The ultimate guide to smart thermostats

Last updated: 11 November 2020

In this guide you’ll find the answer to the following questions:

  • What is a smart thermostat?

  • What’s the difference between a smart thermostat and a standard central heating thermostat?

  • Why should I install a smart thermostat?

  • What features can be found in smart thermostats?

  • What types of smart thermostats are on the market?

What is a smart thermostat?

Have you ever touched down on holiday only to remember that you hadn’t turned the heating off? Never fear - there’s an app for that. Smart thermostats allow you to take control of your home’s heating systems from distances ranging from a few feet from the thermostat to anywhere in the world with an internet connection. They also offer a bevy of cost-saving features to cut your energy bills, whether you're on a dual fuel tariff or single fuel deals. 

Smart thermostats offer a simple way to control your home’s temperature remotely, either via a smartphone, tablet, or desktop computer. They put your heating system online, allowing you to change the temperature or turn the heating off and on using an app. Smart thermostats shouldn’t be confused with smart meters, which send digital meter readings to your energy supplier. 

What’s the difference between a smart thermostat and a standard central heating thermostat?

Although both smart heating controls and traditional central heating controls offer the same basic functions – programming a heating schedule or adjusting room temperature – smart heating offers various additional high-tech features. These include smart learning to gain an understanding of your habits over time to provide you with a personalised service. 

Smart Wi-Fi thermostats work with most standard boilers, as well as communal heating systems. If you’re unsure, check the manufacturer’s website to find out which boilers are compatible. 

There are three basic components to any smart thermostat. The first plugs into your boiler, allowing the thermostat to communicate with the heating system. The second is the in-home device and control panel, while the third is the smartphone app.  

Why should I install a smart thermostat?

There are many benefits to smart thermostats. If you have any unexpected change of plans and know you won’t be home until later than usual, you can adjust the heating to warm up your dwelling in time for your rescheduled arrival. You can heat the home during cold snaps to avoid burst or frozen pipes, even when you’re away on holiday. In the case of designs that learn your habits over time, you can receive tailored heating programming that’s specific to your individual movements within the home.

Although smart heating won’t save you money directly, these systems do offer savings in the long run by making your home more efficient. Like smart meters, smart thermostats put you in control of your usage, so you can adjust your own behaviour to save money. However, for those who have very defined habits, a standard programmable thermostat may be enough.

What features can be found in smart thermostats?

To find the best smart thermostat, it’s helpful to compare the different features. Not all models are created alike. Here’s a rundown of the different capabilities you might expect from models currently on the market:

Remote temperature control

The main feature common to the best smart thermostats is the ability to control your heating using your phone, tablet, laptop, or other smart device. You can do this whether you’re lounging about at home or enjoying a holiday abroad. 

Multi-zone control

Some models allow you to heat different areas of the home independently of one another. This is helpful if you have a spare room that only gets used when guests are in town, or you need to keep the baby’s room a bit warmer than the rest of the house. When you’re unable to physically adjust the radiator valves for whatever reason, multi-zone control comes in quite handy. These will require an additional investment in smart thermostatic radiator valves. 

Geofencing

Another feature to keep an eye out for is geofencing. This is a technology that virtually tracks when a user enters or leaves the property. It’s a simple way of creating a boundary around your home, so that the system can switch the heating on when you arrive and shut it off when you’ve departed.

Hot water control

Some smart thermostats can control the hot water along with the heating. These usually only work for properties with a separate hot water tank, and some will require an extra device to work. 

Preventing frozen pipes

Frozen pipes in the winter can be a major headache, but you can prevent this by putting your thermostat into a special holiday or safety mode. With this type of setting, the thermostat automatically switches the heating back on if it detects the temperature dropping below a safe number. Some also detect draughts from open windows and can send you an alert. 

Regular usage feedback

Are you looking for ways to get a handle on your energy use? Look for a model that offers regular feedback about your habits. This shows you just how many hours of the month have been spent heating the home. You can compare this to your usage history so you can see what’s changed. Models like the Nest smart thermostat offer energy-efficient settings to help you adjust your habits. 

Communication with other smart devices

If you’re already connected to smart home products like Google Home or Amazon Echo, you can add your new smart thermostat into the mix. Once they’re connected, you can speak to Alexa or Google to control your heating with voice commands. 

What types of smart thermostat are there on the market?

There are loads of smart thermostats on the market today, ranging from big names like Google and British Gas to smaller upstarts. Here’s a rundown of some of the top types of thermostats to choose from. 

British Gas Hive

Hive Active Heating allows you to manage your home’s temperature remotely, whether you’re at home or away. You can download the corresponding app or use a central dashboard to manage your heating options. This puts the user in control, which is appealing for those who aren’t quite ready to hand over all their data just yet. You can design your own heating schedules and adjust temperatures whenever you wish. The heating automatically shuts off using Hive if the pipes are in danger of freezing. It also gives you historic information of temperatures both in and out of the home.

Google Nest

Acquired by Google in 2014 for £2 billion, the Nest smart thermostat monitors your habits, particularly during the week, and adjusts your heating accordingly. Your home’s temperature adapts to your behaviour with this Learning Thermostat, with the end goal being that you’ll never have to fiddle with the heating at all – it’ll do everything automatically for you. Nest also offers a motion sensor, turning heating off automatically when the home is empty. 

Honeywell Evohome

Evohome is a Honeywell smart thermostat that works by splitting your home into different smart zones. You’ll be able to control the heating in each zone, so that you don’t waste energy in rooms you’re not using. Honeywell claims that this device helps the average home save up to 40% on annual heating costs by eliminating wasted energy.

How do I get hold of a smart thermostat?

You can purchase these directly, but an increasing number of providers are also offering to install free smart thermostats with certain tariffs. For example, both Shell Energy and SSE offer Google Nests with selected tariffs, while British Gas offers its customers discounts on its Hive range of products – including access to professional installation services. 

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Published on Fri 01 Nov 2019 04.13 GMT