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)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Products from Amazon.co.uk
Price: £40.00Was: £44.99
Price: Check on Amazon
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
- Dining room
- The Upstairs – bedrooms
- Master bedroom
- Kids bedroom
- Baby’s bedroom
- The Downstairs – living rooms
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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
Read the full Drayton Wiser Review Series
Part 1 – Step by Step Installation
Part 2 – Installation Update
Part 4 – 1 Year Older & Much Wiser