back to article Home automation while it's hot: Winter warmth for lazy technophiles

Home is not just a place for the family; it's also becoming a place that tech companies are fighting over as they scramble to develop home automation equipment for lazy savvy suburbanites. Video clip of TV sitcom character Frank Spencer catastrophically failing to engage with an automated home. 1980s vintage clip. Of course, …

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  1. AndrueC Silver badge
    Meh

    And I still don't see where significant savings are going to come from. I already have a thermostat that can be programmed with a time range and a temperature(*). In effect my heating is never on when the house is empty (or everyone is tucked up in bed) already.

    I suppose that on a rare weekend day when I leave the house and don't come back until the evening it would be nice if it spotted that and turned the heating off. But those days are rare for me. Most days I might go out for an hour or two but that's it. I doubt there are significant savings in switching the heating off for a couple of hours.

    And as for switching it on when it sees I'm on the way home. How's that going to work considering that it can take two hours (three on some winter days) for the house to get to the target temperature?

    So this stuff looks cool - but basically just toys. If I ever need to buy a new thermostat I might get one of these but they don't really seem to add anything if your current system is working.

    (*)It has optimum start so you don't tell it when to come on. You tell it the time you want a particular temperature and it works out when to actually come on to achieve that.

    1. AdamT

      Yes - they all basically just seem to be adding a bit of automation to the "turning the temperature of the whole house up and down a bit" control on a standard thermostat. What I really want (and what I suspect could really make savings) would be individual control of each room and each radiator. The use profile of bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms, spare rooms, hallways, junk rooms and kitchens is very different (my house isn't that big, I'm just trying to be complete!) and a single thermostat, no matter how smart, just isn't going to be able to do a better job than individual room control.

      The only one that seems to offer a bit of a nod in that direction is nCube (as they at least have radiator controls) but I still don't think they are quite there (certainly their website is a bit sparse on details).

      Are there any systems where you can get: wireless, battery operated radiator valves without thermostats; wireless battery operated thermometer (for each room); wireless on/off control for the boiler; one smart controller (with webapp and/or mobile app) and; maybe a handful of basic room controls for simple overrides ?

      1. watchforstock

        You certainly can get one that answers your requirements. Have a look at Honeywell's evohome system. The whole system does cost more than just replacing your thermostat, but you get individual control over each room. This means I can choose to only heat the bedrooms in the late evening, but keep the kitchen warmer all day.

        I only installed it at the end of the cold period so haven't yet got a view of the savings, but I do know that it was noticeable that most rooms were cold when not needed but warm when they were. As a plus, rooms heat up faster because you're not trying to heat all radiators at the same time.

      2. circusmole

        Have a look at Vera?

        <<<Are there any systems where you can get: wireless, battery operated radiator valves without thermostats; wireless battery operated thermometer (for each room); wireless on/off control for the boiler; one smart controller (with webapp and/or mobile app) and; maybe a handful of basic room controls for simple overrides ?>>>

        Check out Miacasaverde, the Vera Z-Wave controllers can do about all you described. I use a Vera 3 to control the hot water and override (when necessary) my smart thermostat.It can control radiator valves as well. My installation also controls various lights via PIR sensors that communicate with the Vera. I have a home in Florida as well (I live in the UK) with a Vera 3 installed, where it also controls the pool pump, pool heating, outside lights... and the air conditioning along with the lock on the entrance door.

        The downside of the Vera is that it is a little rough around the edges and it really requires plugins (free) to enable it to do more complex tasks - but it is worth a look.

        1. Mike Wood

          Re: Have a look at Vera?

          I am also running a Vera 3 and waiting for Vera Pro to come out, mine is connected to Z-Wave Smoke Alarms, Water Detection, Temp probes, contact sensors, Motion Sensors, Wi-fi IP and numerous plug in adapters.

          I couldn't find the right adapter for my boiler, but BG sent and installed a free Hive unit so cant complain.

          I am also using a Vera lite to monitor a remote server room and its doing a better job then what the APC Netbotz did

      3. AdamT

        thanks

        Thanks to everyone for the suggestions/recommendations (watchforstock, circusmole, Nigel Whitfield, et al). Looks like things have moved on a bit since I last looked in to this.

        I did note that the nCube use the danfoss wireless controllable and thermostatic valve but I do really want the valve and the thermometer to be separate units. Having the temperature measured right next to the heat source is always going to be second best. I think you can disable that function of the valve in favour of an external control signal but then you are paying for a bit of electronics on each radiator that you are not using...

