Drayton Wiser Smart Heating Controls Review Part 4 – 1 Year Older & Much Wiser

It has been 12 months since we removed our traditional heating controls and started to install the Drayton Wiser smart heating system. So now is an opportune time to reflect on our experience with the setup and share our conclusions.

If you Google ‘smart heating controls’ you will have no shortage of results, including enough reviews of the Wiser to keep you occupied for hours. The majority of these articles typically focus on system setup and limited use over a few days.  The true test of these systems only comes with living with them and once commissioned, the ability to forget it’s there. This article highlights some of our experiences with the Wiser system over the past year.

Change for the Better

It would appear a lot has happened since the launch of Wiser. For some post launch purchasers the installation process did appear to throw up issues. Judging by the comments left on our previous articles the main issue was range. This appeared to be a common theme amongst early users as feedback on Screwfix and Amazon reviews mirrored some of the comments we received.

Our test house is a long bungalow with the boiler and controls located at one end of the property and the bedrooms at the other. We are not aware of any system that could cope with those distances and we were stretching the capabilities of the Wiser system. To illustrate, we even need 3 WiFi access points to get full coverage. We suffered with low signal strength and unreliable connections with devices dropping off the network but thankfully this was overcome with the use of mains powered range extenders provided by Drayton. The range extenders provide a mesh network and allow the Wiser devices signal to hop back to the Heat Hub, ensuring we had full coverage over the property.

There have been a number of firmware updates for all the devices over the past 12 months. The app has also had updates including an interface refresh. These updates have all helped with system stability and introduced new features. The visual refresh of the app is subtle and gives a succinct view of the room temperatures and the devices.

Home screen – Before (left) and after the refresh photo (right)

 

Device details interface – Before (left) and after the refresh photo (right)

New Hardware

Users can now buy a smart plug with range extending capabilities which is a new addition to the hardware range. The app now supports control and scheduling of the smart plugs and the earlier range extenders allowing users to control plugged in devices such as lights via the app or Alexa.

Whilst this is a great add-on to the Wiser ecosystem you probably won’t be installing Wiser for this feature alone as other smart plugs are available for less but this is a great addition to an existing home wide system. We now have lights plugged into our smart plugs that we control via Alexa. We have set the lights to operate to a schedule. This is a convenient feature day-to-day and a useful security feature that give the appearance of occupation when we are away.

New Features

New features with version 3 of the app include a ‘Comfort Mode’. The system learns how long it takes for a room to reach temperature and then adjusts the boiler on time to ensure the room is at the target temperature at the ‘on time’ set in the schedule. Drayton have also included ‘open window detection’ which can be enabled room by room.

Comfort mode info

There is a feature to lock the iTRV so anyone adjusting the thermostat cannot change the temperature mechanically via the device.

The system now supports IFTTT to help link to other systems and adding features such as geofencing. You could activate or deactivate the heating based on your location or switch a smart plug on or off. Hopefully more triggers and actions will follow.

IFTTT Setup

Retired Features

With the recent refresh one obvious feature has been retired, the signal strength icon. Users no longer see the signal strength bars. Users will only get alerted to ‘No Signal’ with a flashing red triangle in the app or on the room thermostats. This did make us ask where has it gone? What will we do? On reflection why care about the signal strength? As long as devices connect and stay connected. Perhaps some of our initial ‘range anxiety’ issues would have been avoided if this had been the approach from launch however we would still have been calling the help desk for our ‘No signal’ issues.

Help at Hand

The help desk now operates 08:00 to 21:00 Monday to Friday and 09:00 to 17:00 at weekends.

We made a number of calls to the help desk and calls were typically answered promptly. The staff were helpful although during the early stages of our setup some seemed to be following a diagnostic script and once complete quickly needed to refer to someone else with more experience.

We also submitted issues via email and whilst taking longer to respond to these tickets they were always followed up on.

Range Matters

Most of the issues we faced were range related. Thankfully we appear to have got to the bottom of the issues due to the improved firmware and careful positioning of the smart plug / range extenders to form a mesh network. We held off adding more devices to the system for a time until we became comfortable with its reliability. We can report that we have continued added more devices and are intent on being 100% Wiser.

Incremental Additions

One of the selling points of this system (or any room/radiator zoning system) is the ability to add incrementally to it. Whilst this is true we found that unless all radiators in a traditional zone are equipped with iTRV’s the heating in some rooms would be on longer that needed as a room equipped with the iTRV could potentially keep the boiler running. We prioritised fitting the system to the bedrooms to realise the full benefit of the system. Our daughter would come home from school and go to her bedroom to do homework (more like watch YouTube). Previously she would turn on the heating for the bedroom zone, heating all the bedrooms, now just her room is heated to a schedule.

