically by the company, so make sure you have access to fast broadband.
It's usually €350 for the smart heating controls, including installation, but the company is offering a free trial of the device, which is worth investigating.
It doesn't appear so. The software upgrades are free and there are no extra charges.
Cork-based Smartzone offers a whole home package – smart alarm system, plugs, indoor cameras – that includes a smart heating system. You can get the wifi-enabled Smart Thermostat, which can control up to three zones – upstairs, downstairs and your hot water – and then sit on the sofa while adjusting the thermostat to the perfect temperature. The app facilitates geofencing, so when you leave the house the temperature on the thermostat will go down. You also have the option to link it to Alexa for voice commands, even if they are a little convoluted (“Alexa, tell alarm.com to set the heating to 18 degrees).
Smartzone’s system also includes extras such as thermostatic radiator controls complete with their own screens.
The heating system currently costs €399, which includes the Smart Thermostat.
To maintain the remote access to the heating controls, there's a €10 monthly fee.
NETATMO SMART THERMOSTAT
If you want a thermostat with a bit of style, the Netatmo might be the one for you. It was designed by Philip Stark, and has notions about being more than just a boring heating controller.
But at the end of the day, it does exactly the same thing the others do: allows you to control your home heating from anywhere in the world.
The system has a function called Auto-Adapt, which uses your home’s insulation and the outdoor temperature to decide when your heat turns on. Not only does it take its cue from you, it also adapts to help you save cash.
It offers smart valves for your radiators too, so you can bring the Stark style everywhere around your home.
€329 from Energia
Not unless you want to add more radiator valves to the system.
HIVE ACTIVE HEATING
Hive is another system that offers more than the straightforward thermostat controls. You can install the heating controls, which include the Hive hub, and use it as a building block for a smarthome that includes light bulbs, plugs and security cameras.
Like the Netatmo, a lot of thought has gone into the design of the thermostat. It’s reasonably compact, and can be wall mounted or put on a stand (an optional extra) to be positioned wherever you like in your home.
The system includes geolocation to tap you on the shoulder to remind you that you've left the heating on, and you can set a schedule with up to six time slots per day for heating and hot water. Plus it integrates with most of the major platforms, including Google Assistant, Alexa, Google Home, Apple Homekit and even IFTTT to automate your home.
The Hive heating system coasts €199 with the hub and €169 without.
You can add Hive Live to your package for €3.49 a month, if you want text messages about your home and discounts on products.
If you want a sophisticated home heating system, you’ve come to the right place. The Honeywell Evohome allows for up to 12 zones in your home, giving you room-by-room control of your home’s temperature. Pair it with the smart radiator valves and you can switch on the heating only in the rooms that are occupied, thus saving you some money in the long run.
As with most of the other systems, it can also control the hot water tank. Honeywell has also added features such as a cold weather boat, which accounts for plummeting temperatures to make your home feel as cosy as it should.
There is an app for remote control, as you would expect, and the whole system is wireless, so no one will be digging into your walls.
On the down side, there’s no geofencing, so you’ll have to remember to turn your own heating off.
The smart thermostat pack will set you back €243
You can add more thermostats to the system, but you aren't obliged to.