Hands-on review: Netatmo Smart Thermostat and Radiator Valves
Control the heating system in your home and the temperature of indiviudal rooms with the Netatmo Smart Thermostat and Smart Radiator Valves.
When the concept of ‘the smart home’ was first floated to our communal consciousness, we were as dazzled and bemused as ever by the Jetsons-like lifestyle it promised. It seemed like a lovely idea - all those time and money-saving gadgety devices and things, doing all the tedious heavy lifting of switching lamps on and off and fiddling with the thermostat on our behalf - but it was still a future so distant and removed from whatever strictly analogue bricks-and-mortar property we were already comfortably housed in that it didn’t bear much closer examination. “Smart home? Sounds great - if you’re a millionaire!”
Fast-forward just a few years to the present and the picture has changed. What is actually happening is that peoples’ homes are becoming smarter by stealth. We’re coming to realise that it’s not a question of replacing every single feature and function of our domestic lives in one fell, ruinously expensive, swoop; rather, people are smarter-ing up their homes one device at a time. A lamp here, a security camera there, maybe a clever kettle and a more intelligent fridge. Bit by bit - no pun intended - the Internet of Things is inching its way into our homes.
Central heating remote control has become one of the standard-bearers for the smart home concept; an easy sell and an obvious way for regular Joes and Janes to sample and understand the IoT delights of being able to finesse one’s environment from a distance over the internet. Save money on my heating bills from the comfort of my commuting train, you say? Sign me up!
Products such as Hive (“a British Gas innovation”), Nest and Honeywell’s Evohome have been leading the home-heating smart revolution. Now Netatmo, the French smart home tech company, has followed up its Smart Thermostat - which enables property-wide remote control of your heating system - with the Smart Radiator Valves, which allow more precise control on a room-by-room basis.
We’re not going to attempt an X vs Y vs Z comparision review. This is strictly our hands-on experience with the whole Netatmo system. Certainly, it shares a number of common characteristics with its commercial rivals - e.g. relatively easy self-install or you can choose from a recommended network of professional fitters; different fascias and colour strips, so you can match the thermostat to your decor; wall-mount or freestanding; smartphone app control and so on.
What Netatmo system does have that its rivals doesn’t is integration with Apple HomeKit, which is great news for iPhone users. It also works with Amazon Alexa and Google Home Assistant, so the full complement of our favourite chatty AI pals is on call. “Hey Siri/OK Google/Alexa... set the bathroom temperature to 23 degrees” or “...increase the living room temperature” or "... what is the temperature in the baby’s room?”).
The Netatmo thermostat also has design ‘By [Philippe] Starck’, so naturally it looks beautifully minimalist without sacrificing essential functionality. This might seem trivial, but - adopting the William Morris school of thought: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful” - when an object is going to be placed somewhere relatively prominent in your home, it had better look good. The Netatmo thermostat definitely looks a lot sharper than other smart thermostats on the market today.
Various types of heating are supported - boiler, heat pump, underfloor heating, mulitple heating zones, flats with shared thermostat - and it’s compatible with a wide range of boilers (a long list of manufacturers is on the Netatmo website). All you need is a private Wi-Fi network, an individual boiler (combi or system) and an energy source, be it gas, oil or wood.
The Thermostat is suitable as a replacement for wall-mounted or wireless thermostats or for installation as an entirely new thermostat. Depending on your system, you use the thermostat either wired or wireless.
In the wired scenario, the Netatmo Thermostat is wall-mounted and controls your boiler using existing wall-wires. It connects to the Netatmo Relay box through radio and the Relay provides a Wi-Fi connection to the internet and remote control from the app.
In the wireless scenario, the Netatmo relay is wired to your boiler and controls your heating. It uses radio to connect to your thermostat, on which you set the room temperature. Again, the Relay provides the Wi-Fi connection to the internet and remote control from the app.
With the Smart Thermostat in place, you can now control your heating system from your smartphone, wherever you are in the world with internet access. You can also now extend the usefulness and precision of your Thermostat control by adding the Netatmo Smart Radiator Valves. These can be added to individual radiators, enabling room-by-room fine-tuning of the temperature, all controlled from your phone.
The Valves promise ‘Open Window Detection’, switching off the heating in a room, and ‘Smart Regulation’, analysing a room environment in real time and adjusting the heating according to sunshine level and room use.
Installation is easy if you already have thermostatic valves - the ones with graduating numbers (e.g. 1-5). You simply unscrew your existing valve and screw on a Netatmo smart valve. You can do this any time, whether the radiator is on or not, and no water should leak while you're swapping the valves around.
It is also perfectly possible to add the smart valve to radiators with simpler manual valves (on/off), but you should contact a professional plumber if this is your situation.
The Netatmo Valves themselves echo the design cues of the Thermostat, with the elegant Starck styling of the translucent cylinder and four interchangeable ring colours. Powered by a battery with a stated two-year life, you can quickly install the valves and then largely forget about them, interacting with them via the app to check and adjust the real-time temperature in the room. You can also adjust them manually, by twisting them the old-fashioned non-smart way, if you happen to be passing.
That’s pretty much all there is to it. Your hot-water heating system is now as smart as they come. You can adjust individual room temperatures directly from the Netatmo Energy app, wherever you happen to be, set up room profiles according to use and overall have more control than you’ve ever had over each radiator in your house. You can also thus control the amount of energy you consume and stop wasting it on heating rooms that nobody is using.
Critics of smart heating systems often make generalised calculations, pitting the cost of buying the smart equipment itself - e.g. the thermostat and valves - against the value of projected energy savings, arriving at the conclusion that it will take X number of years to save with lower energy bills what you initially paid out to install the hardware.
This misses the point about smart heating systems. They’re not just about saving money on your heating bills, although Netatmo uniquely offers a money-back guarantee if you don’t actually save any money, estimating that with its radiator valves the average household saving will be 37 per cent, per annum. Smart heating systems are also about curbing the unnecessary waste of energy. Why heat a house when there’s nobody in it? Why heat rooms that aren’t being used? With the control in the palm of your hand, you can control your entire heating system. And yes, you will also start to save money, every day - money that genuinely was otherwise going to waste.
Thermostat £169, Radiator Valve £69.99 each