Heating controls: types and features

Smiling woman adjusts wall-mounted heating controls

The four types of heating controls

Having the right central heating controls could save you up to 40 per cent on your energy bills*, so it makes sense to choose the most effective type of controls for you and your home.

There are four different types of central heating controls. Here we explain each of them and list their money-saving features.

1. Manual room thermostats

Manual room thermostats set your room to the temperature you want and keep it there by turning your heating on and off automatically. This is a simple and inexpensive choice, with limited money-saving features. You'll have to adjust the room temperature manually.   

Money-saving features:

  • Frost protection mode: stops your pipes from freezing. A a room thermostat with this feature will have a snowflake symbol on it.
  • Ideal temperature range: helps you find a temperature that's both comfortable and economical. 
  • Stand-alone timers: manual room thermostats don’t normally allow you to programme a heating schedule. You may be able to do this using a compatible stand-alone timer.
  • Smart room thermostats: let you control your heating both manually and via an app or smart speaker.  

2. Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs)

Thermostatic radiator valves attach directly to the top or bottom of your radiators, letting you control the temperature of individual rooms. TRVs are a simple and inexpensive way to update your heating controls, but they're normally manually operated, don’t let you set an exact temperature (in °C) and have few money-saving features. 

Money-saving features:

  • Frost protection mode: stops your pipes from freezing. Look out for the snowflake symbol.   
  • Ideal temperature range: shows a range of temperatures or a medium setting.
  • Smart TRVs: control your heating both manually and via an app or smart speaker. Additional money-saving features include seven-day programming and holiday modes.

3. Programmable room thermostats

Programmable room thermostats have a built-in timer which lets you schedule your heating to come on and go off automatically at different times of day. This can help you to save money and keep your home comfortable without you having to manually adjust the heating. 

Money-saving features:

  • Frost protection mode: stops your pipes from freezing.
  • Holiday mode: to make sure your pipes don’t freeze and your home is warm when you return.
  • Seven-day programming: sets your heating to come on and go off at different times on different days.
  • Boost function: lets you override your programmed schedule to make the heating or hot water come on for a set amount of time.
  • Load and weather compensation: helps your boiler run as efficiently as possible by adjusting its output based on room temperature and the temperature outside.

4. Smart heating controls

Smart thermostats and TRVs are the most advanced type of heating controls. These are internet-enabled devices which allow you to manage, schedule and adjust your heating and hot water remotely via an app, web browser or text message. Smart heating controls are one of the most expensive options, but they have many money-saving and ease-of-use features.

Money-saving features:

  • Optimisation: works out how long it takes your home to reach your chosen temperature and times the heating system to work as efficiently as possible.
  • Zone control: heats different rooms at different times.
  • Automatic frost protection: stops your pipes freezing.
  • Temperature graphs: show graphs of your energy use to help you understand and track your energy consumption.  
  • Boost function: lets you override your schedule to turn the heating or hot water on for a set amount of time. 
  • Program modes: let you set up your own pre-set modes with customised settings.

Ease-of-use features:

  • Mobile controls: control your heating and hot water on the go via an app. Some also work through a website, text message or email.
  • Voice control: controls your heating and hot water with voice commands.
  • Learning thermostats: learn your routine and program your heating automatically.
  • Automation and geolocation: turn the heating on or off based on whether there is anyone at home, using sensors in the home or by tracking your phone.
  • Other smart products: smart thermostats can be paired with a wide range of other home controls, including smart TRVs, smart room thermostats, room fans and lighting systems.

Heating controls could cut bills by 40%. So why aren't they in every home? (BEAMA, 2013)