Checking in on our Battery Savings

When I last wrote about our Solar Battery Savings, we had just moved onto a battery charge schedule which involved two daily grid-charges. The underlying idea being that this should help to unlock additional savings by shaving both the morning and evening price peaks.

Aside from occasional temporary changes during Octopus Power-ups, the schedule has remained the same for a little over a month, so I thought it was worth reviewing how it has performed in that time.

In this post I'll talk about the savings performance delivered by our solar battery as well as possibly contributing factors such as fluctuations in energy prices and our usage patterns.

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Building a hard pelmet for a bay window

Bay windows give the perception of adding quite a bit of space to a room. In a bedroom, they allow furniture to sit a bit further back than it otherwise could, leaving more space for the occupants to stumble about in.

We've got a small unit sat in the bay, with the bed placed against the opposite wall: this layout allows for easy access to both sides of the bed, making the best possible use of the space that's available.

The one problem with this arrangement, though, has always been the curtains. Although they're heavy, lined blackout curtains, they do let a lot of light creep in around the top.

Photo of our bay window curtains

The windows have a thick frame, which the curtain pole mounts have to reach out beyond, resulting in there being more than enough space for reflected light to work its way upwards and into the room.

The effect in summer, is that at about 4am, any possibility of sleep is ended as a result of the room being flooded with sunlight.

AI generated cartoon showing a calm sun outside the window at 03:59. At 04:00 it's a burning fireball trying to climb through the window. Being AI generated, the feed look wrong and the sun's hand has somehow gone through the wall

Things are a little better in Winter: the sun's assault starts later (if it even bothers to show up that day), but the room ultimately gets similarly illuminated.

In order to help address the issue, I decided that we should install a pelmet (for the Americans, that's either a "Box Valance" or a cornice) over the curtains to block the path of those uninvited rays of sunlight.

There was one problem with that idea though: bay windows tend not to be uniform in size. In fact, even finding and fitting curtain poles tends to involve entertaining some kind of bespoke arrangement.

Clearly, buying and quickly fitting something pre-made was out and I've had to make my own.

In this post, I describe how I went about constructing and upholstering a simple hard pelmet for our bay window.

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Wall mounting and Wifi controlling an Oil Radiator

It's that time of year again: the clocks have changed and the evenings are getting colder and darker.

Each year, when the heating first starts to kick in, I take a little bit of time to review whether there's anything that we can do better this year than last.

For the last few years, our attic room has used a smart-socket controlled portable Oil radiator as an additional heat source (I wrote about setting it up here).

However, I've never been massively comfortable with that radiator: Because the oil radiator is free-standing, it could get knocked over leading to $badness when it next automatically switches on. It could also thoughtlessly be unplugged in order to free up a socket for something else, leaving the room without the benefit it was intended to convey.

To top it off, it's also quite bulky, if it's put anywhere useful, it does tend to feel like it's getting in the way.

So, one of the things that I decided I wanted to do this year was to replace it with a wall-mounted oil radiator.

In this post, I'm going to talk about taking a new floor-standing/portable oil radiator and wall mounting it, before wiring it via a Shelly V1 Smart Relay so that it can be controlled by HomeAssistant just as the existing radiator was.

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Reviewing our Solar Battery Savings

A couple of weeks ago, I realised I'd made a horrendous reporting mistake which negatively skewed our view of solar battery performance whenever the battery was charged from the grid.

Aside from there being a bit of egg on my face, this also meant that I needed to re-assess various charging approaches, including whether shaving the morning pricing peak is worthwhile.

I've now had a couple of weeks of watching closely whilst double checking the calculations that my reporting system performs each day.

By happenstance, we've also had very few Octopus Power-ups during that period. Obviously, not getting free electricity is disappointing, but removing their impact from amortisation stats does make it a little easier to assess the benefits that the battery is bringing.

In this post, I'll talk a little about what I've been doing, look at the savings our battery has yielded over the last 14 days and look at why some days report lower stats (or go negative).