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Adam T

        "What I really want (and what I suspect could really make savings) would be individual control of each room and each radiator."

        A lot less than you'd think, because the individual rooms are still within the thermal envelope of the whole house. So even with a radiator off, that room will stabilise at (say) 16 C, sucking the heat through internal walls, floors or via air exchange, and then your temperature gradient to the outside world in the "isolated" room is not actually very much different from other rooms through the critical winter period. It is possible (but uneconomic) to insulate individual rooms and fit seals on the internal doors, but then you've start having condensation and damp problems if the door was opened allowing warm damp air into the now cold room. And there's another consideration, that the more radiators you're NOT using because they've been turned off by timers, the more the boiler will have been over-provisioned, leading to less efficient operation from cycling and flue losses.

        Basic thermostatic valves are a credible compromise where you want to gently "top slice" the heat output of a particular radiator, but remote control radiator valves are simply a complicated solution for people living in a house that's too big, or not understanding the basic thermodynamics of the house. And most timer valves have battery operation, so you'd need to factor in a couple of quid for each radiator per year, which makes a further small but regular dent in the savings.

        1. AdamT

          Re: @Adam T

          @Ledswinger - thanks for the further useful info. I'm approaching this not just from a money saving point of view but also the challenge of how it could be done ideally. Hence my starting point would be to try and monitor everything and control everything and see what could be achieved. I take your point about the boiler over-provision though. I guess this could be partially remediated by having multiple thresholds around the temperate settings so that you delayed the switch on in one room until another room or two also wanted heat, provided the first room didn't breach some second threshold, etc. etc.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: @Adam T

            " I guess this could be partially remediated by having multiple thresholds around the temperate settings so that you delayed the switch on in one room until another room or two also wanted heat, provided the first room didn't breach some second threshold, etc. etc."

            Certainly could, but that'd be a marginal benefit because the boiler is sized for peak winter demand, so running two rooms is still almost as bad as running one room.

            I must say that if I was looking at the problem, rather than throwing money at trying to ring out 1% of the gas bill, I'd be inclined to look at super-insulating the house including high performance wall insulation (search Register, Aerogel if you missed that article a couple of years back) and paying attention to air tightness, and installing a big heat recovery ventilation system.

    2. IHateWearingATie

      I agree as well - I replaced the heating system in my house last year (we had not long moved in and it was ancient and partly broken) and I couldn't see much benefit from the clever gizmos on top of a cheap programmable thermostat and thermostatic valves on the radiators.

      We have a combi boiler, so hot water timing isn't needed, and things just don't change that much in the house that often. The timer can be set to different times and temps on different days, and the thermostatic valves are set to a lower temperature in the 2 rooms we don't use much (junk room, spare bedroom). It also has a holiday feature to override the normal settings between specified dates

      I guess if the time you leave and come back to the house varies a lot then then being able to switch the heating on before you get back might be nice. And if you have air con (my mate is an air con engineer and has fitted some end of line units in his house - very jealous in the summer) and / or underfloor heating then I can see the benefit in linking things together. But for most of us whose times in and out of the house are controlled by work and school, I can't see much benefit for now.

      Which is a shame, as I love gadgets :)

    3. Nigel Whitfield.

      Certainly, a lot will depend on your usage patterns and (shudder) lifestyle.

      For someone who's home all the time, or who works in an office at set hours, then I agree - there may be little need for any of these things, and the ability to do a simple remote tweak if it happens to snow when you're at work, or something like that, will fall into the merely "nice to have" category.

      That's why I didn't want to pick one and say "this is the winner," because it will vary.

      For myself, having first used the original HeatMiser WiFi, I found that while in theory I could turn it off when I went out to a meeting, I hardly ever remembered, and about the only thing I did remember was the holiday mode when I was going away.

      The Tado, which works out when to turn things on based on how far away I am from home, does it all in the background, and for me that works really well (and I'd certainly welcome their AC controller at the moment, too).

      But, I'm freelance, I work from home, go out and about a fair bit, and so don't keep regular hours that could be scheduled with a normal timeswitch.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Happy

        I can see a little more value actually. If I go on holiday I can only tell mine which days the house is empty. On the day of return that could mean several hours of wasted heating since I rarely get back until after lunch and often not 'till the evening. Being able to tell it I'd started back (or have it work it out) could save a chunk of heating effort.

