Low-Cost DIY: Zoned Central Heating System With Wireless Actuator Valves
Zoned Central Heating with Electronic Valves
A zoned central heating system allows you to set timers and thermostat settings for each of your radiators individually. The extra control that this gives you compared to a regular central heating system is not only very convenient - it can also save you money off your bills.
Here are few examples of the advantages you get with a zoned system:
- Have the radiator in your bedroom timed to go on half an hour before you go to bed and turn off an hour later. Normally you would have to have your bedroom radiator on the whole day /evening with the rest of your heating to have a warm bedroom, and have it go off when you go to bed or leave the rest of the heating on unnecessarily.
- In the morning you may only want a couple of rooms to be warm - you can do that without heating the whole house.
- You can set different temperatures for different rooms. Usually you don't need the bedroom, kitchen, or hallways to be as warm as your lounge.
Traditional zoned central heating requires fairly expensive plumbing work, which must be carried out by a properly trained professional. To create a separate zone for every single room in a house is very expensive using this method, so people will often just have two or three zones.
Electronic actuator valves which fit directly onto the radiator are a modern innovation which makes it much cheaper to make a zoned central heating system, and you can even fit them yourself. There are a wide variety of different options available to. Some actuator valves have their own thermostat, some are receive wireless signals from a wall mounted thermostat, and others will even allow you to control your heating from a smartphone app!
EQ-3 Actuator Valve
The German company EQ-3 make some very low cost radiator valve actuators which have a built in thermostat. This is by far the cheapest option that I have found. You just take off the normal manual actuator valve (the thing you turn to change the temperature setting) and replace it with one of these, and you can then set the temperature for each radiator independently, and also set up timer programs.
Depending on your radiator, fitting these may not be as simple as more expensive models, however. The fancier units have a universal fitting which works out of the box with every radiator. With these units you may need to either buy an adapter or use a spacer washer. Also they are made for European radiators where the valve sticks horizontally out the side. Because of this the display and buttons are on the side; for UK radiators which tend have a vertical valve close to the floor this means that you have to get right down close to the floor to see the display. As long as you aren't making regular changes to your settings, however, this is not a major problem.
Wireless Actuator Valves
The next level up in terms of price is to have a wall mounted thermostat, which usually controls up to four radiators. If you choose this option you should check whether the temperature sensor is in the thermostat unit or in the actuator valve itself, as this will determine whether you can set a different temperature for each unit.
Wall mounted thermostats may be more convenient and easy to use, especially if you want to make regular manual changes. Depending on the brand, they may also open up the possibility of adding advanced functionality (see below).
For a good balance between price and quality I recommend HomeMatic, which you can see in the image to the right.
Control It All From Your Phone
Being able to control your heating from a smartphone app is really cool! Imaging being able to turn on your heating when you leave for home with just a couple of taps on your phone, so that it is nice and warm when you get back. Of course you can also turn off the heating from anywhere in the world if you forget to do it before going out.
All you need to do this is a fairly basic home automatic controller and a wireless actuator valve. Most home automation controllers these days will come with a free phone app that you can use to control any devices included within the controller's network.
If you choose this route then you will need to check whether the actuator valve comes with its own temperature sensor, and if not then you may also need to fit one of these into each room - but doing so is not expensive.
Z-wave is a good home automation system for DIY enthusiasts who want to do all of the set up themselves, and you can see an example of a Z-Wave enabled valve to the right.
Using the home automation controller route, or some of the better wall thermostats, you can add some really nice advanced functions if you are willing to buy a couple of extra bits of kit.
For example, if you were to fit contact sensors onto your windows you can have the heating automatically turn itself off if somebody opens a window. The same sensors can be used as part of an alarm system too, and if you do that then you can even have your heating automatically turn itself off when the alarm is set, so you don't have to turn it off manually when you leave the house. This is great for helping your to save money on your heating bills. Some GPS enabled apps are even able to turn you heating on for you just before you get home, by tracking your location through your phone!