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Correcting My Grid Charge Calculations

I've been looking for ways to improve our (somewhat dire) solar battery savings ever since I calculated the daily savings that we were achieving.

One of the approaches that I identified and tried was scheduling grid charging in order to increase the level of use that the battery saw - the idea being that the battery would see use even on cloudy days, with more use generally equating to greater savings.

When I reviewed this change recently, I was quite disappointed to find that it had had quite a mixed effect, with negative savings occurring much more frequently than before. This wasn't entirely unexpected, as an inability to dynamically schedule charging means that we buy power in at the same time each day, regardless of price or consumption expectations.

Today, however, I found that these negative savings were actually the result of a (stupid) reporting bug in the grid-charging calculations and that grid-charges deliver better savings than previously reported.

In this post I talk a little about the bug itself as well as looking at the re-calculated figures.

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Shaving the Morning Peaks

As part of my quest to drive up the savings that our solar battery is able to generate, I recently adjusted schedules to allow for a small overnight charge.

This was done in order to try and ensure the battery had a charge so that it could shave the morning pricing peak.

It's... uh... not gone particularly well, so as I'd mentioned it previously, I thought I'd follow up with a relatively short post detailing the impact that it had.

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Improving our Solar Battery Savings

Last month, I analysed the performance of our solar install and found that, whilst our Solar battery was generating daily savings, it would very likely never save enough to offset its purchase cost.

There were a number of factors involved, but one of the bigger ones was the battery wasn't always being sufficiently charged, with our average max daily charge level being 72%. On sunny days, the battery gets a full charge but, British weather being what it is, there are plenty of days dragging that average down.

As I noted at the time, Solar isn't the only source from which the battery can be charged: there's also the option of charging from the grid (ideally when prices are low).

So, in the month since, that's exactly what I've done.

In this post, I'm going to describe how I've configured things, analyse the impact of the change and also talk about some changes that my electricity supplier (Octopus) has recently made.

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Evaluating the Break Even Period of Our Solar Battery

A little while ago, I wrote a post on Monitoring Solar Generation stats with InfluxDB, Telegraf and Soliscloud.

Since then, one of the things that I've been working on is a Grafana dashboard to track our path towards break-even: that is, when the system has "saved" us enough that it's paid the costs of purchase and install.

As well as charting the break-even path of the system as a whole, the dashboard also calculates individual break-even for the battery. Because battery storage is an optional part of a solar install, I thought it'd be interesting to calculate what kind of difference it was making versus the cost of adding it.

I actually sort of wish that I hadn't, because the thing that's stood out to me is just how long the battery's break-even period actually is.

In this post, I'll talk about how I'm calculating amortisation stats, what I'm seeing, possible causes and what I think it all means.

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Collecting Octopus Energy Pricing and Consumption with Telegraf

As an energy supplier, Octopus Energy are pretty much unique (at least within the UK energy market), not least because they expose an easily accessible API allowing customers to easily fetch consumption and pricing details.

Like many others, I'm on Octopus Agile, so being able to collect past and future pricing information is particularly useful because that information enables us to try and shift load to when import rates are most favourable.

At times, this can be incredibly beneficial: for example, at time of first writing, the rates were negative, so we were actually getting paid (albeit a small amount) for the energy that we were consuming.

Screenshot of Octopus's description of Plunge pricing. When supply outstrips demand, prices drop and occasionally go negative.

The next day's prices are published daily at around 4pm every day, allowing some manner of planning ahead (more plunge pricing tomorrow, yay!):

Screenshot of Octopus agile prices for the previous and next 24 hours. Most of tomorrow is in negative prices....

For those who want to build automations, there's an excellent integration for HomeAssistant, however, I spend more of my time in Grafana/InfluxDB than HomeAssistant so I also wanted Telegraf to be able to fetch this information.

In this post, I'll detail how to set up my Octopus Energy exec plugin for Telegraf and will also provide some examples of how I've started using that data within Grafana.

