It’s that time of year when it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey and us Brits are very grateful for a fully working Central heating system to keep us toasty during the long Winter nights.
As someone who travels a lot, standard Central Heating thermostats have long been a source of frustration to me. Either I forget to turn the heating down when I’m away from home – and am effectively paying to heat an empty house – or I turn the heating down and then have to endure coming home to a freezing cold house before I can turn the heating back on.
So when British Gas asked me if I’d like to review the British Gas Hive smart thermostat system, I jumped at the opportunity!
British Gas Hive Active Heating
While our American friends have had Smart Thermostats such as Nest (which was recently acquired by Google) for a short while now, us Brits have had colloquailisms about Brass Monkeys and now have the Hive Active Heating system from British Gas too.
In short, Hive is a Central Heating thermostat which you can control from anywhere via an App on your Smartphone, Tablet or via a web control on your computer.
The Hive package I received contains three parts. A Wireless receiver that attaches to your boiler, a Thermostat unit that you can use to manually control the heating when at home, and a transmitter that connects to your home Broadband to facilitate the remote control aspect of Hive.
The Hive Active Heating works with any modern Central Heating boiler. You don’t need to have had your Central Heating installed by British Gas or be a current British Gas energy customer to buy the unit, although the system does need to be installed by a British Gas engineer.
My own Central Heating system consisted of a condensing combination boiler that was less than a couple of years old and which wasn’t installed by British Gas. I’ve since had a second Hive system installed in another property which contained a 12 years+ old combination boiler, a boiler which wasn’t originally installed by British Gas. In both properties I’m a customer of First Utility (mainly for their modern Smart Meters) for my energy and not British Gas.
Like most British Gas engineers I’ve met with over the years, the two engineers who came out to install my unit were very friendly, cleaned up as they went along and both explained the way the Hive system worked and communicated the steps they were taking throughout the installation process.
The installation work took less than a couple of hours, most of which was spent chatting with the engineers about their personal experiences of the new Hive system, how excited they were for the future of home automation, and their work ensuring the disconnection of my existing two-year old Thermostat system – and the awkwardly positioned existing Wireless receiver attached to my boiler.
Once the old system was disconnected the new wireless receiver was connected to my Boiler in a discreet yet more easily accessible position underneath the Boiler.
The wireless receiver is a small plastic unit with a green light that flashes when the system is first turned on (or re-connected after a power outage or loss of Broadband) to let you know all is well, but then turns off during normal operation so as to be one less distracting light in the home. It connects to your boiler and once fitted you’ll rarely have to check it.
The Hive transmitter is a tiny communication box with a single Ethernet port that connects to your home Broadband Internet router. Once connected, it configures itself automatically and uses only tiny amounts of data – around 5mb initially, and then 1/2mb per month ongoing.
The final component of the Hive set up is the Thermostat. It’s a simple to use unit with a large LCD screen which displays the current temperature and, like a traditional Thermostat, allows you to manually increase or decrease the temperature when you’re at home – even if your Broadband is down and you can’t remotely connect to Hive.
Once all the hardware was fitted, it is a case of downloading the software App for your Smartphone or tablet, setting up a Hive account using your personal email address and registering it to your new Hive system using a unique Serial number. Your installation engineer will then give you a quick tour of the Hive app on your chosen device.
The whole installation process was painless. As mentioned, in addition to the review unit I had fitted which was provided by British Gas, I have since bought a second Hive system for a second property – the cost for the hardware and installation was £199 with no ongoing costs at all. That’s comparable to any decent modern non-smart Thermostat, so I think it’s good value.
Using the Hive App
The Hive App is available for Android and iOS systems and is very clear, intuitive and easy to use. While I’m admittedly a techie geek, I can see anyone who uses Facebook (and that includes my 70 year old Mom) quickly becoming comfortable with the App.
I installed Hive on both my Nexus 5 Android Smartphone and my Apple iPad 2 and the system was very similar in use between the two operating systems.
You can turn your heating up or down directly from the App – and regardless of where you are in the world (provided you have an Internet connection) or, if you’re exceeding lazy and can’t be bothered to walk to the Thermostat, you can use the App to control the Thermostat while at home.
Yes – I’ll freely admit that I’ve even used the App to turn my heating up while lying in bed, thus avoiding a daunting chilly trip to the Thermostat a few yards away.
As well as using the App to manually control your heating, the App contains geolocation features.
