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Ultimate Guide To Smart Home Heating Systems

Smart Home Heating Guide

Why make your Heating Smart?

Your heating system is probably already controlled from a timer and a simple Thermostat, so why bother adding Smart Control to it?

Using Home Automation adds new life to your heating and propels your home into the 21st Century, bringing comfort and convenience, as well as reducing your energy usage and increasing your home's intelligence.

This guide will discuss some of the key benefits of Smart Home Heating along with various ideas to inspire you. It will also offer some guidance on how to begin your Smart Home Heating journey!

What Can Smart Home Heating Do For You?

You might think that it's not worth updating your existing heating system to be Smart, perhaps you're happy with the current setup - after all, it's working fine and keeping you warm when it needs to. That's completely understandable, but knowing what areas a Smart Home Heating System can cover and how they work might just change your mind!

Broadly speaking, how you use Home Automation for your heating can be broken down into the following areas - Comfort, Convenience, Efficiency and Intelligence.

With that in mind, let's answer few simple questions up front and, if we've peaked your interest, you can read on to find out more information.

Do Smart Heating Controls Save Energy?

Yes, it's a proven fact that using Home Automation to control your heating system will reduce the amount of energy you consume. Even a single automatic event like lowering the temperature in your home as soon as everybody has left for work for the day can make a big difference.

Will I Save Money By Using Smart Heating

Yes, reducing the energy you consume will naturally have a knock on effect on your energy costs. It may not seem much but even a small amount can add up to a big saving on your monthly bills, especially with energy costs at an all time high.

How Difficult Is It To Install a Smart Heating Control?

This really depends on a number of factors such as the type of heating system you have, but the great thing about Smart Home Heating (and indeed any "Smart" technology is that you can start simple and progress from there. For example, swapping out a normal TRV head for a Smart TRV takes just a couple of minutes - but that easy to make change can begin your journey.

Can I Control My Heating From My Phone?

Nearly all Smart Home Heating System will offer Apps for your smart phone, smart tablet or even PC. A few taps on the screen is all it takes to make changes to your heating - changing the temperature in each room to suit your needs or updating your schedule to bring the heating on earlier in the winter.

Is It Possible For Alexa To Control My Radiators?

Absolutely! Any voice assistant such as Alexa, OK Google, Siri or Cortana can control your Smart Home Heating System. So you won't even need to reach for your smart phone, you can simply bark orders at your Smart Speaker or Smart Screen.

With natural language recognition and machine learning, you can even make inferences rather than direct commands. Tell Alexa or Siri that you're cold and they'll automatically make the temperature adjustment accordingly.

How Do Smart Heating Systems Work?

This will depend on the type of heating system that you have in your home and how you wish to add Home Automation to it.

For example, in a hot-water radiator based system you might choose to simply replace the existing thermostat with a Smart Device and once that's complete it will essentially work the same as the original one, controlling the heating to suit the temperature you set.

The differnce is that you'll be able control the temperature more accurately, make changes to your heating schedule from anywhere in the world, use your location to automatically turn the heating off and on when you leave and return home and all manner of other Smart actions.

What Are The Best Smart Thermostats and Smart TRVs?

The best Smart Devices are ones that are matched to your particular circumstances! Every heating system is different and every person has different requirements for how their home operates in terms of comfort levels.

Use our guides to help you choose Smart Home Heating Controls to suit your specific needs and you'll end up with an efficient and reliable Smart Home Heating System.

What Is The Cheapest Way to Run Your Heating?

This is a tough question to answer as it depends on many factors, but broadly speaking ensuring that your heating system is running efficiently and optimally will result in the least amount of energy being used. In turn, that will make sure that you're only paying what you absolutely need to for your gas or electricity costs.

Does Turning Off Radiators Save Money?

Turning off radiators will give the heating system less to do because the water in those radiators will be isolated from the rest. This can save energy and therefore money, but realistically who wants to be constantly running around their home and manually operating radiators?

Using Home Automation to control your Heating System is a much better option. A Smart Home Controller can monitor every room and automatically adjust a Smart TRV so that it administers just the right amount of hot water flow to keep the room at a comfortable temperature. This temperature can be changed appropriately, perhaps set to a lower level when the room is unoccupied and a higher level when the room is in use. Once the desired temperatuer is reached the Smart TRV will turn the radiator off, saving energy and money.

Can A Heating System Run Itself Automatically?

A Smart Home Heating System certainly can! Once configured (usually by following simple to understand concepts such as schedules, scenes, rules, actions or flows), a Smart Home Controller will autonomously manage your heating to ensure your home meets your required comfort levels.

Typically this set-and-forget type of operation will automatically monitor your rooms and even the members of your family, adjusting itself based on behaviour patterns such as who's at home and which rooms are occupied.

Is It Better To Insulate My Home Or Use Smart Heating?

That's a really good question, especially in the current financial climate as it's difficult to know where you can get the best "bang for your buck"

There's no doubt that improving the insulation in your home will make it more energy efficient, but making great structural changes to your home in order to do that can be messy, disruptive and expensive.

On the other hand, adding Smart control to your existing heating system can be relatively straightforward and doesn't have to cost a fortune - simply swapping out a standard TRV for a Smart TRV costs very little, is easy to do and can bring immediate savings.

Exploring The Benefits Of Using Home Automation For Heating

We already touched on the main areas where a Smart Home Heating System can improve your lifestyle, so let's dig deeper into those next.

Comfort From A Smart Home Heating System

Different rooms obviously have different heating needs, for example your bedrooms might need to be cooler than other rooms since most of the time you'll be snug and cozy under the duvet, whereas your living room and dining room might need to be warmer in comparison.

You might also need varying levels of heat depending on what you're doing at the time. Low level background heating is probably fine for most of the house while you're away at work, just enough to keep the rooms at a baseline 16 degrees. Similarly, if you're exercising in the living room while watching TV you probably want the room cooler for a couple of hours. And the bathroom heating can possibly be paused while you're taking a shower since the latent heat from the hot water and steam will keep the room balmy for some time.

Smart Heating Controls allow you to change the heating in an entire room from a single button press, automatically based on the time of day or when you start an activity such as cooking, exercising or watching a movie snuggled with your family on the sofa on a cold winter evening. You can even have the heating ramp up slowly in the morning so that the rooms are toasty warm when you get out of bed.

