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Home Automation Archives
I've seen a handful of posts where community members wish to get some real-time feedback about what's going on with our properties. Well, some of us have had some real fun the last couple days with something extraordinarily simple that gives us just that!
[How-To] Measure Salt Level in Your Water Softener (BSR Goes Old School)
Many years ago, I created THIS How-To on using an ultrasonic sensorfor measuring the salt level in a water softener. Since then I decided to go 'old school' and wanted a basic analog/voltage detection method that I would incorporate into my existing analog to digital converter for this measurement (basically I was not happy with the serial interface of the MaxBotix unit).
NOTE: This tutorial/project is extremely simple to do. Since I took the time to explain and detail all the steps, the tutorial looks much longer than it really is. If you are technical minded, you will be able to do all of this in just a few minutes, and if you need help, just post in the comments.
Whenever you ask about the must-have apps for Android, Tasker is a name which appears frequently on this list (and I do highly recommend it myself). Tasker allows you to automate every aspect of your Android device, such as your phone or tablet, making it easy to turn on/off features of your device based on conditions and variables.
This tutorial will describe one method of incorporating a Dexcom Diabetes Monitor to your home automation system with the main purpose of providing whole house alerts whenever the monitor detects a diabetic ‘alarm’ condition.
It seems nowadays, most modern vehicles have HomeLink or Car2U - those three little buttons designed to integrate with your garage door openers and gates. Also, the majority of houses in america have only one, maybe 2 garage doors - so there's almost always a spare button or two.
Have you ever wondered how you could very easily integrate those extra buttons into your Home Automation or Security system?
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).
During the course of automating your home, one will usually come across a dilemma on how to monitor a status of an appliance. Examples can include wanting to know when a washer/dryer is finished, dishwasher cycle completed, etc...
Previous methods of getting status included monitoring the current of the appliance via a current donut, hacking the appliance so a relay or other device was installed in order to get some type of contact closure, and installing magnetic proximity sensors on the appliances dials (all of these methods are actually described in previous CocoonTech How-To's).
But, what happens when you don't want to modify your spiffy new appliance due to voiding warranty (or the WAF prohibits such actions)?
You could easily monitor a status light that most modern appliances have now as shown in Dan's previous How-To. This method will let you monitor a light's on/off status with your home automation hardware that can detect an open collector contact closure (Modicon SECU-16, Elk Input, HAI Input, etc...). But what happens when you don't have any wires running to that appliance from your home automation detection hardware?
This How-To will let you monitor the status of an appliance's light remotely using a standard DS10a security sensor from X-10. Many members here already have the capability of monitoring these devices via a W800, RFXCOM, or MR26a receivers. DS10a's are so popular we even have a thread dedicated to their non-typical uses in home automation projects
Recently, SmartLabs (which owns SmartHome) released a SMART (their new brand, which targets installers/professionals) version of their VenStar thermostat+adapter kit, which moves the INSTEON daughter board into the thermostat housing, doing away with the ugly adapter sticking out at the bottom of the thermostat.
One of our members (drozwood90) has discovered a method to convert a UPB appliance module into a UPB remote relay.† Since some Fry's stores still carry some of these modules for just a few bucks (plus once in a while you can find them cheap online), it's a pretty easy and affordable to create a UPB based relay.† You can find the tutorial below, as taken from the original thread.† If you have any questions, don't hesitate to post them in that thread.
The X10 DS10A wireless door and window sensor is a great little product which doesn't get enough credit.† Eventho it is made by X10, it uses a wireless signal, instead of relying on your electrical wiring, to transmit the signal to a controller.† The DS10A is not a typical wireless X10 product.† It doesn't send a house/unit code, instead, it sends a 'security code' which gets changed everytime you replace the batteries.† Not many wireless receivers know how to handle these, but the W800RF32 is one of the few (if not the most popular one) which can successfully understand these transmissions.
The goal of this tutorial is to show you how you can monitor these sensors, using an Elk M1, and a W800RF32 attached to an Elk M1 XSP (serial port expander).† I strongly advise against using these devices for real security, but due to the low cost (when they are on sale, you can usually buy 4 or 5 of them for $20 from x10.com), they are extremely useful to monitor non-critical stuff, for home automation purposes.
