The Pros and Cons of Smart Controllers – Are They Worth It?

The Pros and Cons of Smart Controllers – Are They Worth It?

Posted on May 16, 2022

Last week we shared the top Smart Thermostats currently available for those already convinced they want one. This week we’re going to look at the pros and cons of Smart Controllers, how they work and help you work out if they are right for your home and heating system. 

You can probably tell by the prevalence of this type of product on the market, that they’re increasing in popularity and many homes now already have them. Lots of the big manufacturers (and many of the smaller brands too) are designing, updating and selling this type of tech. We don’t think Smart Controllers will be going anywhere anytime soon!

Each Smart Controller will have different functionalities depending on the manufacturer. If you’re specifically interested in a product that controls a particular element of your home, then make sure you do the research and check on the manufacturers website that the products you are looking at have that very function. 

What are the main reasons for getting a Smart Controller? 

There are many reasons why you might be considering getting a Smart Controller for your home. They could include:

  • Saving money
  • Increasing efficiency
  • Convenient controls
  • Becoming more eco-friendly

Let’s have a look at each of these in a bit more detail to see if they’re worth you getting a Smart Controller for your home. 

Do Smart Controllers Really Save You Money?

Top of the list for getting a Smart Controller will be to save money in most cases. Everyone is feeling the pinch currently, what with rising energy bills and the cost of living getting higher. But will getting a Smart Controller really help you to save money? 

It’s not a straightforward question to answer unfortunately. Some of the big names have made their estimates of how much they think their Smart Controller can save a household per year, ranging from 20-41% of your current annual heating bill or in monetary terms, an estimated £130 per year. 

In 2021, the average gas and electricity bill for the year in the UK was £1,339. So according to the above estimated percentages from manufacturers, a Smart Controller could save a household between £267.80 and £548.99. That’s a bit of a difference to £130 per year! So it’s not exactly clear how much an average household could save by using a Smart Controller. 

We’d encourage homeowners to err on the side of caution and assume the lowest possible savings. If that would be enough of a reason for you to opt for a Smart Controller, then great! 

It’s also worth thinking about the comings and goings of the people in your household. If you live alone, then a Smart Controller that responds to your phone leaving the house and coming back in by controlling the heating, then you could see good savings. However, if you have multiple people at home, particularly perhaps those working from home, then a Smart Controller may not significantly affect the amount of energy being consumed. 

Also consider whether you will be installing it yourself, or hiring a Heating Engineer. We’d always recommend using a professional installer for these sorts of things, so the cost of that could influence how long it takes to ‘break even’ and see the Smart Controller start to save you money. 

How do Smart Heating Systems Work? 

Although different Smart Controllers will have slightly different functionalities, they all work in largely the same way. 

Generally speaking, the system will either have a hub (either wired like the Hive, or wirelessly like Drayton Wiser) which connects to your router. The hub then controls the rest of the devices on the system. Other products (like the Nest) has no hub but instead connects all the individual devices on the system direct to the router, enabling them to ‘talk’ to each other. 

The products we’re talking about are largely used for controlling your heating, but some manufacturers also offer non-heating related products, for example cameras or smart plugs, enabling you to also control other aspects of your home. 

Do Smart Controllers Enable Remote Control of My Heating?

Whilst most systems will have the option to manually adjust their products, what we all want from a Smart Controller is the remote control aspect. Whether you’re a gadget lover or not, no one can deny how handy it is to be able to control things like heating and lighting at home, from a smartphone whilst you’re out and about. 

All manufacturers of Smart Controller provide an app that you can access via your smartphone or tablet. This enables you to not only control and make changes to your system, but also read performance reports to see where you could start saving energy (and money!). 

Some manufacturers also let you connect the system to Amazon Alexa, Google Home or Apple Homekit devices, meaning you can control your heating with your voice when at home. Imagine sitting on the sofa watching your favourite Netflix show, feeling a bit on the chilly side, and just casually turning the heating up by saying ‘Hey Google, set the temperature 20 degrees’ – Cool, huh?

It is however worth considering how often you are likely to need or want to do that. Does this somewhat cool and novel feature make it worth the installation costs? That’s really up to you. If you are or someone you care for is elderly for example, then this voice control could be a game changer.

Pros: You can use remote control to turn your heating on or off from the comfort of your sofa with your voice, or whilst you are out via the app.

Cons: Whilst this functionality is nifty and can be handy if you’ve hopped on a plane and jetted off on holiday leaving your heating on, how often would you actually be needing to use this function? 

Could Smart Controllers with Geo-Fencing save me money on my energy bills?

Some Smart Controller systems offer Geo-Fencing. Using just the Smart Controller and your Smartphone, you can set up these systems to detect when you have left your home (over a certain distance, not just pottering in the garden) and switch the heating off for you (if you’ve forgotten). The system can also sense when you are on your way home, and turn the heating back on for you. 