In a nutshell, geolocation means that once configured (I stood outside my front door so the App got a strong GPS signal while connected to my home WiFi) the App will know when you’re away from home and remind you to lower your heating to save energy. Likewise, when you’re approaching home, if your heating is set too low, the Hive App will ask you if you want to higher the heating so everything is nice and toasty when you step foot through your front door.
In reality I’ve found the geolocation feature a bit hit and miss. It has worked for me sometimes, but typically when I’ve already had the Hive App open to make some manual changes. When I’ve not looked at the Hive App in a while, the geolocation feature doesn’t seem to prompt me. I’d be interested in hearing other users experiences with the Hive geolocation features.
Multiple Hive Users or multiple Hive systems
For me using two Hive systems in different properties, moving between the systems is a case of logging out of one email address and in with another. I’d like to see British Gas add an on-screen prompt as to which system you’re currently logged in to, and perhaps the ability to shift between multiple systems from one account, and after speaking to the British Gas team I was told this is certainly something they are considering adding as a feature down the road.
Unless I’m actively logged in to the App, the geolocation features don’t seem to work. When moving between two properties, often when I’m still logged in to one Hive system while travelling to another, this renders the geolocation feature a bit useless. Again, allowing a single Hive App to control multiple properties from a single login might be the solution.
Finally, it might also be nice for multiple email accounts to be connected to a single Hive system, so that an entire family or those sharing a home can login using their own ID’s rather than a single shared ID. As it stands, the single Hive login and password needs to be shared with anyone who needs access to the Thermostat.
As well as manually changing the current heating temperature through the App or Thermostat unit, you can also configure schedules to automatically turn the heating on and off both through the App and through the Hive website.
I found using the Hive website to initially configure the heating schedules for my property the easier of the two, although the App allows you to easily make changes to the schedules too.
The schedules feature allows you to set typically desired temperatures during the day and night, and weekdays and weekends, and set the heating to automatically change accordingly.
If you come home earlier than usual one day then you can manually “advance” the schedule to the next timed heating setting through the App or Thermostat to immediately increase the temperature of your home.
You can also turn the schedule off and use the system in manual mode – handy for when you’re at home for a few days when you’d normally be away at work, and want to stay cosy while catching up on “Breaking Bad” on Netflix.
To avoid freezing pipes the system also turns your heating on if the temperature of your home falls below 5’c. In reality, when I’m away from home for any length of time I manually set my temperature to 13’c which helps avoid damp.
Temperature History & Notifications
The Hive system also allows you to view temperature history at your property – by day, week, month and year – which is interesting for energy nerds (like me) and can help you organise your heating schedules more accurately as time goes by.
Handily, you can also set up notifications which are triggered by high or low temperatures. For instance, you can be alerted by email if you’ve accidentally set the temperature ridiculously high or forgot to set the heating and it gets too cold.
Similarly, you can receive an email alert if your Thermostat battery is running low.
This ability to remotely monitor and see historic data about your Central Heating might seem geeky, but as we enter the age of the “Internet of Things” it’s going to seem increasingly commonplace for any household.
Going forwards I’d like to see a trusted household name like British Gas extend smart technology into other areas of the home. The rival Google Nest system already has a smart Smoke Detector and Carbon Monoxide Detector, and I’m desperate for a smart home alarm system that I can remotely monitor, activate and deactivate. British Gas assure me they are exploring all these areas of potential home automation.
For £199 (and at the time of writing, British Gas had a £149 winter deal on) for both the Hive system and installation, Hive becomes an easily justified purchase when the cost is measured against any traditional Thermostat system.
For anyone who is away from home a lot, the ability to remotely control your heating from anywhere in the world becomes something that once you’ve got used to, you won’t want to give up. Indeed, I’ve demonstrated the system to my friends who frequently travel for business or who split their time between more than one home, and they’ve ordered their own Hive system and not regretted the purchase.
Likewise, for any of my friends who are increasingly automating their homes or wanting to feel more in control of their energy bills and who have seen my Hive system in action, controlling your heating goes from a “nice to have” to a justifiable “must have”.
With that said, in my opinion the energy cost savings to be made from a Hive system shouldn’t be your primary reason for buying it. I’ve only been using the Hive system in two properties for a few months and I’ve not noticed any real difference in energy bills – but it has given me peace of mind to check on the temperature in an empty house and know I’m not paying for it to be heated unnecessarily.