One of my most annoying first-world problems of recent years has been getting into bed, then realising that the heating is still on.
I've never bothered with timers; it's always just been easier to crank up the thermostat when it's cold, and flick it back down again when it gets too hot. But when you're upstairs, already tucked up in bed, and the thermostat is all the way downstairs, getting out of bed to go turn the heating off seems like a mammoth task. Leaving the heating on isn't an option, because it means waking up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, feeling like you're a million degrees. Many a night my partner and I have laid there, willing each other to get up and do it, as if arguing over who's going to tend to the crying baby. Usually I win, and get to stay horizontal while he trundles off to fiddle with the thermostat. After all, his side of the bed is closer to the door. It's only fair.
The smart thermostat, then, has struck me as the perfect solution to this particular problem: you can control the heating with your phone, no matter where you are. No more getting out of bed to operate the thermostat downstairs! Perfect. So when Tado's PR company approached me and asked if I wanted to try out their smart solution, I jumped at the chance.
The first hurdle came straight away: fitting the thing. Tado claims to be compatible with "most" types of boiler, but that means there exists some systems out there that aren't. But even if your system is compatible, your exact setup will depend on how Tado needs to be configured. Some boilers will be able to connect easily to the thermostat with no extra legwork involved. But some systems – mine included – need an 'Extension Kit' connecting to the boiler to allow the smart thermostat to interact with it. This is where an easy installation becomes absolutely-not-an-easy-installation.
I asked Tado exactly in what circumstances an Extension Kit is needed, and the answer they gave me was the same one I found myself on their product description page (literally a copy and paste job): "The Extension Kit enables you to control your hot water. It is also needed to connect the Tado Smart Thermostat to your heating system if there is no room thermostat or if you have a wireless room thermostat". Presumably then, you'll definitely need a Tado Extension Kit if you have a separate hot water tank as opposed to a combi boiler and want to have smart control over your water. You'll also need an Extension Kit if you (a) currently have no room thermostat or (b) have a wireless room thermostat. Based on that information I'm not sure what situations wouldn't require the Extension Kit. Presumably some set-ups exist that don't need it, but it's a very vague descriptor, especially since the Extension Kit is sold as an optional add-on. That's important to note: you can buy a starter kit that includes the Extension Kit for £220, just £20 more than the standard Smart Thermostat Starter Kit, or you can buy it by itself for £90 (!). For the love of god, make sure you check if you need one before buying your Starter Kit.
As for what this mysterious Extension Kit actually is, it's a white box that connects directly to the boiler. It's what receives the signal from your phone/thermostat and it's what tells your boiler what it needs to do. It's also scarily technical-looking, with a tonne of wires and very technical-looking plugs and is definitely not something I felt comfortable setting up by myself. Look:
While Tado provides step-by-step instructions, they are absolutely not easy to follow unless you already have a fairly advanced knowledge in how your boiler is set up. It requires multiple wires connecting to multiple parts of the boiler and is not something Average Joe should be attempting by themselves. I had a professional installer come out, someone who fits smart thermostats on the regular, and even he looked at this and said "right, what do I do with this, then?". It took him a good part of two hours to get the old thermostat disconnected and the Tado set up, although his task was made quite a bit harder because of where my boiler is situated. All those connectors needed to go somewhere around the bottom of my boiler, and my boiler is mounted only a few inches above a solid worktop, leaving very little space to work in. But who exactly has a boiler in a big, open room with lots of space around it, anyway?
If you do need an Extension Kit, then, and you don't happen to be an electrician or boiler repair person by trade, then the price of a professional installation is also something you're going to need to factor in. It'll vary depending on the tradesperson, obviously, but £100 is a fair estimate.
Once the professional had done his part, though, it was all set up and ready to go. Along with the Extension Kit and the Smart Thermostat itself, the Tado system also needs a 'Bridge' - a dongle that connects to your router. It needs to be connected to your router via an Ethernet cable, and also requires plugging in to the mains power. Why exactly it needs an Ethernet connection is beyond me – my Blink security camera hub, for example, works flawlessly with a wireless connection. It's made more annoying with the fact that my Sky router only has two Ethernet ports on it as it is. Bye bye, slightly faster Xbox One download speeds.
The pesky Extension Kit mounted aside my boiler.