We now have 12 iTRV’s, two room thermostats and three range extenders controlling 10 rooms. We still have 5 radiators operated by traditional TRV’s that we will ultimately switch to iTRV’s.

Battery life

Two of the iTRV’s have had their supplied batteries replaced after 9 months and a third device is currently showing low battery. It would be useful to see battery life expressed as a percentage. The devices appear to be consuming batteries at different rates. This is probably attributable to how hard the devices are having to work based on their schedules, temperature fluctuations in the rooms and signal strength. It’s hard to envisage batteries lasting 2 years but be sure to check Automated Home in October 2019 for our next instalment!

The owner of another system we helped install called the help desk to discuss short battery life and he was told to send an iTRV back to the retailer as hardware improvements had been made that increased battery life.

Is the Price Still Right?

One notable change since our initial purchase has been price. At the time of our initial analysis we did a cost comparison with other systems and the Wiser system was by far the most complete and cost-effective.

The price of the Wiser components have increased significantly from our original retailer, Screwfix. Additional iTRV’s were initially purchased for £34.99 each from Screwfix. They are now on sale in Screwfix for £52.79 which is in the same price bracket as many other smart radiator valves.  That’s a huge £17.79 or 50% increase.

Thankfully they can be purchased from Amazon for £39.99. That’s still a market leading price for such a device and still makes Drayton a winner in our cost effectiveness assessment. The Drayton website lists approved Wiser retailers.

It does pay to check these links for pricing as the iTRV example above illustrates there can be large variations in pricing. Amazon are charging £41.99 for the smart plug and the same device is available from City Plumbing Supplies for £34.99. At the time of checking the other retailers were not showing the smart plug on their Wiser product pages.

To Do List

In Part 3 of our original series we compiled a list of suggestion that we thought would make the system more user-friendly. Having used the system for a year we do think these ideas are worthy of consideration by the Drayton development team. Some features we would promote are listed below.

1. We now have multiple devices and multiple rooms and managing temperature room by room can be tedious. The ability to arrange the rooms or zones in hierarchical tiers. It would be useful to have the option of ordering these in a logical fashion. Example organisation:

  • The House – all rooms all zones
    • The Downstairs – living rooms
      • Kitchen
      • Lounge
      • Study
      • Dining room
    • The Upstairs – bedrooms
      • Master bedroom
      • Kids bedroom
      • Baby’s bedroom
      • Bathroom

Having added hierarchical tiers it would be useful to control at a tier level so you could boost the heating for the entire house or just the bedroom group rather than having to adjust each one separately. This would be particularly useful when you end up with lots of rooms. Same theory could apply to programming schedule, set a schedule at a parent level and push to all the child levels and then tweak the exceptions.

  1. We have 3 plug-in range extenders and they have been unplugged a couple of times rendering parts of the system inoperable. We have applied ‘Do not switch off’ labels but providing hard wired range extender modules would improve the professional nature of the system. These modules could be connected to a permanent mains supply and hidden in a socket back box or a subtle housing that could be permanently mounted to the wall beside a socket. This would require a qualified electrician to install rather than being a DIY job. Perhaps a push notification of a ‘No Signal’ occurring with a device would allow proactive investigation / remedy rather than someone complaining the house or a room was cold.
  2. We have gone on vacation putting the system in ‘away mode’ and then forgotten to take it off before coming home. It would be nice to schedule the end of ‘Away Mode’ so you don’t have to remember to turn the heating on just before you return from your trip. A wide geofence may have prevented that but it would be nice to do it natively in the app.

Still Teething?

The system is not glitch free. At the time of writing the cloud service was experiencing status issue, for example when trying to update a schedule the app could freeze, not all the time but sometimes. The issue was resolved before we published.

The app recently updated to version 3 and informed us about the new ‘Comfort Mode’ but when we went into the app there was no sign of it. We later discovered the Heat Hub had not completed its firmware upgrade to enable this mode but 48 hours later the firmware had updated and we enabled comfort mode. Perhaps coordinating hardware updates with app refreshes could be improved.

These are relatively minor issues. They did not impinge on the operation of the system and would probably go unnoticed by many users. We probably need to get outside more rather than playing with our heating system!

We also had an issue with the last batch of thermostats we purchased, one of them read the temperature between 7.5-8 deg c, clearly incorrect. We completed a factory reset on the device but it still had the same issues. We changed the schedule for the device to permanently Off otherwise it would be constantly calling for heat. We called the help desk on Monday morning and was told to return it to the retailer. This was Amazon and a replacement was shipped the same day leaving us to post back the defective unit using the prepaid postage.