Adding supporting ancillary devices such as Sensors can really bring your Smart Home Heating system to life too. You can use Motion Sensors to adjust the room temperature when you walk in a room and have the temperature lower when the room becomes unoccupied after a period of time. Door / Window Sensors can turn the heating off if somebody opens a door or window and leaves it open for more than a few minutes.

As with other aspects of a Smart Home setup, "Scenes" can really highlight the benefits of Smart Home Heating. Scenes are the best way to control a group of devoces together in order to create the perfect climate for the rooms in your home. You can group multiple devices in a single Scene with each device having different settings.

For example, you could raise the temperature in your downstairs rooms, lower the temperature in your upstairs rooms, turn Off the radiators in unused rooms and turn On the towel warmers in the bathrooms. These characteristics are then "saved" as the Scene and can be recalled at any time, either manually from an App, automatically based on a schedule, or at the click of a switch or quick press of a button.

Ideas for using your Smart Home Heating for Comfort:

  • Control room temperatures automatically based on occupancy.
  • Turn on the heating only when you're at home, not just based on a fixed schedule.
  • Implement an advanced heating scheme that micro-manages the temperatures in every room of your home.
  • Create different Heating Scenes to compliment different tasks, such as watching TV, exercising, sleeping, etc.
  • Make rules that determine what heating sources are used depending on the seasons - perhaps only your log burner during the cooler autumn months, but adding in your radiator central heating system in the depths of a cold winter.

Smart Home Heating Brings Convenience

Heating throughout your entire home can be controlled from Thermostats in every room, remote controls, wall controllers, smartphones / tablets or by using your voice via a smart speaker / screen - putting you in complete control wherever you are. It can also be controlled automatically based on schedules (time of the day) or from sensors that detect the temperature, motion or other activity in each room. With Smart Home Heating you can allow your house to control itself and you'll never need to use physical controls again. You'll never forget to turn the heating off when you're away from home, and your children will no longer need to come up with excuses for opening the windows when they are too hot, because the rooms will never be "too hot"!

Adding a few Motion Sensors means that you no longer need to manually turn up the Thermostat - walk into a room and the heating can turn On automatically, when you leave it turns Off. Sounds like Star Trek, but it works nicely and you'll quickly forget you even have manual controls for your heating system - they're soooooo 20th Century! It's also simple to add Door / Window Sensors to the overall Smart Home system, allowing your heating system to manage the room temperatures based on doors and windows being opened or closed. Think of rooms like orangeries and conservatories, you probably don't need those to be heated all the time, just when the adjoining doors to the main house are opened - easy to do with Smart Home Heating.

A Smart Home Heating system puts you in full control. You decide when the heating is On or Off, you decide at what temperature each room is set to, and you can make the heating turn Off at a particular time of day - closing your house down for the night, when you're away on holiday or even if you've just nipped out for a couple of hours to the shops. You'll always know what's happening in every room in the house, take a glance at your smartphone and you can see if any radiators or heaters are On that shouldn't be - and you can turn them Off if need be.

You can even see what's going on and control your heating even if you're sitting on the beach in Tahiti because you will have access via the Internet from any smartphone, tablet or computer - great for being able to keep your pets cosy while you're away.

Don't forget too that your heating system likely also covers another important area - your hot water supply! Hot water on demand is something that's often taken for granted. Perhaps you're lucky to have a Combi boiler running your heating, in which case you truly do have hot water on demand. But other systems typicaly heat the hot water on a schedule - great if you always have a shower or bath at exactly the same time each day but not so great if you work odd hours and end up heating water needlessly, or coming home late to a cold shower if the water has cooled in the mean time. Adding Smart Control to your hot water can bring many benefits and means you never need run out of hot water again!

Ideas for using your Smart Home Heating for Convenience:

  • Control heating based on presence, for example turning on your electric panel heaters as you arrive home.
  • Control your hot water based on your diary, matching the supply from the system to the demands of your working life.
  • Control different parts of your heating system on demand to suit room usage patterns.
  • Make a "Bed Time" Scene that lowers the temperature in all the rooms apart from your bedrooms.
  • Use battery powered Thermostats, remote controls or wall controllers to add additional manual heating control to a room.

Using Home Automation For Heating Saves Energy

It's easy to see how much electricity is wasted in the average home - parasitic "standby" power consumption from TVs, gaming systems, stereos and even phone / tablet chargers can mount up to be hundreds of Watts! In turn this can add a huge amount to your monthly energy bills, which can often be a shock since the effect builds up cumulatively over time - just compare your current energy bill with one from twelve months ago and you'll probably be surprised at the increase in usage.

If all or parts of your heating system use electricity then it's obvious that adding Smart Control to them can quickly bring energy savings simply by being able to minimise the power usage, perhaps heating your home to a higher temperature during overnight off-peak periods when electricity costs you less. Then during peak periods turn the heating off completely or run it at much lower temperatures, relying on the latent heat that's built up to keep it at a moderate temperature.

When it comes to energy wastage from other types of heating system though, it can be a little more challenging to visualize. Heating your home is likely something that you take for granted so you just leave it alone doing its thing. Whether you're using gas, oil or some other source, if you compare your energy bills over the last few years though and we bet you'll see some significant rises.

In most cases you're not going to be in the position to make huge changes to your heating system. Of course upgrading your boiler, changing your radiators for more efficient ones, adding cavity wall insulation and extra roof insulation can have a greater impact in reducing waste, but can come at a high cost! Looking at the potential savings can therefore end up not looking very attractive, not many people are going to want to spend 10's of thousands just to save a few hundred a year.

Updating your Heating System to a Smart one usually doesn't cost that much in comparison and in many cases you can do it in phases over a period of time. An initial outlay of a few hundred could be recouped in savings within the first year, so after that you're essentially making money from it - just a single TRV swapped out or a single Thermostat changed can set you off on the path of turning your heating from DUMB to SMART!

Ideas for using your Smart Home Heating for Saving Energy:

  • Understand where your heating system is costing you money.
  • Automatically turn Off radiators, UFH (underfloor heating) or electric panel heaters when a room is empty.
  • Configure varying temperatures depending on the time of day - early morning when you're getting up and late at night when you're going to bed can be at a higher temperature, but other times can be much lower.
  • Have an "All Off" Scene that turns off your heating, all your lights, as well as any other appliances, then make this run automatically when your house alarm is armed.
  • Monitor and control your hot water system to make sure it's only heating water at times when you'll actually be using it.
  • Create temperature profiles for each of your rooms to suit their uses - the kitchen and bathroom can likely be at lower temperatures than the rest of the house as they usually have other sources of heat (oven, boiler, towel warmers, etc).