- Monitor the status of your shed door
- Monitor the status of your walk-in closets, so you can turn the lights on whenever the door opens
- Monitor who is at home (more info)
- Monitor your mailbox, get notified when new mail arrives
As you can tell, there is a lot of potential.† Many people are already relying on DS10A's, but using a PC based system.† However, did you know it's possible to take the PC out of the loop here, by connecting your W800RF32 to your Elk M1 using a serial port expander module (M1XSP)?† Keep reading for the instructions (with pictures and video) on how to configure your Elk M1.
This 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.
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:
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:
I wrote this microswitch replacement procedure out of respect and thanks to all who participate and share their experiences on the home automation forums.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In the quest to measure energy use, the gas water heater presents a problem because there is nothing electrical or mechanical that can be measured to know when it consuming gas. Ideally a flow meter to track LP or natural gas use would be the desired choice since it directly measures the utilization. I have not stumbled over any LP flow meters, much less meters that have an automation interface.
Water Temperature Measurement
The first approach to measure the water heater operation was with a temperature sensor attached to the copper hot water outlet. A hose clamp was used to attach the sensor to the pipe for a positive transfer of heat from the pipe to the sensor. The hot water recalculates so as the tank temperature goes down so does the outlet temperature. When this is measured it shows the pattern of decay and then temperature rise with about 4 cycles per day. When looking at the rise time it showed about 30 minutes from when the water temperature started to rise to when it peaked. This is a reasonable approximation. This technique is feasible because of the recirc pump on the hot water brings the heated water to a place where it can be easily measured. It is not ideal because of the uncertainty of how long the gas is on before the temperature rises.
How-To Measure Salt Level in Your Water Softener Using an Ultrasonic Sensor
This How-To will describe how to measure the salt level for your water softener. This has been requested by a number of members. Various techniques have been tried in the past, but all had one common methodology. "Something" had to touch the salt. Be it a weight, string, magnet, etc... all of these methods required a mechanical means that touched the top level of the salt to acquire a "level" reading.
The problem with these methods was it made refilling the softener difficult. These strings had to be manually coiled/lifted/etc... to get them out of the way, then rearranged so they could start measuring the "new" level.
I am in the planning stages of this project. I do not have any experience with HVAC systems, but am learning as I go. If you are going to undertake a project similar to this, please do your own research and consult an HVAC contractor. If you screw something up, you can end up damaging your HVAC system or burn your house down. I take no responsibility for any actions you take due to this guide. In the event you do encounter a problem, please share your experiences so that this guide can be updated.
Purpose of this guideThis guide is to provide you with a starting point for automating control of your HVAC system. I have an ELK-M1 Gold, so most of my research has been focused on systems that would integrate with my control panel. I'll have to rely on others for integration information for different control panels.
Many people are using the Caddx Security System in conjunction with HomeSeer using Nitrox's (David Crawford) Caddx Plugin.
Along with your security zones, this plugin will also create three HomeSeer devices which represent the chime, last alarm, and arm state conditions.
One item that users would like is to have separate devices for the arm stay, arm away, and disarmed conditions. This way those devices can easily be used as triggers for other HomeSeer events based on these three separate armed conditions.
This tutorial will show how to create three HomeSeer devices, one for arm stay, arm away, and disarm conditions, and have those devices change state based on their individual armed status. Important Note: I only tested and used this method on HomeSeer version 1.7.43 and with an older version of the Nitrox plugin (i.e. not the one modified for HomeSeer 2.0). This [How-To] should work fine with the newer software; but, I can not presently test it with those versions.
One critical monitoring element for any home automation system is the garage door. There are many ways to do this including using your traditional magnetic contacts which will change state when the garage door is open or closed. This method satisfies the minimal requirement of knowing the open/close status of the garage door. But what happens if more detail about the garage door is needed? For instance what can you do if you would like to know the exact position of the door (say if it got stuck during its open/close travel)? What if you wanted to know this garage door position to within a few inches?
EDIT: One note I would like to make based on some of the replies below. This is the ADVANCED ULTIMATE method of monitoring your garage door's EXACT status/position. If all you want are simple and basic OPEN, CLOSE, and maybe one IN-BETWEEN state, then go get yourself some wide gap magnetic contacts and X-10 Powerflash modules and do not bother reading any further!
Edit2: This article is also published in HomeToys.com February 2006 Edition.