Of all the ways you can make your home smart, few make more sense than smart heating. Fit a thermostat, install the app, and every time you walk in it will be cosy – just like the John Lewis Christmas advert. The convenience of having a home that’s warm when you need it to be can’t be overstated, but there’s another big upside to smart controls: they save you money.
Exactly how much depends on the system you fit, but one of the biggest wins comes through geolocation or motion-sensing: when you’re not there, the heating isn’t running. Many smart systems go further, by letting you vary the temperature during the day, for example, or detecting if you’ve opened a window, or even pulling in weather forecasts to make the most of spring sunlight.
Despite this, it takes time and a bit of fettling to optimise the results you’ll get from even the smartest system. And, as with many smart controls, you might need to optimise low-tech stuff before you can begin to get the most from high-tech investments. To help, here are our six tips to optimising your smart home heating.
Related: Best smart thermostats
1. Fix the basics
Nothing wastes money like a drafty house, or a lack of insulation. Check windows and external doors, if necessary replacing seals or getting them serviced to improve weatherproofing. Use draft excluders to plug gaps under doors, and test for subtle drafts with incense smoke.
Experts recommend at least 250mm of loft insulation – if you’ve got less, top up. Finally, fit thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) if you don’t already have them; they’ll save you money and give you greater control.
2. Upgrade your boiler connection
If you have a smart thermostat that supports OpenTherm and a boiler that correctly supports the protocol, you should use this connection. Rather than simply turning your boiler on or off when water is required, OpenTherm allows a smart thermostat to modulate the boiler’s heating temperature so that you save more energy and keep your home at a more comfortable temperature. See, what is OpenTherm? for more information.
Related: What is OpenTherm?
3. Adjust your boiler temperature
Consult the engineer when you have your boiler serviced, or handbook, about your boiler’s optimum temperature. Modern condensing boilers are most efficient when in condensing mode, which requires a return temperature of 55℃ or less. The return is water coming back into your boiler after it’s been pumped around your home, with heat “lost” from the output going into your home to heat.
Usually you can set a separate water temperature for the heating system. Many new boilers will have an eco mode, highlighted on the dial or screen. Select a temperature at this level or below to run your boiler in condensing mode.
Typically, a hot water temperature of around 70℃ should see a return of 55℃ or lower. Try dialling your radiator temperature down further; if your house isn’t heating up to the desired level then turn up the heating. In extreme cold spells, you may need to turn the temperature up.
4. Build a smart schedule
According to the Energy Saving Trust, turning your thermostats down by 1℃ saves around £75 annually, but smart heating lets you do better. Systems such as Nest and Tado learn how quickly your home heats, so you can set temperatures for when you want them, not when you think the heating needs to start work. If necessary, create different schedules for the week and weekend.
People generally prefer cooler temperatures in the morning when they’re active, and most homes naturally warm during the day, so don’t overdo it first thing – particularly if you’re all going out. If your system relies on mobile phones for geofencing, ensure everyone installs the app – you don’t want the kids freezing until you get home.
5. Get in the zone
Installing a multi-zone system such as Tado or Honeywell Evohome can save you a fortune, letting you heat only the rooms you’re using, when you’re using them. You can apply completely separate rules to zones – for example, getting kids’ rooms toasty for bedtime then keeping them at a comfortable 18℃ all night, while only heating your own bedroom later.
Zones also help you exploit other heat sources in your house, such as laundry appliances, the oven or dishwasher. If you can delay their start, set appliances to run in the hour or so before you get up (or at the end of your Economy 7 period). Their warmth will reduce your heating’s workload.
6. Use the reports
One brilliant advantage of smart heating is that it tells you more about how your house heats and cools, and how your heating is performing. If something doesn’t work as expected, check the reports so you can work out what happened and tweak the schedule. If you want an extra rosy glow, let Tado’s Energy Savings Report tell you how you saved money for the month.
7. Remember: you’re the boss
Smart heating can’t read your mind. While some systems use geolocation to anticipate your return and pre-heat the house, they can’t predict if you’re simply coming home to grab a change of clothes. If you know you’re not stopping, use the app to manually stop the heating kicking in. If you know you’re going to bed early, turn the heating down ahead of time, and if your system has an Eco mode, use it as much as possible.
Tado uses internet forecasts to anticipate warmer weather, but you can do something similar. If you know it’s warming up, or your home is about to bask in spring or autumn sunshine, turn the heating down and open up the curtains. Warm sunshine can be another reason not to heat too much in the morning – you don’t want to overheat by the afternoon.
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