Home heating controls

Clever ways to crank up your energy efficiency

Keen to stay on top of your energy bills and reduce the amount you use? One way to help you get a head start is to take control – quite literally.

From simple dials to super-smart tech, you’ve got lots of control options at your fingertips – and with a few small steps and clever energy-saving tips, you could improve the way you heat your home. This could mean more warmth, less waste and lower bills too. We asked the experts at Energy Saving Trust for their guidance on getting the best from your heating controls.

Back to basics with better boiler controls

The knobs and dials on the front of your boiler (or buttons and screens on most newer models) simply let you switch your heating and hot water on or off, choose temperatures and set a schedule to suit your daily routine.

While these manual controls usually sit snugly behind a panel, most are easy to use. If you’re happy with a straightforward setup, here are three ways to make it all work more efficiently:

1.Tweak your boiler’s ‘flow temperature’

Boilers are at their most energy-efficient when they run in what’s called ‘condensing mode’ – a point at which they recover lost heat, making them much more effective.

Some boiler thermostats are programmed too high, so the return temperature of the water back to your boiler never gets low enough to reach this 'condensing mode'. To this end, you might want to try turning down your boiler's thermostat to improve your boiler's efficiency.

On your boiler control panel, look for a dial marked in numbers or on a scale from minimum (min) to maximum (max). It might also be controlled by a couple of buttons next to the temperature shown on a digital display.

Experiment with yours to see how close to the minimum you’re happy to go while staying comfortable, but you’ll need to make sure your home still feels warm enough to suit you. A word of warning: don’t go below 65C if you’ve got a hot water cylinder, or you risk harmful bacteria in your hot water supply. For guidance, here’s Energy Saving Trust’s helpful advice to making a change to your settings or, if you prefer, watch their useful explainer

What to look for on your boiler control panel

2. Keep your tank and pipes cosy

Just like a plush puffer jacket can keep you toasty, if you’ve got a hot water cylinder, it could benefit from extra insulation too. Less heat is lost, so you don’t need to use as much energy to heat your water and keep it warm. Energy Saving Trust have done some research into typical costs and savings, and here’s what they have found. Hot water pipe insulation could cost from around £15, while a jacket for a hot water cylinder could cost from around £16.

Assuming your pipes and cylinder are easy to reach, you can put in the insulation yourself; fitting it can be a straightforward job if you follow the manufacturer’s instructions. According to Energy Saving Trust, upgrading your hot water tank insulation with an 80mm thick British standard jacket could save you around £70 a year. And if you have an old cylinder without any insulation where you’re fitting a cover for the first time, your bills could drop by around £300 a year.

3. Check your radiators are working hard

When was the last time you bled your radiators? It’s tempting to trust them to get on with the job, but they do need a little TLC now and then. With your central heating on for an hour, test each radiator to see if any part of it feels cold to touch. If so, it’s likely it needs to be ‘bled’ – removing air bubbles that cause the cold spots.

You’ll just need a radiator key (around £1 from hardware stores), an old towel and a bowl or jug. Let the radiators cool for a few hours, then lay the towel under the pipes and place the bowl or jug under the valve. Use the key to slowly open the valve – just a quarter or half turn. You’ll hear a hissing sound as the trapped air escapes. When it stops, or water comes out, close the valve.

From simple to smart: take charge of your heating controls

Where boiler controls help you to boost energy-efficiency at the heat source, heating controls give you greater sway over when – and at what temperature – your overall home is warm.

They can be as simple as a basic thermostat in the hallway, or as slick as a full suite of super-smart tech. Whatever you choose, they help you keep your home comfortably warm without over-heating. And that should help you use less energy and lower your bills. So, what are your options?

1. Room thermostat

The way they work is simple – a thermometer inside gauges how warm or cool the room is, then switches your central heating on or off to keep your home at the temperature you’ve set. If you’ve got one of these already, it might be fixed to the wall, most likely in your hallway. Or it could be a small freestanding unit that you can move around.

