Stewart Clements, Director at the Heating and Hotwater Industry Council, looks at how the popularity of smart controls continues to ensure the industry keeps pace with the increasingly digital age.

As boilers have developed, so have heating controls, which is vital when you think about the large impact a control can have on the energy efficiency of the overall product. 

Equally, even on a basic comfort level, modern heating controls now allow consumers to automatically adjust their room temperatures and ensure they have adequate hot water at any time of day. Throw in a smart element and this can be done from anywhere with a phone signal.   

I’m sure some of you will remember the days of dial-up internet and the frustrations that this would bring; poor connectivity, slow download speeds, or using the same line as the home phone. Fortunately, over the last 25 years, this has changed beyond recognition. It is hard to deny that faster, digital technologies now shape the way we live, and our ease with how this impacts our everyday life has been widely embraced. So, it is inevitable that this has impacted on the advancements in our heating appliances. 

Post Boiler Plus, the fitting and commissioning of heating controls is now part and parcel of a heating engineer’s day-to-day role. As well as bringing the heating industry up to date, there is no doubt that the arrival of stylish-looking smart controls has played its part in helping raise awareness of the sector in the mind of consumers, both on the role they play as part of an effective and efficient system, but also in giving this kit an ‘aspirational’ quality. 

To some extent, we have to thank the Ecodesign of Energy Using Products Directive and the Energy Labelling Directive; both of which were issued by the European Union (EU) with the aim of improving the energy efficiency of our heating appliances. Together they have proven to be core drivers behind the wide-scale expansion of heating technology.

Where energy labels assisted consumers looking for the most energy-efficient products, the European Ecodesign Directive aimed to eliminate the least efficient products from the market by establishing minimum requirements. In reality, as well as removing inefficient products completely, it has also led to boiler manufacturers growing the range of energy-saving options within their designs. 

Now, as we all become more comfortable with using extremely portable technology, many consumers are looking for equally high-tech ways to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their household energy efficiency. Smart controls become the natural next step for many end-users, often seen as aspirational for those upgrading their system. 

A wider take-up of zoning at home seems the most likely next step for those wanting to take heating control to the next level. 

The technology is already here too. Indeed, for energy efficiency-minded consumers wanting to set the individual temperatures in each room of a house from their smartphones or tablets, the introduction of smart radiator thermostats is a proven game changer. 

What we are seeing is heating technologies being bought in line with other smart devices, such as TVs, lighting, music, and Internet-connected doorbells, while bringing the prospect of lower energy bills with it.  

The EU has already taken steps to legislate in this direction. The revised version of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which influences Building Regulations, advises that “member states shall require new buildings…to be equipped with self-regulating devices for the separate regulation of the temperature in each room”.

Not all installations need to accompany a new boiler install, depending on the compatibility of the existing model. With around six million TRVs sold per year, heating engineers have an opportunity to replace a basic unit with a smarter control, or look to upsell the upgrading of those already installed in millions of homes across the UK. 

However, opportunities can only be seized when installers get to know the products that they can include in their quotations, from simpler controls that meet Boiler Plus requirements to smarter systems that have zonal controls and Internet connectivity. 

I believe that having a full understanding of controls – from the basic to the complex – and the cost of each is key to providing a customer with the information they need to make an informed choice. 

Knowing how to include controls in the commissioning process and explaining how they work to the customer can go a long way to ensuring that you not only demonstrate you are in touch with the latest advances but can also capitalise on these growing opportunities as they arise.