Using the Tado app is pretty simple. It tells you the current temperature in the room where your thermostat is located, and allows you to turn the heating up or down. You can also set timers if you'd rather your heat come on at a certain schedule. Previously I could do this directly from my boiler - as I assume a lot of people can, but I've never used it, and I'll continue to never use a timer now.
There's a few advanced features the Tado offers over a more traditional set-up. Something called 'Geofencing' allows it to detect when everyone's left the house so can turn off the heating to save money. You can subscribe to Tado Auto-Assist for £3 a month (or £25 a year) to use Geofencing automatically; without the subscription you'll have to respond to a push notification on your phone. To me that's no big deal. If I forget to turn the heating off before I leave the house I can simply check the app on my phone and turn it down from there anyway. It's probably worth noting that Google's Nest Thermostats have automatic geofencing as standard. Hive thermostats also have no additional monthly costs for the feature, but also won't adjust the temperature automatically; it'll simply send push notifications in the same way that Tado does without the Auto-Assist upgrade.
Another of Tado's 'skills', as it calls them, is Open Window Detection. It notifies you when it detects a sudden change in temperature or humidity and prompts you to turn off your heating to save on energy. I've had a few notifications of an open window, and not once has there actually been a window open. Once was about 2 in the morning and I momentarily panicked I was being burgled. I wasn't; presumably there's a draft somewhere. Or a ghost walked by the thermostat.
The app's heating screen simply allows you to drag the temperature up or down.
If you have a smart assistant, you can also use voice control to control your heating in case you really want to feel like you live in a home from the future. I had an absolute nightmare trying to get Tado connected to Alexa, but that says more about how useless my Amazon Echo is than the Tado system itself. Besides, it's almost certainly quicker to simply open the app and flick up or down the temperature than it is to bark a command at your smart speaker, anyway.
Those few features, then, are pretty handy to have, but they're not exactly groundbreaking. Sadly, most of Tado's more advanced features – the ability to set different temperatures per room, and the system's promise that it will "learn how to most effectively heat your home over time" – require a more comprehensive set-up. You'll need additional Smart Thermostats to place in additional rooms, or Smart Radiator Thermostats, that attach directly onto a radiator. At least Tado's infrastructure means it's easy to introduce add-ons if you decide at a later date you want to control multiple rooms separately. It's just that, with the Starter Kit, it feels like the only worthwhile function you're getting is the ability to control your heating with your phone. Which is great – but I'm not sure it's £200/£320+ great.
There's also the issue of being dependent on an internet connection. In the two weeks I've been using Tado now, the Extension Kit has disconnected from my network a couple of times, both times for no reason at all (the internet elsewhere was fine). In disconnecting, it deems the 'smart' functionality of the thermostat useless. One of these disconnections was in the middle of the night, and even after turning the temperature down before I went to sleep, I woke up to the house sweltering hot as the boiler had remained on all night, Presumably the Extension Kit had disconnected before it had received the signal from my phone, even though from the app it appeared to have worked. On both occasions, I've had to re-pair the internet bridge and the Extension Kit.
The physical thermostat is neat and inconspicuous-looking. Until you push the button, there's no display (saving battery power). Once you've pushed the button, it'll display the current temperature, and allow you to use the touch-control arrows to turn the heating up or down.
Thankfully, if you do lose internet connection, the physical thermostat still connects to the boiler in the old-fashioned RF way, so you're still able to control your heating without the internet. The bad news? That makes my Tado Smart Thermostat system have the exact same functionality of my old thermostat, making the upgrade absolutely pointless. FFS.
Touch-wood, it hasn't disconnected itself again for over a week, so let's hope it stays that way. Admittedly, when the Tado system is working as intended, it is very handy being able to control it from your phone.
Ultimately, if you already have a functional thermostat in place, Tado – or indeed any smart thermostat set-up – is an expensive solution to a very minor first-world problem. Other than letting me control my heating via an app, it doesn't do anything that I couldn't do before, unless I fork out a couple extra hundred quid to introduce the system to more rooms. I'm not sure it's worth the £300+ it would cost to upgrade, including the cost of a professional to fit it. If you don't already have any thermostat in place or you're upgrading your entire heating system, it makes sense to go for a Tado or some other type of smart thermostat over a traditional set-up. But without my original thermostat breaking or somehow becoming useless, it's not been worth the upgrade, I think. Still, I do enjoy not having to get out of bed - or force my partner out - to turn off the heating. As long as the damn thing stays connected, that is.