All Sections

Honeywell Evohome smart energy hands-on video: “We invented the thermostat”

Honeywell Evohome may not be a household smart energy brand like British Gas Hive and Google-backed Nest, but it’s been doing very well from the publicity. 

When Recombu visited Honeywell’s James Coulson to take a look at Evohome in action, he was delighted to reveal they’re signing up customers faster than they can make their kit. 

Like Hive and Nest, Evohome is a smart heating control system, although it’s got more in common with British-born Heat Genius, which we looked at recently. 

“Honeywell’s approach to this is about removing stress from people’s life,” said Coulson, Honeywell’s global channel and communications director. 

“Stress can come in many forms, such as a big heating bill – energy prices going up – not having enough time to do things, forgetting to do things, more importantly feeling comfortable in the home, making sure your family’s comfortable or you’re comfortable.

“It’s all about knowing how homes heat up, cool down, knowing about energy, knowing about the standards for compliance. Honeywell invented the thermostat: our thermostat is in the Smithsonian in the USA. We’ve had a hundred years of experience of not only how to turn things on, but how they operate, how people want to use them.”

With orders stacked up until September and launches this summer in France and Italy, Honeywell has just increased production to keep up with demand as Europe prepares for another winter of expensive heating bills.

Coulson’s home is completely fitted out with an Evohome system, so we jumped on a train to take a look at a real installation.

What is Honeywell Evohome? 

Evohome combines a programmable boiler relay with wireless controllers for radiators, hot water and electric or hydronic heating, to give you fine control over every room in your house.

This modular system is controlled via a cloud-based interface from the wireless Evohome Controller base unit, smartphones, tablets and smart watches.

The basic Honeywell Evohome system is the Evohome Controller unit/thermostat, the boiler relay, and the remote access interface for your router, costing £241 plus installation.

This gives you a Hive-style experience where you can set up daily heating schedules, although unlike Hive you can have as many temperature points as you want through the day (instead of just four changes).

Installation’s extra depending on how many components you decide to install, although once the boiler relay’s fitted then you probably won’t need the installer to return unless you’re wiring electric heater controllers into the mains.

The real strength of the system comes as you add controllers for individual radiators, hot water (if you use a hot water tank) and electric or hydronic underfloor and wall heaters.

Wireless radiator controllers with a built-in thermostat are £60 each or £228 for four, while the hot water kit’s around £91 and thermostat kits for electric/hydronic heating cost about £72.

A typical four-bedroom house should cost around £600 with installation, and there’s no ongoing fee for connecting to the Total Comfort Connect cloud service.

The components communicate via a low power wireless standard called Rameses, which uses the 868MHz frequency, so it won’t interfere with your WiFi or Bluetooth, and it has very long indoor range. Honeywell claims it will reach 30m comfortably, with customers reporting 50m, depending on the building’s construction.

The Evohome Controller is the brain of Honeywell's smart heating system
The Evohome Controller is the brain of Honeywell’s smart heating system

Honeywell Evohome: the base Controller

The Evohome Controller is currently the only way to fully programme the system, and although it’s got a rechargeable battery, the backlit colour screen needs plenty of power so you can only remove it from the wall mount or desktop stand for about two hours.

On the plus side, much of the brains are in the Controller, so Evohome will run happily if you’re offline, and doesn’t even need your WiFi working because the components run on a different wireless standard.

The iOS and Android apps do let you change the schedules and adjust your heating on the fly, but you can’t get into the full range of settings available on the Evohome Controller. This will change in future, said Coulson.

There’s a familiar look to setting up your week of heating, where you can drill down to individual days as well.

“We’ve modelled this schedule to look like a PVR,” Coulson adds. “When we did the research that was the most receptive thing that people could understand. We have to span a big generation, from an 18-year-old to well, my mum.”

You can have up to 12 heating zones, and the Evohome Controller shows the current temperature for four of them in its default low-power mode – you choose. Tap the screen and you’ll see both the current and target temperatures for six zones, and the rest are just a tap away. 

The current temperatures are coded blue, green, orange and red to show how far you are above or below the target temperature for your room.

You can also trigger quick actions: Economy mode the drop the temperature by 3°C everywhere; Away mode to put your home into a frost protection setting of 5°C and turn off the hot water while you’re on holiday; Day Off to give you a Saturday setting during the week; and Heating Off for the summer where your hot water keeps running.

There’s also a custom Quick Action – Coulson has a Toasty Cinema Night setting where the family can get together in the living room at a higher temperature than normal.

You’ll also need the Controller to connect in other components and bind them together into zone, and if you’re online it will show the current weather outside.