        But something my current thermostat is missing that would be nice would be 'I'm going out for a few hours' aka 'golf mode' :)

  2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge
    Thumb Down

    Can't see it catching on widely enough

    As the article says, to directly control these sorts of appliances you would need to mess about with holes in your firewall, static addresses or dynamic DNS, etc. Most ordinary folks won't want anything which needs that much hassle. The alternative, as described, is to buy gadgets that are configured via a third-party website, where the devices poll for instructions. That immediately locks you in to one supplier, who may change a fee either now, or in the future, assuming they're still there in the future.

    Sure, Google probably won't go bust in the next 10 years, but we've all seen home music devices that relied on external servers to get streaming data, and when the service went titsup you were left with a fancy paperweight. Not to mention what happens when the service gets hacked & some script kiddie in China has fun playing with your central heating while you're away, so you come home to a flooded house from burst pipes in winter, or crispy pot plants and a sauna in August.

    In essence, to get a level of convenience that works for an ordinary user, you're not buying Home Automation devices, but "Home-Automation-as-a-Service", and look how well the Smart Meter concept is going down.

    That to me, and I suspect to the public at large, is not an interesting or cost-effective use case. Personally I'm tempted to do something myself with Raspberry Pis or Arduinos, but that's not a mass-market model. Maybe the folks buying £10m houses will be willing to pay a monthly fee for a "home management" service, but I reckon most ordinary folks will stick with a thermostat and a timer.

    1. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Can't see it catching on widely enough

      'but I reckon most ordinary folks will stick with a thermostat and a timer.'

      Well, that and thermostatic valves on the radiators to give a bit of room-by-room control.

    2. Stoneshop Silver badge

      Re: Can't see it catching on widely enough

      I'm in the middle of automating my house, and while I haven't decided on a particular heating control system, I'm making sure that I can easily control every radiator valve, and measure (and set) the temperature in each room individually. There's a fair chance there'll be a Pi or BBB supervising, with control over sun screens, ventilation etc. as well. For general absence detection I will probably use Bluetooth: as long as one of the designated phones is around the house, it should consider the house occupied, else it'll set temperatures based on (learned) usage patterns. And with a GSM interface that takes a few commands like "I'll be home in half an hour" or "Don't bother, I'm staying over elsewhere" you don't need DDNS, firewall holes etcetera.

      And whatever is used, it won't be exposing my data to outsiders.

  3. <shakes head>

    why a thermostat

    the new bolier i put in uses the return flow temp and an outside termometer to learn about the house and adjust the temp in a slide as it approches the desired set point, this has saved about 15% in 6 months on a yearly bill and the house is more comforable, along with programable radiator thermostats, while not wirelss does give you great control, also the radiator thermostats are just clip on ones for existing ones.

  4. Anonymous Blowhard

    Turn up the heating HAL

    I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that.

  5. gc73

    Netatmo?

    No Netatmo? They have heating controls, controllable via their website.

    For those that can't see the point of these systems, for years my heating seems to have been coming on for an hour or so through the night because the night temperature wasn't set low enough. Knocking down the temp .5C easily solved.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Been there

    More than 25 years ago there was an up-market home central heating control system that cost over £1k. Probably a Scandinavian company. It was modular and had (IIRC) individual radiator control valves - possibly each one had a built-in thermostat. They were wired to the controller so installation could be a major task.

    The boiler control didn't just switch off the pump when the rooms reached their desired temperature. It predicted when that temperature would be reached - and also allowed the pump to continue running until the boiler had cooled.

    The fuel economies came from the system having an external temperature sensor - possibly even a wind gauge. Over time it learned the house's heat loss characteristics under different weather conditions - so it could warm the house to a desired temperature for a particular time.

    From the article's descriptions that level of sophistication is not in the reviewed TIOT devices?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Been there

      The Tado does take into account things like the weather and the effect of the sun on the heating of your house, yes, but it doesn't have an external temp sensor, using data from the net instead.

  7. Andraž 'ruskie' Levstik

    I can agree with AdamT on wanting a per room profile that will heat up a room and such. Basically requires setting up each room as a zone with each radiator having it's own controlled valve. And a bit more temperature monitoring.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      nCube and the other z-wave systems can do that - the TRV in their kit has a thermostat built in, and as they point out, you can use that in conjunction with many of the other systems, so allowing certain rooms to be cooler than the setting on the main thermostat.

