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How to repair your SECU16

Jun 07 2009 06:35 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

SN75176BP chipThis small tutorial will show you how to replace the RS-485 chip in an ADI SECU16 Ocelot expansion module.  My SECU16 was damaged by a lightning strike/power surge several years ago, but I kept the device around, in case I ever had the time to figure out if it is fixable.† I replaced the original Ocelot with a brand new unit, but I never bothered to purchase a new SECU16 since I have other home automation devices which filled the void until recently.†  I heard that replacing the chip reponsible for the RS-485 communitcations sometimes fixes the situation, so I decided to give it a shot, with great results.

The part in question (SN75176BP) is extremely cheap (<$1 from most sources), it's the shipping and handling cost that will bump up the price a little.  Since this chip is also used in the Ocelot itself, and other Ocelot expansion modules, I highly recommend that you purchase a few of them, just in case.† Instructions for replacing the chip in the other Ocelot expansion modules are the same.

Before you decide to do this repair, make sure that your SECU16 is enrolled (or at least tried to enroll it).† Check the SECU16 manual for more details.

Read more to see the detailed instructions, pictures and video.

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How to improve the quality of your touch screen text

Jun 07 2009 04:00 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

While playing around with touch screen layouts, I noticed that the text didn't look as nice (anti-aliased) as it did in the original photoshop design.† I was getting close to replacing all text with PNG versions in order to maintain the smoothness of the edges, when I realized I didn't have ClearType turned on.

ClearType is a feature which was first available in Windows XP, designed to make fonts look better on LCDs.† While I personally never use it, I figured it would be worth a shot, since the touch screen is a device I don't use for personal computing, it's just an appliance.† The difference is pretty big, and looks very good in a touch screen environment:

With ClearType disabled
ClearType disabled

ClearType enabled
ClearType enabled

See the difference?† I started looking at the screenshots people have posted of their touch screen setups, and I noticed many do not have this feature enabled (by default, it is not turned on under Windows XP), so below are the very simple instructions on how to turn this feature on.† The instructions below are for Windows XP:

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How to replace the microswitches on the SmartHome 2384/2385 SwitchLinc

Apr 01 2009 02:09 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

I wrote this microswitch replacement procedure out of respect and thanks to all who participate and share their experiences on the home automation forums.

The Problem
Anyone who spends time on the home automation forums, such as HomeSeer and Cocoontech, are very well aware of the problems associated with the Smarthome brand of AC powerline controlled light switches called SwitchLincs. The microswitches used within the SwitchLincs for ON and OFF have a long history of poor reliability.

Evidence shows the problem started sometime predating the ICON and Insteon series that hit the market starting in 2005. In my case, some of the X10 only series of SwitchLincs (2384, 2385, 2388T, etc.) I purchased in 2004 are exhibiting microswitch failure. After 5 years I have 3 with this failure out of about 20 total installed. Two more are starting early signs of it.

The ICON and Insteon series are much worse. Reports on the forums indicate these switches have had severe failure rates of 10% to 50% or more within 2 years and possibly near 100% eventually, depending on the batch of microswitches used. Itís unclear when the problem really went away. Smarthome says they have fixed the problem with currently shipping product. Time will tell.

The original warranty on these products was 2 years. After denying the problem for years, Smarthome acknowledged it and offered an extended warranty of 7 years from date of purchase for the ICON and Insteon series of SwitchLincs. However the warranty was not extended for the X10 only series. In my case I now have a house full of these X10 only series of SwitchLincs. There was no way I was going to buy replacements from Smarthome after this experience. Iím going to fix my switches!

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How to retrofit-wire ALC switches

Mar 08 2009 01:55 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

So, having now installed almost all our ALC switches, I decided it'd probably be nice to share some of the lessons learned, in the form of a how-to guide for taking existing 3 and 4-way switches and converting them to an ALC switch.

But first, a couple disclaimers:

  • You're working with electricity, which is DANGEROUS.  If you're not very comfortable doing that, then don't and hire a professional to do it.
  • I am not an electrician, so the methods I suggest come with no guarantee that they're up to code, or even safe. They just simply worked for me. Use at your own risk.
  • Always always triple check the power is off before you start doing anything. I highly recommend those little testers that beep or glow when near high voltage.

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How to monitor the status of your appliances using current sensors

Oct 26 2008 01:32 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

A number of people on the forum recently purchased the Mamac CT-800 switches posted here. I received mine last week and thought I would document my work as I installed them in my Washer, Dryer and Furnace. Please only use this as a guide. I am not an electrician and you should always check with your local regulations regarding making these kinds of modifications to your home. Only follow this guide if you feel comfortable around electricity. 220VAC can definitely hurt you so be careful.

