Domestic energy bills are today’s political hot potato, so it’s good to know that you can take control and try to shave a little off your costs.
Hive Active Heating lets you control a gas-powered hot water and central heating system from your smartphone, tablet, browser interface or wireless thermostat.
Hive costs £199, including an installation worth £80, and British Gas says it will save up to £150 a year - which is a pretty honest admission that you won’t get an instant return on the investment.
On the other hand, if you’re just into smart home automation like Philips Hue lights, then it’s another cool way to take control of your home, and you don’t even need to be a British Gas customer.
Hive by British Gas: The system
Your £199 buys three pieces of kit: a wireless thermostat, a boiler control unit and a hub that connects to your router. If you want someone else to install it, you can save £40.
The boiler control unit, also known as the receiver, will either replace your existing control unit, or the installation engineer will wire it in for you. At 90 x 95 x 35mm, it’s very unobtrusive.
It tells your boiler whether to turn on or off, and comes in either a single-channel model to control just your heating, or a dual-channel for heating and hot water. If you’ve already got a British Gas single channel heating control, this can be used instead of the receiver.
The Hive hub is also very small - 74 x 74 x 29mm - and plugs into a spare Ethernet port on your broadband router with a small power brick requiring a plug (how we’d love for mainstream router products to begin supporting Power over Ethernet to these kinds of small devices).
The Hub communicates with your thermostat, smartphone and PC, either via your home network or over the internet through your router, and passes your commands to the receiver.
The wireless thermostat will let you control the entire Hive system, but that’s not really the point of it. You’ll either hang it on the wall in a central location, or take it from room to room so you’re always in the warm spot.
The thermostat includes a frost protection mode which will turn on your heating if the temperature falls below 5°C to stop your pipes bursting, warming your home up to about 7°C.
Large homes or those with a lot of metal construction which blocks radio will also need Smart Plugs to boost the signal from the hub to the receiver. These are simple wireless repeaters, which pick up signals from the hub or thermostat, amplify and retransmit them to cover a dead zone.
There’s not a lot of hardware to show for £159, but it’s comparable with the similar Nest and cheaper than the Tado weather-based smart thermostat.
Hive by British Gas: Installation
A British Gas engineer will fit the system and show you how it works. They’ll need a power point near your boiler for the Hive receiver, and one near your router for the Hive hub.
Our installation took around 20 minutes, followed by a demonstration of how to use it on the thermostat, web browser and smartphone.
When you’re happy with it, the engineer will also deactivate any timers on your boiler - you don’t need them any more.
Hive by British Gas: The browser interface
When you first set up Hive, it’s best to use the web browser interface (pictured at the top of the review), which uses very simple drag-and-drop sliders to very quickly set up a week of hot water and central heating schedules.
The default central heating setting warms your house in the morning and evening, with frost protection overnight and 7°C in the daytime. You might want to reverse this to stay warm in bed, or keep the house warmer over the weekend when you’re at home.
It shows the current temperature at home, the outside temperature, and lets you switch to hands-on manual temperature control, or turn Hive off (although it will always maintain a frost protection minimum).
You can also view your home’s temperature over the last two days, weeks, months, or the whole year (see above).
Hot water scheduling is slightly simpler, since your boiler settings determine the water temperature. You can set when to warm up some water for your hot water tank, using less expensive off-peak gas, or turn it off when you’re on holiday.
The real benefit is to be able to do it remotely when you’re on your way home and anticipating you’ll need it, with a Boost option which switches it on for an hour, then returns to the scheduled mode.
Hive by British Gas: The app
Rather than just take the browser experience and dump it on a small screen, the Hive app presents a simplified display of your home’s current temperature, the outside temperature and the heating setting.
You can quickly change to frost protection mode, 10°C, 20°C, advance the schedule to the next event, switch to manual mode or turn Hive off.
Another screen lets you adjust the heating schedule, and includes a useful option for copying one day’s schedule to the next.
Unfortunately, it’s locked to portrait mode, which is annoying on a tablet where the greater space could be used for a more desktop-like experience.
Controlling your hot water is similar, but as with the browser control, there are fewer options.
The Hive app remembers your login details, but if you're worried about your phone being stolen and your central heating abused, you can add a PIN lock to Hive.
Hive by British Gas: Recombu’s verdict
After several weeks, we’ve found Hive a very practical way to take control of your central heating and hot water, with a lot more flexibility.
Frost protection is a useful backstop as winter approaches, as is the ability to quickly and easily change the heating schedule or take manual control over periods like the Christmas holidays,
The instant bonus is the ability to turn the heating down or off when your home is unexpectedly empty at evenings and weekends, hopefully saving a few pennies over the colder months.
It’s too early to know whether it will yield more than £100 of savings over a year, which would be a considerable discount on my bill. We’ll report back in six months, when the most expensive part of the year has blown through.