The recent launch of the Drayton Wiser from Schneider Electric was the trigger for Automated Home reader Mark Boyle to bite the bullet and install a smart home heating control system.
In part one of his review he shares the criteria that lead him to choose the Drayton Wiser, as well as taking us through the installation procedure…
Why Did We Need Smart Heating Controls?
We live in a 1970’s bungalow that we renovated and extended in 2008. When installing a new heating system we split the heating into three zones, one for the living end and one for the bedroom end of the house. The third zone was for water heating. This gave us a level of control around heating areas of the house based on occupation patterns. The heat source was an oil-fired boiler which was replaced by a biomass wood pellet boiler in February 2016.
The system was controlled by a Horstmann H47XL 4 zone programmer located in the utility room that allowed 3 ‘on’ periods over 7 days. The 4th zone was used as a time clock for a range cooker, this is independent of the heating system.
The living zone and the bedroom zone had 2 Horstmann DRT1 thermostats and the hot water zone has a cylinder thermostat.
Picture: The conventional 4 zone programmer with advance and boost buttons for each zone.
Within each zone are the very distinct heating characteristics of the different rooms, some are constructed to 2008 building insulation standards whist some are from the ‘70’s. Some have a large area of glass and can go from hot on a sunny day to cold at night quicker than other rooms. Achieving a consistently comfortable temperature balance between rooms is impossible with only two heating zones and conventional TRV’s.
We had been looking at smart heating controls for a number of years. We were motivated by a number of factors and these became the selection criteria for a new system:
|The ability to tailor the heating schedule beyond the 3 periods allowed by the existing programmer as occupation habits have changed.||Wiser allows 8 set points per day tailored uniquely per day if necessary. Set points can be set to desired temperature levels or OFF.|
|On occasions when someone wanted a warmer room they would have to go to the programmer to ‘Boost’ the heating and then check the thermostat to ensure it was calling for heat.||Boost can be completed from the thermostat or from the Wiser app on our mobile devices.|
|The wood pellet boiler takes much longer to achieve its maximum heat output compared to the previous oil boiler resulting in programming a warm up period in the heating schedule.||The Wiser system learns the time taken to reach the set temperature and can compensate for the heat up time of the boiler.|
|The new system should be a drop in replacement for the existing system with minimal reworking of existing wiring and controls.||The Wiser system came with a three channel Heat HubR which would fit our needs perfectly.|
|The system should be scalable and allow the control of heating down to a room level for additional comfort and efficiency savings.||The Wiser system can accommodate up to 32 devices across 16 zones (rooms). This could be a mixture of room thermostats and smart TRV’s.|
|The system needs to provide a good return on investment.||The three channel starter kit cost £200 and nobody sells smart TRV’s for £35! The total system cost for our Wiser setup would be £760 compared to £1375 for an equivalent rival system.|
We ruled out a number of systems due to their incompatibility with our existing setup, the level of re-engineering required or their inability to scale the solution. We hesitated in choosing other systems due to the size of the investment required or fear of the manufacturers ability to support products in the future.
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We had just about given up on the idea when we came across Drayton Wiser. Having only launched a few weeks earlier it seemed to meet all the requirements for our selection criteria. As a result we ordered the 3 channel kit for £199.99 and had it in our hands a couple of days later. Single and dual channel kits are available along with radiator valves and stand alone thermostats.
|1 Channel controller and thermostat||£129.99|
|2 Channel controller and thermostat||£139.99|
|3 Channel controller and 2 thermostats||£199.99|
|1 Channel controller, one thermostat and two smart TRV’s||£189.99|
|2 Channel controller, one thermostat and two smart TRV’s||£199.99|
|1 Room thermostat||£79.99|
|1 Smart TRV||£34.99|
The 3 channel kit includes a 3 channel Heat HubR controller, two room thermostats with mounts for fixing to a wall or stands for table tops. Batteries are included. The hub is fitted with an OpenTherm module and a standard wall mount bracket. You get an installation guide that provides different wiring configuration diagrams as well as a homeowner quick start guide.
Picture: The contents of the kit.
A word of caution – mains voltages can kill, cause serious injury or equipment damage. Please ensure you are competent, adequately experienced or qualified to work with mains voltage, if in doubt enlist the help of a professional.
The first stage of the installation process is to fit the brains of the system, the Heat HubR. This is fitted with a standard wall connection plate that in many cases should be a straight swap allowing the user to unscrew the old controller and mount the new hub on the existing wall plate.