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Connecting my Glow Smart Meter Display to InfluxDB and HomeAssistant

We recently (and slightly begrudingly) had a smart meter installed: it's more or less a requirement if we want to receive payment for energy exported from our solar install (or, at least, it is if we want any kind of sensible rate per unit).

Unsurprisingly, the IHD that EDF supplied (a Geo Trio) was little more than e-waste (to be fair, they're not alone: research found that IHDs have little impact on people's energy usage habits) and soon found it's way to the electrical recycling bin (actually, really, I was quite good - the temptation to try and serial into it to mess around with the meter hub's Zigbee network really was quite strong).

I go a little bit further than most when it comes to monitoring our electrical usage, so with a smart meter now collecting and submitting readings periodically, I wanted to move to using these instead of those collected by my previous solution (an Own Intuition clamp meter).

Unfortunately, unlike some other suppliers, EDF doesn't appear to make readings available via API. In fact, despite the meter submitting readings every 20 minutes (UPDATE: apparently it doesn't submit them, it stores them locally and then the supplier retrieves the last 48hrs once a night), it can take days for details to appear in their "energy hub" web-portal (for example, whilst proof reading this on 2 Jul, the most recent hourly stats in EDF's hub are from 29 June!).

I find this.... disappointing, to say the least. The provider has gained the ability to effectively remotely disconnect us (even if by accident) and can't even provide the means to pull usage metrics in a timely manner? GTFO.

A Solution

Thankfully, I remembered reading (somewhere) about an after-market IHD which had the ability to write usage metrics out to a MQTT broker - a quick search found the Hildebrand Glow IHD. This promised to give near real-time reading, much like those I already have via Owl Intuition.

This post details the process that I followed to

  • Stand up a Mosquitto MQTT Broker for Glow to write into
  • Configure Telegraf to subscribe to the MQTT topics and write into InfluxDB
  • Create a Grafana dashboard to visualise the stats
  • Have HomeAssistant also fetch the stats for use in automations

Because of strict rules on what can and can't be connected to a smart meter, it is necessary to create a (free) account before ordering the Glow. The account is easiest to create via the Bright App.

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Monitoring Solar Generation stats with InfluxDB, Telegraf and Soliscloud

Solar has been on our wish-list for quite some time, but never quite got beyond the "we should probably look at doing that next year" stage.

Last year, though, things changed: we saw huge energy price rises as the result of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, followed by interest rates rocketing in response to the abject ineptitude of Liz Truss's government. The result was that we decided it was time to bite the bullet and get onto an installer's waiting list.

Solar installations tend to consist of 3 main components - Photovoltaic (PV) Panels, at least one Inverter and a Meter. Some (us included) also add a battery for storage.

The inverter converts DC from the panels (and battery) to AC, but also acts as a router, communicating with each of the other components in order to decide whether to send power to the battery, house or grid.

There are a wide range of Solar Inverters on the market, each with their own pros and cons. In practice though, consumers don't always get much choice over the inverter that they get (at least not unless they're willing to switch between installation companies).

The inverter that came with our installation was manufactured by Ginlong's Solis.


Most modern solar inverters report generation and usage statistics back into infrastructure managed by the manufacturer. Solis, like many others, exposes these metrics to consumers via an online UI offering monitoring of current and historic inverter and panel output as well as this funky diagram

Screenshot of part of the Soliscloud interface, an animated image showing panel, battery and grid output along with usage

Solis's interface, Soliscloud, has an accompanying android app which can also be used to see usage as well as to receive alarms/notifications on your phone.

Building My Own

The navigation is a little arcane, but there's nothing inherently wrong with the Soliscloud interface - it does what it needs to do just fine.

The problem, for me, is simply that the information is locked away in one (proprietary) system, meaning that it isn't possible to factor other sources into any analysis I want to do of the system's performance.

I also prefer, where at all possible, that all my dashboards are in a single place (which is currently Grafana).

Soliscloud has an API though, so I set about writing a Telegraf exec plugin to pull metrics from Soliscloud so that they can be written into InfluxDB for later analysis and visualisation in Grafana.

