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Smart Thermostats in the UK: Nest and its rivals compared


Smart Thermostats in the UK: Nest and its rivals compared

As the temperature drops, here's the smart way to keep things heated

In 2014 smart thermostats have flooded the global market as the drive for ‘ecotech’ rapidly gains momentum. In the UK a number brands have launched their first smart thermostats and all claim to give us greater insight into our energy use, offer remote control of heating and make the promise to save us money. We've already seen Tado and Hive in the UK, as well as US trailblazer Nest, which went on sale in the UK in April for £179.

What are smart thermostats? They are the early poster child of ‘The Internet of Things’ – small, low power, web connected devices that use the Internet to become smarter and more efficient - but will anyone sign up?

The main barrier is price. As with all first generation technology, the cost of smart thermostats is high – between £100 and £200 – and they come during a period of economic uncertainty. That said they also come during a period when energy prices are also sky rocketing and if these devices can deliver savings, the question will soon become: can you afford not to have one?

Smart Thermostats in the UK: The Pacesetter

Nest Labs

Status: Now on sale in the UK

Price: £179

Much of the credit for the sudden rise of smart thermostats goes to Nest Labs, the company founded by iPod creator Tony Fadell. It started in 2010 after Fadell left Apple, and introduced the first mainstream smart thermostat (simply called ‘Nest’) way ahead of the pack in late 2011.

Despite a $250 RRP by January 2013 the company was shipping between 40,000 and 50,000 thermostats a month, equivalent to one million per year. Remarkably these shipments came solely from the US. Now the Nest thermostat is available in the UK for £179, following on from the excellent Nest Protect smart smoke alarm released last year.

Whether Nest’s international rivals can match its magic formula remains to be seen since its appeal is both visual and functional. Fadell transferred his learning from Apple and the Nest has beautifully designed hardware and software. The thermostat itself has an elegant, minimalist, touch-senstive LED display while the accompanying smartphone and browser apps are clean, intuitive and simple.

The key selling point of the Nest thermostat is that it learns your heating preferences over time. This means it tracks when you reduce the temperature and to what level (either that it done via its Android and iOS apps, web browser or on the thermostat itself) so it can anticipate your needs.

Indeed, the Nest thermostat does so even better than before thanks to a recently released software update, which could save you a further 6 per cent on your annual heating bills. A refreshed UI and a new system test mode have also been added to the package.

Nest is also widely praised for its looks, easy installation and automatic software updates delivered via a permanent Wi-Fi connection.

On top of this Nest also has ‘occupancy detection’ which means it can tell when registered users are not in the house. It turns down the heating at these times and even learns to predict when you will return to home to turn it back up in advance. For homes in hotter locations the thermostat also works with air conditioning systems.

The main criticism is the Nest thermostat takes a fair bit of time to learn your preferences and you can’t pre-enter as many as you’d like. As such energy savings were reported to be between 10-25 per cent prior to the recent 4.3 update. Here the competition feels they can do better, quicker, while those with a separate hot water tank may find the Nest doesn't give them the control they need.

Go to comments


January 6, 2014, 12:29 pm

Would be interested to see inclusion of the new Honeywell Evohome too - the website indicates it is coming out soon, but not sure when.

John Gass

January 6, 2014, 12:31 pm

I'm still trying to work out how these systems can potentially save so much money. I assume that there will be just one smart thermostat in the house, presumably in the living room? I also assume that all the radiators will (one hopes) be fitted with traditional, manually-set, thermostatic valves. I can see the theoretical benefits of having a system that can track where people are, but it surely takes quite some time to heat a room when someone comes home, so how does that work in practice?

Were I to set out to design such a system, I'd base it around every room having a smart thermostat/timer, wirelessly communicating with an electro-mechanically controlled radiator valve. That way every room could be set individually with a profile of required temperature versus time. I do realise that this would be a prohibitively expensive way to go, but otherwise aren't we talking about a traditional central heating system with a bit of added awareness regarding whether a room is occupied? I'm intrigued but puzzled!

