How to control the heating? A guide at the dawn of winter.

How to control the heating? A guide at the dawn of winter.

29/11/23

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How to control the heating wisely and economically?

As the cold season has begun, many of us are thinking hard about how to control our heating so that we experience pleasant thermal comfort but do not overpay for absorbing heating energy.

We usually look for a way to do this after annual maintenance or periodic replacement of the heat source with a more efficient one. We want it to be cheaper than last season – or at least not more expensive. The quickest way to achieve this is to use increasingly modern temperature control systems. However, the decision to implement them does not yet provide the answer to the question of how to control the heating wisely and economically.

Some heat sources have factory-built thermostats. Their technological capabilities and operation are presented by the manufacturer in the purchase documents, so we will not focus on this. Today’s article will focus on controlling the room temperature with room controllers. Those that work in close cooperation with the heating appliance, but are not an integral part of it.

How do to control the heating to keep us happy?

More often than not, what we want above all is for the control to reduce heating fuel consumption (economy) and for the temperature setting to be accurate, fast and as intuitive as possible (comfort). We like to use automation solutions because it is simply convenient. You only have to programme the heating operation once (choose a schedule) and you don’t have to remember to manually set or control the temperature from scratch every day.

The traditional thermostatic radiator heads, on which until recently we used to manually set the values, which were, in fact, very random, are becoming obsolete. This is not only due to the growing popularity of underfloor heating. We also want to control our radiators more precisely, efficiently and conveniently.

For many people, it is important to keep an eye on the heating via the internet (via smartphone). This makes it possible to build a connection between the modern heating system and the electronics in the smart home – regardless of whether we heat with radiators or underfloor heating.

Temperature control has therefore entered the world of advanced smart technology with a confident step and we have really high expectations of it. But in order to know how to control the heating so that we are satisfied with the results, we need to start with the basics.

First, let’s choose the type of thermostat

One of the first criteria is how room controllers are installed. We choose between wired and wireless, flush-mounted and surface-mounted controllers. There are also free-standing models (in practice, usually surface-mounted with an additional stand), which we can place on a shelf, for example.

Another issue is the temperature sensors in the thermostat. Remember that with underfloor heating, for your own comfort and safety, it is advisable to use two sensors – the air temperature (based on its readings the temperature control takes place) and the floor temperature (as protection against overheating of the system). For this reason, it is worth ensuring that our thermostat has the option to connect an additional external sensor (for underfloor heating).

On the market, there are controllers that control either the heating system or the air-conditioning system, but it is wisest to opt for a universal solution. They control both heating and cooling. If we do not know how to control the heating, we can equip ourselves with controllers with limited operating options (e.g. simple models with a knob). If we are not afraid of the subject, there are more advanced proposals available, with a display and/or internet control (via an app on a mobile device). So the choice is wide.

Let’s pay attention to the control algorithms and available schedules

A lot depends on what you want to control, i.e. what type of heating. We have written more about this when discussing basic control algorithms – here. Just a reminder that for underfloor heating, precise algorithms (PWM or self-learning TPI) that take into account the heating time of the room will work best.

Underfloor heating takes a long time to heat up and a long time to give off heat, which is why it needs impulse control. With radiators, hysteresis is often sufficient. This is a two-position algorithm (on/off) in which the control mechanism is based on the difference between the set temperature and the current room temperature (warm-up and cool-down cycles). It is therefore necessary to check carefully which control programmes have been built into the controllers we have chosen.

Electronic controllers offer us different operating options. Some operate on a daily rhythm, others on a weekly basis – and the latter offer us different schedules. We can adapt them to our day and modify them at any time. This means that for the less advanced models, we can only set one fixed temperature (the daily variant). But the more sophisticated units allow us to build a schedule for all days of the week (e.g. different heating times on weekdays, different temperatures on weekends). The more flexible the schedules, the more functional the thermostat becomes. Especially if you live an active life.

Then online heating control, which allows you to intervene in the heating system settings in real time, will also be indispensable. With the benefit of the system’s efficiency, of course.

The eternal question: where to install a room controller?

When we talk about a room controller, let us remind you, we mean a controller with a built-in air temperature sensor and programming panel. There are a few universal rules for installing these devices, but it is best to consider each case (building) individually. After all, we have different houses, different heating installations, different ways of using the space.

As a general rule, the controller should be installed in the place of the room where the main temperature measurement is to be carried out, and in such a location as to ensure free access to the panel. However, it is not recommended to install the controller close to windows, where it is constantly exposed to draughts or overheating from the sun’s rays. With underfloor heating, a relatively convenient option is to mount the controller close to the light switch (usually by the door). However, with radiator heating (if the controller is too far away from the radiators), this can cause uneven temperature distribution, i.e. – thermal discomfort. In order to easily adapt the controller to the needs of the interior, it is worth considering purchasing a model which allows for the connection of an additional external temperature sensor. We will mount it, for example, in a more cooled area and set it as the main sensor. The controller will then work on its ‘command’. This is one of the more practical tips on how to control your heating.

How do you control the heating if the temperature controller is connected directly to the heat source?

Temperature controllers work with a central box and actuators (underfloor heating) or with thermostatic heads (radiator heating). In both cases, they control the flow of the heating medium (usually hot water) in the loops of a particular heating zone (underfloor heating) or in the radiators (radiator heating). This creates the perfect conditions for zone control (separate temperature in each room, because the controller in each room).

