back to article British Gas robo home remote gets itself into hot water

Energy has been in the news again lately, but not in the way that suppliers would favour. On Tuesday, opposition leader Ed Miliband promised to freeze energy prices for 20 months if Labour made it into power. It’s a message British Gas was keen to forget as it announced its renewed commitment to the connected home in London …

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Cool and all

but why not just set up your stat correctly in the first place!

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Unhappy

Re: Cool and all

- except when it's radio controlled goodness won't let you set it below 21 degrees

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Anonymous Coward

The Hive?

Are we talking the Umbrella Corporation?

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"“I never engaged with my thermostat before,"

FFS.

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Not cool - cold!

A friend of my wife just moved house and found that the heating system was one of these things.

The house was freezing and she couldn't switch the heating on. So she called British Gas who told her that they were very sympathetic to her turning blue but they couldn't give her access to her heating control until the previous owner gave them permission to do so!!

It's since been sorted, but I can't help thinking there is a small flaw in this plan.

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Re: Not cool - cold!

What utter rubbish. You only need the account details to operate it remotely otherwise you can fully operate the thermostat manually as per every other time clock/thermostat available.

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Happy

Gawd

its the end of civilisation.

Whats up with you? cant you wrap a blanket on for the 30 secs it takes to get from bed to the heating system control panel and turn it on.

Fook knows how you'd survived the joys of the early 70's with no heating, occasional power cuts and ice on the single glazed windows

You youngsters have it easy... we worked 14 hrs a day, walked 15 miles to t'pit drone drone drone drone

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What a waste of time and money

I'm not entirely surprised people tinker with the app all the time, they've wasted their hard earned on it. On top of that, it's a thermostat...people drive me mad with those. In the words of Victoria Wood:

"I thought I was going menopausal and then I realised the cat had been playing with the thermostat".

It's not rocket science. Decide what temperature you would like your home to be, set it and leave it be. Some homes have hot and cold spots, but thermostatic radiator valves should cater for this.

The new generation have homeowners grew up in a home with parents who never had central heating when they grew up. CH was a mod-con and preferable to lighting a fire when they got up each day. This trend stays with us in the form of "it's so cold, i turned my heating back on this weekend" each Autumn. My heating never goes off...that's what the thermostat does. When it's warm, like it Summer, the heating doesn't come on. When it's cold, as if by magic, it fires up the boiler.

Modern boilers are hot and modern radiators efficient. You can heat up a cold house in around 20 minutes in the depths on winter. Remote control really isn't needed.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

"My heating never goes off...that's what the thermostat does."

Yes, yes oh my GOD yes. I really really never understood all those people who 'turned off their heating' at the start of Spring and were then surprised when strange things happened when they turned it back on. With proper modern valves on rads then the whole problem has gone away, you can even retro-fit them to old rads.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

Radiators and radiator valves? Why do you have car parts in your house? Do you live in your car? The only people I know who use radiators outside of engine cooling applications are moonshiners. Are you making shine? That's quite dangerous in an enclosed environment, especially if you're using some sort of non-explosion proof climate control system.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

When on holiday, it's handy to turn the heating off (which can include after you've already left if you're short of time), as well as being able to turn it on shortly before you come home, so you can come home to a warm house.

At home, it's nice to be able to set a weekly schedule with a big screen rather than using the small thermostat screen with its fiddly controls (and by that, I mean using my 17" laptop, not some titchy phone/tablet - it's a shame they don't have apps for say Windows x86, as it seems odd that I have to reach for my much smaller phone, I never understood this obsession for only providing apps for phones, but at least it can be accessed through a website for unsupported platforms).

So yes, remote control does have it's uses, and it's also more than remote control - it's about providing better user interfaces through standard devices that people already have. Though I'm more sceptical on whether this actually saves heating bills - it now seems all the more easy to turn up the heating whenever I want...