2. Timer/programmer

As you’d expect, this lets you create a heating schedule that suits your daily routine. For example, with the average house taking 30 minutes to heat up, you can set the heating to come on half an hour before you rise (and similarly 30 minutes before you’re back from work/school/a day out). You might typically place it on the wall near your boiler, or have one built in as part of your room thermostat; most have digital screens to make it easy to set times.

3. Thermostatic radiator valves (TRVs)

These little cylindrical controls sit next to your radiator, sense the room temperature, and – if it’s too warm – adjust the flow of hot water into the radiator accordingly. They can stop you overheating individual rooms, so you only use the energy you need. You can also set them to suit each room. For example, if you’re working from home, you might want less heat in your bedroom but more in your kitchen. Try this Energy Saving Trust guide for tips on getting the most from your TRVs.

4.  Smart heating controls

They do everything that the above conventional heating controls do, and much more. They’re ‘smart’ because – as well as being connected to the internet by smart phone or tablet – some controls can even ‘learn’ your habits and adjust your heating accordingly. (Note they’re unrelated to any smart meters you may have, which simply tell your energy supplier how much gas or electricity you use.)

Standard smart controls include being able to easily set your heating, change room temperatures or turn off hot water with a swipe of your phone – no matter where you are.

There are more advanced features too. These include being able to track your smartphone and switch on the heating when you’re on your way home from work; detecting open windows (and turning the thermostat down or heating off); or getting hot water ready for the time you’re most likely to take a shower.

Use your smartphone to tap into your heating app. A signal is sent to a wireless router which tells the boiler to fire up and turn on the central heating.

What’s the cost of upgrading – and could you save money?

You should consider new heating controls if you don’t already have a programmer, a room thermostat or TRVs. Energy Saving Trust have looked into this and, based on a typical semi-detached home, installing these together could cost you around £600, but you could save £180 a year on your energy bills. This means you could break even in just over three years. 

Smart heating controls will typically cost more on top of this, as you’ll usually need to pay for the unit, installation and there may also be an ongoing subscription fee to the provider to consider. 

Energy Saving Trust says studies suggest smart controls could also save you money in the long run, but the size of the saving will depend on your lifestyle and how you currently control your heating. 

If you think any of the measures could be right for you, make sure you discuss any potential benefits, savings or improvements with the relevant provider. If you’ve got a residential mortgage with us, and you’re interested in smart heating controls, you could get 50% off the cost of a Hive Thermostat Mini, Hub and installation.

True or false? Myths and facts about heating hacks

You’ll likely have heard lots of so-called heating hacks that claim to save you money – but do they really work? We asked Energy Saving Trust for their guidance and here’s what they had to say.  

What’s the best temperature for you?

Everyone’s different – some people say they don’t feel the cold, while others might need a much warmer home. Energy Saving Trust says most of us should be happy in a home with the thermostat set to 18C - 21C but the elderly and people with illnesses or disabilities may need more heat. And it’s not just about your health – your home also needs taking care of. Too cold, and you could risk mould and damp problems.

What’s the right temperature?

Get 50% off a Hive Thermostat Mini

If you’ve got a residential mortgage with us, you could get 50% off the cost of a Hive Thermostat Mini, Hub and installation. Wherever you are, it could help you take control of how much energy you use, set schedules and switch your home heating on and off from your phone - now that’s smart. Offer valid from 18 April 2023. By applying for this offer, you’re agreeing to the Barclays offer T&Cs

All information and estimates provided by Energy Saving Trust are correct as at 16 March 2023. Movements in the price of gas and electricity since the date of their estimates may have an impact on the estimated savings. The estimated costs and savings are included as a good start for you to understand more about the potential costs and savings. However, the estimates given could depend on a number of factors, including the type of home, how it is heated and the level of work required.

This article does not constitute advice and is for general guidance only. Always undertake your own research before taking any action.

If you decide to access any of the third-party websites, you do so entirely at your own risk.

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