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What is a smart thermostat and do I need one?

By Emma Lunn
Wednesday, January 31st 2018

So you've heard about Hive and Nest and you're wondering whether to get a smart thermostat. Nobody really needs a smart thermostat, but they can be useful if your plans change, help you save energy, and potentially some cash too.

Not to be confused with a smart meter, a smart thermostat is a device that allows you to control your home heating remotely using an app on your smartphone. This means you can adjust your heating when you’re out and about, as well as when you’re at home.

What can a smart thermostat do?

Like traditional thermostats, smart thermostats can be programmed to come on at certain times or when a room reaches a certain temperature. But they also have some additional clever features to help you use energy “smartly”. For example, you can use your smartphone to turn your heating on when you’re on the way back from a night out, or turn it off if you decide to stay out all night.

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The best smart thermostats also show you how much heating you’re using, monitor your usage and learn your routine. Some models can also monitor how long it takes certain rooms in your home to warm to a certain temperature. Using this, and weather information from the internet, they can turn your heating on at exactly the right time to heat your home to a precise temperature when required. This means you won’t waste energy on warmer days or wake to a freezing house if the temperature suddenly drops.

Reasons to invest in a smart thermostat

Remote control for your heating

The big advantage of smart thermostats is the ability for remote control. You can turn your heating on, off, up or down using your smartphone or other internet-enabled device. You can do this from anywhere and your home will be warm and comfortable when you want it to be.

Intelligent heating

Some smart thermostats go beyond this. Certain models learn your daily routine and adjust your heating accordingly or heat different rooms to different temperatures. Others track you using GPS and switch the heating off when you leave home and back on when you’re on your way home.

All this means you can heat your home more efficiently and, as a result, use less energy. Saving energy means you cut carbon emissions and leave a smaller carbon footprint.

Save money

As well as doing your bit for the environment, installing a smart thermostat can save you money. Using less heat means lower energy bills. You won’t waste money on heating if, for example, you go away for the weekend and forget to turn your heating off – you can switch it off using the app on your smartphone.

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Reasons you might not

They're not cheap

One downside to smart thermostats is the cost – up to about £300 – and you may have to pay for installation too. It’s important to take these costs into account when working out if a smart thermostat will save you money.

You may have to leave it behind if you move

Another issue is what will happen if you move home. If you’re selling your house, the buyer is likely to expect the heating controls to form part of the fixtures and fittings – so you may have to leave your smart thermostat behind. If you do take it with you, you’ll need to re-install it in your new home. Note that renters will need to ask their landlord before installing a smart thermostat.

Savings are not guaranteed

There are no guarantees a smart thermostat will save you money. You’ll need to take advantage of all the features it offers to reduce your energy bills. If you already turn off the heating every time you go out, you might not see much benefit from the remote control.

Complex features and reliance on wi-fi

Smart thermostats can also be quite complicated and it can take time to understand the software. Plus, they need wi-fi for all the smart features to work, so if your broadband connection goes down, you’ll need to adjust your thermostat manually rather than using the app.

Popular smart thermostat brands

The smart thermostat market is evolving with new brands and models being released at regular intervals. These are some of the most established brand names and their parent companies:

  • Hive (British Gas)
  • Nest (Google)
  • Connect (Scottish Power)
  • Tado (Scottish and Southern Energy)
  • Honeywell (Honeywell)

It’s important to note that you usually don’t need to be a customer with a particular energy company to use its smart thermostat. For example, anyone can use Hive, not just British Gas customers.

Where do I get a smart thermostat and how much should I pay?

There are three key ways you can obtain a smart thermostat:

  • Buy one from a retailer (Amazon, Currys, BT Shop etc).
  • Buy one bundled with a new boiler.
  • Compare and switch to an energy tariff that offers a free one.

Buying a smart thermostat will cost roughly £200 to £300 plus installation. Some suppliers will rent you one or allow you to spread the cost with monthly repayments.

Things to consider before you buy your smart thermostat

Although most smart thermostats do the same thing in terms of enabling remote control of your heating, some of them differ in other ways, including compatibility and connectivity with other smart home products.

  • Is it compatible with your current boiler?
  • Do you need it to control your hot water as well as your central heating? (This won’t be necessary if you have a combination boiler).
  • Do you want it to work with other smart home devices (i.e. Google Home or Amazon Echo)?
  • Which features are important to you? These might include the ability to learn your routines, GPS tracking, motion sensors, and responding to weather conditions.
  • Do you want multi-room control? If you do, you’ll need to replace your radiator valves with smart radiator thermostats.

Smart thermostat installation

You have three options regarding smart thermostat installation:

  • Install it yourself.
  • Have it installed by the manufacturer or your energy supplier at the time of purchase.
  • Pay for installation by a third party.

If you choose to self-install, you’ll need to follow a complex set of instructions and install both a receiver or heat link, which lets your boiler and thermostat talk to each other, and the thermostat itself.

You’ll need certain tools and will need to know to how to remove your old thermostat, switch off the mains power, and identify the correct cables.

Most people would be better off having their smart thermostat installed by a professional. This will take about 90 minutes and cost approximately £50 to £90.

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