These smart thermostats will help cut your rising gas bill

With the price of gas going up almost as often as you light the hob these days, it makes sense to use as little of it as you can get away with. But central heating systems haven’t kept pace with the changing times; most have just a single thermostat to control the temperature of the entire house and perhaps a few adjustable valves on certain radiators.

The Tado app is one of several smart thermostats on the market

Yet for a modest outlay, you can upgrade your system to a more intelligent set-up – with no need to upgrade the boiler or perhaps even call out a plumber.

Smart central heating systems have been around for a few years now but until recently they have been expensive toys, whose cost was unlikely ever to be recouped by the savings they generated. Now, though, several mainstream manufacturers have entered the market to challenge the likes of Google, with the result that prices have suddenly become competitive.

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All these systems allow you to control your radiators and sometimes your hot water from an app or web page, with more granular control than you would expect from a conventional wall timer. You can access the system whether you’re at home or not, and set the radiators to turn on while you’re on the train home.

But that’s just the beginning, and your choice of system from the half-dozen or so currently available will depend on what else you want it to do. If, for instance, you work at home you might want to heat only part of your house during the day and another part at night. The ability to split these into zones and to turn them up and down whenever you like will clearly save fuel.

Other systems will attempt to learn from your lifestyle and set themselves according to past behaviour. Some will automatically account for the outside temperature and others will track your movements in and out of the house, controlling the heating accordingly.

The three best known systems are Google’s Nest, the Amazon-backed and German-owned Tado, and the British Gas offering, Hive. All operate on the principle of a hub which connects to a receiver on your boiler and then to apps on your phone. And all offer a range of smart accessories to control items other than your central heating. Smart bulbs and plug-in sockets are the most common of these.

The American building and aerospace company Honeywell is a more recent entrant to the market, with a system called Evohome which places greater emphasis than the others on creating different zones within your home. The Wiser system from Drayton has similar functionality.

Additionally, unbranded smart radiator valves are readily available on the internet, and can easily replace most screw-mounted manual valves in individual rooms, without the need to drain the system. These are most economical if you buy a multi-pack for all the radiators you want to control.

Not all the systems are do-it-yourself jobs. Tado says that anyone handy with a screwdriver can put in most of its components, but other makers still recommend a professional installation. If, however, your thermostat is a recent one it should be fairly easy to swap it for a smart model.

The cost of an entire smart system is likely to run to a few hundred pounds, depending on the level of control you want. How long it will take to see a return on that investment is hard to calculate, but the immediate benefits in convenience are incontrovertible.

There has been a lot of hype surrounding “smart” homes, and many of the supposed benefits are really little more than gimmicks – but with the facility to automate tasks that might otherwise slip our minds, and which might finally allow us to claw a little back from the fuel companies, the concept is finally beginning to add up.

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