Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Central-heating controls

The more control you have over your heating, the easier it is to save energy while staying comfortable. You can cut your bills by using central-heating controls to set when and how your house is heated. Here, we try to help you find the controls that will work best for you.

Contents

  1. Introduction (this page)
  2. Getting heating controls
  3. Product tests (2014)
    3.1 Programmers
    3.2 TRVs
    3.3 Room thermostats
    3.4 Programmable thermostats
    3.5 Online programmable thermostat
  4. Product tests (2004)
    4.1 Mechanical programmers
    4.2 Digital programmers
    4.3 TRVs
    4.4 Room thermostats
    4.5 Programmable thermostats
  5. Checklist
  6. Useful resources

You can also download this as a complete guide: Choosing central heating controls and saving energy (PDF). Or you can request printed publications by post (UK only).

For this guide in audio or braille formats contact:

Thomas Pocklington Trust (audio and braille guides)
Thomas Pocklington Trust (audio and braille guides)
Tel: 

020 8090 9268

Acknowledgements: This guide was produced by Rica with support from the Thomas Pocklington Trust.

Introduction

Central heating controls should at least let you set the room temperature and turn the heating on and off. They could also give you:

  • Time control: Setting different temperatures for different times (such as having a cooler house at night) or different days (for example, keeping it on longer at the weekend).
  • Zone control: Varying the temperature between rooms – useful if you have a spare room, for example. When choosing new controls, think about how much you want to spend.

Products in this guide cost from £15 to £200 but could pay for themselves eventually if they make your home more efficient. Think about how much control you want, too – do you want something you can adjust often, or would you rather set up a system and leave it?

Our research found that many heating controls are not well designed for people with sight loss. We review some controls that you might find easier to use and give advice on potential problems.

Types of central-heating control

Below is an overview of the main types of central-heating control and how they work. Follow the links to find out more about each type of control and read about the products we've reviewed.

Programmers

Programmers control the boiler. You can turn the boiler on or off, or have it follow a programme you’ve set on a timer. 

Thermostats

Thermostats let you choose what temperature you want your house to be. They will only work when the boiler is switched on. There are a few different kinds:

TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves) attach to radiators. You set your chosen temperature and they meet it by controlling how much hot water gets into the radiator. 

Room thermostats attach to the wall. You set your chosen temperature, and the thermostat tells the boiler to turn on or off to meet it. 

Programmable thermostats act like a room thermostat, but also let you programme temperature settings by time and day. We also reviewed a thermostat you can control online, from a computer or by using your smartphone or tablet. 

Our research on heating controls

The information in this guide is based on Rica's usability research. We selected and evaluated seven controls with features that we thought would be easy to use. 

The research involved:

  • evaluation of the controls' accessibility by a usability expert
  • usability testing with 12 participants who had sight loss
  • a focus group with 8 of the above testers

Our participants were aged between 21 and 64. Four had no useful sight and eight were partially sighted.

In 2004, we tested some other heating controls with people with sight and dexterity impairments. Included here are the ones that are still on the market. Note that The tests were carried out by different people looking at slightly different criteria, so the two can’t be directly compared. All prices listed are guide prices and may be subject to change.

We discussed our research on accessible heating controls with Peter White on BBC Radio 4's 'In Touch' programme on 18 February 2014. Listen to the 'In Touch' episode.

Test results: what we found

The products we tested were far from perfect, even though some were aimed at people with sight loss. Each product was awarded a score out of 5; the score reflects our testers’ views on accessibility rather than any test of performance.

The main problems were:

  • hard-to-read text
  • tactile markings that were oddly placed or hard to understand
  • buttons and switches that were difficult to use

Our testers wanted to have more control over their heating but not many of the products tested would work well for them.

You can also download this as a complete guide: Choosing central heating controls and saving energy (PDF). Or you can request printed publications by post (UK only). For this guide in audio or braille formats, contact:
Thomas Pocklington Trust (audio and braille guides)
Thomas Pocklington Trust (audio and braille guides)
Tel: 

020 8090 9268

Last updated: February 2014


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