On the other hand, a controller connected directly to a heat source, e.g. a boiler (by wire or radio) starts and stops its operation (on/off). It operates according to a selected schedule. The heating appliance then starts heating until the set temperature is reached – as measured by one room thermostat.

In each of these options, the idea is to keep the interior temperature in line with our settings. However, connecting the controller directly to the heating appliance does not offer the possibility of zone control. It only allows central control, the main disadvantage of which is the accidental (random) temperature in many areas of the house. To reduce this problem as much as possible, it is recommended to place the thermostat in a so-called representative room. One that is most willingly and frequently used by the household members.

Central control – although less accurate than zone control and therefore less economical – is still often practised. Especially in flats, smaller buildings or where any control over the heating system is needed.

Is heating control always necessary?

Yes, but the degree to which automatic temperature control is useful depends on the space in question, on how it is used. Wherever we live on a daily basis, the consumption of heating energy should be wisely controlled, because it simply pays off. It’s not worth letting the process run its course, as we will pay dearly for it. Not to mention the fact that people are reluctant to return to cooled or overheated interiors. And it should be a pleasure to return home.

Heating control is also useful in properties that are used only occasionally (e.g. a cottage in the mountains or a second home where we visit occasionally). It is useful to be able to remotely influence the installation in such a place (thanks to a mobile app). However, in this case, automation is a convenience rather than a necessity. If we turn up somewhere infrequently, we will easily accept that the temperature is not optimal. But when we have to deal with it every day, the situation simply becomes a nuisance. And expensive.

Remember that forgoing modern automation to control your heating is voluntarily giving up your hand on the pulse of your household budget. By knowing how to control your heating, you give yourself a pass to operate any building more cheaply.

How do you control your heating and ventilate your home?

Here, smart control systems will be the perfect solution. They allow you to build scenarios for the operation of the heating system in conjunction with smart home accessories. One such accessory is an opening sensor (windows/doors), which – integrated into the system (installed in the app) and linked to the controller – will help build a relationship ideal for energy-efficient room ventilation. By creating a simple rule, we will quickly see how to control the heating optimally and modernly.

Small game changer – opening sensor

This rule means that as soon as the window or balcony door where the sensor has been installed is opened, the controller automatically stops the heating. This avoids the environmentally unfriendly waste of energy and wasted money due to heat “leakage”. The regulator can be adjusted in the mobile app, e.g. by scheduling it to start only a few seconds after opening. This will be practical in that it will not turn off the heating if, for example, you open a window just to shake crumbs off a tablecloth. Such a small device can completely change the ‘rules of the game’, as it significantly improves the energy efficiency of any home.

Automation versus smart home – are they the same thing?

Not really. Although without automation, the smart home could not exist.

Automation – as the name suggests – automates domestic installations, streamlining them. It makes the operation of the house “happen by itself”. Thanks to automation, you don’t have to manually adjust the temperature (e.g. on manual heads on radiators) and monitor it (mostly at random anyway). Mathematical schedules do this for us. The same goes for other appliances, roller shutters and gates. Automatic controllers relieve people of routine, tedious tasks, reduce their effort as hosts. And at the same time, they are accurate, regular. The operation of the installation is devoid of human error.

In contrast, smart home, or remote control via the Internet, goes several steps further. In addition to being able to control the home from anywhere, it allows an infinite number of intelligent relationships to be built between home electronics. Smart controllers and accessories implement rules (scenarios) to make everyday life easier and optimise heating, electricity consumption. The smart home can operate in both closed and open environments. In the latter, it becomes universal; products from different brands connect within the same home network and can be controlled using the same app. This offers virtually unlimited possibilities and goes beyond the limits of standard automation.

Mistakes made when using temperature controllers

We can make the first mistake already at the start, i.e. at the stage of purchasing the controller(s) – with zone control – by choosing the wrong model. The controller may not cooperate with the heating device, with our installation. It may happen that we buy a wired variant in a situation when there is no possibility of “clean” wiring in the building, or a wireless variant for a house with numerous architectural barriers to the signal. In order to avoid this, it is advisable to consult the purchase with an installer and to familiarise yourself with the technical parameters of the controller. The manufacturer indicates which heat sources the product is designed for. In the technical data, it states the type of built-in control programmes, which allows the controller to be correctly matched to the heating system (underfloor heating, radiators). Even if we do not fully know how to control the heating.

Next, you need to think carefully about the location of the controller and/or temperature sensors on the basis of which the control will take place – especially in radiator heating. If we don’t plan this carefully, we won’t be able to enjoy comfortable warmth, because cooling and overheating zones are very likely to form. Uneven temperature distribution can be quite irritating.

When starting to use a controller, it is advisable to familiarise yourself calmly with its functions and the way it works. Often, we want to see results right away, which is almost impossible. The idea is to give the controller at least a few days to “get to grips” with it and to allow yourself to draw conclusions. There is no point in tweaking the settings every time a new idea for improving the control comes to mind. Constant changes to the temperature control will lead to chaos and make us unable to judge what serves our comfort (and wallet) and what does not. It will be a valuable convenience to choose controllers that are equipped with a button lock and even an entire setting mode. Thanks to this useful feature, no unauthorised person (e.g. a child) can change the heating parameters without our knowledge.

Have you read the guide, but still have questions? Feel free to contact the ENGO Controls brand technical department:

Heating season:

Mon-Fri: 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Saturday: 8:00-14:00

Off-season:

Mon-Fri: 8:00 am-4:00 pm

+48 32 750 65 05

serwis@engocontrols.com

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