Smart home

A general term that seems to mean anything from wireless light switches through smart control of the heating to whole-home audio... ...and more in between. The "Smart Home" section here is largely concerned with our application of intelligent controls from Idratek to enable far more efficient heating control. The section also includes related posts about the growing whole-house network and things (email, mp3, file store) running over it. So... "home gadgets" really!

Ubiquity Unifi controller on FreeBSD

A year or so ago, I got fed up with my TP-LINK router/AP. It had been running for 3+ years, solely as an AP. But it would stop allowing wireless client associations after a while and needed a cold reboot to solve it. So I replaced it with an Ubiquity AP. Or the TP-LINK gave me an excuse to replace it!

CurrentCost Envi

Way back in 2008 I bought a CurrentCost monitor. Ever since, it's sat and told us how much lecky was being consumed. At the time I said it was behaviour modifying and it certainly was... things didn't get used (or used less) or turned off more (instead of standby) ever since. But sometime around the end of August it seemed to just. Stop. The display was fine but there was no signal from the sensor and it definately wasn't because we were not using any electricity.

Smart meter - Dumb implementation

Our electricity supplier (currently British Gas) have just done a meter exchange fitting us with a "Smart Meter" instead of the really old analogue wheel variety. The new meter has a mobile modem & sends daily readings back to them so no more estimated bills, ever.

Connecting things up

A long term projects has been to build some smaller temperature sensors that can be dotted around the house. These would store data back centrally but mainly be used to feed additional room data into the Idratek Cortex system that controls the house heating.

This has ended up being a project made up of part development and part integration but as of today I've got the initial integration of the various components working - albeit to a limited extent.

It all starts with a little Nanode board. Wedged above it is a small digital temperature sensor.

The green cable is to the network. Every few seconds the Nanode makes a pretty rudimentary web call to a predefined web address (which happens to be a VM on my server, but where & what isn't that important). The call includes an identity of the Nanode (there will be several eventually) and a set of temperature readings from each of the (currently one) sensors.

The server (running some basic php) stores the data into a database.

To help me test the interaction this far, the server also hosts a very basic web page that lists the last few readings received, displays a big red "Temperature now" reading and has a graph of the last 100 readings. As I'm lazy, it auto refreshes and the same frequency as the Nanode transmits. Here's an image of it on the iPad:

Display on iPadDisplay on iPad

The next step is to get this temperature data pushed into Cortex and recognised there as data for one of the objects defined in Cortex. To make this leap, I'm using the xAP automation protocol which is support by Cortex for both inbound & outbound transfer.

Another module of rudimentary code is on the same server that receives/stores the data. This takes the last two readings and if they differ (the assumption here is a temperature change) then the code builds an xAP packet and squirts it at the Cortex server. xAP is apparently normally a broadcast protocol but as the two servers involved here are on different networks the xAP packet is sent unicast so it'll get routed to the destination (in reality the 2 VMs are both on the same physical server but are on different networks for reason that once made more sense than now). For speed and convenience this module is currently triggered by the refresh of the web page so wont actually work unless that page is being viewed somewhere, but now it's working I'll move the trigger to a cron or something similar.

Finally, Cortex receives the packet, pulls the data out and applies it to the DTS Temperature Sensor module defined in the guest bedroom.

HP Microserver - who needs a NAS?

A few weeks on from getting the HP Microserver and it's working out even better than expected!

I mean, with the current long-lasting cashback this has a net cost of around £140. For that price you can get a reasonable (Netgear) NAS. For a little less, you get no actual drives in it. For a little more, you get 1Tb. Bang in the middle is the HP with 250Gb and 3 spare bays for more drives. Official bays. And more space for more drives....!

New home server - HP ProLiant MicroServer

After running several different MiniITX servers over the last 7-8 years I've now upgraded to a new HP microserver. Attracted in part by the awesome price (£139 inc VAT after a £100 cashback from HP) this little server should finally allow us to run a number of different things from a single machine. And at a relatively low power consumption and cost.

For the last couple of years, the home server has been running Windows (for Cortex) with a virtual FreeBSD running DHCP/DNS etc (FreeBSD chosen mainly because it seemed to run better on this server than Ubuntu or Fedora).

Basic insulation

One of the aims of the technology & automation is to improve the efficiency of the heating system in the house. However putting in heat more effectively is only one part of the story. The other, of course, is reducing heat losses. Whilst this is not nearly as gadget driven it's nevertheless and essential part of the story...

Further switch to Cortex heating management

After running the top floor heating fully controlled by Cortex for about a week , I've now switched over our first floor so that only the ground floor is left under old-fashioned timer control.

CurrentCost: behaviour modification starts...

The Current Cost unit I ordered earlier in the week arrived today.

Immediately it was out of the box to be set up. Suprised that it actually came with a 20 page user guide I decided to follow the instructions rather than ignoring them till something went wrong. For a change the instructions were clear and useful.

Letting go of the sides...

It's now a year since I first got a starter kit of Idratek parts and 7 months since we had the heating system overhauled with Idratek temperature sensor & relay modules at the heart, but till now I've been mainly using Reflex programming for operation rather than leaving a PC on to run Cortex. The reason for this is baulking at running a PC 24/7 and the power that will consume.

Current Cost

I've been meaning to do this for a few weeks, but I've just got round to ordering a Current Cost unit... Looking forward to having a play and then probably driving people nuts by knowing how many pence per year things cost to run!

New HA & Home Server

At the heart of the Idratek setup is ideally a PC running the intelligent 'management' software Cortex. Of course, this means having a PC running 24/7 - potentially costing more in electricity to run than the smart management of the heating will save in fuel. Cortex requires Windows as the base operating system, so a Windows PC is required. I already have a home-server, running Linux, to do a number of 'server' type things (file, print, email etc). The linux box is already a moderately low-power device, pulling around 20w but it's age is starting to show: it's a bit slow, still running Fedora Core 3 (remember 'Core' ?) and the harddisk is almost full.

Baulking at the idea of having 2 hungry servers running 24/7, I decided to try to combine both servers into 1 machine, so I got an updated version of the low power machine and have set about trying to get this combination working.

Heating system re-vamp

At last, the long planned heating upgrade has been completed.

The main reason was to replace our old boiler which really struggled to heat the house during winter. The boiler was 15 years old and "F" rated according to the government website, so replacing it with a new A-rated unit should save gas too, which of course saves a few £££ as well. At the same time it was going to be an opportunity to get the rads fitted with TRVs.

Keen to make things even more efficient we also wanted to zone the house so each of the 3 floors could be operated independantly.

Reflex conditionals to create a Holiday Mode temperatue setting

We've had an Idratek temperature module (DTS) and relay module (DRB) operating for the past few months as a replacement for the traditional heating thermostat. Whilst this is very very much using only a fraction of what the equipment can do, this was a way to "test the water" so to speak.

Traditional Easter weekend - yup, DIY, DIY, DIY !

It's been a traditional easter weekend with wall-to-wall work on the house & garden. Mostly the garden; typical when it's cold & wet too. So far only one visit to B&Q!

The power of many people has yet again been proved with a complete replacement the old decking to the rear (which was rotting) with lovely new in just 6 hours (including stops for bacon butties, coffee, tea, pizza, tea, coffee,....).