PassivLiving Heat review: Control your central heating remotely

Price when reviewed

Smart heating systems have become all the rage since Google acquired Nest in 2014. These days, everyone’s doing it – even the big energy firms are offering smart thermostats as premium options – so it’s a crowded market that British solar-energy specialist, PassivSystems, finds itself in with its new PassivLiving Heat system.

PassivLiving Heat review: Control your central heating remotely

The system costs £279, including installation, so it’s a touch more expensive than Nest, but it offers a roughly similar list of capabilities. It allows you to program and control your heating system remotely over the web, either via a browser or with the iOS and Android apps.imgp4070passivlibing

It doesn’t learn how you use your heating and adapt automatically as Nest does, but it does provide a number of tools to help you analyse your energy use. The goal is to help you set up your heating system more efficiently, and potentially save money on those costly fuel bills.

Connections are the key

The lack of learning features is a disappointment, but in other ways PassivLiving Heat strides ahead of Nest. Instead of using 2.4GHz Wi-Fi to connect to your router, and thence to the internet, Heat employs low-power Z-Wave networking to connect all its various parts together.

This has one major advantage: where Nest requires a constant source of mains power to the thermostat, the PassivLiving thermostat can run on a pair of AAA batteries, and positioning is thus far more flexible. You can move it around without a second thought and there’s no need to chase channels into your plaster for a more elegant setup.imgp4079passivlibing

It’s just a shame the thermostat itself isn’t better looking: the white plastic dial, boxy housing and tiny grey LCD display are more functional than fashionable – you probably won’t want it out on show.

The disadvantage of this way of doing things is that you need an extra, mains-powered “hub” plugged into your router to enable the Z-Wave controller and thermostat to communicate with each other.

Another, potentially more serious problem is that the Z-Wave networking isn’t particularly strong. In my case, with two walls, a bathroom and some fitted floor-to-ceiling cupboards between the hub and the boiler-control box, I found the connection was sporadic at best. I was able to get around the issue by installing powerline adapters to reposition the hub, but having to plug in extra devices is hardly ideal when you’re trying to save on your energy bills.imgp4084passivlibing

Software and controls

Once you’ve got the hardware bedded in, setting up and controlling the system is a lot less fraught. The first step is to set up an account on the firm’s website. Log in and you’ll be able to control everything remotely, and those controls are reasonably comprehensive.

Schedules can be set up for every day of the week, and you can define up to six time zones per day, each of which can be associated with one of three temperature presets – “in”, “out” and “asleep”.temperature

There’s an “away” mode that makes it easy to deactivate the system for a set period, and you can also turn the system on/off, adjust the temperature from afar, boost the temperature in your water tank (notably, something which Nest can’t do), and view the current internal and external temperature levels.

Meanwhile, anyone who like to take a less-than-healthy interest in their fuel bills will love the analysis mode. This displays a graph of the number of minutes your boiler has been on each day, plotted against the average external temperature – so you can work out exactly where all your money’s been draining away to.untitled

It’s all clever stuff, and it’s a weirdly liberating feeling being able to boost and disable the heating from wherever you are, whether that’s from the comfort of your bed or thousands of miles away on holiday.

But the PassivLiving system is not without its frustrations. While the browser-based interface is fully featured, the iOS and Android apps are basic in the extreme. It isn’t possible, for instance, to set up or adjust your current schedule on the apps; and bafflingly, the nifty analysis graph isn’t available either.mobile_app

And, once I’d got over the initial novelty of being able to twiddle a thermostat from a distance of several hundred miles, the system began to feel rather basic. The fact that it can’t learn or adapt from your usage patterns like Nest feels like a missed opportunity. It wouldn’t have been impossible to implement, either: while the PassivLiving thermostat lacks the motion sensor that’s built into the Nest system (so it can’t tell physically when you’re at home), there are ways around this – by utilising the location services on your phone or tablet, for instance.


On the plus side, PassivSystems is planning on expanding the system as time goes on. One new feature, currently greyed out, but “coming soon”, is Optimum Start, which works out when to start the heating based on the outside temperature. It will kick off earlier if it’s cold, and later if it’s warm.

But beyond this, it’s tough to shake the feeling that PassivSystems could be doing a whole lot more with Heat than it is right now. The apps are frustratingly basic, there’s precious little that’s truly smart about the whole setup and – with Nest coming in at £249 (including installation) – the price is currently far from clever.

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