Controlling your central heating seems a low priority when the sun’s out at last, but now is the best time to start thinking of how you can reduce your gas bill with a bit of smart technology.
I’ve been living with Hive from British Gas for just over six months, so I jumped at the chance to see a more advanced competitor in action, even on a warm day.
Heat Genius is a British start-up that combines elements of Hive, the Nest intelligent learning system from Google, and Honeywell’s multi-room Evohome smart heating.
In short, it can be controlled from your phone via the internet, it can adjust the temperature in different rooms independently, and it learns how you live to control them automatically.
Jonathan Melhuish, of Heat Genius, explains: “Heat Genius is a smart heating control system. It’s a fully wireless system and its also zoned so we have radiator valves that attach to each radiator and allow you to control the heating in each room of your house separately.
“What’s unique about our system is that we also have motion detectors so it can actually see when you use the room and it can control the radiator automatically. You don’t have to reschedule it can actually adapt to your changing lifestyle, even if your pattern changes it will adapt to that.”
What is Heat Genius?
The basic Heat Genius system combines a wireless thermostat with a boiler controller and the Heat Genius Hub, which connects them all together, as well as to the Heat Genius servers via the internet.
This costs £249 plus installation (currently free but the offer won’t last forever, and it’s £249 normally), but this only gives you a Hive-style experience that lets you control your boiler’s heating and hot water output with a remote connection to your smartphone.
Admittedly, it’s slightly better than Hive because there’s no limit on the number of times your heating plan can change across the day, unlike the four heating sessions allowed by Hive.
On the other hand, you have to be online to change your heating plan because it goes via the Heat Genius servers, although Melhuish says they’re working on an offline mode.
The genius part of the system comes when you start to add wireless thermostatic radiator control valves at £60 each (Evohome uses similar valves at the same price), and wireless room sensors at £35 each.
Radiator valves can be controlled individually or grouped into zones, and each zone has its own heating plan, with no practical limit on the number of zones or radiators. They fit onto most existing UK radiators and can be manually controlled if you need.
The room sensors are the clever part: Nest has a single motion detector in the main thermostat unit, so it can tell you if the house is occupied and react automatically – Heat Genius can do this for individual rooms, heating only the rooms that are occupied (unless you’ve told it to do otherwise).
The room sensors also contain a temperature sensor, which gives the system more information about the way heat energy moves around your house.
Running on an 900MHz Z-Wave system that won’t interfere with WiFi or Bluetooth, Heat Genius should reach around most homes, but the range can be extended with smart plug repeaters, which plug into any power socket around the home.
Fitting a complete Heat Genius system to a typical British home will cost around £600-£700, which Melhuish claims will be recouped from your gas bill in two years.
“The installation should happen in about an hour or two, depending on exactly the size of the property,” he adds.
“People tend to get used to it pretty quickly, it’s a pretty straightforward interface so you can set up what temperatures you want each room to come to at different times of day, or the automatic mode which is pretty much plug and play: you press the button and it will gradually learn your pattern.”
The Heat Genius app
The app works in iOS and Android, although it looks better on a tablet than a phone screen.
As well as letting you set up the schedules for the whole house and each zone, it shows which rooms are occupied and whether Heat Genius is compensating for very cold weather outside if you’ve got it in the minimal 6°C frost protection setting.
What’s more, you can access data from the Heat Genius servers to see how your heating plans compare to the actual temperature across hours, days or months.
You can also see whether your heating plans match the way your rooms are occupied, if you’re not happy for the system to automatically fine-tune itself to your behaviour.
Heat Genius: the user’s verdict
Our guinea pig for the day is Adam Burgess, who moved into a new house only to find the previous owners had installed a small boiler which wasn’t capable of heating it evenly.
Rather than expensively replace the boiler, Burgess did some research into smart heating systems, which lead him to Heat Genius.
It’s complex installation with some radiators wirelessly controlled and some on a the standard wireless thermostat, while a converted loft has sensors but no radiators at all. Not surprisingly, there’s also a smart plug repeater to connect it all.
The system’s only a couple of months old, so it’s yet to show an impact on Burgess’s bills, but he’s happy with the results.
“I’ve now managed to get all of my rooms under full control so the temperature is now comfortable everywhere, and when I need to adjust it temporarily I can do enough to tweak the temperature up or down if there’s something different going on in the house.
“I’ve been using it to finally gain control without just running the boiler permanently on, which is what I used to do. It hasn’t necessarily reduced my cost but I’ve got all the rooms now at the right temperature without having to run around adjusting everything massively.”
Heat Genius: next steps
The immediate future is focussed on more heating functionality: an interface for electric underfloor heating is due later this year, and an offline control mode in case your broadband goes down.
The Z-Wave control API will be released later this year so it can interface with other home automation kit, and the smart sockets will be upgraded to control devices plugged into them, like lamps.
In the longer term, Melhuish recognises that remote sensors are an essential component in home security systems, or in a heating system for the elderly which can monitor whether they’re up and about as well as keeping them warm.
We’re certainly impressed with the flexibility of the system, and wondering if this British upstart could be a smart partner for one of the power companies yet to offer a smart energy option to customers.