Finally, it is time to end the debate about when to put the heating on
November 18, 2020
Finally, it is time to end the debate about when to put the heating on
One bi-annual debate divides opinion in households across the country. It affects how we feel, what we wear and even how well we sleep. As winter turns to spring and summer fades to autumn family opinion is split. When should we turn the heating on and off?
The topic we’re all too familiar with is played out in a series of rather binary debates – on/off, higher/lower. This masks the complex reasons behind that emotive discussion. Here we look at several factors that fuel this discussion and asks the question of whether the introduction of smart home systems can end this debate once and for all.
Back in 2014 a massive 73% of us ranked energy bills among our top four concerns which was right up alongside the economy and the NHS. It’s therefore unsurprising that the population are now taking notice of the energy rating on electrical and lighting goods. Over recent decades homes have also become substantially better insulated thanks to regulation, government incentives and our awareness of rising energy bills. Yet few know or trust the energy rating of our homes.
Despite this general awareness it seems we have some common inherent behaviours that are counterintuitive to scientific advice. It feels entirely natural on a hot sunny day to open the windows to cool the house, or on a cold day to turn up the heating thermostat. So what is stopping us addressing alternative more effective means to managing our comfort and our household energy bills?
Hot water thermostats, boiler temperature settings, underfloor heating flow temperatures and even radiator settings and timer programming – these intertwined settings often remain untouched with our efforts focused on the room stat.
It is easy to see how we find ourselves in this position. If we look back through the decades, we see a legacy of archaic control devices working in isolation using electrical technology pre-dating networking and even in most cases electronics itself.
Boilers are on or off, as are pumps and the sole thermostat is in many cases poorly positioned. Timer programmers are generally mechanical or have poor quality LCD displays tucked away so we have little incentive to manage the timers to suit our complex home lives. Some newer ‘smart’ thermostats may learn our habits, but they work in isolation from the rest of the system knowing only if that spot in the house is warm at a predicted time. They also share little of the collected data that might better inform us.
It seems that with home heating (let’s not open the lid on cooling just yet) we lag far behind other home ‘appliances’ in terms of innovation. Why is this, when it is a topic that is so important to us and indeed the planet?
Isn’t it time for a wakeup call to those homeowners sleepwalking to higher energy bills or in too many cases higher bills that still don’t provide enough warmth in every room?
Given the annual cost of home energy and the wealth of display devices already in our homes it seems unfathomable that in most homes we cannot programme our heating using a clear HD display on a wall or better still in comfort with a tablet or phone to hand. That we can’t create a schedule, and easily copy it from day to day or room to room. We don’t have sensors linked to the controller that accurately know the room temperatures throughout the house. Also baffling that our day-to-day timers cannot automatically adjust to changes in our busy schedules or compensate according to the day’s weather forecast.
This is all readily addressed with smart home controllers that have the sensors properly integrated. Furthermore, in our smart home those other complex yet important settings like the various water temperatures that none of us want to know about, boiler performance specs and heating and cooling curves learnt for a house each day of the year can be combined to maximise energy savings. A benefit we can take without knowing the details or one we might use to inform our energy management decisions.
When cooking we rely on feedback from watching, tasting and smelling the aromas as we follow recipes or cook everyday dishes. If we tried to cook without these senses the results would be far more variable.
When it comes to heating our homes we do just that, we make changes based on whether we feel warm or cold. That’s obvious but other factors like weather, the room we’re in, what we’re wearing, the time of day, if the curtains or blinds are closed all contribute to that feeling. Even then the laws of physics strike a blow as we wait for the heating system to react to our demands.
It’s no wonder that in spring and autumn as temperatures vary most that the debate around heating settings comes up again and again.
After a few months we then get another type of feedback when the energy bill arrives and perhaps we resolve to take action. Smart meters might dilute the possibility of a shock and cause us to moderate our energy demands but they only tell us what we’re spending, not whether this is higher or lower than it should or might be, or why and what we might do about it.
What we actually need is some form of guidance, tangible help that we can understand and act on. We might then be interested in messages that tell us our boiler is working exceptionally hard to hit a temperature that would be unnoticeable or more efficient a fraction lower, or that we are heating hot water that we don’t use during the week. With sensors throughout the house and matching weather data we can better understand and manage set-back temperatures and heating ramp-up times, which are powerful tools in energy management.
Once we have the sensors and data to provide informed energy management advice, we can use the smart controller with a clear purpose of optimising our energy demands. We might quite simply set our expected home comfort level and it will automatically manage the many factors for us. It would know and compensate for the differences between heating a room with radiators or underfloor heating, and delay the heating on a warm autumn day before the cold returns in the evening.
Perhaps we should accept that a number of people in the same room are unlikely to agree that the temperature is ‘just right’. Without air conditioning we will probably always open a window on a hot day. We will perhaps never truly care about the precise temperature of the water in our radiators or underfloor pipes.
We will however be unavoidably aware of our increasing energy bills and our impact on the planet. The two will be inextricably linked in years to come. We would all like lower energy bills but we want to avoid higher bills even more.
So we must ensure we have the right tools to manage our homes. To ensure that our homes are comfortable while our expenses are under control, that can only be achieved by managing the overall energy efficiency of our homes, insulating as best we can but also understanding and controlling our energy use.
Not with unwelcome complexity but with simple to set-up smart home solutions. Integrated into the house so they can inform us and ultimately make decisions that not only save us money but also take care of that heated debate twice a year.
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