“To ensure the heating controls market evolves further, every area of the industry supply chain needs to know their ‘smart’ from their ‘basic’,” explains Andy Mansﬁeld, Marketing Communications Manager at Honeywell.
A a recent discussion held by Honeywell on the future of smart heating controls, it became clear that there is still much debate within the heating industry on whether a smart heating control can fulfil the requirement for a ‘basic’ entry-level heating control. The word ‘smart’ itself kicks up a lot of uncertainties around whether it can also mean simple, when it comes to ease of use. The answer is, of course, a resounding ‘yes’, but ensuring all areas of the industry are promoting this uniﬁed message so it reaches the homeowner is another story.
As Dave Wills, Director at Premier Energy Solutions highlighted: “The simple fact is people think smart controls are more complicated controls, but we’ve been ﬁtting wireless technology for years. Wireless technology is there, it’s just a different application that we’re using.
“I think the problem we’ve got is that consumers are being bombarded with so much information they don’t really know which control is which, or which control to use. So I think they’re struggling quite a bit on ‘should we do it, should we not do it?’ In reality, smart technology is not complicated at all if you don’t want it to be – it will do all the work for you.”
Another issue which has contributed to this uncertainty amongst homeowners has been the scope and variety of smart controls which are available today. The industry has exploded and with it, numerous products have been launched to market. The problem has been that, though it’s a manufacturer’s duty to launch products to suit the homeowner – which are powered by sophisticated technology, but with a simple user-interface – this hasn’t always been the case.
Alistair McLean, owner of McLean Electrical, stressed: “The user interface is absolutely vital. There are quite a few systems about which have complicated interfaces and I’ve visited customers and actually had to take the thermostats off the wall and replace them with better models, because they are just so complicated. If I can’t work them, I don’t know how a customer is expected to.”
Despite these issues however, good manufacturers have made the effort to make several ‘smart’ thermostats available, which satisfy anyone’s basic requirement for an entry level heating control, and are so simple to use, even a child could operate them.
Les Woolner, Business Development Director at BEAMA Heating Controls believes: “It’s important to differentiate between the different types of controls. The base set of controls needed to achieve some kind of control would be thermostats, TRVS and zoning if required for the size of property, and then the smart control is just another layer which allows the user to interact. This is where energy saving comes in, because the user is then using that information to better manage their home, and how they live within that home.
“For me that’s where the ‘smart’ bit comes – it’s about information and that user interaction to start saving energy, and using those savings for a better heated home.”
“Smart heating controls are no longer just the role of the heating engineer – they are now more accessible than ever for the electrician.”
So, what can be done?
It all comes down to knowledge. Electricians need to invest in the proper training so they are aware of the full range of heating controls available to them and to get on board with installing them, so they can advise which are the best, and which to choose to suit each speciﬁc application and homeowner. Only then will they understand that smart doesn’t need to mean more complex in terms of installation.
Though many are already on board with smart heating controls, there are still some who are reticent to move into this arena through fear of the unknown. Smart heating controls are no longer just the role of the heating engineer – they are now more accessible than ever for the electrician.
As the consumer-facing party, the electrician is the key to changing their ‘smart’ perceptions. Any knowledge they possess about smart controls, is passed onto the homeowner, so the more they know, the
better the service a ‘smart’ installer can provide them. It’s about electricians investing time to sit with their customers at the speciﬁcation-phase and dispelling the myths surrounding smart controls to show that smart really does mean simple.