Heating controls

Using your heating controls effectively is the key to having the right level of warmth for the minimum use of fuel, whether that be oil, gas or electricity. What’s right for you will depend on your lifestyle and your budget. 

Introduction to heating controls

The Energy Saving trust reports that you can save £60 and 310kg of carbon dioxide a year by turning the room thermostat down by one degree 

And save £75 and 320kg of carbon dioxide a year by installing and correctly using a programmer, room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves 

These figures are for a typical three-bedroom semi-detached home, heated by gas, and based on fuel prices in May 2020. 

Room thermostat

This should be set to the lowest comfortable temperature (typical levels are between 18 and 21 degrees). Try edging the thermostat in each room down a little at a time until you find the room temperature you want. 

In cold snaps it’s tempting to turn the thermostat up. However, it’s not the overall temperature of the system that’s the problem. It’s that it takes longer for the house to warm up because it’s starting at a lower temperature. So, the best thing to do is adjust the programmer to put the heating on a bit earlier.

You can now get programmable room thermostats which allow you to set different temperatures for different times of day.  

Wireless thermostats are also available.  These can be moved from room to room as needed.  Wireless thermostats should be placed in the room which you want to heat or cool, usually the room which is most used.  

It is also possible to have multi-zone heating installed. This enables you to split your home into zones and heat parts individually. This works well in larger properties and means you can heat different parts of your home to different temperatures in accordance with your needs.

Thermostatic radiator valves (TRV) 

These are the most basic form of zone control. Fitted to individual radiators, they allow you to control the heat in each room.  To be effective they need a free flow of air to sense the temperature in the room, so shouldn’t be obstructed by furniture or curtains, and should not have a radiator cover. 

The radiator in the room with the room thermostat does not need to have a TRV as well.  

TRVs with electronic temperature sensing are becoming available now, which allow individual radiators to be set to different temperatures when desired.

Cylinder thermostat

Systems with a hot water cylinder, should have a thermostat on the cylinder to switch off the boiler once the water reaches the required temperature. To maximise efficiency, it is recommended that this is set at 60 degrees. It should not be lower than this to prevent the risk of legionnaire’s disease.

Boiler thermostat

This sets the temperature of the water being pumped through the radiator. The higher the temperature, the quicker it is to warm your home. If you have a regular boiler this should be set higher than the cylinder thermostat to achieve the desired water temperature. However, condensing boilers work more efficiently when the water returning to the boiler is below 55 degrees Celsius, so it can be better not to set the temperature too high.  

When the weather is milder you will want to turn the boiler thermostat down accordingly.  You can get devices that help you do this automatically like a weather compensator. Additionally, you can get devices that make sure that when your house is already warm and the boiler thermostat comes on, the house does not overheat. These are called load compensators. 

Boiler interlocks

These switch the boiler off when neither the room thermostat nor the cylinder thermostat needs it. Without this, the boiler can continue to ‘cycle’ and waste energy. 

Smart controls

You can now get several more advanced control systems for domestic central heating, generally known as smart heating controls. They allow you to manage your heating controls remotely from a computer or a smartphone, and have other functions which can help you control your heating. Some can learn from your activities and use automation and optimisation features to help determine exactly when to turn the heating on and to what temperature.  

Electric storage heater controls

Basic electric storage heaters have an input which controls the amount of heat stored during off peak hours, and an output which controls the heat escaping. The input has the biggest influence on running costs and should not be set higher than needed to avoid running out of heat part way through the day. The output switch should be turned down/off during the night or when you aren’t at home, to avoid wasting heat. 

Automatic storage heaters have an inbuilt sensor to monitor air temperature. The heater will automatically charge according to settings.  

Combination storage heaters have a built-in convector heater. You can use this to top up the heat, for example in cold weather.  

Electric panel heater controls

Some electric panel heaters can be programmed at different desired temperatures every hour, which can then be copied across the week as required. In built thermostats are then used to maintain the desired temperature. 

Some panel heaters go further than this, cutting the output of the heater should there be a sudden temperature drop in the air, so as not to waste energy by trying to reach the set temperature where this is not possible. The panel heater will start heating again once the temperature has stabilised.