  8. TRT Silver badge

    All I can say is...

    Thank God for Hive. All these years I've not gone out anywhere or done anything or if I have gone anywhere been fretting kittens and unable to enjoy myself, because of worrying about controlling my heating at home. Those tedious days of sitting there controlling it manually are completely behind me. And for a mere £200 as well. Really, I don't know what I did before it.

  9. Gotno iShit Wantno iShit

    KISS

    Thanks Reg! I've been searching for a wireless 7 day 4 period thermostat and had not found Heatmiser, looks like a PRT-WTS is exactly what I seek.

    I would like to meet the plumber or electrician who installed the system in our new house and explain with the aid of a blunt instrument why it is not a good idea to put the only thermostat in the same room as a log burner. I could move it but that would mean redecorating two rooms and taking up one carpet and one wooden floor.

    As for all the mothership connected controllers, nice but no thanks.

  10. Anonymous Coward 101

    Hive

    I got Hive for my house, even though I knew it would not reduce my gas consumption by that much. The main benefit is the ability the switch my heating on from the comfort of my bed at the weekend if I happen to wake early. There is also the sheer satisfaction of being able to switch the heating off if I know I will be out in the evening and I won't waste any gas.

  11. Tanuki

    I wonder how these things will deal with a "call-for-heat" being issued somewhere but the stove's already consumed all the last fill of logs?

  12. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Baffled?

    "As someone who finds that guests ignore the Z-Wave lighting remote in my living room in favour of the wall switch...it's pretty clear that what may seem logical to a Reg reader is still too baffling for many of our friends and family."

    I wouldn't go that far. As a Reg reader and gadgetoholic, if I was a guest in someone else’s house I'd almost certainly assume that some random remote control unit lying around in the living room was for the TV, DVD, HiFi, sat box etc. We all grew up using wall switches to control lighting and years of habit will make the vast majority us look automatically for a wall switch. As for switching on someone elses TV and watching some random program, that would depend on the type of guest :-)

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Baffled?

      When I watch the TV, I do it through the AV amp, for which the Harmony is pretty well suited (except for the fact that the front speakers are driven by the non-remote controllable Naim gear, which is an extra step that foxes most people), but some guests/cat sitters just find the whole activity concept of that too alien to grasp. For those, it's often simplest to dig out the remote for the TV and let them blunder around with that and put up with the built in speakers.

      Regular guests get the hang of the lighting controller, but others just decide it's a lot simpler to use the physical switch on the reading light by the sofa than press buttons at random until everything turns on or off.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Pint

        Re: Baffled?

        When I watch the TV, I do it through the AV amp, for which the Harmony is pretty well suited

        I do the same. In fact my amp (an Onkyo) acts as HDMI switch box for everything. I have a Harmony One but unfortunately v2. My much loved v1 suffered at the hands (claws(*)) of my budgie and some of the keys began to play up. The later version has an annoying power saving mode. It has to be shaken to wake it up and worst of all needs to be charged more often.

        Bloody Logitech. Great hardware to start off with but it seems once they've recouped the R&D costs they cut down on the build quality. I'm glad all three of my MX-700 mice are still going. I'm considering replacing the remote again but I'm not sure what other remotes work in the same way with such a good design.

        (*)Actually it was more his arse than anything else.

  13. John B Stone

    Isn't one of the big savings gained by adjusting the _boiler_ temperature (not the room thermostats) to be as low as practical (at least for condensing boilers) throughout the year? This temperature varies with the seasons (general ambient temperature), and may have the side effect of stopping your pipes banging.

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      I would imagine that while that may indeed be very helpful, the problem is interfacing it with the many different boilers that are out there. Most will just have a simple 'demand' circuit which will work with one of these smarter stats, or an old mechanical one, or a simple timer.

      To control the temperature of the boiler, you'd need a much wider range of options than, effectively, a simple switch; when it comes down to it, that's all that any of these generic solutions provide, albeit switches with fancy logic.