Any Richer?

So we may be a lot Wiser but are we richer? There are various claims made about the savings that can be realised switching to a smart heating system by different manufacturers 20%, 30% or even 50%. There are so many factors involved, such as previous controls, scheduling ability, household living patterns, weather, all these factors and more make it hard to quantify savings. It’s very difficult to be definitive and say the system has helped save us ‘X’ pounds. We had a very cold winter so it’s impossible to compare fuel usage from one year to the next on a like for like basis. What we can state is that fuel usage was broadly similar year on year so perhaps it made an impact considering the extra thermal effort needed to keep the house warm compared to ambient temperatures.

One obvious change is the comfort feeling, again not quantifiable but it is noticeable. The temperature between rooms is far better regulated than with standard TRV’s. No going from a really hot room with the TRV still calling for heat and a colder room. The debates about how a room feels have also reduced with the availability of quantifiable data.

Speak Up

We don’t often use the Alexa feature of the system for temperature status or changes. This might change if Alexa was in the same room as the Wiser device i.e. the kids could use it to control their heating. We have used Alexa more for switching the smart sockets on and off than heating adjustments.

When needed our main method of interacting with the system is via the app. The screen refresh has made it easier to find rooms and adjust temperatures. The app is installed on all occupants smart devices but once we found a schedule and temperatures everyone was happy with we have not needed to intervene very often. The fact that most people in the house forget about Wiser being present has to be a.n indication of its success.

The iTRV’s are very unobtrusive and look very much like a traditional TRV. This helps with user interaction as was demonstrated when we had guests, adjusting the temperature was a simple twist and feedback was via the LED’s, red for hot and blue for cold.

We did find some of the iTRV’s loosening after repeated operation. Our hand tight just didn’t the grip the adapter well enough. We will all have different grip capabilities but we would suggest wearing a glove to give a little extra grip when tightening.

The colour LCD wall thermostats replaced our conventional wall thermostats. We did use these wall thermostats initially but once we implemented room by room zoning with more iTRV’s our frequency of interaction dropped significantly and we barely use them. Where the room thermostats may prove more beneficial is in scenarios where the iTRV may be hard to reach or not measuring a true room temperature stuck behind a sofa.

Would We Buy Wiser Again?

Yes is the short answer. We would buy it again and have recommended it to others. Buying and installing a system now is a different experience than a year ago. If we knew then what we know now we may have delayed our purchase. We still have 5 iTRV’s to add so overall it represents a sizeable investment for us but one we are happy to continue with as we feel the benefits will outweigh the costs.

So ownership hasn’t been without its initial issues. We could put that down to being early adopters and living in a property with a more unusual layout and footprint than most. We were probably pushing Wiser beyond its limits. At one point we were close to boxing the system up and returning it however our persistence and Drayton’s support appears to have paid off.

In our original article we set a selection criteria and Wiser still meets all the points required even if it did take a bit of persistence. In fact we are glad we picked Wiser as some of the other systems would definitely have struggled with the same challenges and what is less clear is how the other manufacturers would have addressed them in the absence of Drayton’s experience and resources.

In our estimation it’s a good solution and still favourably priced compared to other systems. Drayton appear to have ironed out range issues and continue to develop new ‘value add’ features as well as introducing new hardware. Will we see a Wiser bulb range, occupancy sensors or more advanced app features in the future?

Let’s wait and see.

wiser.draytoncontrols.co.uk  :  Available from Amazon

Read the full Drayton Wiser Review Series

Part 1 – Step by Step Installation

Part 2 – Installation Update

Part 3 – Expanding & Adding Alexa Voice Control

Part 4 – 1 Year Older & Much Wiser

18 Comments on "Drayton Wiser Smart Heating Controls Review Part 4 – 1 Year Older & Much Wiser"

  1. smarthomegirluk | October 15, 2018 at 12:21 pm |

    re. ‘our test house is a long bungalow with the boiler and controls located at one end of the property and the bedrooms at the other. We are not aware of any system that could cope with those distances’ have you heard of Lightwave for power and heating? The frequency is 868 so range is not an issue.

  2. Mike Meakin | October 15, 2018 at 5:05 pm |

    This review was interesting as I purchased and installed a Wiser Kit 2 about a week ago. Sadly, I am not impressed. All I can say is ‘yes’ it ‘works’ !

    Would I install it for anybody else, no – far too clunky !

  3. Neil Watson | October 16, 2018 at 8:09 am |

    I also purchased Wiser recently and am not too impressed, you also seem to be getting a different support department to me.