The Radiator Controller gives individual control of each heat source
The Radiator Controller gives individual control of each heat source

Honeywell Evohome: around the home

Most British users will use the £60 wireless Radiator Controllers to divide their homes into rooms and zones.

Each one clips onto a locking ring on the radiator (there are different sizes of locking ring available), and contains a thermostat and a small motor which opens and closes your radiator’s valve to reach the desired temperature.

There’s a large fairly large, backlit LCD screen which can be tilted up to give you a better view, and a twist-and-click control for setting the temperature and altering other settings.

Honeywell’s research shows that older users are more likely to use the radiator thermostat to control individual room temperatures, while younger users will use the Evohome Controller or an app.

You (or your installer) can adjust the offset used to calculate the room’s actual temperature from that near the radiator. Fancy radiator cabinets will make it impossible to get a reliable reading, so if your radiator is enclosed you can either pair it with another controller valve for an accurate temperature reading, or with a wireless thermostat.

The radiator controllers are powered by two AA batteries, which should last up to two-and-a-half years, or at least two winters.

There’s also a wireless underfloor heating controller unit (around £270) for operating up to eight hydronic systems, while simple pairings of wireless thermostats and relay switches can control electric wall or fan heaters.

Honeywell Evohome: what’s smart?

Honeywell doesn’t boast of some HAL 9000-esque AI learning your personal lifestyle like Nest, or the motion detectors of Heat Genius, but Evohome does have a brain, and unlike those products, it’s built into the Controller base unit instead of a cloud service.

The built-in optimisation features are Delayed Start and Optimum Stop, which monitor how your home and the individual zones warm up in different weather conditions.

“Evohome figures out how much it takes to heat your home up from a starting point, how insulated your rooms are,” Coulson adds.

“At seven o’clock in the morning you want it to be 21 degrees, and the system works out how to get it to 21 degrees – it might come on at a quarter past six or half six depending on the weather outside. 

“The reverse is true as well: you go to bed at 11 o’clock and you want it to be 15 degrees, it works backwards how much heat is in the house, and it might turn the boiler off at a quarter past 10.”

Evohome is the first smart heating system to boast smartwatch control
Evohome is the first smart heating system to boast smartwatch control

Honeywell Evohome: apps and smart watches

The Total Comfort Connect app for Honeywell Evohome is available in three flavours: iOS, Android and Pebble smart watch.

The iOS and Android editions have a similar look and feel to the Evohome Controller, with the same use of colours to indicate how close you are to your target temperature.

You can control the temperatures for individual rooms and access quick actions, but you won’t be able to fully set up the schedule or access the deep settings until a future release.

The Pebble smart watch edition isn’t yet official software, but it lets Coulson see what’s going on in each room and change the temperature, use Quick Actions, or turn on the hot water on his way back from the gym.

All the apps are continually updated via the Total Comfort Connect platform, based at Honeywell’s HQ in the USA, so any changes are passed on straight away to every user on the system.

The future of Honeywell Evohome

With Evohome’s development team based in Scotland, it’s likely that the UK will benefit from any developments as soon as the USA, if not before.

While Coulson’s tight-lipped about where the system might go beyond heating, it’s not hard to look at Honeywell’s other smart home tech to see potential routes: home security and surveillance is an obvious choice, while subsidiary MK Electric already produces the Astral smart lighting system, and the two could function very well together.

As Coulson puts it: “Once you get the Lego in the home right, you can do a lot more. We want to build up. What people buy today in terms of Evohome may not be what the future holds. It’s an investment.”

In the short term, we’d like to see an IFTTT channel, giving Evohome owners the chance to integrate their system into the wider internet of things and their personal technology bubble.

Honeywell Evohome: the savings

Recombu’s now had a good look at four of the dozen heating control systems available in the UK today.

Evohome’s among the more advanced systems out there, with a higher upfront cost and more potential to save money by reducing heat wasted in your unused rooms.

Honeywell estimates that 82 per cent of UK energy bills come from heating, compared to just 3-5 per cent for lighting, and that Evohome can cut 40 per cent from heating costs.

With the average UK household energy bill standing at around £1,300, you’ll get the cost of a typical Evohome install back in less than two years. In fact, since large homes often cost far more to heat than scaling up with Evohome, the payback could be even faster.

Evohome’s intelligence is different to the similar Heat Genius, but we couldn’t say if it’s going to save you more, and like Heat Genius it will smooth out hot and cold spots (if you want them smoothed).

The multiroom control is likely to save you more than Nest or Hive, and the interface does seem very accessible with Quick Actions and colour coding.

Comments