‘Smart thermostat left me with no hot water and put my home at risk of fire’
Smart thermostats for boilers are the future, according to their advocates. But for the Stowe household in Suffolk, the latest eco device was a disaster
Bill Stowe suffered endless problems after the installation of a Nest smart thermostat system. Photograph: Martin Godwin
Last year, npower installed the latest smart central heating thermostat in Bill Stowe’s home, but he claims that rather than saving him money its botched installation caused a catalogue of problems and warns other households to think carefully before going ahead.
Stowe, who lives with his wife and daughter in Harwich, Suffolk, was offered the £250 Nest smart heating controller for free when he signed up to a special npower gas and electricity tariff last December. But he claims that problems resulting from the installation left him without hot water for six weeks and even put his home at risk of fire.
Only later was he told by an installer that the smart thermostat wasn’t compatible with his Vaillant eco-friendly boiler.
Seven months on, the energy-saving device – considered the future by the energy sector – is sitting in a cardboard box in his kitchen.
Only after the original thermostat was restored did his boiler work properly again, Stowe says.
According to npower, the Nest learning thermostat “helps you save energy” as its motion sensors turn the heating down when you’re away. The temperature in the home can also be adjusted remotely using a smartphone – a boon if you return home late or not at all. Many consumers say they love the thermostat, but plenty have had problems making it work properly.
Nest, which is popular in the US, was bought by Google for $3.2bn (£2bn) in January 2014, as web firms become excited about the concept of a “connected” home.
Stowe says initially the thermostat worked well with his modern Vaillant EcoMax Pro boiler. The problem emerged when he turned his heating off in summer and found it would no longer heat the water.
Npower’s Nest installation team suggested he call out the firm’s heating care (boiler insurance) team, but when the engineer came, Stowe says he appeared to have no idea about the Nest system and tried to put the heating and hot water back onto the original Honeywell thermostat. When he couldn’t get the boiler to work, the engineer said he needed a part and left.
“That night we noticed a burning smell coming from the airing cupboard where the boiler was and the power to the thermostat downstairs had gone,” Stowe says. “The circuit board in the Honeywell system had burnt out. It hardly fills you with confidence.”
A few weeks later, a senior engineer from the Nest installation team tried to fix the system but failed. He told Stowe that it should not have been fitted in the first place as it was not compatible with his boiler. He left with the boiler still off.
A third engineer could not fix it either and left Stowe’s daughter in tears after accusing the family of wasting his time. Two weeks later, a fourth engineer got the boiler working by replacing the burnt-out Honeywell circuit board and restoring the original system.
Npower offered the Stowes £50 as compensation – £20 to cover the extra electricity used by his immersion heater and a £30 goodwill payment.
“I was so annoyed with the way I had been treated I cancelled the boiler care agreement and am leaving npower,” Stowe says. “And guess what, it charged me a £45 cancellation fee as I had made a claim. I couldn’t believe it.”
An npower spokesman tells Guardian Money that at no stage was Stowe’s house at risk of fire. A statement from it says: “We’re sorry to hear about the issues Mr Stowe has experienced. The installation was as a result of a training issue, which is being addressed. The Nest thermostat was not compatible in the first instance. We will offer an additional goodwill gesture of £200.”
• This article was amended on 10 August 2015. Because of an editing error, an earlier version incorrectly referred in the headlines and several times in the text to a “smart meter”. That has been corrected to “smart themostat”.