    We moved from Hive to the Wiser and straight away noticed an electrical hum from the heat hub when the hot water light is on or flashes on override mode. Spoke to support who recommended get a replacement which we got, new unit was actually worse as hum louder and also now present on central heating. Support say it is not their hardware making the noise despite me pointing out the noise is not present if we refit and use the Hive hub.

    Thinking about sending the whole lot back and looking at one of the competitors.

  4. Andy Allenton | October 16, 2018 at 9:13 am |

    1) Add up the total cost and include any labour.
    2) Factor in the price and inconvenience of batteries in the TRVs.
    3) All this kit costs tangible money, so work out the tangible saving in £ for the initial outlay.
    4) Face reality – you’ve just spent sh*t-loads of money for another fancy un-necessary gadget that serves no real purpose!

    Zoning domestic central heating controls isn’t cost-effective for most people. A decent modern central heating programmer is the best option. Far greater savings can be had by increasing insulation but it’s not as sexy as the latest electronic gadget.
    I stand by what I have just written, based on 30 years practical and theoretical knowledge.

  5. @smarhomegirluk you are right Lightwave’s 868 band does travel further than zigbee, z-wave and WiFi so for some situations it makes sense. I should have been more specific in saying I have 45m to cover from the hub to the furthest device, so not even Lightwave would do that.

    At the time Wiser was going to workout £550 less than Lightwave. We preferred the styling of the Drayton iTRVs which was important to have something that didn’t look too technical for other users of the system.

    If you already have some Lightwave devices then it would make sense to extend that eco system to cover heating.

    One thing that we did think important is the manufacturer. Ok it’s not always true but in this case Drayton have been in the heating control business for years and are part of Schneider Electric. They designed these devices in house from the ground up and they are all made in the UK. Already we have seen the introduction of smart features such as ‘Eco Mode’ and ‘Comfort Mode’, I don’t think Lightwave offers that.

    Essentially you are right, different systems will suit different people for different reasons in various scenarios! It’s great to have the choice.

    Mark.

  6. @Mike would be interested in understanding more. So you say it works, so great but clearly short of your expectations. What elements did you find clunky? The App or the hardware?

    There are elements of the app GUI that I think could flow better. For example getting to room setup from the main room control screen and from the room screen.

    Mark B

  7. @Neil

    That does sound unusual. The hum is only present when the system is calling for heat? Perhaps it’s the relays.

    It’s not very reassuring when the second unit is worse than the first. I wonder how Drayton can track the symptoms you described to a unit being returned via a retailer. These sort of things do need investigated.

    Mark B

  8. @Andy – I disagree with you. I don’t have the system above that Mark has reviewed here, we use the Honeywell evohome and it has brought very real cost savings (thousands saved in heating oil since its installation) and great comfort and convenience benefits.

    Having recently stayed in another house using one of those “modern central heating programmers” I was reminded how wasteful an ‘All ON / All OFF’ system is.

    I change my batteries around once a year, hardly a huge task. As regards the “latest electronic gadget” – I recon most of us could think of a thousand products more ‘sexy’ than motorised TRVs.

  9. @Andy

    I do agree with you that draught proofing and insulating has to be a first priority for heat efficiency. Then come other factors, upgrading to an efficient boiler, fitting with basic thermostatic and time controls. These may still be the upgrade route for many households.

    After those have been achieved then there are still methods of improving efficiency. Intelligent heating controls is the next step and that’s where we found ourselves. It’s at this point I have to disagree with you.

    Hopefully we outlined the justification clearly enough in our original posting https://www.automatedhome.co.uk/reviews/drayton-wiser-smart-heating-controls-review-part-1-step-by-step-installation.html. We have a property with a mix of thermal performances due to new build extension, renovated older elements and large areas of glass in some rooms.

    Wiser has happily delivered on providing a balanced control of temperature across the property and provided an opportunity to tailor heating to very specific usage patterns. It’s a cost that we have happily paid as we are now getting the benefits.

    Mark B

  10. Have just sold a well insulated property which had Evohome installed for 4 years, I would say that the savings were marginal. Evohome doesn’t play nicely with modern condensing boilers as any change of set temperature by more than c2C results in the boiler going to max flow temperature. Does this happen with Wiser? As far as BEIS and BRE are concerned, the jury is still out when it comes to savings. BRE ignores ErP figures in all EPC assessments and Evohome with 3 TRVs is treated as dual zone with savings of 2%!

