(Pocket-lint) - There are a number of companies vying for your business when it comes to controlling your heating system at home. British Gas has Hive, Google owns Nest in the US (which is expected to eventually come to the UK), and there's the German company Tado also new on the scene.
Honeywell has Evohome, a system that's more expensive than its competitors, but offers modular control over individual room temperatures for not only the utmost control but the potential to save cash on your heating in the long term.
Can a company we wouldn't normally associate with the consumer space win in this space? We've been living with the Evohome system for over a month to see if it's revolutionised our home heating.
What is Evohome?
Honeywell Evohome is a complete heating control system that will allow you to manually control individual zones within your home. This can be achieved either via a dedicated touchscreen panel or via your Apple or Android smartphone.
Unlike traditional systems, or swanky ones such as aforementioned Nest or Hive, where the temperature of your house is taken from a single thermostat, Evohome depends on each radiator communicating with the central control unit.
This means that you can have different temperatures in different rooms at different times. For example you can quickly boost the heat of a radiator in the kitchen to dry some clothes, but not have the heating on in the bedroom to avoid baking under the sheets when you go to bed. Think "Sonos for heating" - the music network that can play different music from different speakers in different rooms - and you get an idea of the full potential of what Evohome is about.
Honeywell is one of those brands that might not roll off the tongue, but you've probably heard of or noticed the name before. If it sounds familiar it's because Honeywell has been making heating systems for some time.
Your current heating "programmer" is probably made by Honeywell. The company is huge, but in the consumer realm mainly unheard of because its business model is to talk to the trade rather than you directly. Like Qualcomm with phones or Intel with laptops, Honeywell has, in general, been a provider of the power, rather than the brand on the box on the shelf at the DIY shop.
Honeywell recommends that you have the system professionally installed by a heating technician. This does, of course, ramp up the price - but we wouldn't recommend doing it yourself unless you're a professional in this sector.
After an initial test visit to make sure our house was suitable for the system, Honeywell installed the controlling unit and six intelligent radiator sensors/controllers to create five controllable zones. One each for the bedrooms, another for the kitchen, and the final two sensors in the lounge as a single zone. A further controller was also added to the hot water if you have a traditional hot water tank.
A black box of sorts is then plugged into your existing broadband router, and sends out a stronger, lower frequency than your standard Wi-Fi so it can make it to the far reaches of your house.
In a smallish brick-built Victorian cottage we've has no problems, and because the signal isn't using your Wi-Fi it means that the signal goes further. We have a Wi-Fi dead-spot in the back bedroom, but thanks to the Evohome network, that isn't a problem.
Unlike Nest and Hive where your smartphone or the web is the main controlling interface of the system, Evohome takes a more traditional approach and focuses on a dedicated controller. That's not to say there isn't smartphone support, because there is, but the main focus and control is via the central unit that stays in the home. It can remain in its mains-powered mount or removed to be used on the fly in whatever room you happen to be in.
That's good and bad in equal measure. Good because it means that it's always available; because it works on its own system that doesn't need the internet to work; and because if you don't have the right phone you aren't forced to make compromises. It's bad because, unlike Hive, you can't sit down at work on your computer and change all your heating settings.
The end result is the main dedicated remote and some basic functionality with your iPhone or Android smartphone, but there's no desktop access or support on other mobile platforms.
Evohome on Pebble
Honeywell also allows you to control its Evohome smart heating system with the Pebble smartwatch. The app allows you to see the temperature in your home, as well as turn on Quick Actions, which includes the ability to turn your heating off and customise schedules.
The Evohome Pebble app and watch face will work with Android and iOS devices and in practice is very easy to use. While the functionality isn't as great as the app (you've still got that in your pocket remember) it does mean that you don't have to worry about getting your phone out of your pocket to change the temperature in your house, or as we've found turn the hot water on for a bath.
You've got everything installed, the engineer has just left and then what?
For us it was the first time we had experienced the joys of a heating system that was greater than on/off. The colourful interface of the dedicated controller is easy to use and you can opt to go through a wizard for each zone or manually create a timed schedule. To make things easier you can copy and paste schedules between rooms if you aren't looking to go as granular as individual schedules for every zone.
The timer can be set multiple times with multiple temperatures in each zone. If you like it hot in your lounge at night but cold in your kitchen that's not a problem; if you want to make sure your kid's bedroom is a little warmer in the middle of the day for the afternoon nap, you can set that up too.
Each radiator sensor replaces your old thermostatic valve (if you had them) and that gives you a far greater temperature gauge for the home. It's great having this detailed control, but Evohome still offers human elements: the radiator controllers have physical dials on so you can always twist them to turn down the temperature if it's too hot or cold in a room.
Another neat trick is that these sensors can detect whether you have a window or outside door open in the room. If you do then it will automatically shut off that radiator as it predicts that you want to cool the room down. You can override this if you've got the radiator next to a front door, or a draughty room, but it's already proven a valuable touch for our needs.