How the CT-800 switches work: In layman's terms, the CT-800's are a current transformer with internal circuitry to open and close a set of contacts, based on how much current is flowing through them. This particular model will have its contacts "open" when less than 1 amp is flowing, and "closed" when 1 amp or greater is flowing. Most devices like your dryer motor, furnace fan motor and washer motor use at least 1 amp while operating which makes the CT-800 perfect for this application.

Without getting too technical, the number of turns of wire through the CT-800's center is proportional to the threshold at which the CT-800 closes its contacts. If you run your wire straight through the center of the CT-800, the contacts will close at 1 amp of current flow. If you put your wire through the hole and then wrap your wire around the outside of the CT-800 and back through the hole so that the wire actually goes through the center twice, then you have cut the current required to close the contacts, in half.


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How to detect who is at home by monitoring their keys

Oct 13 2008 01:25 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

For a while now, I have been trying to figure out how to detect when the wife is at home, or 'on the road'. I needed something that was fairly accurate, and inexpensive as I was planning on triggering home automation functions based on this 'occupancy' status. For various reasons, I could not rely on the car occupancy detection method, and other solutions were too costly or not accurate enough. The solution? Detect when my wife is home by looking for the presence of her keys on the keychain storage hook located in our kitchen. She will never leave the house without her keys, so this was the best methodology to use as an occupancy sensor. Most people always have their keys on them, and usually place them in the same location when at home.

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How to build a relay power switch

Mar 30 2008 01:17 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

Background: I am almost done adding a 7.1 surround system to my master bedroom with 2 extra music zones (bathroom and retreat). My 7.1 receiver has a powered zone 2 but zone 3 needed an amplifier. Lucky for me I had an old amp in my junk pile waiting to be used. I wanted the external amp to power on when the main 7.1 receiver is turned on. However, the max output of the switched plug on the back of the receiver is only rated at one amp. My external amplifier is rated at four amps. A $10 trip to hardware and Radio Shack fixed my issue.

I used the following parts to make a relay switch. You may need different parts depending on what you have laying around your house. Also I am not an electrician. I do not take any responsibility for any issue that can result from making this DIY project.

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How to interface the Elk M1 using Perl

Nov 21 2007 12:59 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

This document describes how to use ElkM1::Control, and custom scripts, to control and monitor an ElkM1 without the use of a Home Automation (HA) program.

Many commercial HA applications (i.e. CQC, HomeSeer, HouseBot, PowerHome, etc) provide a means to monitor and control an Elk M1 via a driver. The driver can be an integral, optional, or a user-contributed component of the HA application. An effective M1 driver must create an Application Programming Interface (API) between the HA application and the M1. The API is considered complete if it encompasses all capabilities described in Elk's "ASCII Protocol RS-232 Interface Specification" document.

Normally, an M1 driver is used exclusively with its native HA application. In most cases, the driver is an extension of the HA program and cannot function without it. However, thanks to Neil Cherry's posting in the MisterHouse mailing list, I learned of an M1 API that is not tied to a specific HA program. Early in 2006, James A. Russo created a new project on Sourceforge, called ElkM1::Control, providing a standalone API to the M1.

Developed in Perl, an interpreted language, ElkM1::Control provides most of the capabilities described in Elk's "ASCII Protocol" document. Its source code is freely available to everyone and, by virtue of Perl, can be used on Windows or Linux PCs. Unfortunately, only one version (0.02) was ever posted but it was amply documented, well-designed, and included commented code.

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How to create a poor-mans automated watering system

Jul 14 2007 12:45 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

This How-To was created due to the request of Cocooners (from THIS thread) wanting to know how to create an automated watering system that can be controlled by common home automation systems and attached to an outdoor watering faucet.

CocoonTech.com and its staff are NOT responsible for any injury or property damage resulting from anyone using this How-To guide or any associatied pictures or links.


The information below will show you the parts needed for this project as well as how to properly assemble and implement them so you can automate a lawn sprinkler, plant watering system, etc...

Be aware that there are many types of valves with many different plumbing configurations. The parts chosen for this How-To were purchased at a Lowes Hardware store in Las Vegas, but, links were found so equivalent parts can be ordered by anyone via the Internet. The only exception is for the three plumbing adapters (links could not be found), but hopefully their descriptions are detailed enough so they can easily be purchased at your local hardware store.

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How to detect the ON/OFF status using 1-wire technology

Feb 11 2007 12:34 PM | Dan (electron) in Home Automation

This article describes two related capabilities. The first is a hardware interface design that uses 1-wire technology to determine if a piece of equipment is powered ON. The second is a system/software design that describes how room temperature is controlled with a space heater using a Proportional-Derivative software controller, IR and 1-wire sensors.

A classic problem when using IR to control ON/OFF of equipment when only a single ON/OFF IR toggle is available for control is to know the current powered state of the equipment. There are multiple approaches to measure or infer if power is applied. What is described here is a method to use 1-wire technology to provide a positive indication if power is being used by an appliance. The circuit was designed to determine if an IR-controlled space heater is ON or OFF.

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