Prem Desai

January 6, 2014, 1:38 pm

You are quite right. This is more of a convenience thing than true energy saving.

People are suckers when you mention energy saving - look at what happened to plasma TV sets: superior in every way except that they cost £40-£50 more to run - annually.

You can save some energy by being able to switch off or lower your heating if you're unexpectedly away but in most cases, it's just convenience.

I have got heating controlled in every room by a similar system and I can assure you that it's going to take several years before I recoup my costs if at all. Also to support your statement, I'm not really saving any energy. Just having fun seeing it being used!!!!!!

Prem Desai

January 6, 2014, 1:41 pm

I'm really frustrated why Nest is being mentioned again and again by all journalists. Sure it's smart. But it's only useful if you can buy it which you can't.

It was announced several years ago and I kept waiting.

Have gone with Heatmiser instead which does all I want and is available to buy NOW ....

Hamish Campbell

January 6, 2014, 2:59 pm

I've discussed this on the Tado review as well.

I'm guessing they are comparing with a heating system where you can turn it completely off (due to it not being so cold outside, where I have to keep some heating on) and with the assumption that you currently never turn it off. Oh and maybe adjustment for outside temperature:

So here we have 24/7 full heating vs

Heating off during the hours you are at work.
heating lowered during sleeping hours.
Heating lowered when outside temperature rises.

If you are already manually turning the heating off/down then the first two are just convenience improvements.

the last you'll be doing too, but reaction time will be immediate rather than when you feel it.

My new boiler has timer settings and the temperature guage outside, but the big savings would be that its a convection system (grabbing the head from the flue), the insulation is far better (mostly to do with potable hot water) and the pump is more efficient (only relevant during winter).

Jonathan Melhuish

January 6, 2014, 4:15 pm

Good roundup but I'm surprised you missed off Heat Genius? They're a UK startup with a smart thermostat that's more technically advanced than any of these: it learns when you use each room of your house and then schedules each individual radiator automatically!

Jonathan Melhuish

January 6, 2014, 4:55 pm

Hi John, this is exactly what Heat Genius does! It has a motion sensor in each room so it can learn when you use that room, then switches the radiator on and off at right times, using a wireless valve. You're right that it is more expensive initially, but I agree it's likely to save a lot more energy especially if you work at home a lot but are only using part of the house.


January 6, 2014, 5:55 pm

"I'm still trying to work out how these systems can potentially save so much money.."
Me too. I hate any "up to" type figure, you just know it is always based on idealised conditions and measured against a basket-case base line.

I'd feel more comfortable if these people put their money where their mouth was, and agreed that the only payment for their system would be taken out of the audited saving demonstrated by your installation. Then, after the savings have paid off the installation, the future savings are yours. A long time ago I think Colt used to do that, for industrial heating.

Gordon Kelly

January 6, 2014, 9:26 pm

Thanks for this comment Jonathan, but you work for Heat Genius which, as you've already admitted, is a brand new company. You've also been writing the "I'm surprised you missed off" line to many sites based on your tweets ;)

We'll revisit Heat Genius in future should it get off to a good start.

Gordon Kelly

January 6, 2014, 9:28 pm

It has been on sale for 2 years in the US. It will launch in the UK in either late January or early February. Nest hadn't ever committed to a UK launch date until late last year so it shouldn't have "really frustrated" you.

Thermostat systems differ drastically around the world, so it worked on 3 generations of Nest in the US before considering it ready to ship internationally. That seems fair to me.

Do let me know how your experience with Heatmiser has been so far.

Gordon Kelly

January 6, 2014, 9:30 pm

I'm sure the savings percentages are - like laptop battery life - a best case scenario on older systems. But we'll long term term some systems and see how they work out. Without that this will be speculation.

I suspect the future for many - as mentioned in the article - will be partnerships with energy providers which provide them free in order to tie you down to a long contract. With rules tightening to allow fast switching between providers this is a potential route for customer retention.

