There no doubt that houses are getting "smarter" all the time. More and more new homes are coming with goodies like alarm systems, intelligent controls for HVAC, pools and sprinklers and even devices to monitor power consumption in real time.
I've seen a lot of very expensive and complex systems to manage the functions of "smart homes" but I've never come across something as small, powerful and inexpensive as this unit:
I've cross-posted this in comp.home.automation and alt.home.repair because I've seen a lot of posts about monitoring house conditions like temperature remotely in both groups. I was first alerted to the product in a thread about USB home control in CHA. In that thread:
_USB module for monitoring multiple on/off switches_
Marc Hult recommended this device instead as a much more practical way to "communicate" with your house remotely than USB devices connected to a PC.
It took me a while to find the secret URL and I don't give cainetworks an A+ for website design - this product doesn't even show up on their "Product List." They seem to be a server load balancing company and I would guess they built this thing for themselves as a service tool and then began to realize it had other applications.
I have no interest in the company, other than as a customer and it's too early to tell whether I am a happy customer or not!
WebControl interests me for a number of reasons: it can automagically send emails to a PC or a cell phone when a looked-for condition occurs, assuming you've got a constant internet connection. This condition could be a furnace failure, an out-of-bounds temperature, water on the floor or any number of other events that can sensed electronically.
It's got plenty of inputs - it can accommodate a Honeywell humidity sensor, up to eight Maxim DS1822 /DS18B20 12bit 1 wire temperature sensors, eight digital inputs, three analog inputs and 20 different timers. It seems from my Google searches that these are popular with cigar lovers (to keep their treasures at constant temps and humidity) and in-home horticulturists growing various "herbs."
My first project will be a sensing project, too: I'm hoping to use it to continually monitor how much power the whole house uses in real-time. I've read about a number of test projects using "smart meters" and they all pretty much say the same thing: People who know how much power they are using at any one moment will end up reducing their average monthly consumption.
I've got some tiny current sensors that I will attach to the main power feeds to the circuit panel, hopefully so artfully that an inspector might never notice they're there. (Yes, I know the evils of mixing high and low voltage gear and I don't recommend anyone but an insane person with total contempt for life and the law even contemplate copying my actions!)
These tiny (1/4" sq.) Hall-Effect (HE) sensors generate a small electric current proportional (well, proportional enough for me) to the current flowing into the house from the main feeders. This unit should enable me to see the current current use from any PC on the home network. I should even be able to rig up an LED bargraph display that shows the real-time power consumption of the house with another $2 worth of parts.
The unit has three 3 1023 bit analog inputs (0-10v) that should be able to accurately measure the HE sensor voltage level and take an action (light a bargraph LED, ring a chime, etc) when the voltage becomes greater than a pre-determined level. Perhaps the hardest part is going to be accurately matching the output level of the sensor to the actual home electrical power consumed. If I can't get a helper with a walkie talkie, I can temporarily mount a wireless CCTV cam outside pointing at the electric meter so I can tabulate meter readings and how they correspond to the sensor output as I add more and more loads. I will start with all the breakers off, but with lights, etc. left on so that as I flip each breaker on, the load increases. That way I should have a scale that gives me a pretty good idea of the juice flowing through the circuit panel.
I'm going to make notes as I go along, paying particular attention to the level of technical skill required to implement it. I'm afraid it's going to be high enough to make it a techie-only solution. But looking through the manual
gives me at least a little hope that this unit may be simple enough that with a little advice, a fairly low-tech user could implement a simple system that could, for example, send them an email if their freezer or refrigerator temperature rises out of the food safety zone. Ironically, that's why I ordered the board (my fridge tripped the GFCI) but once I read the manual and the specs, I realized it would probably make a good and cheap whole house power monitor.
Previously, devices like this cost close to $200, so to my mind it's a great bargain.
The part that I haven't quite figured out about whole house power monitoring is this: What's the best way to notify residents that the house is burning kilowatts without being so intrusive that they'll just shut it off? There has to be some sort of override, too, because there will be some days in the dead of a very cold winter that the consumption will peak.
-- Bobby G.