And yes, you're right that some people don't seem to get thermostats - sometimes I have to explain that putting the temperature up higher doesn't make it get hotter faster, rather we should just set the temperature that we want.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

You forget the joke icon and people just lose all sense of reading comprehension. I guess all those warnings about coffee being hot and new knives being sharp are necessary. Common sense has been blown out through drafty windows.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

I like the idea of being able to control my heating remotely...

being able to turn it up a bit if you feel cold, turn it off from the bedroom if your not getting up at your usual time for some reason.. I would love to be able to control it on a room by room basis too, there is no need to heat un-used rooms when the doors are closed...

BUT the key thing for me is that I would not want it on any kind of cloud provider, I would want it all running locally, what happens if the internet dies? what happens if their servers get hacked? and do you really want to give them all your data?

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Re: What a waste of time and money

"what happens if the internet dies?"

I believe you can still control it through the thermostat controls the old fashioned way.

If they get hacked, aren't the account details they already have more of a worry than the heating/temperature? (Conceivably it could be a way to infer if someone is away on holiday I suppose, though seems rather overkill compared to more obvious methods.)

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Re: What a waste of time and money@ Don Jefe

I suspect the supposedly cosmopolitan Brits don't much follow your humour, generally having little experience of either the hot air heating systems common in the US, or regions where heating is the least of your worries. But I enjoyed your comment.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

You need individual controllable valves for these zones then. You can get wireless TRVs (radiator valves) although they're a bit pricey, and most of them I think will need to connect to a controller from the same manufacturer - I haven't seen an open standard as such. Alternatively just get an electronic timed TRV which are quite a bit cheaper. Get rid of your main thermostat - or put it in a cold part of the house. The alternative is to split your heating into zones but that might involve quite a bit of plumbing. If you're lucky and there's a point where you can split your heating into upstairs/downstairs then put in a mid-position valve and suitable controller and you can select between the zones. A lot of underfloor heating systems seem to be going this way with much more flexible setups and multiple zone controllers.

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@ Ledswinger

No, we understood it was meant to be a joke, it just wasn't very funny.

I'll stick with my radiators thank you, each method has it's own pros and cons but for me, especially with the dry air issue of hot air systems, radiators are better.

Above all though the reason most homes in the UK have radiators is that the buildings are much older and of a solid construction rather than the timber frame jobs they put up in a day over in the US (only to watch them blow away in a storm). You can't easily retrofit a vent system into such buildings without losing space and gaining unsightly boxing where the vents go between floors.

You also cannot control heating on a room by room basis with standard hot air systems, with a radiator a £25 thermosatic valve can be easily attached.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What a waste of time and money

"Common sense has been blown out through drafty windows."

Common sense does not exist in Blighty any more.

Anything that needs though is delegated to a fking app! I hate those people with a passion.

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How Much!!!!

I bought 5 TRVs for £25 from Screwfix.

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Re: What a waste of time and money

Do you live in Death Valley, or on Venus?

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Re: How Much!!!!

Heh, well in my own defence, it's been a decade since I installed TRVs throughout the house and I couldn't remember exactly what they cost. Pretty sure it was more than £5 each though.

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Re: What a waste of time and money@ Don Jefe

There is a trend in the UK for people to install under-floor heating now (either electric or powered by solar/ground heat carried by water), but the huge majority of UK properties use water filled radiators warmed by boilers running on natural gas, oil or solid fuel (wood or coal). Gas is commonly available as a mains service in the majority of the UK, and is cheaper per thermal unit than electricity.

I think that hot-air heating is not used is mainly to do with the fact that it really requires the house to be built around the heating system as it requires substantial air-ducts to carry the air around the house.

I did live in a house built in the '60s that used hot air as the principal heating, and I have to say there are significant drawbacks in my view. The heating was noisy at the best of times, and deafening when the fan motor bearings wore out (it was a Canadian system running on 120V, not the 230V the UK uses, and made procuring parts very difficult). Also, the kids used the air ducts as an intercom, shouting through them. You always had to be careful about noise in the bedroom, if you know what I mean, because of the way the ducts carried sound.

