Hot and cold: Laura’s had trouble with her app
It’s got a mind of its own.’ That’s what I find myself saying about our home ‘smart’ thermostat. So much so that I’ve nicknamed it Hal after the malfunctioning computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, which controls a spacecraft and tries to kill its crew.
Together with Amazon’s Alexa interrupting our family chat, it’s starting to feel like there are as many gadgets thinking for themselves in my home as there are people. Not that I’m worried that Hal is intelligent enough to terminate me given it is sometimes incapable of carrying out its primary function – to manage room temperature. More dumb than smart.
My version of Hal is Cosy, a product manufactured by Geo. It is one of many revolutionary bits of tech aiming to drag traditional, clunky home heating systems into the modern age.
They allow us to manage home boilers via a smartphone app and set when the heating comes on and off. In theory anyway. I got mine ‘free’ with an energy deal I took out five years ago. But it now seems troubled.
I have fiddled with timings and temperature settings via the app, but it is determined to dance to its own tune. As a result, the heating suddenly fired up on one of the hottest days of the year when no one was home. It then failed to come on one morning when the temperature plummeted.
And I’ve even had to jiggle cables connecting the hub to the internet just so I can log in to the app.
The market for smart thermostats is expanding. Products include Hive from British Gas, Google Nest, Tado, Honeywell and Drayton Wiser.
When they work, they are a godsend. Homes are heated effortlessly at precisely the times you want. And if you’re not at home, the heating will switch off or you can adjust it remotely. But snags can be exasperating and it seems I’m not alone in my frustrations.
Hive has a swarm of disgruntled customers launching stinging attacks on the performance of both the product and the company’s customer service.
They say errors have led to tropical temperatures in the middle of the night – or no heating when it’s most needed. Yet advertising suggests customers can save £120 a year by ‘never heating an empty home’.
Hive has an online community forum for customers to engage with each other. One unhappy customer posted a review last year, triggering thousands of responses from similarly troubled users. Complaints were still being added to the same thread in the last few days.
The Mail on Sunday has contacted some of the forum’s contributors.
Among them is retired electronics engineer Jim Penman, 65, from Edinburgh. He claims Hive worked well initially but its performance faltered when the company introduced ‘intelligent’ thermostatic radiator valves – known as TRVs – early last year.
These are designed for heating specific rooms at different times. But Jim, and others, report frequently having to ‘recalibrate’ them – in other words reset them.
He says: ‘It’s impossible to test everything with a new product and there can be teething troubles – most people expect that.
‘But people on the Hive forum are complaining for three reasons. First, this has been going on for longer than a year and faults are numerous. Second, valves need to be recalibrated when Hive issues an update, which takes up to four hours and the heating needs to be switched on.
‘Finally, the valves call for heat when they’re not supposed to – often in the middle of the night.’
Jim has contacted customer services but never received the technical help he needed and says getting through to someone who knows the system better than he does is like ‘pulling teeth’.
‘Customer services is diabolical,’ adds Jim. ‘I’ve ditched the system and now use a rival. The complete lack of interest from Hive is what really upsets me.’
Another customer, called Andrew, is scathing. He says: ‘These TRVs are the most troublesome pieces of tripe I’ve ever used.
‘Perpetual recalibration, not reacting to the schedule, so slow to react that the idea of controlling room temperatures without giving an hour or more notice is a farce… just terrible.’
Meanwhile, Mike, 68, from Manchester, says: ‘It’s been 18 months and I still have radiators that do not get warm within 30 minutes when the heating is on.’ He says customer services suggested setting the heating to come on earlier, despite the fact this would cost more money. Another suggestion was to boost the heating from the app, rather than relying on an automatic schedule.
Mike adds: ‘The idea of smart heating is that you set it and it works, not that you set your alarm early to do it manually.’
Hive has 1.5million customers of which 28,000 use TRVs. The company claims a high satisfaction rate but admits around 1,000 customers have been impacted adversely by a software update, meaning their TRVs are stuck on one setting.
It says: ‘We’re resolving this as a priority and it will be fully fixed in the next few weeks. Customers who contact us will be advised on how to reset the TRV straightaway and we will be posting this advice on our community pages.’
Hive has also hired extra staff to address long waiting times for anyone who calls customer services. It adds: ‘Customers can use our social media channels, online chat or call centre support to access help – and we recently trained 300 additional employees to improve call waiting times, with calls now answered in 60 seconds.’
Meanwhile, I’m warned daily in my West Midlands home by my Cosy display of a ‘switch error’ or ‘link error’. Maybe Hal is having a breakdown.
The heating at least comes on and can be controlled manually. So, I limp on, randomly pressing buttons and moving the thermostat around the house to force the boiler to wake up.
In fairness, I could contact Geo for assistance – I did once and found them helpful. I’m now told Cosy is no longer being marketed and that new products will be launched soon.
Last week, Geo told me: ‘If there are problems with Cosy, we have a help section on our website and a team of knowledgeable customer service staff to directly answer customer questions.’
Fine. But I only want ‘fit and forget’ gadgets – and that means a Hal that behaves itself.