What to Look for
There is a considerable array of different smart heating brands and products available, all with the same basic capability, however, we focus here on systems capable of controlling heating and hot water, plus the ability to create heating zones.
It is important to remember that your existing heating/hot water system or new additions may come with similar capabilities that can either integrate into or substitute for a smart heating system.
Also remember that existing heating/hot water systems vary widely in terms of how they work, for example combi boiler versus boiler plus hot water tank, and how they are controlled, simple thermostat and/or programmable control unit. That said, most systems can be accommodated and we have tried to point out any exceptions below, but you may still need to add/change small components of your system and can quite probably find workarounds to some of our exceptions with the help of an expert.
In deciding our recommendations, the key elements of price, design, completeness of offer, integration capabilities and company sustainability commitment have been used.
The Brand: Google is one of the worlds largest companies and familiar to nearly all through its search engine and android mobile phone operating system, but it does much more, including smart home solutions.
Regularly criticized due to a perception of its “big brother” position and data privacy concerns, Google is in fact a leader in terms of large companies committed to sustainability and extremely transparent in reporting.
In 2007 it became the first large company to be carbon neutral and has been so ever since.
In 2017 it became the first major company to match 100% of its annual electricity usage with its purchase of renewable energy and has done so ever since.
By 2020 it was the first major company to neutralise its legacy carbon footprint since its founding.
Google continue to set ambitious climate action goals and to publish them. We look forward to more climate action leadership from Google.
The Product: the Nest learning thermostat generation 3 (available wired or wireless) is attractively designed with an intuitive interface. It can be combined with a Nest temperature sensor or sensors (6 per thermostat up to a maximum of 18), allowing you to specify exactly what room needs to be prioritised for target temperature at what time. Temperature sensors are wireless and small and so can be easily moved between rooms.
The Nest can manage both traditional wet radiator and underfloor heating systems but is not able to manage electric heating systems. It can manage multizone systems by the addition of more thermostats through the associated app, up to 20 although obviously in most cases it will be nowhere near this many.
Simple hot water management is also possible but what we really like about this system is that it is relatively simple, easy to set up and encourages the use of schedules and energy saving actions.
The thermostat contains a proximity sensor which turns on the display as you enter the room and logs time and temperature settings to build a schedule for you. This is enhanced by a presence sensor linked to your smart phone (for as many registered devices as you choose), and you can even allow the use of sensors in other Nest products around your house, such as cameras and microphones.
All this information plus outside weather conditions is used by the learning thermostat to build an accurate heating schedule and allow the use of eco mode, returning to the schedule when people are coming back to the house.
The free nest app allows you to remotely adjust your thermostat and schedule, plus giving energy usage information. Voice control is available via both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa, but not for Apples Homekit.
The Nest range does not include a smart radiator valve so prior to installing it is important to making sure your heating is balanced, i.e rooms are set at the desired relative temperatures and adjusted, should they need to be from time to time, via your manual or TRV valves.
A single thermostat (with the required boiler connection included) will cost around £180 with two temperature sensors costing another £80, with 2 years warranty on the thermostat and 1 year on the sensors.
Installation is fairly simple with lots of online tutorials available, however if you prefer to engage a professional Nest have a recommended network from which you can get a quote, although any competent heating engineer will also be able to give a quotation. Cost of installation should be around £100. Nest have many smart home offerings that can be integrated.
The Brand: Centrica is a UK based company that also owns British Gas. The company is again very transparent in its sustainability declarations, and although their net zero target as a business is only 2045 this is considered reasonably aggressive as fossil fuels make up a large percentage of the business.
Their strategy to transition away from this business and help their customers become net zero by 2050 is important when you consider the residential and business customer base they serve.
They have considerable and increasing renewables under management and are moving quickly to electrifying their vehicle fleet which is considerable. We look to Centrica to play a very active part in helping the UK move to net zero.
The Product: Hive active heating 2 products include a smart thermostat and smart radiator valves, but you will also need the hive hub for your system to work if you do not already have one.
The thermostat is well designed and simple to understand and can control hot water and multiple heating zones, allowing it’s use with wet underfloor heating. It cannot be used for an electrical system.
