What are heating controls?
Heating controls is a broad term covering timers, thermostats and plumbing and electronic components, which help manage when the heating should be on and what temperature your rooms should be.
Heating controls range from traditional mechanical styles that are set manually, to internet-connected controls that learn your habits and adjust settings automatically.
Heating controls are improving all the time, helping us to control the heat in our homes.
However, research shows that few people really understand their controls and many simply just don’t use them.
What heating controls should I have?
Central heating systems, such as boilers and heat pumps, should as a minimum include a programmer (time control), at least one room thermostat and, if you have radiators, thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs).
Systems with a hot water cylinder should also include a cylinder thermostat.
Aside from these core elements, there are many additional control functions that can be included in a modern heating system to make it easier to operate it effectively and efficiently.
You can upgrade or install heating controls without replacing your boiler.
You should consider new heating controls if you don’t have a programmer, at least one room thermostat or TRVs on your radiators.
Modern room thermostats, for example, have more accurate temperature sensors, and many smart controls include additional energy saving functions.
Smart heating controls
Many companies offer more advanced control systems for central heating, known as smart heating controls.
They do everything that conventional controls do, with a programmer (timer) to control when the heating is on or off and using thermostats to control the heat in your home.
However, smart controls are connected to the internet and offer more functionality.
Some of the more sophisticated features they can offer include:
- Simple and easy to use time and temperature controls with user friendly interfaces, making it easier to check and change the on/off periods for heating and hot water.
- Allowing you to turn the system on or off and change the temperature using your smartphone when you’re not at home.
- Learning your habits and adjusting controls to match, for example turning up the thermostat in the evening when you’re relaxing, detecting an open window (by a sudden drop in temperature) and turning the thermostat down or heating off, or heating the hot water ready for when you’re most likely to take a shower or bath.
- Track where you are using your smartphone location, known as ‘geo-fencing’. When you’re returning home from work, the heating system will turn on and heat the house or hot water in time for your return.
- Other advance control functions such as load compensation and weather compensation.
Even if you don’t think you would use features such as geo-fencing, having a system that can learn your habits and adjust times to minimise energy use requires very little input from you once the system has been set up.
Whether smart heating controls will save you money will depend on your lifestyle and how you currently control your heating.
Studies suggest that while they can save money, it may take some time to pay for their upfront cost as they can be quite expensive.
Hot water thermostats (cylinder)
Traditionally, hot water cylinders were heated whenever the heating was on, with no time or temperature control.
If you don’t already have one, adding a hot water cylinder thermostat could significantly reduce the amount of energy you use to heat hot water.
The thermostat prevents the cylinder becoming hotter than it needs to be.
Once the water has reached the set temperature, the heat supply from the boiler will be turned off.
Turning the thermostat higher will not make the water heat up any faster.
Cylinder thermostats are usually fitted between one quarter and one third of the way up the cylinder.
They have temperature scales marked; you should set them at between 60°C and 65°C.
This is hot enough to kill harmful bacteria in the water, but be careful, as it’s also hot enough to scald.
Your boiler will be fitted with its own thermostat.
This thermostat is usually a dial on the boiler unit itself, marked in numbers or from minimum (min) to maximum (max).
This sets the temperature of the water that will be pumped from the boiler through the radiators.
The higher this is set, the quicker it will heat your home.
If it’s not set high enough when it’s very cold outside, your home may not reach the desired temperature.
Condensing boilers work more efficiently when the water returning to the boiler is below 55°C, so it’s better to set the temperature as low as possible, so long as this doesn’t impact on your comfort levels.
If you have a system or regular boiler with separate hot water cylinder, your boiler thermostat should be set to a higher temperature than the cylinder thermostat.
If you have a combi boiler you’ll probably have two dials.
The one with a radiator symbol controls the output to the radiators.
You can set this temperature without affecting the hot water temperature.
A lower boiler thermostat temperature reduces the amount of energy used, which could save you money and lower your carbon emissions.
When the weather is mild, you could turn the boiler thermostat down and still be warm enough.
However, when it gets colder, the boiler thermostat may need to be increased again to make sure your home can get warm enough.
A weather compensator does this for you automatically by measuring the outside temperature and adjusting the boiler thermostat temperature as required.
Before your heating turns on, the house may be very cold.
To heat your home quickly, the boiler thermostat can be set high, so the water temperature sent to your radiators is higher.
A hotter radiator heats the room more quickly than a cooler radiator.
Later in the day, your home may already be warm, and you may only need to raise the temperature by a couple of degrees.
With the boiler thermostat still set high, the radiators will still be very hot, and you could risk overheating the home as you heat the room too quickly.
A load compensator measures the difference between the internal air temperature and what has been set on your room thermostat, adjusting the boiler thermostat to prevent overheating.
If you have a system or regular boiler with hot water cylinder, then you should have a programmer, room thermostat and cylinder thermostat.
These controls should be connected to create a ‘boiler interlock’, which means the boiler switches off if the heating and hot water thermostats have reached their set temperatures.
Without an interlock, the boiler can continue to run even if the heat is not required.
Building regulations require all new and replacement systems to be interlocked.
Most households want to heat different rooms at different times of the day.
You can do this by using TRVs to turn individual radiators on and off at different times, but many people don’t get round to this.
Zone control does this for you automatically by having separate heating circuits, each with their own time programme, for different parts of the house.
Commonly, this includes one zone upstairs and another downstairs, but you could have more zones.
For example, homes with underfloor heating sometimes have a room thermostat for each room, effectively meaning each room has its own zone.
If you’re fitting a new heating system, then you may want to consider zone control to help you keep heating costs down by avoiding heating rooms you’re not using.
If your home is large enough, zone control may be required to meet building regulations.
If you’re not fitting a new system, it may be impractical to convert your existing pipework.
In this case, you may want to consider programmable TRVs.
How to set your heating controls to reduce energy use
Make sure you’re using your room thermostats and radiator TRVs in the most energy efficient way to reduce your carbon footprint and save money on your energy bills.