‘Which’ says that this function is largely what manufacturers are basing the cost savings on. This is, of course, only true if people are regularly going out and forgetting to turn their heating off. Some people either remember, or program their heating controls to come on and go off at certain times to reflect their daily routines. So the assumed cost savings from Geo-Fencing may not be as big as they think. It really depends on the system already in place, and the individual person. 

Pros: If you’re someone that regularly leaves the house for work with your heating on full blast all day long, then a Smart Controller with Geo-Fencing could probably save you quite a lot of money. 

Cons: If you already have a heating system that’s programmed to come on and go off according to your daily routine (or you remember to turn it off when you leave the house!) then Geo-Fencing on your Smart Controller might not save you that much energy or money. 

Can the System Learning function on a Smart Controller help to save energy and money?

Some manufactures offer System Learning as a part of their Smart Controller product. This means that you can choose a time and temperature that you would like the house to be at, and the Smart Controller enables this to happen as efficiently as possible. 

What does this mean in real terms? Well, let’s say that you get up at 7am everyday during the week and you would like the house to be at a comfortable 21 degrees C, detected by the Smart Thermostat in the hallway. To make sure this is achieved, the Smart Controller will make sure the heating comes on in good time so that the required temperature is reached at the right time. If it detects that the temperature of 21 degrees was reached earlier than 7am, then the next day it will turn the heating on a bit later. 

Because the Smart Controller is connected to the internet, it will also ‘know’ if the outside temperature is set to drop down dramatically, meaning that it can make sure the boiler comes on sooner so the house is still warm at the specified time. 

Financially, is system learning going to be saving you very much over your existing method of just having the boiler fire-up at a set time each day? Probably not a huge amount. Though, you may avoid waking up on a frosty morning and being disappointed at how cold your bedroom is.

Pros: This System Learning function on a Smart Controller could mean that you wake up on a cold, frosty Winter morning with a nice warm bedroom. The automatic changing of on-times due to outside temperatures could mean that your heating is on for less time, meaning less energy use and lower bills. 

Cons: If your boiler fires up at a set time each day to reach a certain temperature, then financially, the System Learning function on a Smart Controller may not save you that much money. 

How can the Feedback from my Smart Controller help me reduce my energy consumption and bills?

One of the great things about Smart Controllers is that they can give you feedback via the app or Smartphone notifications to let you know when things are not working correctly or in some cases, where energy could be saved. 

Pros: The information and data provided via the app and notifications could help you identify where you could lower your energy usage and thus lower your energy bills. 

Cons: Some homes already have a Smart Metre which keeps them aware of their energy use. Feedback from a Smart Controller may just provide you with information you already know. 

Are Smart Controllers Eco-Friendly? 

As you’ve seen from the percentages we shared above, if a Smart Controller system is set up correctly then you are likely to save some money each year on your energy bills. In some cases, you could even save quite a bit! 

Whether or not you save a little or a lot, anything that helps lower energy consumption even a little bit is helping the planet. Whilst we’re all desperate to lower our energy bills any way we can, we should also be striving to save energy for the good of the environment too. 

Pros: Smart Controllers can undoubtedly help us to reduce our energy consumption, operate our heating systems more efficiently, and give us more awareness of what energy we use, how we use and when we use it most. This conscious awareness of how much energy we are using in our homes can help us make small yet significant changes that collectively could have a big impact on the environment. 

Cons: Households may already be aware of how to make their homes more eco-friendly, without the need of a Smart Controller. 

How much Maintenance does a Smart Controller system need?

We all know that any system we have in our homes needs some kind of ongoing maintenance. Adding a Smart Controller to your home means you get all the good of the gadget, but also the inevitable issues that technology can bring. 

Think of this in terms of:

  • Having someone in the household that can understand how to re-programme and re-schedule the settings 
  • Replacing batteries regularly on things like Smart Thermostats, Smart Radiator Valves etc. 
  • Having a reliable connection between the router and the Smart Controller

Pros: These are things that can easily be tagged on to general household maintenance along with other things like checking smoke detectors. Someone in your home will have likely already programmed a previous heating system, so this would probably be even easier! Wireless signal can be supported with a signal booster if need be. Even if the signal was to be lost, the system can still operate based on the information and settings previously stored. 

Cons: Depending on technology so much can be daunting for some. When things go wrong, they can feel hard to fix if you’re not confident with those sorts of things. 

So, Are Smart Controllers Worth It? 

We think the move towards Smart Controllers in every home is somewhat inevitable based on the products currently available on the market and the innovation behind new ones. 

People tend to love a gadget, and even the most gimmicky features of Smart Controllers like voice control via Alexa are a big motivation for many people. 

Smart Controllers could be a great way for many homes to increase their awareness of energy usage, better control how much energy they use, and help to save some money on their bills as well as helping the environment. 

If you are already careful with your energy use, then you might not see big savings. But the convenience and other benefits could still make a Smart Controller worthwhile for your home. Any saving is a saving, right?

We would always recommend checking out the features of a Smart Controller on the manufacturer’s website to make sure it meets your needs. Our recommendation would also be to use a professional installer to fit it to make sure everything is in good working order.