This post talks about how I set that up, as well as a few issues I ran into along the way.

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Repairing a Mortar Pond Waterfall

When we moved to this house, we inherited a fairly large pond full of fish - it requires a constantly running filter to ensure that their own, uh, output doesn't end up poisoning them.

The filter's return flow reaches the pond via a waterfall, which apart from sometimes going a bit green has generally been quite low maintenance, and (caught at the right moment) helps the pond feel positively idyllic.

However, we recently found that the pond level kept dropping. The piping between pump and box-filter was checked with no sign of leak, the box filter itself wasn't overflowing and checks of the pond liner didn't reveal any holes.

Inspection of the waterfall, though, did reveal an issue:

The waterfall's lip has eroded

When the previous owner built the waterfall they used a roof slate for the lip.

Over time, the constant flow of water has eroded the corners off the slate until what remained snapped off (the old pump failed late last year and the new one has a slightly higher flow rate, which probably goes some way to explaining "why now").

With the slate no longer covering the full width of the waterfall, there was a flow of water down the edge of the waterfall itself escaping behind the pond liner. To add insult to injury, there was a visible gap in the edge of the waterfall, which was drawing water into the waterfall's mass, potentially escaping somewhere unseen.

Although this obviously wasn't good, it was still possible that it was not the sole leak. I didn't want to risk spending time fixing the waterfall only to later find the liner needed replacing, so, to test the impact on water loss, I ran a piece of downpipe from the top of the waterfall down to the pond

Bypassing the waterfall with a length of downpipe

This gave the pond something of a sewage outflow vibe, but allowed me to verify that the pond's level remained the same without the waterfall in the circuit.

With the flow bypassed it was also possible to see how bad the issue actually was.

Different angle of the erosion

It was still cold out, so really not the best time of year to need to do work like this, but it was also something that couldn't really be allowed to wait.

In this post, I'll talk about the process I went through to stop my mortar waterfall from leaking.

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Monitoring an Aquarium with InfluxDB and Grafana

I've been setting up a new tropical fish tank and wanted to add some monitoring and alerting because, well, why not?

The key questions that I was interested in answering were

  • Is the filter running properly?
  • Is the temperature within acceptable bounds?
  • Are scheduled things (like the surface skimmer and lights) actually happening?
  • Are both heaters working?

The plan is to also add monitoring for PH levels, but the probe that I need for that hasn't arrived yet.

In this post I'll talk about the aquarium monitoring and alerting system that I've built using a Raspberry Pi, InfluxDB, Telegraf and Grafana.

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Comparing the Power Consumption of Heat Pump and Condensing Tumble Dryers

For reasons, we've ended up getting a new tumble dryer. Given the cost of energy, I wanted the new dryer to be heat pump based so that it'd cost less to run.

Through a combination of lucky timing (online discounts combined with credit card cashback deals) and general good luck, we managed to snaffle one for a good chunk less than the usual price (even if it did arrive days late).

I've long collected energy consumption readings from our larger appliances, so I wanted to use them to see what the practical difference in consumption actually is.

This post compares the energy consumption of a Beko Condensing Tumble Dryer to a Bosch Series 4 Heat Pump Dryer

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Replacing a uPVC Door Gearbox and/or lock barrel

The handle on one of our external uPVC doors jammed recently: although the door was unlocked the handle wouldn't go down and ultimately had to be forced down to get the door open.

Although the mechanism still works, the handle's motion felt crunchy after pushing up to lock - a sure sign that the gearbox/cassette is beginning to fail (hastened, no doubt, by my having forced it).

Although it'd probably have continued to work for some time, it's better to replace rather than taking the risk that it'll fail in service (potentially leaving a door thats stuck shut).

Changing the gearbox on a multi-point locking door might sound daunting at first, but it's actually quite straightforward and can be done yourself for much less than the cost of a locksmith's visit (at time of writing, the difference was £25 vs £200).