      Without a standard to provide that sort of control, it's probably not going to be economical to retrofit.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "Isn't one of the big savings gained by adjusting the _boiler_ temperature (not the room thermostats) to be as low as practical (at least for condensing boilers) "

      Generally no. Optimum thermal efficiency is generally where you have the largest difference between the boiler outlet and return temperatures, not the lowest system temperature, but the benefits of the greatest temp difference is constrained by the design parameters of boiler, system and radiators. When the architect or plumber (a balance of evils there) specified your system, the boiler and rads were sized according to expected heat loss of the room and rated radiator heat output assuming a typical boiler output aimed at 80C, an expected radiator input temp of 75C, and a radiator exit temp of 64C. If you lower the boiler output temperature then you reduce the heat output of the radiators against the design (because the delta T between radiator and room falls). In practice the house and radiators stats should arbitrage all of this away and out of sight so that it seems to be working, but you could actually increase your operating costs if the system efficiency is compromised by too low a boiler exit temperature. Set your primary heat circuit temp too low enough and you'll have a very low temperature differential between heat circuit and your hot water (that must reach 60C to avoid legionella risks), leading to poor efficiency on that side of the system.

      Get yourself an infra red laser thermometer (a top gadget, available for about £18), and make sure that the boiler output is about 78C, then go round and with all TRVs turned right up, tighten the lockshield valve (other end of the radiator, usually with a blind cap that you need to remove) to make sure that each radiator is set to see an 11-12C drop between inlet and outlet temperature (the more closed the valve is, the higher the temperature drop, which is initially a bit counter-intuitive). When you've gone round and done that, do it again - the dodgy installation standards invariably mean that messing with some radiators changes the pump pressure arriving at other radiators, so the system setup is an iterative process. That's called balancing the system, and is what plumbers should do - in practice most apply rules of thumb like "turn the lockshield off and open a quarter of a turn", and some just leave the lockshield fully open, meaning the system is unbalanced, average return temperature is too high and you'll get a lot of boiler cycling. The £18 should pay for itself in two months, but I'd expect that you'd need to allow better part of a day to do this properly (oh, and you'll need something like black electrical tape to stick on any chrome fittings you're trying to measure the temperature of - partly because infrared thermometers don't work on reflective surfaces, and because you don't want to bounce the aiming laser in your own face).

      Who says you don't learn anything on the Reg?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        and your hot water (that must reach 60C to avoid legionella risks)

        I beg to disagree in a home environment. I set my hot water thermostat to 40'C over 10 years ago to save gas/electric, and despite some 10,000 showers/baths have taken place, no family/friends/relatives have suffered from Legionella... Heck, with the teenagers, I'm lucky get a 30'C shower some days...

        1. Dave Pickles

          Re: and your hot water (that must reach 60C to avoid legionella risks)

          This bogey seems to be the reason why these systems never have programmable hot water temperature. I'd like to be able to set the hot water according to the use I intend to make of it, and not be forced to store a tankful at a far higher temperature than I would ever need.

          I did wonder whether it would be possible to come up with some kind of countercurrent steriliser to momentarily raise the incoming supply to a high temperature, but I lack the thermodynamic and engineering nous...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: and your hot water (@ David Pickles

            " I'd like to be able to set the hot water according to the use I intend to make of it, and not be forced to store a tankful at a far higher temperature than I would ever need."

            See other comments on legionella. A close relative has a usually benign and not uncommon condition that makes them vulnerable to respiratory infections (we all know somebody like this, who gets a cold, and "it always goes on my chest"). By turning the hot water tank down to 40C I might save around £20 a year if it is properly insulated. Is that saving worthwhile when it exposes said relative to legionella?

            The reason water is stored at relatively high temperatures in the first place was of course nothing to do with legionella, and everything to do with the fact that unless you were very undemanding, instantaneous heat demand could not be met by combi boilers or electric water heaters. In the summer this is less evident, but for several weeks (sometimes months) each winter your heating system runs very close to full capacity, and there's big downsides to sizing a boiler for both worst case weather, plus maximum instantaneous how water demand.

            Regarding your "could it be done" question, the answer depends on how much hot water you want and how fast. Think for starters of an instant electric shower. Tolerable in summer, when you might get 7 litres of warm water a minute out, crap in winter (as the incoming water temp is far lower) when you'd get around 3 litres a minute. If that flow rate is adequate for you then they're cheap as chips to buy and a few hundred quid to have fitted.