But the primary problem was that it didn't really heat the fabric of the house or the hot water. If you didn't have and entry lobby acting as an air-lock, it was quite normal for all of the heat to rush out whenever anyone came in or out of the house. And when you get a bird in the ducts, it's a real problem trying to get it out.

Anyway, it never really caught on in new build houses, and water filled radiators were easier to retro-fit into older houses, especially with micro-bore pipes.

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Anonymous Coward

Not needed

My boiler knows the outside temperature as well as the inside and will turn on early if it's going to take longer than normal to get up to the set temperature (when it's warmer outside it also lowers the radiator water temp as that's more efficient than running hot, shutting off and then cycling again). So why would I even want to wake up to poke the heating system , let alone fart around with an app.

However, I didn't get British Gas to install some cheap system expensively either.

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Re: Not needed

"when it's warmer outside it also lowers the radiator water temp as that's more efficient than running hot, shutting off and then cycling again"

Really? Is it? Can you prove that with some basic Physics?

All my maths suggests the precise opposite. I've made a lot of eco efforts in my house and the hot water temp is the only one I've never had a conclusive answer on.

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Re: Not needed

Come on, you can do it! Maths is probably a bit optimistic, as you don't have the data, but you can do a qualitative analysis.

Think about where heat is wasted in the system.

What increases the rate of heat loss?

What effects to cyclical changes in heat have on the system (pipework)?

Most condensing boilers work more efficiently in continuous mode at a lower heat flux, but assume it makes no difference, and assume the central heating pump energy use is fixed.

Most efficient option is continuous water flow at the minimum possible temperature (ideally to enormous radiators to allow the temperature even lower). Except for the assumptions about the boiler efficiency and central heating pump (probably most relevant).

What calculations led you to the opposite conclusion?

BW,

Stu

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Re: Not needed

What system is that? Link please.

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Re: Not needed

Similar calculations to yours, just not negating the same stuff.

Rate of heat loss is proportional to temperature, so if the radiators are hotter they will heat the room quicker. Once up to temperature, the boiler and water pump can both shut down. Running the pump for longer uses more electricity. Running the boiler for longer uses more gas. With cooler water temp the boiler may cut out sooner but will come back on quicker as the boiler return temperature will be much lower. The hotter radiators will stay warmer longer too, keeping the house warmer for longer and removing the need to turn the boiler back on.

My boiler instructions say to run at MAX temperature when it's cold outside. This is apparently more efficient. In that case, why is it not more efficient at all times?

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Re: Not needed@ Ben Rose

"My boiler instructions say to run at MAX temperature when it's cold outside. This is apparently more efficient. In that case, why is it not more efficient at all times?"

In all conditions the maximum heat transfer rate is achieved with the highest primary circuit temperature, and that will be necessary in very cold conditions if your boiler is correctly sized for the property and a given "worst case" of heat loss, which usually translates to low temperatures, although humidity, wind and precipitation can have complicating effects. In those very cold conditions, a properly sized boiler would be operating almost continuously, with just a bit of slack for hot water needs. As you'll have observed that's rarely the case and reflects the fact that historically, most boilers were considerably over-sized, which kept people warm, but meant you didn't have an efficient system, and used more gas than you needed to.

The reason why maximum heat transfer rate isn't necessarily the optimum in other conditions is because you don't then need full output of the boiler, and if you are pumping heat energy out of the boiler faster than the system can use it then either the house thermostat is shutting off the heating frequently, leading to short cycling (see below), or the return flow to the boiler is above the ideal temperature, in which case the temperature difference within the boiler isn't high enough for efficient heat transfer, and the primary circuit 'stat will start to cycle the boiler.

