In the smart home: smart thermostats

In our smart home series, Matt Franklin of Carbon Co-op looks at the benefits of smart room thermostats and how to choose the right one for your home.

Around the country, people are relying on ‘smart room thermostats’ to regulate their home environments. But what is a smart thermostat, and will it save you money and help reduce your carbon footprint whilst keeping your home comfortable?

What is a smart room thermostat?

At its core, a smart room thermostat is any thermostat device which goes beyond the functionality of a traditional, manual (set to one temperature), or programmable thermostat (set to different temperatures at different times). Common brands include Tado, Drayton, Nest, and Hive, with many of them being possible to install yourself as a like-for-like replacement to your existing heating controls. However, to make sure it is all installed correctly, it might be worth using a qualified electrician.

In practical terms, a smart thermostat may be able to tell whether you are at home and adjust your heating. It may allow you to control your heating remotely from your smartphone.

Some thermostats may also use ‘learning’ technology to identify patterns in your heating requirements and make automatic adjustments – something which is not always accurate! And it might support ‘zoning’ different temperatures in different parts of your home, something particularly beneficial in larger houses.

Studies have shown that using and understanding a smart thermostat over traditional thermostats can lead to major reductions in heating energy use, often more than 10%. With heating,and particularly gas heating, contributing significantly to home carbon emissions this is a major selling point.

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What to look for when considering a smart room thermostat

When choosing a smart thermostat, it is important you pick one which has the features you need and is compatible with your existing heating technology (such as your boiler or heat-pump).

A useful thing to check is whether your boiler is compatible with the OpenTherm communications protocol as this system, paired with a smart thermostat which supports boiler modulation, can lead to major efficiency savings.

Integrating TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves), which adjust the flow to your radiators in order to maintain a constant temperature, can be a great way to optimise your system. The radiator TRVs are additional to the smart thermostat (although often sold as a package) and can integrate with the smart thermostat to allow advanced control over your heating.

For example, with smart TRVs and a smart thermostat you can implement 'zoning' where you have different temperatures set in different parts of the house or at different times. You are also able to regulate the heating throughout the house more easily, avoiding colder or warmer rooms.

Many smart room thermostats have their own TRVs (such as the Drayton Wiser or Tado), but even basic ‘dumb’ options can help to create different heating zones in your home and make major savings.

Privacy and local control are worth bearing in mind.

Some smart thermostat systems depend upon a ‘cloud’ service and may even require a paid subscription to operate. These are not inherently insecure or a problem and may integrate well with your existing smart home devices. Yet there is a risk, if the company ends the service, that your heating system may become an expensive piece of e-waste.

A smart thermostat can be a great investment for your heating system, but it is important to choose one which meets your needs to get the maximum benefit.

However, with the right setup it is possible to have an easy-to-use and convenient system that can reduce your bills and carbon emissions whilst maintaining a comfortable home.