Smart thermostats are like buses and, well, you know the rest. For the best part of 30 years there were precisely no technological advances in thermostats and now – boom! – everyone wants to sell you an internet-connected box that lets you control your heating from anywhere.
You’ve probably heard of Nest (now owned by Google) but maybe not some of the others such as Tado, reviewed, HeatMiser and HeatGenius.
These systems all do pretty much the same thing. They allow you to use your portable devices, such as tablets and smartphones, as well as PCs to control and monitor the heating system and hot water in your home. The main advantage, of course, is that you can turn the heating on or off – or adjust the temperature – when you’re not at home.
British Gas has also decided to get in on the action with Hive, but it’s important to note that you don’t have to be a British Gas customer to have Hive.
The system will cost you £199 which includes professional installation. Or you can opt for the Hive kit at £159 and install it yourself. At the time of writing, you can get a free Hive system when you sign-up to a 18month contract with British Gas.
It works with most boilers, but you can check on the Hive website if yours is compatible.
Assuming you go for the installation option, you’ll have to make an appointment for an engineer install the Hive at your property.
The friendly British Gas engineer arrived on time for our install, which took about an hour and a half. There’s a hub which is connected to connected to a spare port on your broadband router (and also needs mains power), a receiver which connects to your boiler (above) and a wireless thermostat which should be placed in the room which you use the most.
He also showed us how to set up the app on our iPhone to check that everything was working as it should. Even without reading the manual, the system is easy to understand and use.
The thermostat doubles as a controller unit and runs on batteries so can be installed on any wall. Unlike other systems, such as Nest, the Hive thermostat needs to be installed permanently in one place. There are guidelines on where it can be positioned, but the engineer will recommend a location which is best for your heating system. In our case, it simply replaced the old thermostat in the hall.
The last step is to create a Hive account at hivehome.co.uk. You can use only the thermostat to controller everything, but this defeats the purpose of upgrading. As well as being able to control your heating from the app, you’ll also get live energy usage information.
Currently there are apps for iOS and Android – a Windows Phone 8 app is in the works. Once you’ve entered your account details, along with the hub ID, you’re ready to use the Hive.
The apps are designed well, being both clear and intuitive to use. While you can use the app on a tablets, it’s clearly designed for a smartphone’s smaller screen. We actually preferred the look of the web app over the mobile version, since it has clearer navigation and it’s easier to set up the schedule.
In the app, the heating section has three main controls: Schedule, Manual or Off. The hot water control also adds a boost feature, which could be handy if you’re heading home early and want to make sure there’s enough hot water for a bath.
Big numbers tell you the current temperature and what temperature the heating is set to. You can adjust the set temperature by simply swiping up or down on the screen at any time.
When in the Off position the system automatically goes into a frost protection mode. If the temperature inside dips below 5 degrees, the heating will turn on to prevent pipes from freezing.
The schedule section has a 7 day, 24 hour schedule already pre-set, but you can easily tweak this to suit your lifestyle. This is quite fun with the web app’s large, colourful and easy to understand controls.
Apart from controlling your heating and hot water temperature and setting up a schedule, there are many other options.
You can manage your Hive devices. The app will show you whether the hub, receiver and thermostat are connected to each other, their signal strength and their power or battery status.
You can also set up notification which will alert you when the temperature reaches a specified level.
You can set-up a PIN lock which will prevent others, for example kids which share your smartphone, from changing the Hive’s settings.
If you don’t have a smartphone, or it isn’t an iPhone or Android, then you can enable Text control, which allows the system to be controlled by sending a text message.
A new addition to the Hive mobile app is geo-location. With this enabled, your smartphone will automatically notify you of your specific Away and Home temperature settings, or if the heating is on or off, when you leave your home or as you come back. You can also change the distance of these ‘Trigger areas’.
The Hive Active Heating system is a great upgrade for anyone that wants or needs the ability to be able to control their heating remotely. It’s by no means the most advanced (or good-looking) smart thermostat, but it will do the job for a lot of people.
It doesn’t offer ‘zoned’ control over individual radiators (yet), and isn’t much cheaper than rivals, some of which offer more.
Of course, it's still early days for all smart thermostats and we haven’t had the system long enough to test the claims that it will save you £150 per year (and it’s virtually impossible to prove – or disprove - that anyway) but the main advantages are ease of use, remote control and those great colourful graphs and charts that make you feel like you’re in control of the energy you use. And let’s be honest, everyone loves a nice-looking graph.