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 controls that work best for you.


  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

We discussed our research with Peter White on BBC Radio 4's In Touch programme on February 18th 2014 and you can listen again here.

Download the complete guide: Choosing central heating controls and saving energy (PDF).
Request printed publications by post (UK only). For this guide in audio or braille formats, call 020 8995 0880 or email
Acknowledgements: This guide was produced by Rica with support from the Thomas Pocklington Trust.


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 and give advice on potential problems.

There are also tips on saving on your heating bills and on how to pay for energy-saving home improvements.

Our research

The information here 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 and we include ones that are still on the market.

What we found

The products we tested were far from perfect, even though some were aimed at people with sight loss.

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.

Central heating controls: the basics

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 (e.g. having a cooler house at night) or different days (e.g. 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?

To find out more about types of heating control, see our product tests.

Last updated: February 2014

Introduction | Next: Getting heating controls