And now....cycling. The reason you don't want short boiler cycles is because every time you ignite the boiler, a volume of partially burnt gas is vented, which is an energy loss. The boiler, being vented to the world, cools down quickly, so with every ignition you're reheating the boiler internals, another energy loss. And when the burners are turned on or off the lower flue temperatures until the boiler stabilises mean the condensor won't be working at optimal efficiency. Those losses are quite small, but under optimal conditions a good condensing boiler can be 92% efficient - in the real world it doesn't take much to start to significantly reduce that. Other influences on cycling can include TRV's fighting with the house stat, poorly sited house stats, and perhaps worst of all, poorly balanced radiators. If the radiators are properly sized, then for optimal system operation the heat loss between the inflow and outflow should be 11 C. I'm a bit of a loon, I've spent fifteen quid on an infra red laser thermometer, and I've balanced my system. Who else does that? Most plumbers operate to rules of thumb like "close the lock shield valve and then open it three quarters of a turn" which does nothing to balance the system (lock shield valve is the exit end of the radiator, usually covered with a non-turning cap to stop people messing with the set up).

The reality is that modern condensing boilers are quite efficient pieces of kit. However, all plumbers, and most other aspects of central heating design and control remain in the dark ages, and having a crApp to remotely control the heating, or even a programmeable thermostat doesn't alter that. The best systems would monitor both inside temp and humidity, would monitor external temp and windspeed, calculate estimated heat loss from its own output, adjust the primary circuit temperature automatically, and use individual readiator controls not just to turn radiators on and off, but to balance the system. And it would have a programmeable house thermostat that starts off with some sensible timing and temperature defaults, and then learns what the occupants do (including some experimenting like turning the heating down occaisionally to see if the occupants react), as well as some sensors to work out when the house is unoccupied, and react automatically.

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Re: Not needed@ Ben Rose

Thanks, interesting information, but it ignores the costs of running the electric water pump. Surely significant? A cupful of lost gas versus loads of, more expensive per kWh, electricity. Your boiler efficiency theory is sound but ignores this part - the condenser fan also needs to run.

Interesting that this article touches on hot water. I never really turn mine off, any heat lost from my hot water tank will only go towards warming the house anyway.

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Re: Not needed@ Ben Rose

"Thanks, interesting information, but it ignores the costs of running the electric water pump. Surely significant?"

In energy terms not that significant. A typical gas boiler will be in the 8kW to 20kW range, depending on the age and the property. The circulating pump will only be using around 60W. Even though 'leccy's more expensive, it's still a trivial amount compared to the gas when you consider the volumes used by the CH system. At 60W versus even 8kW, the fact that electricity is two or three times the price doesn't matter. The condensor fan is going to be, at a guess around 10W, so the same point applies.

Regarding the heat loss from the HW tank, unless you really need it (eg unpredictable shifts) you're better off having it on generous timer settings, and letting it cool down in between. You're right that a lot of the lost heat will got to space heating, but that's only useful if you'd have the CH on anyway. If it's an upstairs tank in an airing cupboard, then you're throwing away heat unless you've got about two feet of insulation in the loft above the tank, and you've done air tight sealing of any pipe runs into the loft space. That's because although the area's small, the heat differential will be on average twice that of the normal living space relative to the loft space. In the grand scheme these losses aren't huge, but why pay to waste the energy if you don't have to?

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Re: Not needed@ Ben Rose

"unless ... an upstairs tank in an airing cupboard, then you're throwing away heat unless you've got about two feet of insulation in the loft above the tank"

"why pay to waste the energy if you don't have to?"

Where I am, the feed tanks for HW and CH are directly above the airing cupboard/tank, uninsulated ceiling below, so the "waste" heat goes to frost prevention in the HW and CH tanks. For a while I even had a thermometer in the loft so I could see it wasn't getting too close to freezing up there (minimum 4C observed, time to open the loft hatch just in case).