Gordon Kelly

January 6, 2014, 9:31 pm

Funnily enough I spoke with Evohome today and we're working on getting a system installed.


January 7, 2014, 1:25 am

Irish company www.climote.com remote heating control is working with 6 of the top 10 utilities in the Uk and ireland beating of competition like nest and the international Goliaths so

Scottish power are first out of the blocks in UK https://scottishpowershop.co.u...

ESB electric ireland the largest utility in ireland and power NI the largest utility in nothern ireland have also chosen climote as there remote heating control partner.

Prem Desai

January 8, 2014, 11:26 am

I'm using the previous generation of Heatmiser and not the Neo which can only be better.

House is divided into 17 zones and includes an outbuilding over 100 feet away and a dog kennel (electric heating).

Nothing else gave me the flexibility of combining underfloor heating, radiators and electric heating. Add in the outbuilding too.

As the main house has underfloor heating, I do not want presence detection. Underfloor heating is too slow to respond.

I have another property which also has Heatmiser control. It is currently empty and love the ability to increase the heating if cold weather is forecast.

I can monitor and control all zones from my PC at home or work, my ipad and my phone.

The dog kennel is only used when we are not at home so the ability to extend the heating time if I'm going to be late is a godsend.

I'm not kidding myself that I will save any money. It was about control and convenience.

The only issues I have is that I cannot completely switch off any zone - rather it goes into setback mode where the minimum cannot go lower than 5 degrees.

Also, I would have liked weather compensation included.

Apart from these minor issues, I am really happy with the Heatmiser system.


January 9, 2014, 6:33 pm

Done right the energy savings can be significant - remember that heating is typically 2/3 of the total energy use in the home, and the fully zoned control systems with accurate temperature control (that properly monitor rates of temperature change and modulate the heat input into the room) achieve savings of 25-30% and upwards.

These smart control systems are expensive compared to conventional controls, but in many cases there is a real rate of return on the investment, and payback in the 4-8 year period (much better than the other "green" technologies, even taking into account the FIT subsidies).

Not many of the "smart" heating control systems offer full room zone control including intelligent heat demand control of the boiler plant. Honeywell do (and have for a long time with Hometronic), but until they announced the new update for Evo Home there was no integrated network/internet gateway. It was left to one of their distributors to licence the wireless protocol and develop their own gateway products as part of their wider wrap-around controls service).

The nice GUI/network interface will not save any additional energy in isolation, but it does make it easier to monitor and adjust the controls easily which makes the potential energy savings much more likely to be realised. For example we could all run around the house adjusting the basic radiator TRVs to ensure only the rooms in use at that time were actually being heated to full comfort levels, but almost none of us do! So here is where technology can help by making it easy to set up the required time/temperature profiles with a few simple clicks. And they also allow min/max limits to be set up to avoid "silly" adjustments that also automatically get reset by the time program - this ensures that rooms do not get turned up high and forgotten about for weeks on end.


January 9, 2014, 6:48 pm

Honeywell are one of the only companies in this sector that provide a fully integrated controls solution that has dedicated controllers with embedded control strategies for radiators, zone valves, underfloor heating, boiler control etc.

While the new Evo Home system with colour touchscreen looks new, the controls devices have been around in one form or another or more than 10 years.

I guess the in the near-term it is going to be interesting to see if smart stats such as Nest can make an impact in the residential controls market or whether the preference is for smart systems that integrate better into UK heating systems (such as the Honeywell package and to some extent the system controls from Heatmiser). It would also be nice to see more being made of the built-in smart features by the manufacturers that differentiate these better controls from those that simply emulate a basic switching thermostat but with a nice interface overlaid on top!

Gordon Kelly

January 9, 2014, 8:36 pm

Honeywell will be our next review :)

Prem Desai

January 11, 2014, 4:39 pm

You make valid points.

But please don't forget - payback in 4-8 years time is not realistic. In most cases, the manufacturer will have either gone bankrupt or stopped making/supporting these devices.

