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1 October 2020

Heating controls - five money-saving tips

Expert tips on how to use your heating controls to reduce your energy bills, as well as advice on the different types of heating controls.
Home heating controls_used 451048
Liz Ransome-Croker

Using your boiler, thermostat, timer, programmer and radiators efficiently is a simple way to cut your energy use and achieve cheaper energy bills. 

Follow our five top tips to get the best from your heating system. Plus find out whether a new heating system will help you cut your bills. 

1. Update your boiler and heating controls

Old boilers can cost more to run than new ones – but given that buying a new boiler and having it installed can cost up to £4,000, replacing it is not always cost effective. Visit our guide to the cost of installing a boiler to work out how much it would cost you.

If you decide that replacing your boiler would be too pricey but your heating controls are old, just replace those – newer heating controls are much more accurate. You could save £75 to £155 a year in a typical home by installing a room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves and using them correctly, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

Types of heating controls

The type of heating control you need depends on the type of heating system you have. But these are the five general types:

  • Timer – turns your boiler on or off at set times
  • Room thermostat – measures how warm your room is and adjusts the boiler operation accordingly
  • Programmer – lets you set different times and temperatures for different days of the week
  • Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) – allow you to adjust the temperature of individual radiators and turn them off completely
  • Smart thermostat heating system – allows you to control your heating remotely via an app.

Smart heating systems, such as Nest and Hive, are the latest innovation in heating controls. British Gas, which manufactures Hive, claims it could save you up to £150 a year. But given that it costs just under £200 to buy, we're unconvinced of that as yet. 

You can find out what happened when we installed Nest and Hive, and whether they will save you money, by reading are smart thermostats worth it?.

2. Get the best from your room thermostat

It may seem obvious, but turning down the heating in rooms will save you money. Even if you turn it down by just 1°C, a typical home can save around £80 to £85 a year, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

Thermostat temperature tips

Set the room thermostat to 18°C and then turn it up by one degree each day until you find a temperature you're comfortable with. Note that the temperature shouldn't drop below 16°C for elderly people and those with impaired mobility.

Room thermostats need a free flow of air to sense the temperature accurately – they must not be covered by curtains or blocked by furniture. Nearby electric fires, televisions or lamps could also stop them from working properly.

Note that many room thermostats are for one room only, and will turn your boiler off when the room it's sited in reaches the set temperature. For this reason, it's best to install your thermostat in a room that you use all the time.

3. Zone your heating

Instead of just having one room thermostat, you can have separate heating circuits, each with their own room thermostat or programmer. This allows you to zone the temperatures in different areas of your house.

Setting lower temperatures for parts of your home that you use infrequently, or only at certain times of the day, will save energy and money. 

There are other things you can do to save money – just visit our guide on how to cut your energy costs

4. Programme or time your heating

A timer allows you to schedule when your boiler turns on and off over a 24-hour period, so you don't have to do it manually yourself. A programmer gives you even more options, allowing you to set different times and temperatures throughout the week.

If you are buying a new programmer, look for one that lets you set different temperatures for each part of the day. Then customise the pattern for each day of the week.

When you're setting up your heating schedule, don't forget to keep it switched off at times when you might be home and not need the heating on. Such as during the night. 

Consider setting it to switch the heating off 20 minutes before you usually go out, as there will still be residual heat in your home.

It's a good idea to choose a model that also lets you override your normal pattern, so you can easily switch off your heating if you decide to head out for the evening or plan a few days away from home. This allows you to change your heating pattern without completely reprogramming the whole week.

Going one step further than this are smart thermostats. As with a timer, you can programme your heating ahead. But with a smart thermostat, you can also override the timer and turn your heating off from your phone.

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So if you're running late getting home from work, you won't waste money on energy by warming up an empty house.

5. Set your thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs) low

As with your room thermostat, you should set the thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) in each room at a low level, then gradually turn them up until the room's left at a comfortable temperature.

Turning a TRV to a higher setting will not make the room heat up any faster – that depends on the boiler size and setting, and the radiator size. 

Despite their name, radiators actually work by convection. This means cold air enters at the bottom, is drawn through the radiator and hot air leaves through the top. 

You can reduce your heating costs by ensuring each radiator in your home is able to circulate heat properly. For example, moving furniture away, not using cabinets to disguise them, and making sure they're not covered by curtains. 

You can also get smart radiator valves that you can adjust from your phone. Find out more about the different options when in comes to home heating in our guide to smart home automation. This also includes information on controlling smart lighting, which could also help cut your energy bills.

The easiest way to save money on your bills is to make sure you don't pay too much for energy. Use our independent switching site, Which? Switch, to make sure you're on the cheapest energy deal.

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