This is in a conventional-built small "3" bed semi, twenty+ years old. I did put extra insulation in the loft a few years back (Knauf Space Blanket deeply discounted courtesy of a subsidy from power company customers), with the result that the heating is rarely on most of the year. Heating master control is by programmable optimum start stat set at 21 mornings, 19 early evenings, decreasing slightly as the evening goes by.

Despite the ramp down in the evenings, upstairs is now frequently too warm for me to get to sleep comfortably and quickly, and warm summer evenings need the use of portable aircon. Other than the bathroom, or in the coldest few days in winter, the upstairs rads are never on.

Why do we still have bedrooms upstairs, given that heat rises and bedrooms generally need to be the coolest part of the house?

Why does it still cost me a fortune for gas and electricity? I dread to think what the bills are like in a house with room for a family.

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WTF?

Why fiddle with a thermostat?

If the thermostat is working properly it will maintain a constant temperature in the house. I get really annoyed with people who believe they can increase the speed with which something heats up by turning the thermostat up.

How of ten do you think "today, I'd like my house to be really hot"? I'd guess that most people change the thermostat setting about once a year, if that.

The author's description of his use of this app suggests that he's interacting with the timer to activate the heating when it's not yet on.

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Re: Why fiddle with a thermostat?

"If the thermostat is working properly it will maintain a constant temperature in the house. I get really annoyed with people who believe they can increase the speed with which something heats up by turning the thermostat up."

The idea (for me), is that I don't want the house to be a same temperature all the time. I want it cool to sleep and comfortable when I'm there. And to save a bit of money, let it get warm/cold (depending on season) when I'm not around. My current thermostat does this, but I have to push a bunch of not very intuitive buttons to program it. It would be nice to program it from a better interface. The remote control would be nice, but I'm not of an age where I fail to make it home very often now. And when I was that age, I certainly wasn't thinking about heating bills. ;-)

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Re: Why fiddle with a thermostat?

So? For a few quid you, can get a multi-step thermostat with different temp/times throughout the day and week.

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Easily fixed

> people only spend six minutes a year thinking about their energy bills. Naturally, Brem thought this was a bad sign

So that's why they continually jack up the price of gas & electricity. So that people think about their bills the whole time: worrying about how to pay them.

P.S. No need to crank your heating up with a remote controlled app in order to get out of bed. Just put on a dressing gown, like a normal person does.

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Anonymous Coward

Could be useful ... log in from work every day at ~3:45 to see if sons have come home from school and turned the hearing on - if so turn it off remotely - idealy this could be linked to the text app which could fire off a "if its cold *PUT A JUMPER ON*, *WEAR SOCKS*, *ITS AUTUMN - WHY ARE YOU WEARING SHORTS AND A T-SHIRT" automated message at the same time!

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Spot on

And whilst your at it a suitable add on in the wired house will be the ability to send an onscreen message to the Sky box telling them to get of their arse, stop watching telly and do some homework or empty the dishwasher

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Pre-registered

Obviously this isn't for everyone but I fully intend getting one of these. Many people don't spend a predictable amount of time in their homes. Unpredictable working hours, social engagements, weekends away, holidays etc. are all good reason why someone might want to remotely control their heating / boiler. Setting the schedule on most boilers is not an easy procedure and you can only programme (in my experience) up to a week ahead.

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This only applies in the areas with mains gas and there are plenty out there without that.

Perhaps all these new houses should have ground source heat pumps or solar water heaters with underfloor heating.

(First though I'd need to fix the fittings in my windows and insulation in the loft. Builders did a shocking job on those.)

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You've nailed a critical issue when tuning any system for optimal efficiency. Everything else needs to be operating well, else little tweaks are just a waste of time. For houses in a place like Britain where there are lots of old homes that aren't efficient and lots of new homes that are almost as crappy this is especially true.

If your windows are drafty, or the structure isn't sealed well or the roof allows air through the seams a little tweaking of thermostat settings is like trying to warm your pool with a kettle of hot water. You could have been doing something more constructive if you'd not bothered to put the kettle on at all. Plus you'd have saved the electricity.