            Most people want rather more. For illustrative purposes a decent shower is normally considered to be upwards of 10 litres a minute and most power showers will easily deliver over 20. A 7 kW elec shower takes around 30 amps. You could parallel up two of those, and you'd still have a weak 6 l/min flow in winter, but you would be at the limit of the typical domestic supply, usually designed around 100 amps (the balance being needed for other potential elec uses - kettles, TVs, hair dryers, white goods etc). So electricity can't do it unless you've got a fatter pipe coming in than is normal and a new consumer unit - all of which can be done, but it will cost a hell of a lot to do that. By the time you can get (say) 15 litres a minute in winter, you'd be pulling 150 amps just for the shower - it just makes less sense than storage.

            Gas combi boilers can work, but only up to a limit - typical largest combi is 30 kW, with up to 25 litres a minute at 30C temperature lift. In practice that's big power shower territory in summer when you could get the full 25 litres a minute. But in winter 30C over 4C means you start tapping it down. Obviously whilst the shower is on the heating is not, but if its a quick shower then thats not a problem. But that's £2k before fitting, £3k when fitted (so double the cost of a normal combi) it's floor standing, so you usually lose a kitchen cupboard, and if you don't already have a combi system it will cost around £1k to modify the house plumbing. At the end of all that you've got a spent £3k on a mongo combi boiler that will be very inefficient for space heating because it is dramatically oversized (an adequately insulated mid sized detached would only need a boiler half that size for space heating).

            So in short, you might get what you want, but it'd cost an arm and a leg

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: and your hot water (that must reach 60C to avoid legionella risks)

          " I set my hot water thermostat to 40'C ....no family/friends/relatives have suffered from Legionella... "

          If you're healthy and lucky it could pass for a mild case of flu. There's about 350 cases a year in the UK that are detected, or which about 10% are fatal. Half are from foreign travel, and the rest domestic. But, as respiratory infections in the healthy aren't tested for cause, the chances are that the incidence of legionella is much higher - even if you thought you had flu, you might go to the doc for a sick note, but he's very unlikely to swab you and send off the samples.

          In large part the domestic risk is a legacy of the Victorian idea of the roof tank - combi boliers and direct hot water systems are far less vulnerable because the water doesn't get partially dechlorinated as it does in the roof tank, and these system tend to be less prone to accumulating dirt. Moreover, in summer, roof tanks can easily reach 30C or more, which is ideal for encouraging any legionella to breed before the water is drawn into the hot water cylinder.

          I'd agree its a very small risk. With a direct hot water system you might choose to reduce the tank temperature to 50C and that should stop any legionella breeding (eg if it comes in through mains water supply), although that's below the recommendations of the HSE. Personally I wouldn't go to 40C, because that's within the breeding temperature range.

  14. Blacklight
    Flame

    Or....roll your own :)

    Albeit only on/off control - but better than nothing :)

    LightWaveRF controller, £60 (ish)

    LightWaveRF relay (which can operate in volt free switching mode), £30.

    Time taken to wire relay to my boilers volt free thermostat switch, about 5 mins. Time taken to mount relay in a box on the wall and spur power to it, about 10 mins.

    LightWaveRF's app works remotely, so you can turn it on/off remotely, or set timers etc - or (as I also have) control it via other systems, in my case OpenRemote.

    My boiler has usefully currently got a fault (suspect air pressure switch) and is 14 years old - so if I do upgrade the boiler, I may well go down the thermostat route however!

  15. Andrew Jones 2

    While I agree that Home Automation has a long way to come to be more user friendly,

    for the more techie among us - home automation is a piece of cake nowadays - I was pleasantly surprised just how easy it is.

    Over time we have been collecting the Home Easy / Byron remote controlled sockets from B&Q and last years I discovered that a company called Telldus make a USB product called the Tellstick which allows a computer to control the Home Easy / Byron sockets. It was quite fun to play with, but not terribly reliable, I then looked into other products and came across RFXCOMM who make a USB transmitter receiver which will control the sockets and also receive signals from various other 433 devices.

    I came across Domoticz which is free, open source control software which I am running on a desktop that is running Ubuntu, but the software exists for windows and Raspberry PI. Using the RFX433trx I can now control my sockets, receive signals from the doorbell, send signals to the doorbell, receive data from the OWL electricity monitor, receive data from oregon weather station sensors, the event making system (if this, then that) uses Blockly to make it very very easy to setup an event, and the more advanced users can use LUA to create more powerful events.

    I am ready to upgrade to the next stage, so I purchased an AEON ZWave USB stick for £40 which means my Domoticz can now control the Home Easy stuff on 433 AND it can talk ZWave. The next step will be to get a Raspberry Pi, and move the system to that, so I can switch off the big Acer desktop and save even more money.