The Installation guide will show you the wiring connections so you can validate the connections. In our case we were replacing a 4 zone controller with a 3 zone controller channel hub. The 4th zone on our traditional controller was managing the timing of an oil-fired range cooker which is separate from our heating system, this will be setup with a stand alone time controller after fitting the Drayton hub which will control the 3 zones.
Diagram: A simplified schematic of our existing system.
Our existing conventional controller back plate has more connections than the Heat HubR so we had to remove it and fit the plate supplied with the Heat HubR. Ensure you isolate any electrical supply to prevent the risk of electrocution. This was a simple process. The switched live from the controller went to two room thermostats and a cylinder thermostat which switch the live supply to trigger the boiler and the control valves of each zone. The two room thermostats were removed and the wires connected in a junction box to close the circuit. The cylinder thermostat stays in place to control the temperature of the hot water.
Picture – Left: previous wall plate and right: Wiser wall plate.
Once the electrical supply was reinstated the Heat HubR sprung to life. Drayton have built their app around the setup process. No need to read instructions or manuals, just download the app and it will walk you through the setup process.
1. Open the app and select create an account if this is your first time setting up a hub.
2. The hub creates its own WiFi hotspot that you connect to via your phone
3. Now you can communicate with the hub you tell it the quantity of each device to add to the system. In our initial setup we will be adding two room thermostats
4. Then you are instructed to add batteries to the thermostat. There is no clear markings on battery orientation such as a printed picture on the PCBA but look for the plus symbol cutout on the battery contact tab
5. Once the thermostat has powered up the joining process can begin. This connects the Hub and the Thermostat via the systems IEEE 801. 2.4Ghz network.
6. Once joined to the network you assign a room to put the device in and map it to a channel on the hub. In our scenario it was the zone 1 entrance hall – channel 1 and zone 2 bedroom hall – channel 3. This step is repeated for each device. We screwed one thermostat to the location of the previous version in the entrance hall. The siting of the bedroom hallway way thermostat had to be moved closer to the hub to get a signal.
7. You then update the Hub’s WIFI with your local LAN credentials and connect it to your local network.
8. The next step is to create an account to allow remote access of the system when outside the home. Confirm your email address and then add the account address.
9. That’s it fully operational. It’s a very straightforward process.
The thermostats are similar in size and shape to traditional thermostats. The devices have a clean and crisp design. They do not have physical buttons but capacitive touch buttons. Plus and minus increase and decreases the set point. Touching the circle will boost the heating, touching repeatedly will give different boost durations. Just beneath the circle there is a red LED behind an opaque window, this will flash if there is a problem.
The screen (a 2.4” colour display) shows the target temperature in the lower right corner, the actual temperature in the center and the humidity in the top left. Top right displays the device’s battery level and the signal strength of the connection to the Heat HubR. If there is no signal you will see a red exclamation mark. When boosting the duration is shown in the middle of the screen.
The zone 1 entrance hall thermostat is 10m from the hub and only achieved one bar on the signal strength indicator when initially connecting to the hub. We were surprised by this as the product specification stated 30m in free air, although we understand this can be affected by many factors. When we originally located the zone 2 bedroom hall thermostat it couldn’t get a signal and had to be moved to within 12m of the hub. Having seen ‘Mesh’ referred to in the product specification we had assumed that the system would that capability to find a peer-to-peer connection back to the hub. After talking with the helpful Technical Support we learnt that while the wireless protocol used (a closed ZigBee system, as used by Philips Hue) supports mesh technology, the devices only connect in a star configuration to conserve battery life. Since we live in a bungalow the furthest device would definitely be outside the range of the hub.
A plug-in range extender is available and we were sent one by Technical Support. The addition of the range extender has given us the extra distance required to allow us to locate the bedroom hall thermostat 15m from the hub.
Unfortunately if we were to do a full Wiser implementation the furthest device from the hub would be 30m. Unless Drayton enable peer-to-peer networking on the plug-in range extenders we will be unable to cover all our radiators with Wiser. Since the range extenders are mains powered peer-to-peer networking should be enabled as there would be no concern over battery life. This would allow us to roll out Wiser across the entire property.
Adding the range extender is straightforward. Press setup on the hub until it flashes, plug-in the extender and turn it on. The side button should stop flashing and turn solid when it has a connection. The device appears under ‘Other’ in the Room and Devices tab.