Intelligent Smart Home Heating Is the Future

Smart Home Heating means that you can start to add intelligence to your heating system - after all that's what the word "Smart" implies, it would be pretty pointless not to take advantage of it!

Heating systems can be complex and historically most people just let them get on with whatever they did - set a schedule using a simple timer and that's it, after all nobody wants to sit there micro-managing TRVs and Thermostats.

Once you've added Smart Control to your heating system you can leave all that to your Smart Home Controller and even small changes can have a big impact. It then becomes not just about controlling the time and temperature, it becomes about using other components of the Home Automation system to create intelligent heating.

For instance some rooms are naturally warmer than others in the house. When it get's too hot, a quick solution is to open the window, which works quite well in January, but wastes a lot of heat. An intelligent solution is to fit a door / window sensor to the window, when the window is opened, the Smart Home system automatically switches off the room's radiators. This helps to reduce wasted heat and save costs, but surely it would be better to prevent the room from become too hot in the first place?

That's where the Smart Home system can take multiple, intelligent, approaches - manage the heating to ensure that comfort levels are maintained, provide local control to allow users to react in a more appropriate manner ("Alexa, it's too hot!" ..... "Turning down the temperature ....") and finally provide that fallback safety feature of turning off the heating if somebody does end up opening the window.

Smart Home Heating can also be of great assistance in potential emergency situations. Carbon Monoxide poisoning is often called the "silent killer" because it's difficult to detect and can kill before you're even aware of it being an issue. Fitting CO, Smoke, Fire and Heat sensors as part of your Smart Home system will of course alert you to those dangers, but having the system able to immediately turn OFF the boiler too is an obvious benefit!.

Ideas for using your Smart Home Heating for Intelligence:

  • Add logic to the system to ensure that rooms are only heated to temperatures appropriate for the time of day.
  • Use background heating sources such as ovens, towel warmers, dishwashers, washing machines and tumble driers to reduce requirements to heat certain rooms.
  • Use historic room occupancy and presence data to create a real-life heating schedule that learns from you and your family.
  • Take control over potential emergency situations by shutting off the heating system in response to events such as dangerous CO levels.

Implementing Smart Home Heating

Adding intelligent wireless control to your heating system has real benefits and it's relatively easy to do using Smart Home systems and devices from Vesternet. Our Smart Home Heating solutions deliver Home Automation to your home, whether you wish to carry out a house-wide installation of Smart Devices or start small with a few replacement TRVs and expand over time.

If you're new to Smart Home and just starting out, then follow the steps below to begin your journey. Of course, if you're already a seasoned Smart Home user looking to expand your system to cover Smart Home Heating then you may wish to jump ahead to step 3 and dive right in!

1) Getting Started With Smart Home Heating

The basic building blocks and components of any Smart Home will be similar. You will have a central "Controller", "Input" devices that tell you what is happening (temperature, humidity, room occupancy, etc) and "Output" devices that make things happen (turning on an electric heater, raising the temperature of a radiator, heating a hot water tank / cylinder, etc).

As the name implies, the Controller, sometimes called the hub, gateway or bridge, "controls" your Smart Home. It enables you to add and configure devices and to create and run "logic", sometimes referred to as flows, Scenes or moods. These enable the system to do things automatically, such as turn On lights based on motion or raise the heating temperature just before your family arrives home so that your house is nice and warm when they open the front door.

The Controller is connected to your Internet router or modem using WiFi or by an Ethernet cable. This allows you to control the system from a smartphone, tablet or computer and allows remote access even when you're away from home, via the Internet. In order to control the system from your smartphone or tablet you usually install an "App" for that Controller and this gives you control whether you're in the lounge or sitting on a beach on the other side of the world!

Your Controller may focus on one particular technology (for example Z-Wave), or it may have several different technologies built in (for example Z-Wave, Zigbee and WiFi). Choosing a Controller that supports these standards as a starting point is the best course of action for most Smart Homes, but remember to also check for integration possibilities with any proprietary products or systems that you might also plan to use (such as Hive, Tado or Visonic), for example using IFTTT or a Cloud service.

It's also worth noting our advice on "Voice Assistants". These are becoming increasingly popular, with many manufacturers now offering various different models of "Smart Speaker" or "Smart Screen" with their Voice Assistant built in. Many people get taken in by all the hype surrounding these and think that for a Smart Home they only need a Voice Assistant.

While this may be true in a limited set of circumstances (for example to control one or two WiFi Smart Home devices such as sockets or bulbs), you really need a Smart Home Controller for a true Smart Home experience!

For further information on getting started with a Smart Home, the following guides are well worth reading:

2) Technologies Used In Heating Home Automation

There are a wide range of Smart Home technologies to choose from and this can be confusing to people new to Home Automation. Fortunately, this is less of a minefield than it used to be as many devices can now work with each other, even if the underlying technologies are different. This means that you don't need to know all the inner workings of particular products - you're able to choose the ones that suit you best.

Z-Wave

Z-Wave is a wireless communication technology that uses reliable, low-power radio waves that easily travel through walls, floors and furniture, meaning you don't have to rip-up carpets and floors to add new wiring.

Features such as two-way communication, status updates and mesh networking combine together to ensure reliability and resiliency in your Smart Home system - no more wondering whether the light in your garage really turned off when you closed the door!

The Z-Wave technology is being improved all the time and recent releases have offered increased range, greateer speed, improved battery life, stronger security and self-healing capabilities to keep the mesh network in optimal condition.

The majority of Z-Wave devices should work within the well-established Smart Home Controllers out-of-the-box - the protocol is designed to be backwards compatible across versions and uses standard "Command Classes" to define features and functionality. Sometimes, especially with newly released devices, there may be limited functionality until specific support for a device is added to the Smart Home Controller. This usually occurs quite quickly in the form of regular software updates from the Smart Home Controller manufacturer.

ZigBee

Zigbee is an open standard for a low-cost, low-power, wireless mesh network targeted at the wide development of devices for wireless control and monitoring applications. It's backed by some of the worlds biggest companies, including Philips, Nest, Samsung, Texas, Siemens & Whirlpool.