The thermostat works with the Hive app to let you build heating/hot water schedules, control functions manually and allow geolocation via your smart phone, to alert you if you have left your heating on when you leave home and if the house is below schedule temperature as you approach home. A holiday mode is also available for prolonged absences, so that you do not have to change your existing schedule. Frost protection assures when your heating is off and the temperature drops below 7 degrees your system will activate to prevent frozen pipes.
The inclusion of smart radiator valves allows control of room to room heating again with the ability to set schedules also for each room from the Hive app. It is not necessary to have the Hive smart thermostat to use these valves, but the benefit of having a central control unit for simple control but being able to override it (on demand setting) to allow a specific room/rooms to heat up can be very useful.
Manual controls on the smart thermostat allow schedule setting, temperature and hot water adjustment plus boost functions, similarly temperature can be set manually on the radiator valves. Radiator valves also have open window detection, so that if a window is opened to lower temperature in a room the valve will adjust to match the lowered temperature.
Use of the Hive app will help you get value from the system by looking at your system history to tune your schedules, and it is integrated with Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s assistant for voice control of basic functions. Again it is not compatible with Apple’s Homekit for heating but there is an Apple watch app.
The thermostat (including the appropriate boiler connection) will cost around £140 if you do not already have a hub and a set of 5 radiator thermostats an additional £150, with a 1-year warranty on all products.
Installation is fairly simple with lots of online tutorials available, however, if you prefer to engage a professional British Gas installation can be added at about £100 and half that if you are a customer. Any competent heating engineer will also be able to give a quotation. Hive have several other smart home devices available that can be integrated.
The Brand: geniusHUB are a UK based company, with all operations based in Birmingham. With the ability to deal with complex heating systems and simplify there control they have a large business client base alongside their residential customer base.
GeniusHUB are the smallest company in our list and as such provide very few facts and figures on sustainability, outside customer energy savings and thereby reductions in carbon footprint.
Whilst their company sustainability statement talks about all the right things we would like to see them become much more detailed regarding actual measurement and defined targets.
The Product: genius gets into our list because of its ability to work with practically every heating system, however complex, to simplify and add intelligence into those systems.
Starter packs are available that will more or less mirror the capabilities of other smart learning thermostats but at a higher price. The value with the system comes as you build it out. Components include the smart thermostat (and Hub), smart radiator valves, temperature/motion sensors, electrical switches, smart plugs (also act as a signal booster) and more. This enables it to work with both wet and electric, radiators and underfloor heating.
In footprint mode the system will then work out optimal heating schedules based on your choice of super-eco, eco or comfort setting. Essentially, super-eco will turn on when you enter a room; eco will learn usual room occupancy times and build a schedule to heat to those times; comfort will build a schedule as for Eco but will only switch off when it is sure nobody is using the room.
Users can go into the app and change schedules, plus remotely control both central and valve thermostats manually.
Valve thermostats allow the building of multiple wet radiator heat zones and have window open detection turning off the radiator to prevent wasted heat. Manual setting can also be done on the central or valve thermostats themselves to override the schedules. All of this will be logged and can be viewed to tune schedules if required.
The system also allows for weather compensation so that outside conditions will be accounted for when heating schedules are worked out. Alexa integration is available but not Google or Apple. With the potential system capability you do need to be prepared to spend time setting up correctly (also true for the app). The system does not include any form of geofencing capability.
The smart thermostat (with hub and appropriate boiler connection) will cost around £280 with each smart radiator valve costing £60, with the addition of room sensors at £45. Products come with a 2-year warranty. The reality then is that for a similar sized property a fully functioning system will be double roughly double that of Hive.
The company site does offer considerable resources for learning about the system and designing optimally. They also have 24/7 phone support and online support. Most components are wireless and so not difficult to install, however, you may be wise to involve a reputable plumber or electrician as you will probably be talking about a more complex system. Installation costs will also probably be more expensive at around £200 due to the requirement to install and commission more devices.
We try our best to research and find the best environmentally-friendly companies to recommend here. However, if you have any suggestions that we might not know of, or disagree with any of our recommendations, please get in contact: firstname.lastname@example.org .We always want to learn more about the companies with the potential to save our future.