    This is worth a read:

    https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/650840/heating-controls-international-evidence.pdf

  11. @markb – will reply in more detail this evening

  12. Neil Watson | October 17, 2018 at 7:32 pm |

    @Mark B

    When you say the relays, do you mean something in the Hub? I’m sure its the Hub due to the frequency / pitch of the noise changing in time with the channel light flashing in override mode. The best I can describe it as is the same noise for example as some phone chargers make.

    Support are still saying its not their equipment at fault and to be honest I have lost faith in them as after trying to work with them they are blaming the wiring and telling me that 1 (Hot water off) on the backplate needs wiring in. Interesting comment to make when they have no knowledge of the central heating system I have (S Plan).

  13. Mike Meakin | October 19, 2018 at 2:30 pm |

    @Neil – The Humming ?

    The Hub has a power supply of some sort that converts the mains to a low voltage that powers all the hub electronics (typically 5 oe 12 Volts..

    The power supply may be an (old fashioned) ‘transfomer’ that uses copper winding (wire) on a laminated steel plate ‘core’. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transformer.

    Sometimes the steel plates are not bonded together properly and ‘rattle’ (due to the magnetic fields) – a phenomena known as magnetostriction. . This will produce a low frequency (100Hz) ‘hum’ at twice the mains frequency.

    More likely the Hub will use what they call a ‘switch mode’ power supply that uses a much higher frequency transformer (30-40kHz). These too can ‘hiss’ and ‘buzz’ in a similar manner.

    As noted phone chargers often do this and it is a very aggravating noise.

    Strictly speaking the hub is not ‘faulty’ as Drayton say. You note that the sound is louder when the relay is active and this sort of makes sense as the power supply is working harder.

    Just a thought – is the hub mounted on any adjacent steel work (Backplate) ?

    P.S Will post my observations on the product shortly. I am now ‘warming’ to this product. !

  14. Joe Sinclair | October 27, 2018 at 6:14 pm |

    Mark,

    I know that the room thermostat can adjust overall temperature and boost heat, but I believe it cannot edit schedules, so the only way to do detailed system control is from the app. Is that correct?

    Does the Drayton Wiser app allow you to control the heating system if your Internet connection is down? Scenario: Wifi is up, and you are at home inside the coverage of the wifi. Internet is down for a couple of days due to being in a rural location with unreliable Internet. Can you edit schedules using the app during an Internet outage, assuming wifi is working?

  15. @Joe

    I’m sure Mark will get back to you soon as usual, but I also have this system so I can try to help:

    1 – Yes, that is correct. The wireless room stat allows you to view temperature, humidity and set point. The “-” and “+” buttons allow you to change the set point, and the “o” buttons is for boosting the temperature (30m, 1hr, 2hr or 3hr). For anything else (scheduling, away mode, eco mode, etc) you have to use the app.

    2- Short answer is yes. When I’m at home my phone connects to the system via the local WiFi network, it doesn’t go through the cloud every time, which is a very good implementation in my opinion.

    I found this on the Wiser website when I was looking for the same info:

    What happens if my internet connection stops working?

    If for whatever reason your internet connection stops working, if you are at home and your smartphone and/or tablet is connected to the same WIFI network, you should still be able to use the app to control your heating and hot water.
    If outside the home and your internet / home Wi-Fi fails for whatever reason, you will not be able to control your heating or hot water via the app. Don’t worry though, your heating and hot water will still work and will run to any pre-programmed schedule.
    There is also manual override on the Heat HubR directly. By pressing either the hot water or heating buttons (depending on 1 channel or 2 channel variants) this will override any pre-programmed schedules and engage the heating and or hot water directly for a period of 1 hour for hot water and 2 hours for heating.

  16. Regarding “Amazon are charging £41.99 for the smart plug and the same device is available from City Plumbing Supplies for £34.99”, that got be excited, but it runs out the City Plumbing price does not include VAT. When you factor that in the price is actually the same as Amazon’s.

  17. @Neil – Humming

    I too have the same problem with humming. I returned the first unit as faulty due to the humming, but the second one (from a different retailer) has the same issue. Like you, my previous thermostats (Netatmo and a non-smart Drayton) have worked without noise. It’s not located near any metal (other than the wiring) though is on the end of a 3m run of 3 core/earth ‘lighting circuit’ cable.

  18. @Alasdair

    I finally gave up with Drayton and returned the whole lot. At my expense I had the installer come and confirm that all of my system is wired up correctly and that the fault is with the unit, even with this proof sent to them they still claimed my system is wired incorrectly and hot water off needs to be wired into the backplate.

    Hilariously they then claimed again that the unit is not at fault but in the next sentence contradicted themselves by admitting there is a relay that makes a noise.

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