Nest learning thermostat – alternatives for UK homes

The new Nest Learning Thermostat is undeniably a fantastic and very clever piece of kit, but not ready for UK homes just yet.

The new Nest Learning thermostat caused quite a stir when it was launched last week. Tech writers around the web had themselves fawning over its Apple heritage, having been designed by Tony Fadell, the creator of the original and now iconic iPod. His idea is simple. Traditional room thermostats are ugly and have been the same for decades. Why can’t they be sexy and clever, learning to automatically adjust the temperature of your home according to your family needs and routine? We have to agree that the capabilities of the new Nest thermostat are an exciting leap forward, but this article isn’t a review of the Nest. For sure, Fadell’s new Nest Learning Thermostat seems to be ticking all the right boxes for centrally air-conditioned homes in the US, but it’s expensive, not yet on sale here in the UK, and disappointingly appears to be unsuitable for our standard gas-fired central heating systems which are traditionally fitted with mains voltage thermostats. A quick browse of the Nest installation guide reveals that it’s configured to work only with low voltage (24v) circuits, which are uncommon in the UK.

So, what alternatives are available right now in the UK if you want to make your home more comfortable and take better control of your central heating to save energy and reduce your gas bills?

Basic analogue room thermostat

The trusty bi-metallic room thermostat, clunky and basic. Time to upgrade!

Hot or Cold?
Smarter ‘programmable’ room thermostats aren’t actually a new idea. They’ve been around for at least twenty years. Despite this, most central heating systems in the UK are still controlled by a simple timer offering two ‘on periods’ for each 24 hours and a basic room thermostat. Basic room thermostats have only one setting, so you have to manually turn them up or down if you need a higher or lower temperature. Typically, the central heating timer will be programmed to switch on for perhaps an hour in the morning and then again for a few hours in the evening. This basic system can often result in your home being either too cold or too hot and is further confounded by extreme weather conditions.

Programmed to suit your lifestyle
Whilst programmable room thermostats can’t learn to anticipate your heating needs like the Nest, they can still be programmed to moderate the temperature of your home in a pattern best suited to your lifestyle. With a programmable room thermostat, the central heating timer is set to constant on, ready to respond whenever heat is needed. The heating is then controlled by the room thermostat program. Programmable room thermostats can be set to automatically change temperature depending on the time of day and days of the week. This means that you can easily have different temperature schedules for week days and weekends, for example.

Heatmiser programmable room thermostat

Programmable room thermostats offer more flexibility and control of your heating system

Built-in learning intelligence
When you first fit a programmable room thermostat, you’ll need to spend a little time setting it up so that it knows what temperatures you feel comfortable with at different times of day. More advanced models have a degree of built in intelligence and so are able to anticipate the time it will take to reach the desired change in temperature. For example, if you programme a temperature of 21°C for waking up at seven in the morning, the heating will be triggered at a time appropriate to reach that temperature by the time you’re ready to get up dependant on how cold is was in your home overnight. Once set up, you can almost forget it’s there.

Easy straight swap installation
Programmable room thermostat prices start from as little as £30, which is a fraction of the Nest’s Apple inspired price-tag. If your current room thermostat is poorly located, consider a wireless model which can be fitted in a more appropriate position. Most programmable room thermostats are a straight swap for basic three-wire 230v room thermostats and so can easily be fitted in less than thirty minutes by a competent DIYer. If in doubt about how to install a replacement room thermostat, you should seek the advice of a qualified heating engineer.

Heatmiser WiFi programmable room thermostat

Heatmiser's WiFi range of thermostats can be controlled from your iPhone

Wi-Fi connected models
Manufacturer Heatmiser have recently introduced a range of WiFi 802.11b connected programmable room thermostats which can be remotely accessed and controlled through your home router via a web browser or smartphone application. Imagine being able to remotely delay your heating from turning on if you decided to stay out late, or warming your home ready for an unexpected early return in the middle of winter. Despite their impressive capabilities, prices of these WiFi models start at around £145, still considerably less than the Nest.

So if you’re really smitten with the idea of the Nest, but don’t have the pockets or can’t wait until the manufacturer builds a system suitable for use with our UK central heating systems, why not switch to a programmable room thermostat straight away?

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