Take control of energy costs

Take control of energy costs

A home without the right heating controls is missing out on significant energy savings, that’s the message from Bjorn Sejr Nielsen, Marketing Director of Danfoss. Here he looks at how fitting the latest electronic heating controls can make economic sense for householders struggling to afford their energy bills and for installers looking for new ways to grow their sales.

Heating even a modest family home is expensive these days and fuel poverty (when more than 10% of a household income is spent on heat and power) continues to be a serious national problem. Earlier this year the Department for Energy and Climate Change reported that the gas and electricity price rises at the end of 2011 pushed 400,000 more households in England into fuel poverty, taking the total up to 3.9 million. Because of high profile consumer advertising a lot of people are probably aware that switching to energy saving light bulbs, or buying a more efficient dishwasher or washing machine, will help them to reduce their energy consumption. But do as many realise that the boiler is by far the largest consumer of energy in their home? And if this isn’t widely known, then it’s more than likely that quite a few don’t know that a relatively small investment in new high efficiency heating controls such as room thermostats could make a bigger difference than a lifetime of low energy light bulbs.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, installing a room thermostat where there wasn’t one before could save £70 and 280kg of carbon dioxide a year in a typical three-bedroom semi-detached house heated by gas. That’s got to be good news for hard-pressed households and for the planet. Investing in better heating controls in new and existing social housing could also help councils and housing associations achieve carbon reducing targets set by the Government for this sector.

Dispelling consumers’ concerns However, despite these clear financial and environmental benefits, too many UK households still aren’t taking better control of their energy use by fitting room thermostats. So why is this? Well, maybe some people have used older-style controls in the past and found them ineffective or too complicated to use; or perhaps they are worried about the cost of fitting new controls or the disruption this might involve. These concerns can be dispelled straight away. Many of the new programmable room thermostats are designed with an ‘intuitive’ set up procedure, making them simple to use straight out of the box.

Furthermore, an installation doesn’t necessarily have to involve any changes to the pipe work, and modern wireless systems mean no need for new electrical wiring. Some of the latest room stats can even be set during installation to show boiler service intervals, creating an opportunity for regular service business for the installer, and acting as a useful reminder for homeowners, and for landlords, who are legally responsible for their tenants’ safety by ensuring gas appliances are properly maintained.

Optimising boiler efficiency In recent years, energy saving advice as far as domestic heating is concerned has tended to focus on replacing an older boiler with a high efficiency condensing model. However, this alone is unlikely to achieve the anticipated savings in energy and carbon emissions if the new boiler is used with the property’s existing mechanical thermostat. Fitting a new electronic room temperature controller, preferably with chrono-proportional capability, as part of the installation will help to keep the boiler running at optimum efficiency in condensing mode. This relatively small additional expense will ensure the householder gets a much better return on their investment in a new boiler.

Chrono-proportional thermostats calculate how long the heating needs to stay ‘on’ to maintain a comfortable temperature. In ‘real world’ tests conducted by Danfoss, a chrono-proportional control can result in a potential 10% reduction in energy consumption by the heating system compared with slower reacting mechanical thermostats.

New heating controls can, of course, be installed without replacing the boiler. In many cases fuel savings can still be made by upgrading the controls on an existing heating system which uses an older boiler. Fitting new electronic room thermostats will prevent wasteful heating of unoccupied parts of the house or rooms which could be maintained at a lower temperature.

Set-and-forget solutions For Danfoss, one of the primary objectives in developing new heating controls is to provide energy saving solutions that are quick and simple to install. This helps to keep fitting time and costs down and so makes such products a much easier sell for our installer customers. Additionally, heating control developments are focusing increasingly on multi-functional solutions that are capable of dealing with a wider number of heat emitters and heat generation.

However, in developing new controls technology it’s important to maintain the balance between sophistication and ease of use. There’s not much point in designing an all-singing all-dancing heating control that end-users can’t work out how to use correctly. For today’s set-and-forget consumer, products need to be able to control the heating system in the most efficient mode with minimal human intervention. That’s why at Danfoss we believe there will be further developments in the user interface for heating controls similar to those used in Smartphone and touch-screen computers. Ease of installation and implementation must remain a key priority for manufacturers like Danfoss in response to the ‘set and forget’ requirements of today’s consumers.

Untapped sales opportunities Heating controls have come a long way since the early thermostats and are now specifically designed to deliver precise, intelligent control at the touch of a button. There is now a huge opportunity for installers to sell modern electronic heating controls into the eight million or so homes currently without any form of control and which are missing out on significant energy savings. So the message to all those professional heating installers out there is simple, take the opportunity to tell your customers during a scheduled service visit for example, just how easy, and relatively inexpensive, it can be for them to reduce their energy bills by installing or upgrading their heating controls.

Danfoss is a leading manufacturer of world-class heating controls, from programmers and thermostats to TRVs and motorised control valves, with factories in the UK and Denmark. The company’s extensive product range is supplied through a national network of stockists. As part of its commitment to improving the knowledge and profitability of its customers, Danfoss offers a programme of installer training courses and CPD seminars, covering all aspects of domestic central heating techniques. A comprehensive range of installer support services is also available, including the Danfoss Assist mobile website at, specially designed for viewing on a smartphone display screen and providing instant access to installation guides, handy helpline numbers and links to the latest offers from Danfoss.