With Zigbee based devices you get a robust, resilient and self-managing system. Zigbee devices are often much simpler than their Z-Wave counterparts, prefering to focus on specific tasks such as motion sensing or dimming a light, rather than trying to combine lots of different functionality into one device.

Simplicitly therefore makes compatibility much easier with Zigbee. Broadly speaking there are two Zigbee profiles in use - Zigbee Light Link (ZLL) and Zigbee Home Automation (ZHA). Devices within each profile should work together out-of-the-box and, as long as your Zigbee Controller supports a specific profile, devices from that profile should work within it.

There's also an emerging standard called Zigbee 3.0 which merges both the ZLL and ZHA profiles, combining the strengths of each into one new standard. In most cases Zigbee 3.0 devices are backwards compatible with Zigbee Controllers that only support ZLL or ZHA.

WiFi / Ethernet Network

WiFi and Ethernet (wired) Networks have spread widely in the past decade, you can "get connected" almost anywhere nowadays - at home, at work, in libraries, schools, airports, restaurants, hotels and even on-the-move in certain types of public transport.

The ubiquitous nature of WiFi and Ethernet make them an ideal technology for Smart Home devices and many devices are now featuring WiFi and Ethernet connectivity as vendors recognise that they can take advantage of your existing home Network. The chances are that you already have good Network coverage throughout your home using a mixture of WiFi and Ethernet, so it makes sense to use this Network, rather than you having to implement something else.

Broadly speaking, WiFi and Ethernet devices will use vendor specific communication protocols which means that compatibility is determined based on the manufacturer, so products from one manufacturer won't work with products from a different manufacturer.

That said, some WiFi and Ethernet devices also implement "open" communication protocols such as MQTT, so this allows them to work together with devices from a different manufacturer if they also support the MQTT protocol.

Cloud Connected

The Internet has become so tightly woven into our everyday lives that we probably interact with it every few minutes, possibly without even realising!

While it's obvious when you are using services such as FaceBook, Twitter and WhatsApp, many Smart Home devices now use Internet connectivity too - so the next time you adjust your heating Thermostat or check your Doorbell camera, you'll likely be interacting with a "Cloud Service" half way round the world.

Cloud Services allow manufacturers to centralise their infrastructure and tightly control security, features and functionality all in one location. It means that products can be made more affordable for the customer as the device has less to do locally, because the Cloud can carry out some or all of the functionality.

Cloud Connected devices will communicate securely with the manufacturer Cloud Service and when you wish to interact with them via your smartphone, tablet or web browser, you will also communicte securely with the manufacturer Cloud Service. This means that these types of device rely on the Internet for some, or sometimes even all, of their functionality.

Some Cloud Services also allow interaction with each other in a simple fashion using other, third party Cloud Services, such as IFTT, Microsoft Flow or Workflow. These can often help to bring together systems that would otherwise not be able to work with each other at all!

For further information on Smart Home Technologies, we suggest reading the following guides:

3) Considerations In Designing Your Smart Home Heating System

When it comes to the actual task of implementing Smart Home Heating things can get pretty complicated because it not only depends on what you're trying to achieve, but also on what type of heating system it is (electric, water based, Under Floor Heating, radiators, forced air, etc) and how the heating system was designed in terms of piping, valves, pumps, heat sources, tanks / cylinders and existing control systems.

If you already have a Z-Wave or Zigbee based Smart Home system in place or are planning to implement one for Lighting or Security then it can make sense to use Z-Wave or Zigbee for your Heating too as it makes for a nice consolidated setup.

That said, there’s a few things to be aware of when planning to add Smart Control, so this part of the guide will look at those in detail.

Heating System Type

This sounds obvious, but you'd be surprised how common it is for people not to have even a basic understanding of how their heating system works! Many people don't see beyond the "user facing" parts such as the Thermostat and timer, so if you fall into that category then perhaps it's best to call in an expert rather than attempting to upgrade the system yourself.

Broadly speaking, heating systems fall into one of the following common types.

Boiler - Radiator System (Basic Single Thermostat)

The traditional basic boiler & radiator system provides hot water and heating in many homes in the UK and Europe. The system uses a central boiler to heat the water, a pump then circulates this through radiators situated around the house. The overall temperature is regulated by a single wall Thermostat that is typically positioned in the coolest part of the house, most often the hall. A timer controls when the boiler and pump are activated, so that you can choose when the heating system is on.

The boiler also produces hot water to be used for bathing or washing - depending on the type of boiler system you have this can be "on-demand" or stored in a hot water tank / cylinder.

This type of basic system is quite simple, but this simplicity also means that it can be very inefficient. Since the heating system is only controlled by a basic timer, you'll typically be limited to a single schedule throughout the week.

Additionaly as there is only one Thermostat, the boiler can only be controlled by that single setpoint temperature, meaning that the boiler can still be running even if the main occupied rooms are very hot! Or on the flip side, perhaps the boiler stops running because the room the Thermostat is in is up to temperature but the rest of the house is freezing cold still!

Boiler - Under Floor Heating (Basic Single Thermostat)

Under Floor Heating (UFH) is becoming much more common in new homes as it is a great way to heat large or open spaces - it also provides a nice convenient heating system that's always warm on your toes.

The system uses a central boiler to heat the water, a pump then circulates this through long pipe runs that are positioned just below the surface of the floor with the water flow being controlled directly by an "Actuator" valve.

Simple UFH systems have a single Thermostat that controls the overall temperature for the whole floor. The Thermostat controls the Actuator valve to open and close accordingly, allowing the desired temperature in that area to be maintained.

Similar to the Basic Single Thermostat Radiator System above, the overall temperature is regulated by a single wall Thermostat. A timer controls when the boiler and pump are activated, so that you can choose when the heating system is on.

The boiler also produces hot water to be used for bathing or washing - depending on the type of boiler system you have this can be "on-demand" or stored in a hot water cylinder.

This type of basic system is quite simple, but this simplicity also means that it can be very inefficient. Since the heating system is only controlled by a basic timer, you'll typically be limited to a single schedule throughout the week.

Boiler - Radiator System (Multi Zone)

When looking at the Basic Single Thermostat Radiator System above, the limitations are obvious - all radiators are either On or Off, no matter what the temperature of each room might be. To combat this, people often install Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) to some, most, or even all of the radiators. This goes some way towards making it a multi-zoned system.

