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How to automate your gas fireplace with UPB

UPB HVAC

This will show you how I automated my gas fireplace using UPB.  This involves automating the fireplace blower as well as the fireplace flame itself.  My fireplace has a typical Millivolt triggering mechanism in which you turn on the fireplace by connecting two low-voltage wires together (flipping a switch).
But, before we start, we need a big disclaimer here:
Follow this guide at your own risk.  If you're not completely comfortable with what you're doing or don't have a full understanding of what you're doing, please just don't do it.  Neither the author nor anyone at CocoonTech takes any responsibility for anything that may go wrong if you implement this.

The scary part... This technically wouldn't pass code as far as I know.  The reason: mixing high voltage and low voltage in the same electrical box.  Absolute worst-case scenario, if somehow you were to short your low voltage wires into your high voltage wires, you could potentially send 120V down into the control box in your fireplace creating sparks and/or fire in an area with a gas line. 
If you're not comforable with any of this, there are plenty of other remotes and things of that nature that work with a Millivolt setup.
 
Options in Control

There are lots of ways to accomplish automating this type of setup.  All you have to do is find a way to touch the two wires together in an automated fashion.
Here are some options:
  • Using an output/relay off your alarm/automation panel.  You connect each lead of the Millivolt contacts to the relay (C and NO Sides).  When that relay is activated, it connects the wires lighting the fireplace.  An Elk or HAI Output with a relay would accomplish this just fine.  Even a GlobalCache device with the relay outputs would've worked.
  • PCS and SAI both make output modules in which you could connect the two wires in an output and have UPB control.  This just means running new wires to the controls.  The other lighting protocols have similar modules available.
  • You can also buy an off-the-shelf Millivolt wireless controller and follow this article's instructions for automating the wireless remote.
  • You could get an automotive 12V relay and an old wall wart plugged into an appliance module that when turned on activates the automotive relay and turns on the fireplace.
I'm sure there are lots of other variations as well all involving a relay automated in some fashion. Consider a failsafe!

When we had an extended power outage a few weeks ago, I discovered that my fireplace still functioned even without power.  I don't know the details on the Millivolt setup, but flipping the switch worked... and if I had already automated all of this using a relay, I probably would've lost the manual override function.  As a result, I completely reconsidered my control options to include a method of manual override.
 
For any relay setup, that can be as simple as wiring your new relay in-line with your existing control, leaving the existing control's connections passing through the NC side of the relay so it'll still function as well.  I did something similar you'll see below, but added protection from my 2yr old who had a habit of controlling the fireplace whenever she wanted.  This override also gives me an option of disconnecting the fireplace from the control as well; which could be smart on vacations, etc.

With all the warnings and other options, why choose this method?

Pretty simple for me - pure laziness and ability to completely remove it in the future and put it back to 100% original without a single hole to patch, wire to fish, etc.  Resale factor is a whole different topic, but I prefer to be careful about my automation and make sure that anything I do can be undone when I sell the house, or would be a desirable feature that a new owner would welcome and not be intimidated by (security for example).
 
I wanted to work completely with what was there already, including the controls that are on an exterior wall and can't be fished to.  I also want everything to look finished; so no new exposed wires, etc.  I know the risks and mitigated against them the best I could and feel perfectly comfortable with this solution.
 
Getting Started

Attached Image: FP_OldSwitches.jpg
What I had to begin with was a house that was pre-wired for a blower (not installed though) and had the Millivolt fireplace control installed and run to the switch you see here.  In this picture, the top switch is wired to an outlet inside the firebox designed for an optional blower.  The bottom swith is just a standard Leviton Decora light switch, but it's not actually controlling 120V; it's being used as a simple contact switch to connect the two low voltage Millivolt wires to ignite the fireplace
 
First I found the blower - inside the fireplace I found the model and google quickly turned on a compatible blower at fireplaceblowersonline.com... installation is amazingly simple - just slide it into place and bend two metal tabs up to hold it in place, then plug it into the switched outlet.

Next, In order to automate the fireplace, I needed a way to power a relay which would connect the two wires in the Control switch.  What I decided to go with was a Simply Automated US2240 dual load controlling switch.  The first load will be the fireplace blower, and the second load is the 120VAC relay to turn on the fireplace.  The added benefit of the 2240 is that it has the timer on both loads, so I can set the fireplace with a max time... and in fact, that's why I went with the fancy switchplate - so the 4 buttons could be different preset timers.  

** Normally I'd be the first one to tell you to NEVER hook a dimming switch up to an outlet!!  Look at my write-up on UPB and I say a little more about it and link to a thread where people talk about the concerns.
 
The reason I violated my own advice here is because the outlet is as close to a permanently-installed fixture as you can get... the outlet is completely inside my fireplace box as the picture below indicates.  I feel pretty safe that my maid or house guests won't open up the fireplace panel to unplug the fireplace blower and plug something into that outlet (and technically only the bottom plug is UPB controlled; the top one is still hard-wired anyways).
 