In any case, most of these devides are made in the far east on a tight budget - there is no way that they will last 4-8 years. By the time you are able to re-coup any money, it'll be time to replace or upgrade.

Pessimist? Me? Never!!

Drew Noble

January 13, 2014, 11:47 pm

Seems Nest was a ready-made purchase for Google rather than Apple, today's news (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2... should mix things up a bit, though I hope it doesn't delay Nest coming to the UK

Mark in Oxford

January 15, 2014, 10:50 pm

If you're planning a Honeywell Evohome review soon hopefully you'll also look at the Salus iT500 system which looks to be a good option on the looks and pricing side, allows for 2 zones or heat and water, and comes from a UK company who is already established in the heating and trv etc market already - my hopes are high, just like the super high price of the Evo system in multi zone setup, lol :-)


February 8, 2014, 10:06 am

Nice round-up and interesting comments, but no mention of Ecobee which I'm considering for an extension.

Any thoughts on this?


February 18, 2014, 9:48 am

The company I work for import US thermostats for use on ducted HVAC systems in the UK and we ordered in some Ecobee thermostats to trial. I've installed one at home to control the heating (basic combi boiler with timer and rads with TRV's). I just had to knock up a Junction box with a transformer to power the thermostat and a 24Vac relay to switch the boiler on and it works great and I've had the wife keep an eye on our gas usage per unit compared to last year. As the tariffs keep going up and down it's a bit inaccurate to look at cost comparison.

From November up to mid February we've used 59% less than last year which came as a massive surprise. I know the way we had it before with just the basic timer was a really poor way of controlling it but that was how we got the house. After talking to other mates they had a similar set up in standard 10+ year old properties and I'm pretty sure we're not going to be the only ones out there with this arrangement. I know this year in Kent has been a little bit milder than last and the I've set the temperature set point about 2 degrees lower than we would normally, but 59% is a lot more than I thought would be possible. (The reason I've set it a couple of degrees lower is I don't notice being a little colder that much and gradually started to lower the temp to where the missus starts to grumble and left it there. On most days she's fine and only about once a week does she turn it up a degree or two and then she's happy again. I'm pretty sure this is more psychological as well as she doesn't know that I've set the manual override period only to an hour so usually the temp is back where it was two hours later anyway.)

If money wasn't an option I agree that I would go for a thermostat in each room but at almost £200 a piece I'm afraid it's not going to happen soon. The Ecobee has a learning function, which looking at the reporting feature adjusts the heating start and run times and it is really interesting to see all the info on a graph, outdoor temp, indoor temp, setpoint program and the actual heating run time.


March 23, 2014, 2:50 pm

Hopefully the Google acquisition can be what it needs to boost production and worldwide availability. I'm hoping for a revised version, perhaps cheaper than the original that out US friends have been 'beta testing'.

Definitely looking forward to it and will wait for an eventual release, as this could also move the UK market players a bit.


March 25, 2014, 9:56 am

I've had the Hive system from british installed for about 5 months now and have to say I'm very impressed. While I agree the figures on how much you can save are a little vague, the software on both the web app and iOS are excellent. Trying to control each room with auto detection and smart monitoring is probably a step too far for traditional heating systems... More than anything, I just love being able to logon and warm the house up 15mins before I walk through the front door. And for the occasional time that i might turn it onto manual heating and forget to turn it off... I can login and adjust back to timer/off from work!
The hardware definitely isn't sleek as the nest thermostat (I have the Protect which is a thing of beauty!) but it's tucked away in my hallway and rarely get's touched due to the great app... Nest have been telling us the device is coming.... I gave up the wait!


March 25, 2014, 3:41 pm

I've had Hive for 6 weeks now and have had nothing but trouble with it, I'm currently waiting for an engineer to come whilst I sit and freeze to death. Having spoken several times to customer services who tell me how wonderful it is and advise me to put up with the constant 'glitches' until they have a permanent repair in place I am seriously thinking of having it taken out because of it's complete unreliability.

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