These are simple mechanical devices that use expanding and contracting metal parts to restrict the flow of water to the radiator that they are fitted to. They typically have a simple twist action to set a level 1 - 5 with 1 being the coolest and 5 being the hottest. As each radiator reaches the temperature level they close off the valve and the radiator cools. Once it's cooled down below the temperature level the valve opens again.

While TRVs are a simple and effective way of adding some efficiency to the radiators, they're still very much a manual affair, plus the overall system still suffers the from the other issues common to the Basic Single Thermostat Radiator System.

Boiler - Under Floor Heating (Multi Zone)

This type of system is similar to the Basic Single Thermostat UFH System mentioned above, just with more Actuators!

If you're lucky enough to have a multi-zoned UFH system then the water is pumped through a central Manifold which distributes the water to the various zones throughout your home. The manifold also houses the electrically-operated Actuator valves that control the water to each zone. When the actuator is turned On, water flows to that zone. When it is Off, no water flows to that zone. Importantly the system also monitors when no heat is required or when all zones are off - if this is the case, it shuts down the boiler and pump.

To control the Actuators there's usually a wired theremostat for each one, covering a single zone. This allows each zone to have different temperatures set independently, allowing each zone to be controlled individually. Clearly this is by far the most efficient system so far, but even so it can still suffer from issues such as poor location of the Thermostats or perhaps the overall system can only be operated from one timer so that it's all or nothing.

Electric - On Demand Panel Heaters

This type of heating is often found in rural homes that don't have a gas or oil supply. Each panel heater is either wired to the mains directly or perhaps just plugs in to a normal socket outlet. Most have an integrated Thermostat that controls that particular panel, there is rarely a room or house Thermostat to control the system as a whole.

Typically electric costs far outweigh gas costs, so these systems are expensive to run. Any intelligent control that you can add will quickly save you money as well as making the system more convenient to use and monitor.

Hot water for bathing and washing is either provided by an on-demand electric heater or perhaps by a hot water tank / cylinder with an electric immersion heater element.

Electric - On Demand Under Floor Heating

Electric UFH typically consists of heat "mats" which contain coiled wire. When the electricity is turned on the wire gets hot, warming the floor. Typically this type of system is mostly used in small rooms such as the toilet, bathroom or perhaps the kitchen, because they can be very expensive to run for larger spaces.

Since the heat mat usually comes in fixed dimensions they often only cover a portion of the floor area. They are usually wired directly to the mains via a remotely located Thermostat to allow control of the room temperature, simply cycling the power on / off to do so.

As with the Electric Panel Heater System, the Electric UFH System is expensive to run, so any intelligent control that you can add will quickly save you money as well as making the system more convenient to use and monitor.

Once again, hot water for bathing and washing is either provided by an on-demand electric heater or perhaps by a hot water tank / cylinder with an electric immersion heater element.

Electric - Storage Heaters

While these types of system aren't particularly common any more, they are still installed in a large number of homes and they are designed to take advantage or cheaper overnight electricity. The idea being that an electric wall panel heater with a high internal thermal mass (such as concrete blocks) is heated up during the off-peak period until it's at a high temperature. Obviously at the same time the heater is also providing heat to the room.

Once the off-peak period has ended the electricity is turned off and the latent heat that's been stored in the thermal mass continues to heat the room.

The benefits are obvious as the system can be cheaper to run, but on the flipside they are incredibly inflexible since they are usually controlled as one entity throughout the whole house i.e. they are all On or Off simultaneously. There's also very little in the way of temperature control and obviously there's no possibility for on-demand heating - if you've not had them on overnight because it was a warm night, but then it's chilly during the day there won't be any stored heat!

Again, hot water for bathing and washing is either provided by an on-demand electric heater or perhaps by a hot water tank / cylinder with an electric immersion heater element.

Boiler Type

If your heating system is water based then it's most likely using a boiler to heat the water. There are four main types of boiler based heating systems in common use, it's best to know which one you have before investigating how to control it with Home Automation:

Combination (Combi) Boiler

This type is becoming increasingly common. It provides heating based on the timer / programmer and provides instantaneous hot water 'on-demand'. The timer is a single channel type as there is no need to control the hot water.

Y-Plan System Boiler

This is probably the most common system in the UK. The boiler provides heating based on the timer, and heats hot water to be stored in a hot water cylinder; also controlled by the timer. It includes a single motorised valve that sends heated water to either the hot water tank / cylinder, the heating or both. The timer is a 2-channel type to allow the heating and hot water to operate independently.

The hot water tank / cylinder may also have an electronic "immersion" heater element to be used as a backup or during the summer months when you don't wish to have the boiler running just for hot water.

S-Plan System Boiler

This is very similar to the "Y-Plan" system, but uses two motorised valves, one regulating the supply for the hot water and one for the heating.

Gravity Fed System Boiler

While these work the same as a Y-Plan system, they are an older type of system that don't have any valves to control the hot water flow, they rely on gravity to do this. In the summer when you want hot water only, the boiler fires but the pump doesn't turn On. So gravity and heat rising are used to limit the heating to the water in the hot water cylinder only. In the winter when you want the heating on, the pump turns On too, circulating water around the heating circuit (radiators or under floor heating).

Since there is no control on the flow of the water, you can't have just heating without hot water too, and you'll usually find that when in hot water only mode some of the radiators will still get warm. For this reason an additional electric "immersion" heater element is often added to the hot water tank / cylinder so that it can be heated independently without using the boiler at all during the summer months.

Existing Heating System Controls

By this we mean how your heating system is currently controlled, which can vary from a simple timer / programmer with a remotely located Thermostat to much more complex controls including multiple valves, pumps, relays and Thermostats.

Of course, if your heating system is electric based then the controls are likely much simpler, perhaps just a plugin socket timer for an electric panel or a wired Thermostat for an electric UFH mat.

Ultimately it's the existing controls that you'll either be replacing with Smart versions, or adding Smart Control to, so this is an important part of the process to get right. It can help to draw a system diagram that shows all the various components to help visualise the configuration, even if you don't specifically know how things are wired just knowing which bit controls what will allow your project to progress.

