Heating controls: types and features

Central heating controls: four types to choose from

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. This guidance explains each of them and lists their money-saving features.

1. Manual room thermostats

Manual room thermostats set your room to a desired temperature 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 by keeping your heating on at a very low setting (about 5°C). This means you don't have to leave your heating on overnight or if you go away for a few days. A a room thermostat with this feature will have a snowflake symbol on it.
  • Ideal temperature range: some manual room thermostats show an ideal temperature range on the dial to help 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. This is an inexpensive way of controlling when your heating and hot water come on without having to manually change settings. 
  • Smart room thermostats: more and more manual room thermostats are internet-enabled, letting 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 allow you to set an exact temperature (in °C) and have few money-saving features. 

Money-saving features:

  • Frost protection mode: stops your pipes from freezing in cold weather by keeping your heating on a very low setting (about 5°c). Look out for snowflake symbol.   
  • Ideal temperature range: some TRVs show an ideal temperature range or a medium setting to help you set a temperature which is both comfortable and economical.
  • Smart TRVs: increasingly TRVs are internet-enabled. letting you control your heating both manually and via an app or smart speakerThey come with additional money-saving features, such as 7-day programming and holiday modes, which let you set a schedule to make sure your pipes don’t freeze during a cold spell and your home is warm for when you return.

3Programmable 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 keeping your heating on at a very low setting.
  • Holiday mode: a schedule to make sure your pipes don’t freeze and your home is warm for 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 (normally 1-2 hours). For example, if you have guests you may want to boost the hot water so there's enough for everyone.   
  • Load and weather compensation: help your boiler run as efficiently as possible by adjusting its output based on internal room temperature, set room temperature and the temperature outside.   

4. Smart heating controls

Smart thermostats and TRVs are the most advanced type of heating control on the market. 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.    

Look out for these money-saving features if you are buying a smart heating control:

  • Mobile controls: let you control your heating and hot water on the go by using an app on your phone or tablet. Some can also be used via a website, text message or email. 
  • Voice control: many smart heating controls can be linked to a smart speaker (like Amazon’s Alexa) to let you control your heating and hot water with voice commands. 
  • Optimisation: optimisation features calculate how long it takes your home to reach your preferred temperature and time the heating system’s operation to make sure it works as efficiently and uses as little fuel as possible. This means you won’t heat your home when you don’t need to.
  • Automation and geolocation: work out when to turn the heating on or off based on whether there is anyone at home. They do this using sensors in the home or by tracking your phone with geolocation services.   
  • Learning thermostats: these claim to learn your routine and program your heating automatically without you having to set a schedule. 
  • Zone control: lets you heat different rooms at different times of the day by using separate heating circuits and programmers for different parts of the house. This means you don’t waste money on heating rooms you’re not using.
  • Automatic frost protection: makes sure your pipes never freeze by turning your heating on automatically if the external or internal temperatures fall below a certain point. 
  • Temperature graphs: show graphs of your energy use to help you understand and track your energy consumption.  
  • Boost function: lets you override your programmed or automated 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.
  • 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. These let you control your home from your phone.  
     

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