Attached Image: FP_InsideFireplace.jpg
 
Here is the wiring diagram I ultimately wanted to accomplish:

Attached Image: FP_WiringDiagram.png

With the above in mind, I decided I wanted to use the 120VAC relay to connect the fireplace leads, and also to have a 3-way switch as an override so I could get manual control or totally disable the fireplace (say if UPB goes crazy).  Of course, I could just turn off the gas at the fireplace too.
 
I went with a key-switch instead of a regular rocker specifically because my oldest kid is 2yrs old and she could reach it - and would turn the fireplace on/off whenever she wanted... so with a keyswitch with removable key, it can be put in any position and have the key removed, and I know she can't override it.
 
If I didn't have the kid factor, I probably would've left the manual switch with my relay hooked in parallel so either option worked.

Building the Control
 
Here are the basic parts I went with:The project enclosure and the relay had tabs on them that were in the way - so I filed them off.  Then I prepped the decora blank and the project box for the key-switch.  Turns out the forstner bit that's used for mounting the Ion wireless contacts is the perfect size!  Then drilled the hole for the LED Indicator.

I used a meter to validate the configuration of the key-switch, then got to soldering.  Since you can't put it into the enclosure with everything soldered, I put the leads on the keyswitch first then threaded it into the project box, then I got the leads as close as I could and soldered into the relay as well.  I was very careful when soldering to know which direction I was routing the wires so the 120VAC would go a different direction than the LV wires, and get out of the box as quickly as possible.
 
With things as tight as they were in that project box, I needed all the wires going off to the side, not the bottom.  I also notched the box in a new spot just for the 120VAC wires for more separation.  At the end of it all, I did heat shrink on the keyswitch contacts to protect them, and on the relay I coated the bottom and all the contacts with liquid electrical tape, then let it sit overnight.  The next day, I did a bunch of testing with the meter to ensure everything was operating as expected, then used a hot glue gun to really lock everything in place and let that sit for a day.
 
Here are some pics of the work:
 
Obviously I didn't get the cover back on the project box but I'm ok with that - my bigger concern was knowing that everything was in a fixed place and wouldn't move or short. 
 
Parts Before
Attached Image: FP_Parts.jpg
 
Everything is soldered; this is a test-fit.  After this I pulled the relay back out, coated the contacts in liquid electrical tape and let dry overnight.  Look closely at the key and you can see an Apple logo on it; I wonder what these were left over from?
Attached Image: FP_SolderComplete.jpg
 
This is with everything glued together with hot-glue to make sure nothing moves - ever!  The red wires go to the milivolt setup; and black/white are the 120V leads.
Attached Image: FP_SwitchComplete.jpg
 
This is a test-run of the switch.  I realize I'm getting a little too comfortable lately sticking bare wires into electrical outlets to test things.  I used my meter to test more than once; since this is the final operation with everything glued together, I wanted to make sure that nothing shorted still.
Attached Image: FP_TestingSwitch.jpg
 
Installation

I intended to use romex for the in-wall part between the boxes - and I'm sure it would've been better/safer... but I didn't think I'd have the room for that in the box, we're only talking about 3" inside the walls... so I just fished the long leads I left into the top box and hooked them directly into the 2240's second load.
 
That is against code I'm sure having unprotected 120VAC in the wall like that - but you can see how close the two switches are together.  I wired the primary load to the outlet, then i went into upstart and programmed everything.  The rockers control fire/blower separately (both with the 4-hour timer on); and the buttons are currently the following:
  • 30 Mins Fire/Blower (for quick warm up in the morning)
  • 1Hr Fire/Blower
  • 3Hrs Fire/Blower
  • 3Hrs Fire only (For ambiance without noise).
Then I set the scenes.  That burned a lot of links with both rockers and 4 buttons.  I also set the fireplace and blower to turn off with many of our scenes like downstairs off, armed away, etc.  The only thing I wish was that Simply Automated had more specific timers (like just a number of minutes rather than preset lists) - I would've set the blower to run for 3 more minutes than the fire in most cases.
 
Final Product

Attached Image: FP_FinishedProduct.jpgIt's taken me 2 months to get the pictures off my camera and write this article; in that time we've been using this quite often without a hitch.  It's also nice that on a cold day if we have the fireplace running, then we all head up for a family nap - I don't have to think about it.
 
I just hit the "downstairs off" button and everything turns off, including the fireplace.  Or if I'm feeling lazy I can use the iPhone or iPad to turn things on from the couch.  I also added a button to trigger the 30 minute fireplace/blower on the scene controller by the entry to the room so you don't have to walk over to this switch if you don't want to.

Once I automate my thermostats, I'll likely run a timer to cycle the fan upstairs occasionally to distribute the heat rather than let it accumulate in the Master Bedroom which is directly above; and where the upstairs thermostat is located.

Anyway, enjoy - and if you have any questions or comments, please post them in this thread.


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