Safety First - Maintain Existing Security Features

If you're going all in with adding Smart Home control to your heating system then it's important to ensure that you maintain any existing safety features.

For example, some types of flooring (such as engineered wood) require the temperature to be limited otherwise they can be damaged, so your UFH likely has a temperature sensor embedded in the floor to monitor the temperature and cut the heating if it gets too hot. You'll need to make sure that this is retained so that it continues to function after you've added Smart Devices to control the system.

In a similar fashion some hot water tanks / cylinders need to have overheat protection to stop them from boiling and they may also need to by regularly cycled to a high temperature to kill legionella bacteria that can build up in standing water.

Remember that making the system Smart shouldn't impact on safety!

Complexity Setting Up Your Heating System Brings Simplicity In The Long Run

The ultimate Smart Home systems practicaly run themselves, learning as they go, self-repairing when they need to, adjusting features and functionality to suit ongoing environmental changes. Set-and-forget SIMPLE.

BUT, to get to that point, there will have been a whole bunch of often complicated setup and configuration. For example, for a full multi-zoned water based radiator system, creating Scenes, logic and control "algorithms" can become complicated very quickly, so you need to plan your system before you start implementing it. You should plan how the Scene logic will actually control the system - you'll need to make sure that each zone can control the boiler and that the boiler will be turned off when no heat is required by any of those zones.

Most Smart Home Controllers will be able to run this type of control logic, but few of them will be able to do it using their standard Scene editors. Most people use scripting to control more complex multi-zoned heating systems. Before going too far, it's worth researching examples of how this is done - so you can decide if it is something you're capable of developing for your own system.

Hot Water Flow In A Heating System

In a water based heating system the hot water is pumped around the system through the main pipes which tend to be larger diameter. These are called the "Flow" and "Return" pipes. Each radiator or UFH loop is connected in parallel to the main pipes - hot water flows through the main Flow pipe as well as the radiator or UFH loop and then out of the other side back into the main Return pipe.

If a radiator or UFH valve is turned off, then the hot water does not flow into that radiator or UFH loop, but continues flowing through the main Flow pipe. This is an important distinction as it means that you cannot stop the water flowing through the complete system by turning off one radiator or UFH valve - this is why all radiators or UFH loops that you wish to control must have their own valve.

Electrical Load Requirements For Heating

If your heating system is electric based, or you're looking at adding Smart Control to something like a hot water immersion heater, then you'll need to be sure that the Smart Devices you are intending to use are appropriate for the type and rating of the load that you wish to control.

This sounds obvious, but can trip many people up! Just because a device is rated at 13A doesn't mean it can run a 13A water heater at full load for a prolonged period. Similarly, some types of load can generate inrush current or might not be classes as simple "resistive" loads - motors and pumps sometimes fall into this category.

If in doubt consult an electrician - better to be safe than sorry as choosing the wrong Smart Device can be dangerous.

Wet Work (Plumbing) To Implement Smart TRVs

If you already have TRVs on your radiators then making them Smart will be as simple as swapping over the "head" i.e. removing the existing manual control head and replacing it with your chosen Smart Device

On the other hand, if you don't already have TRVs fitted then you'll need to have that carried out first, likely by a plumber since the heating system will need to be drained down so that the existing valves can be changed.

Location, Location, Location - How Citing Your Smart Thermostat Can Make A Big Difference

Updating your heating system with Smart Devices can give you the opportunity to make changes to how it functions. For example your existing Thermostat might be sited in the hallway, far away from where you and your family spend most of your time sitting in the living room. Adding a Smart wireless Thermostat means that you can usually install it wherever you want to, perhaps above the sofa or in the dining room, making the system regulate the temperature in a much more appropriate location.

In a similar fashion, while a Smart TRV will work standalone to manage the water flowing to your radiator based on its own temperature sensor and setpoint temperature, most rooms benefit from a separate Thermostat sited closer to where people in the room will most likely be located, for example on the sofa or in bed. A separate Thermostat allows the system to then control the TRV based on the temperature reading and setpoint from that device, rather than the TRV which is likely not positioned in an optimal location.

Heat Source Interlock In Heating Systems

In a water based heating system, one important aspect to remember is the Heat Source "Interlock"!

Your heating system must be able to turn Off the Heat Source (for example your boiler) when no heat is required. If you just used TRVs on the radiators and no way to monitor the zone or room's temperature you would quickly have a situation where all the radiators are turned off, as the TRVs have reached their setpoint temperature, but the Heat Source is still running. This would result in hot water still being sent around the system, but not through the radiators because the TRVs would all be closed.

Not only is this a huge waste of energy and money, but it can also cause damage to the heating system. This would continue until the room temperatures reduced or the heating system was turned off.

What Do You need Your Home Automation Heating System To Cover?

A full multi-zoned heating system with high efficiency, intelligent logic control and ultimate flexibility is probably what you'd love to have, but it may not be what you actually need or what is practical to be installed in your home!

Without ripping up floors, running new pipes and electrical works, some homes just have to make do with what they've got, so fitting some simple level of Smart Control may be easier to install and still give you a decent boost in efficiency, comfort and convenience. So go for the system that makes practical sense for your home and remember, you can always expand it later as Z-Wave and Zigbee devices can be fitted at anytime.

Adding Smart Control To Your Heating System

So now we can take a look at actually adding Smart Control to each of the system types we mentioned previously.

Boiler - Radiator System (Basic Single Thermostat)

Adding Home Automation to control this type of heating system is quite straightforward. You replicate the basic functionality of the existing controls with wireless Z-Wave or Zigbee devices. This enables the system to run in exactly the same way as it always has, but gives you further refinement to save you money. You can have wireless control of the system, so you can easily make adjustments. You can create intelligent Scenes to manage the heating more efficiently, and you can control it whether you are at home or away - so if you're going to be late home, you can delay the heating turning on. These refinements give you a more convenient heating system and will save you money.

Smart Devices will replace the functionality of the current timer and Thermostat. A Thermostat and Heat Source Control then operate your heating based on a schedule Scene running in the Smart Home Controller which changes the Thermostat's setpoint temperature at different times of the day. You can also choose a Thermostat that has an integrated 7-day timer, so that it runs the heating schedule itself.

In this system, the Thermostat and Heat Source Control are configured to communicate directly, allowing the Thermostat to directly control the Heat Source Control without having to communicate via the Smart Home Controller. It also means that the Thermostat's TPI control software is used to efficiently control your heating.

