Consumer research for older and disabled people

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Central heating controls

Control your heating and save energy while staying comfortable. Cut your bills by using central heating controls to set when and how your house is heated. 

Rica is a UK consumer research charity. We don't sell products. Search online by product name to find suppliers. Our research aims to help you choose the controls that will work best for you. 

November 2016
RNIB Connect Radio talked to Rica about saving energy and central heating controls. Listen here - Rica is after 16 minutes. RNIB Connect is also a free magazine - read here about the energy saving tips.

User tests of central heating controls

In 2014, we selected and evaluated seven controls with features that we thought would be easy to use by blind and partially sighted people.

The research involved:

  • usability testing with 12 people - 4 participants had no useful sight and 8 were partially sighted
  • rating the products marks out of 5 for ease-of-use by blind and partially sighted people.
  • a focus group with 8 of the above testers
  • evaluation of the controls' accessibility by a usability expert
  • participants aged between 21 and 64 years old

Our research found that many heating controls are not well designed for people with poor sight and this has implications for many older people as well.

Central heating controls let you set the room temperature and turn the heating on and off. Some 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.

Think about how much control you want - do you want something you can adjust often, or would you rather set up a system and leave it?

The results from our user tests are included in the following links.

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.

Online thermostats work via a smartphone app or a websites so you can control remotely. Voice output from a smartphone means that now blind or partially sighted people can now control their central heating.

Test results: what we found

The products we tested were far from perfect, even though some were aimed specifically at blind and partially sighted people. 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.

BBC Radio 4's In Touch programme in February 2014 included Peter White talking to Rica about central heating controls - listen to the In Touch episode here.

Download the complete guide: Choosing central heating controls and saving energy (PDF).
To receive this guide in audio or braille formats, please contact:

Thomas Pocklington Trust (audio and braille guides)
Tel: 

020 8090 9268

Rica also has free print publications available by post (UK only).
Acknowledgements: Rica carried out the research with support from Thomas Pocklington Trust.

Last updated: November 2016


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