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"For houses in a place like Britain where there are lots of old homes that aren't efficient and lots of new homes that are almost as crappy this is especially true."

Actually, one thing we do well in Britain is building regulations. Bureaucratic, conservative and very restrictive, but broadly speaking very good at ensuring compliance with standards. So the majority of new homes are built to a very good standard of energy efficiency. In very rough numbers 80% of UK houses have properly insulated lofts (more than 200mm of insulation), 80% have insulated cavity walls, and 80% have decent double glazing. There's still a sizeable minority of older houses lacking in some or all of these measures, but things aren't as bad as some think.

The sizeable minority of older houses you've got a point on are dominated by cheaply built terraced houses in former industrial towns, but even with these increasingly we are seeing double glazing installed, which does wonders for the air tightness. That certainly doesn't bring it up to new new build or passivhaus standards, I grant, but certainly sufficient to negate the idea that turning the themostat up will immediately leak out through the gaps.

And the standard of the older houses is being improved (for selected Labour voting poor) by levies on electricity bills, resulting in about £2bn a year being spent by power companies to fix (mostly) rented housing, which is great for the occupants, great for the landlords, not so good for anybody that actually pays their own bill with earned money. This government policy is unfortunately flawed, because it is encouraging investment in crappy life expired housing stock (eg cramped, damp, solid walled terraced housing) much of which should be subject to slum clearance, and replaced with something modern.

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Happy

In honesty, it has been over a decade since I lived there, so I can't really speak to the present state of things. Even here the States where there are no building codes in most places, outside of incorporated cities/towns more efficient building is catching on.

I failed to clarify my outdated knowledge, my apologies. I'm sure you're assessment is more valid than mine :)

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one thing we do well in Britain is building regulations

Yes a builder friend of mine recently told me about the hoops they have to jump though to achieve 'sufficient' air tightness and how the approved guy they have to pay to come and test the air tightness tells them that within a year all the houses he has tested will have a hole knocked in a wall and air brick fitted to solve condensation problems.

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Re: one thing we do well in Britain is building regulations

"within a year all the houses he has tested will have a hole knocked in a wall and air brick fitted to solve condensation problems"

I'm not surprised. The air tightness requirements only work in the real world if you have heat recovery ventilation and probably humidity control. That's expensive, and only saves energy if properly installed and set up. Great for the sort of fancy clinical houses designed as showpieces by architects occupied by two bright, never-at-home twentysomething pseudo-hippies, but not something that looks ready for the mainstream anytime soon.

I suspect the public sector obsession with carbon and climate change will continue to push stricter standards, and then in a few years time there will be a shocking piece of research that finds that these modern houses have dreadful air quality, because the standards didn't sufficently allow for the gaseous and particulate emissions from gas hobs, oxidised cooking spills, carpet and furniture fumes, particulates from vacuum cleaners, aerosol over-spray, or even the scurf and gaseous emissions of the occupants.

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I like the idea of being able to turn the heating off (down for the pedants) when going away & then turning it back on (up) on the morning of my return.

I wouldn't pay £200 for the privilege though, I think you'll find that you'll be able to buy a cheaper version of this before I've finished this paragraph....

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Heatmiser have had Wireless thermostats with smart phone apps for a couple of years now

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"Heatmiser have had Wireless thermostats with smart phone apps for a couple of years now"

Twice the price just for the bits from doing a quick search on their kit.

Would be good if you could just get the kit from BG for a reduced price rather than have the 'free' installation, but I suspect the installation is a lost leader to allow the engineer to tell you that you should get a new boiler/radiators/TRVs/additional insulation.

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Shirley

someone could do this with £50 and a raspberry PI?

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Re: Shirley

By the time you have added fuses, terminals, relays, a few wires, box, labour to wire it etc you will probably be well over £50.

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