If you have a heating system that also provides hot water (as opposed to on-demand hot water) then the hot water will be operated by a separate Hot Water Control that the Smart Home Controller turns On and Off according to your required schedule. The Hot Water Control might be a separate Smart Device, or it might be a second "Channel" on the Heat Source Control.

Boiler - Under Floor Heating (Basic Single Thermostat)

With this Basic Single Thermostat UFH System you'll follow the same general principles as the Basic Single Thermostat Radiator System above, replacing the existing controls with Smart Devices.

The main difference is that the UFH Actuator usually controls the Heat Source (i.e. the boiler) directly itself, i.e. when the Actuator is opened it sends a Heat Demand to the boiler. In most cases you'll leave the existing timer and boiler controls in place and just replace the Thermostat that currently controls the Actuator. This could be a Smart Relay / Switch at the Actuator and a remote Thermostat away from the original Thermostat's location or a combined Thermostat and Heat Source Control at that location if it's already optimally sited.

So you'd use your existing timer for scheduling but would have Smart Control over the setpoint temperature of the UFH.

Boiler - Radiator System (Multi Zone)

Before looking at how to install Home Automation into this type of heating system, you need to first determine how you want the system to work.

There are an infinite number of ways to configure a multi-zoned heating system, but we see two basic options; Simple room control and Full multi-zoned. The following sections explain the differences, how they would work, and important things to consider.

1. Smart Heating Simple Room Control

The first option, and the simplest, is to run the smart heating system as shown in the Basic Single Thermostat Radiator System above and add Smart TRVs to the radiators you wish to run at a lower temperature or Off. This option is great if you have rooms that are rarely used or only used at the weekends - you can run your heating as normal but have these room's radiators turned Off or reduced to a minimum temperature, helping to save energy and reduce costs to save money.

This type of Simple zoned heating is easy to implement, you can start by adding just one Smart TRV to a radiator.

The heating system is still controlled by the main Thermostat and Heat Source Control, it will turn On and Off based on your programmed times and temperatures and all radiators without Smart TRVs will be On when the system is On.

However, you are able to control the radiators with Smart TRVs wirelessly - selecting times when they are Off or run at a lower temperature compared to the rest of the system. You can also wirelessly change their setpoint temperature so they increase their temperature inline with the rest of the system. The TRVs would normally be controlled by a schedule Scene running in your Smart Home Controller.

The important aspect of this option is that the "Zones" can only be On when the rest of the system is On - they are not totally independent and cannot independently send a Heat Demand ("call for heat") to the Heat Source Control. When the system is Off or the main Thermostat has told the Heat Source Control to turn Off as it has reached its setpoint, then all radiators are Off whether the TRVs are still open or not.

2. Full multi-zoned Smart Heating

Full multi-zoned heating means that each zone can call for heat - each one can independently send a Heat Demand to the boiler to turn On and start supplying hot water to the radiators in that zone, and not to other zones. This approach gives you the most flexibility and will deliver the most cost savings. You are able to create as many zones as you like (floors, rooms or areas) and each will be able to be individually controlled - independently of all other zones.

This type of system is also the most complex to create and configure. Even though it uses the same Smart Devices as the Simple Room Control system above, you will need to pay special attention to how you control it using Scenes or Scripts running in your Smart Home Controller.

Each zone will have TRVs installed on the radiators in that zone, these allow you to control whether the radiators are On or Off - whether hot water is actually flowing through the radiators. In this respect you are using them in a similar way as Actuator valves to control the flow of hot water to the zones / radiators.

The difference in this system is that each zone will have a Thermostat or temperature sensor, rather than having a single Thermostat that governs the system as a whole. Each Thermostat reports its zone's temperature to your Smart Home Controller. The Smart Home Controller runs a Scene that determines which zone should be on and whether it requires heat.

If it does require heat, then the Smart Home Controller sends a Heat Demand to the Heat Source Control which tells the boiler and pump to turn On and supply hot water - the TRVs then control which radiators receive the hot water. Just as importantly, the Smart Home Controller continuously monitors the zones and when it detects that no heat is required, as all zones are up to temperature, it tells the Heat Source Control to turn Off, which in turn tells the boiler and pump to turn Off - this is also know as the Heat Source Interlock.

If you have a heating system that also provides hot water (as opposed to on-demand hot water) then the hot water will be operated by a separate Hot Water Control that the Smart Home Controller turns On and Off according to your required schedule. The Hot Water Control might be a separate Smart Device, or it might be a second "Channel" on the Heat Source Control.

Boiler - Under Floor Heating (Multi Zone)

Most UFH systems are relatively self-contained - the Actuators, Thermostats, and control system work together to run the system smoothly and efficiently. But you may want to control the system remotely (from your smartphone) or as part of a wider Smart Home system that runs your home's lights, multimedia, security - and that's where Home Automation comes in.

Using Home Automation you can add as little or as much control to your UFH system as you wish, or if you are just at the planning stages for your UFH system, you can use Smart Devices to run the entire system.

Typically the existing Heat Source Control and Actuators are kept the same as in the original system because this will have already been designed to take into account any safety features (such as limiting temperatures to suit the floor material). It will usually also have been implemented to amalgamate each zone's Heat Demand into a single Heat Source Control that commands the boiler as needed.

The only changes required to add Smart Control to this type of heating system is therefore to add simple Smart Relays / Switches to each Actuator valve, this allows each Actuator valve to be controlled wirelessly by the Smart Home Controller. Each zone then also has a Smart Thermostat that controls the temperature of that zone by monitoring the zone's temperature and turning the actuator valve On or Off to control the flow of hot water into that zone.

In this system, the Smart Thermostat and Smart Relay / Switch are configured to communicate directly, allowing the Smart Thermostat to directly control the Smart Relay / Switch without having to communicate via the Smart Home Controller. It also means that the Smart Thermostat's TPI control software is used to efficiently control your heating. Depending on the configuration of the UFH system sometimes the Smart Thermostat and Smart Relay / Switch are combined into one device rather than being separate.

The Smart Home Controller will run a Scene that determines when each zone should be active and at what temperature. Other than that the system will run itself automatically based on the existing controls, you simply adjust the setpoint temperature of each Smart Thermostat as required, allowung you to control the heating even if you are away from home, stuck in traffic on a dark December night.