    Oh - it also supports IP cams, so you can do stuff like When doorbell is ON, take a picture. And it natively supports "when I turn this switch on, turn it off after X seconds" which is great for us, Lights turn on when we go into a room, and after movement stops - they turn off after 600 seconds. So - for any techies here - thinking about looking into Home Automation - Google Domoticz

  16. DrSteve

    Owl intuition

    I went with Owl Intuition - and not just for the funky name. Seems to be one of the cheaper options for boiler automation and they also have a bunch of separate sensors for energy monitoring.

    It has a decent enough interface & enough features for me.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Re: Owl intuition

      Owl do not do *ENERGY* monitors - they call them that, but like many others thay have *CURRENT* monitors and apply a bunch of approximations (assumed voltage - it varies, assumed unity power factor - it varies as well) to infer power (and hence energy) used.

  17. AOD

    Tado for me

    I picked up a Tado back at the start of the year when they were still offering free installation.

    To date it's been completely trouble free and the bit that I think will probably save the most energy is that I can control the heating and hot water totally independently.

    The old 7 day Drayton timer didn't have the ability to do that so Tado ensures that it's not trying to heat water for us at 10pm. Also, as the main Tado thermostat (aside from being solar powered) is portable, if you're working/using a particular part of the house on a given day, just take the thermostat with you. They have plans to add thermostats for additional zones but nothing concrete on that yet.

    I also added a bunch of the Pegler Terrier iTemps that are cheaper than most of the electronic TRVs on the market and although they can't be centrally controlled, they can be easily programmed via a USB stick and can hook up with open window sensors that are pretty cheap.

    Tado also knows about the outside temperature as well (via it's Internet connection) so it can optimise when it starts heating in the morning to reach a particular setpoint.

  18. Zog_but_not_the_first
    Big Brother

    Call me paranoid...

    But can it long before we see "heat crime" on the statute books? Cheaper than building new infrastructure.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clouds?

    Just a question, are all these "cloudy" devices? I.e., they rely to a greater or lesser extent on some server infrastructure controlled by a third party?

    What about entirely self-contained, or self-hostable, solutions? What's out there?

    1. Nigel Whitfield.

      Re: Clouds?

      If you want something like that, then you could go for one of the RPi/Z-Wave solutions, like nCube, and control it via the local web server - though for their setup, you need to have the thing linked to the net, so not sure how well it will behave the rest of the time.

      You can also locally control a Heatmiser Neo, via their JSON interface, but again it does have the box that links to their system, and I haven't experimented to see what would happen if that were blocked.

      The earlier Heatmiser wifi range can be controlled locally over your LAN and doesn't rely on any could services. There's some code you can use to talk to it at https://code.google.com/p/heatmiser-wifi/ so you could link one of those, say, to an RPi or other gadgets.

  20. Simulacra75

    @Ledswinger

    Just a "thank you" on the laser thermometer tip. That is all.

  21. Saint Sound

    OpenTRV is a system that uses Conrad FHT8 TRVs. It's British too!

  22. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    Controlling TRVs

    Can any of these projects (particularly ones that don't rely on giving all your home occupancy data to Google or anyone else) allow you to set profiles for TRV setpoints and read back the valve status ?

    ISTM that the ideal would be room by room profiles for temperature needed - so setback rooms that aren't being used, and heat the ones that are, and allow for varying temperatures in bedrooms (warm when you go to bed, cool overnight, and warm again when you get up). This needs to be by controlling 'intelligent' TRVs to take advantage of their ability to modulate the flow rather than just on/off control.

    Next step is to get feedback from the TRVs on the valve position and us this to control flow temperature - ie if all the TRVs are fairly well shut down then the flow temp is too high.

    And finally, use this to control flow temp from the boiler.

    On the last bit, and someone mentioned it above, there is in fact an open standard for talking to boilers - OpenTherm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenTherm However, I get the impression that few boiler manufacturers support it - after all, why support something open when you make more money from locking users into your expensive proprietary controls ?

    Above, someone asked why on earth you'd let a TRV in close proximity to the heat source do the sensing as control. Well simplicity is one factor, but also a TRV is a modulating device - so while there is a hot water supply, it will modulate the flow to control room temperature. Using an on-off valve and stat means the radiator will cycle, and so will room temperature - and more importantly, user perception of temperature.

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