Can I use a smart thermostat if I have storage heaters?

Smart heating- and smart thermostat systems are a growing trend, but with little or no knowledge of plumbing you're probably unsure whether they will be compatible with your boiler. After all, do you even know what make of boiler you have? Still, that's nothing a little digging on the manufacturer's website or a phone call to their help team can't solve. 

The problem goes beyond the boiler, though. What if you use storage heaters rather than radiators, which run on electricity and are entirely separate from your water-heating system? Here we address whether you can use a smart thermostat if you also use storage heaters. (See all Digital Home advice.) 

Storage heaters are one of my pet hates. Not only are they not actually any cheaper than standard heating systems (I have the elecricity bills to prove it), they also require you to know in advance exactly how much heat you might need the next day. Get it wrong and you'll either freeze or boil, because other than adjusting how quickly they release that stored heat the only thing you can do is open a window, and that doesn't work when it's too cold rather than too hot. But now I've just found a new reason to hate these ugly brick-laden beasts: smart home thermostats. 

The simple answer to the question posed at the beginning of this article is no: you cannot use a smart home thermostat with a storage heater. Although you can still use a smart thermostat with your hot water boiler there is little point, as we'll discuss here. 

Storage heaters work by heating up bricks over night when the electricity rates are cheaper. They are often paired with Economy 7 energy tariffs, which offer an even lower overnight rate, but a higher daytime rate. You get two manually operated dials: one that lets you specify how much those bricks should heat up in the first place; the other is used the next day to control the heater's vents and, ultimately, how quickly it releases the heat. Once that heat has gone it has gone - at least until the next day.

See also: Hive or Nest: which is the best smart thermostat? 

A smart home thermostat is not able to turn those dials on your behalf. It cannot turn on a storage heater in the middle of the day when you want a bit more heat. And it can't turn off the heating when you're too hot: once the heat is there it has to go somewhere. It won't save you money by turning on the heating only when necessary. Neither can it do fancy things such as set up zones within your home, allowing you to have a different temperature in the living room to your bedroom, nor heat your home to a desired temperature at a specific time. Storage heaters are just too dumb. 

Storage heaters control only the temperature of your home, however. You will also have a gas- or possibly electric hot water boiler, with which you could use a smart thermostat. But you would be wasting your money. 

For starters, you probably already have a thermostat on this boiler, which allows you to control at what time it turns on and off. You'll have this set up so you have hot water at the times you need it. The only thing a smart thermostat would change here is that you'd be able to remotely switch on the hot water - useful if, say, you are coming home a couple of hours earlier than usual and want a hot bath when you get in. But considering the frequency with which you would use this functionality a smart thermostat is simply not worth the expense.

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