With all this information and new-found power it changes your relationship with temperature. For most houses the temperature of your house is never really known if you're used to positioning a radiator dial between 0-5, you just work on feel. With Evohome you have detailed information and can experiment with what suits you and your family in those individual spaces with greater accuracy.
In our system, for example, we tend to opt for our living room to be warmed to 19C, while the master bedroom is slightly cooler at 15C. The system goes one step further and will tell you the temperature of your water. This means you can more accurately make changes to your hot water settings, as well as knowing if you'll have hot water for your bath.
The Evohome system has another cool trick: timings. The temperatures that you set it to will be maintained to a point whereby if you want it to be 20C at 6pm on a Tuesday then that's what you get. The system doesn't turn on at 6pm to heat the room, but will be 20C at 6pm - a vast difference to how most traditional heating systems currently work.
The system works by analysing over time how quickly it takes to heat the room and therefore works to efficiently get to that point at the right time. It's very clever.
That approach takes time to bed in from both you and the system. On your part to get used to that approach to heating your house - we found in the first 10 days we over-heated in fear of getting too cold - and the system to learn each room and how long it takes to heat and cool. But now a month in and we have a perfect schedule by our own design.
The system doesn't "turn off" per se, as you can set a lowest temperature threshold per room, whereas other systems you'll be setting a lowest temperature for the whole house in most likelihood. That means that if your room drops below that comfortable minimum the boiler will fire up to heat that room again, but your boiler won't be running constantly.
The timing and zone-based nature of Evohome means that you don't have to waste energy heating parts of the house that don't need to be heated. That's a big step over traditional on/off systems, meaning that when you're feeling chilly in the living room in the evening, you don't have to heat the kitchen, dining room, office and everything else unnecessarily. It's all down to how you schedule your own set up.
Beyond the scheduling system available, there are a number of Quick Actions that can also be performed. Economy reduces all zone temperatures by 3 degrees Celsius, for example, while a Heating Off preset will turn your heating off but keep your hot water on.
There is an Away setting that reduces the temperature, and a Custom one that we have set to Snuggle - this pumps up the heating in the lounge at the press of a button. At the moment you can count the Quick Actions available on one hand and it would be good to have more. Certainly more to encourage you to use the system in ways that could guide newcomers to get more out of it.
Where Hive or Nest offer full control over the system via a smartphone or tablet, the Honeywell Evohome setup doesn't go quite as far. Not as it currently stands anyway. But there's scope for the app infrastructure to improve over time without the need for new hardware.
The iPhone and Android apps are basic, but will allow you to see what the different temperatures are in the different zones, and the option to change that temperature for a set time or permanently. The latter overrides all scheduling commands.
However, you can enact the Quick Actions from the app too. That's handy if you are at the Airport and want to shut down the system because you've forgotten, or on the way home and realise that the kids have used up all the hot water and therefore want to turn it on so you've got enough for a bath. In that sense, the Evohome app is just about as useful as Hive, because it's those major actions that really make the difference.
The main controller doesn't have a very good battery life when removed from its mains-powered mount. Release it from the wall or table mount for an hour and the battery warning beep starts to sound. It should last for 10 times that on the battery supply to make it truely useful as a portable controller.
We would also like greater control from multiple devices and to have more Quick Actions to help us get the most out of the system. Being internet connected having the system wired up to your energy provider's account could also extend the potential green credentials and enhance the money-saving possibilities. All scope for the future.
Honeywell Evohome is a very clever heating system upgrade, there's no doubt about it.
Finding the kit we needed, getting it installed, and then set up ready to use was all easy - albeit expensive, as we'll come to - and a month later we love what the system can do. If there have been any issues it's only been with us trying to work out the best heating schedule for our house and then getting used to a system that is far more advanced than the on/off switch we had previously.
We love that Evohome provides individual control of each room in the house. The dedicated controller is great when you're in, and if you're not then a connected smartphone means you can make some adjustments on a bus in another country if needed.
But then there is the cost to contemplate. Evohome costs £250 for the starter pack that connects to your boiler and hot water tank and then you have to buy the sensors for each zone, or radiator. They are roughly £50 each, we had six so that's an extra £300. Then installation will come down to your engineer - our five zone system was installed within a couple of hours and because it was just a case of replacing our thermostats there wasn't any "real plumbing" needed like draining the system.
You could argue that such a cost to install doesn't add up, but then in the long term your zoned heating schedule could definitely save you money. For us, however, we don't think that Evohome is entirely about that, it's about comfort and ease of use.
Compared to Nest and Hive, Evohome is the more expensive option - Hive is £150 all in - but Evohome is also the most comprehensive too. It is about having ultimate modular control over the way your house is heated and achieves that in a way that other competitors can't. If you can afford it then it's great.