Drayton have supported their new product launch with extended help desk hours that are now staffed 7 days per week – +44 (0) 333 7000 622. They can also be emailed email@example.com. Emailed queries get an auto response with a ticket number. We found both methods of contact provided quick and valuable feedback.
Using the App
The app is great at guiding you through the setup process. Once setup you can see the temperature of your devices and the temperature they are set to on the home screen. You can tell the system if you are home or away. In away mode the system drops the set point of the thermostats. Hopefully the Drayton team have geofencing in their development roadmap.
From the home screen you can select each thermostat and from there you can see the actual temperature of the thermostat. The actual set point is shown just below you can see the current set point. You can change the set point by scrolling the temperatures along the bottom of the screen.
Tapping the clock will allow you to boost the time by then selecting the appropriate duration. Taping the calendar will take you to the schedule where you can edit the temperature you want to achieve and when. The flame icon indicates the system is calling for heat.
You have a maximum of eight set points where you can define the temperature required or turn the system off. When setting temperatures the length of the bar increases and the colour changes to indicate the temperature relative temperature. From the schedule setting screen you can copy the schedule across multiple days to save the effort of having to program each individually.
One issue we did note is when making a schedule change the app screen didn’t update until we went to the home screen and back to the schedule. Hopefully a software update will remedy this.
Going back to the main menu, taping the gears takes you to the setup options. Going to the rooms and devices page shows you a list of your rooms and the device assigned to each, including the device’s battery state and signal strength.
We installed the app on two iPhones and two iPads in the house to provide easy access to the system. We had to use the one sign in on multiple devices as there is no option to assign multiple users.
The feedback from the household was positive once we had the schedule fine tuned. Using the app and the hardware was easy to pick up and the kids were expert users in a short space of time.
We turned on the Eco function to evaluate the system’s temperature compensation and how well it calculates when it needs to come on to get to the desired temperature at the required time. This is an important feature for us as our biomass boiler has a much longer heat up time compared to an oil or gas boiler. When setting up the app there was only options for oil, gas and electric heat sources, I’m not sure how this selection impacts the performance of the system as it learns but we selected oil.
So whilst using the system there are a few things that we thought would be good to have. So in no particular order:
- Peer to peer function enabled on the plug-in range extenders – essential for us to allow our full roll out.
- A network map or the ability to see how the devices connect to the hub or the range extenders.
- The ability to see the signal strength between the hub and the range extenders.
- The range extender looks suspiciously like a smart plug and you can hear a relay click when turning it on and off via the LED button. Can this functionality be added.
- An audit log file to show how long and often the boiler is being fired.
- The option of selecting Biomass from the heat source and the logic added to eco mode to allow for longer warm up times.
- The app instantly reflects schedule changes when made.
- Multiple user logins. Who keeps turning up the heating?
- Geofencing as well as the manual away mode switch.
- Ability to nominate a weather station on wunderground.com for very local data for the weather compensation function.
- The ability to see a timeline view of all the devices and when they call for heat. When scheduling our boiler we overlap the zone schedules to prevent unnecessary shut downs and startups. At present we plan it in a spreadsheet and then implement the timings in the app schedule.
- The ability to schedule, monitor and control from a web browser.
The size of this list in no way should be seen as a bad reflection of the system, how many other users would have their own weather station, live in a long bungalow and have a biomass boiler – not your typical use case! This is a fantastic plug and play solution for many users and a cost-effective one at that.
Verdict so Far
We did experiment with some Z-Wave components and TRV’s before but I’m glad I didn’t pursue this option based on what Drayton are now offering. We like it, we like it a lot so far. The hardware has a fresh design that’s unobtrusive. It was easy to set up and tailor to our needs. It has worked as expected and interaction with the system via the app or the thermostats has been straightforward and it didn’t cost a fortune. Would we recommend it, yes and we have, a friend has just ordered the single zone kit with two TRV’s which we will help install.
Having set up the 3 Channel kit with the two thermostats we will go to the next level of control and add some of the Wiser radiator valves. As per the schematic we have 22 radiators, 18 of which are currently controlled by traditional TRV’s. The remainder are fixed valves typically on towel radiators as heat dumps.
We will have to fully evaluate signal strength across the two zones to determine how many valves will have sufficient signal working on a star network.The other factor is trying to balance the cost of implementation but that is one of the factors that drew is to the Drayton solution, it can be phased in and is not too expensive.
Meanwhile checkout our Part 2 Installation Update on some of the new information we’ve learnt after talking to the guys at Drayton…