Electric - On Demand Panel Heaters

Adding Home Automation to control this type of Electric Panel heating system is very straightforward. By adding a Smart Plug or Relay / Switch you have wireless control of each heating panel. You can decide when each one is active to ensure they are only used when they need to be - they are expensive to run, so the less time they are active the better. When they are active the in-built Thermostat will control the temperature around that panel in the usual way.

However, these can be mistakenly set, plus they can be very innacurate as they measure the temperature literally right on top of the heat source itself, so we also suggest using a separate Smart Thermostat. The Smart Thermostat can be located in a better position, perhaps near the main occupied part of the room and will control the room's overall temperature, making sure it is comfortable. If there are multiple heating panels in the room then it can control them all and ensure that they all work together in the most efficient manner.

Electric - On Demand Under Floor Heating

These systems are quite self-contained, and the possibilities to add Smart Home control to them is quite limited unless you want to redevelop the whole system based on Smart Devices.

For most people the ability to remotely activate the system is usually enough and this is what we recommend as being the most straightforward and cost effective way to add Home Automation to Electric UFH systems.

The easy way to control the system is to add a Smart Relay / Switch into the main power feeding the system. You will then have control of the power to the system as a whole, allowing you to override the existing controller's on and off periods. This approach enables you to turn the heating Off when the timer says it should be On, but it does not allow you to turn the heating On if the timer is in an Off period.

The main reason for doing it this way is to allow you to turn the system Off if you are away from home for a long time, or if you've forgotten to turn the system off - helping to save wasted energy and power. When the Smart Relay / Switch is On, the Electric UFH system runs itself in the normal way.

The Smart Relay / Switch can be controlled wirelessly by your Smart Home Controller, so you have access to it whether you are at home or away.

Electric - Storage Heaters

Usually with this type of heating system it can be very difficult to make them Smart in any meaningful way because each heater is wired directly back to the Consumer Unit. The power feed is then controlled as one entity - typically in response to the "off-peak" signal from your electric meter - so the heaters only become powered during that time.

There's usually not much you can do to override this, but it's sometimes possible to add a Smart Device to duplicate that "signal" from the electric meter, which would then allow you to control all the heaters on demand.

Making each heater controllable individually would likely require some major rewiring work, but you might be lucky if each heater has a locally accesible connection point. If that's the case then you would follow the same route as the Electric On Demand Panel Heaters System and add a Smart Device to each heater to allow it to be controlled separately. You'd then either need to bypass the off-peak signalling from the electric meter to ensure the heaters are all permanently powered, or add a Smart Device there too as mentioned above.

4) What Parts Make Up A Smart Home Heating System?

As mentioned previously, all Smart Home systems will use similar components (also called devices). These enable it to perform different actions, to sense environmental conditions and to react to motion, doors opening, windows closing and all manner of different events in your home.

Each device type has a specific purpose within the system, together they will give you the flexibility to control your home, and keep you informed about what's going on.

For your Smart Home Heating project, no matter what the system type is, Heating Controls are broadly speaking split into several areas - Thermostats, Thermostatic Radiator Valves, Heat Source Controls and Ancillary Components such as temperature & humidity sensors.

Smart Thermostats

Thermostats are typically used as a reference device to both monitor the room's ambient temperature and to allow manual entry of a setpoint temperature that the room should be kept at.

In a simple system you might only have a single Thermostat that directly manages a Heat Source Control, so that the heat source is turned on when the temperature reported by the Thermostat is lower than the setpoint input on the Thermostat.

In a more complex system there might be many Thermostats throughout the home, with each one reporting whether the room that it is located in requires heat or not. In this scenario the Smart Home Controller is typically used to arbitrate these heat demands, amalgamating them together to produce an overall heat demand for the home and then managing the Heat Source Control in response.

To help choose Smart Home Thermostats be sure to check out our Choosing Heating Controls guide.

Smart Thermostatic Radiator Valves (Smart TRVs)

In a water based heating system, Thermostatic Radiator Valves (TRVs) control when hot water is allowed to flow into a radiator based on the TRV's setpoint temperature. When the ambient temperature is lower then the setpoint, the smart radiator valve is "Open" and water flows through the radiator. When the setpoint is reached, the valve closes, stopping the water flow and allowing the radiator to cool.

Some Smart TRVs have complex algorithms that regulate how quickly the temperature changes, this reduces the chance of over-shooting the setpoint and wasting heat. Some TRVs also report the actual ambient temperature to the system, these can be used in place of a wall Thermostat, but the temperature readings may not be very accurate as they are positioned very close to the hot radiator!

To help choose Smart Home TRVs be sure to check out our Choosing Heating Controls guide.

Smart Heat Source Controls

Heat Source Controls typically replace your existing heating programmer / timer and allow your Smart Home system to control when the heat source (typically a boiler) is On or Off. Usually this is in response to a "Heat Demand", so for example if several rooms in your home require heat (the temperature is lower than the setpoint) then the Heat Source Control will turn On in order for those rooms to be heated. Or, if the hot water tank temperature is low the the Heat Source Control Control will turn On in order for the tank to be heated.

With electric based heating, your "heat source" isn't usually a central system like with water based heating, it's typically per room using a heat mat, hot air blower or an electric panel heater. In these cases the "Heat Source Control" can be as simple as a plug-in socket!

To help choose Smart Home Heat Source Controls be sure to check out our Choosing Heating Controls guide.

Ancillary Components For A Home Automation Heating System

Ancillary Components cover many types of devices and are typically dependant on what type of heating system you are attempting to add Smart Control to and of course what you are trying to achieve.

You might wish to install things like motion and contact sensors so that your Smart Home system can react to occupancy and adapt the heating logic accordingly, perhaps turning off radiators in rooms that aren't in use. Or maybe you'd like to provide a simple remote button control that your family can push to provide a temporary heat boost to the room that they are in.

To help choose Smart Home Sensors be sure to check out our Choosing Smart Home Sensors guide and for help with selecting Smart Home Remote Controls & Wall Controllers take a look at our Choosing Smart Home Remote Controls & Wall Controllers guide.

Getting Help and Advice

Hopefully this guide has helped prepare you with various areas that will allow you to narrow down your choices when it comes to Smart Home Heating. If you need any further help or advice, contact Vesternet and we will do our best to answer all your questions.

 


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