Although mine became "crunchy",it's not the only possible symptom of a failing upvc gearbox:

  • The handle won't lift to lock
  • The handle won't go down
  • Handle is floppy or crunchy

In this post, I'll describe the process of accessing and replacing the locking gearbox on a upvc door. The first half of the process can also be used to change the barrel.

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Reducing a household's energy consumption

Cost of living has become a real concern in the UK: Energy prices increased substantially (held at their current level only because the Government is using public finances to pay the difference), along with substantial increases in mortgage rates and the cost of basic staples.

As a country, the need for food banks has become normalised and even households on once-comfortable incomes are having to rely on them.

The recent change in Government is likely to help with some of the economic concerns, but many have been growing over the last decade, so the new government is unlikely to touch (let alone fix) most of the issues any time soon.

This seems especially likely given that, despite some initial hope, early signs are that the new Government is going to be no better than it's predecessors, having already re-appointed Ministers who've broken the ministerial code, along with those who seek to further erode our rights just hours after the Rishi Sunak told the nation his government would "have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level".

I think James O'Brien sums that up quite well

Whether or not Sunak corrects that particular mistake, the forthcoming budget is expected to be brutal (with the government already being warned that some budgets just can't afford further cuts).

The World Bank has said that providing energy help for everyone is too expensive and that measures need to be targeted at those most in need. So, we can probably expect that the energy price cap will change to be means tested (in some way) when it comes up for review in April.

Needless to say, it's all feeling a bit bleak.

As an individual household, there's very little that can currently be done to influence events except watch the political horrors as they unfold.

Despite the Government's cap, most households are still paying significantly more for energy than they were (we're paying 3x more kWh than 18 months ago) and for many reducing usage is likely to be a top concern.

Unfortunately, there's quite a mish-mash of information on the net, with various "tips" that - at best - make your life a little harder, whilst not really saving a noticeable amount of energy. Human nature also tends to lead us towards things that are visible, but don't necessarily deliver much benefit.

In this post, I want to talk about some of those, as well as things that you can do to help bring your energy usage down.

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Is A Slow Cooker More Energy Efficient Than An Oven?

It's getting to be that time of the year again, so I've taken the slow cooker out of it's estivation.

It's not just that it makes low-effort, warming meals, but with an energy crisis overshadowing the UK it's also potentially a lower energy way to prepare meals.

But, how much energy do they actually consume? And how does that compare to cooking the same meal in an oven?

Although the appliances don't draw very much power, they do tend to be on for a long period of time (relative to an oven or an airfryer), which can lead to the energy using adding up.

I plugged our slow-cooker into a TP-Link P110 smart socket, and used my new simplified docker container to collect usage stats (and write them to InfluxDB) whilst cooking a meal. The Flux used to query stats back out is exactly the same as in my earlier posts.

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Making A Shelf From A Tree Trunk

When we moved into our house, there was an established plum tree in the garden, and the first harvest yielded an unbelievable number of sweet, juicy plums.

Unfortunately, it also proved to be the tree's last hurrah - after delivering the final massive bounty, it didn't sprout so much as a single leaf after that. I gave it a couple of seasons to be sure - plum trees can apparently fail to bear fruit the year after a heavy crop.

But, there was no recovery, and scratching at the bark revealed that there was no life under it. It was time to pull it out to make way for a replacement.

As much as I like a good fire, it seemed a waste to burn the entire tree - plum can be a very nice looking wood, not least because you sometimes get a nice purple vein running through it. So, while removing it from the garden, I decided that I wanted to have a go at splitting the trunk to make a shelf.

This post details the process I went through to get from tree-trunk to wall-shelf.

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Is An Air-Fryer More Energy Efficient Than An Oven?

At first glance, the question I'm asking in this post almost seems redundant: an air fryer has to heat a much smaller area, and uses a smaller heating element, so of course it should be more energy efficient.

However, that's not guaranteed to be the case.

Although an oven uses a larger heating element, because it's better insulated, it's possible that it might do a better job of keeping heat in and so have to consume less energy replacing lost heat. If, due to these losses, the air-fryer's element is on for more of the duration of the cook, it's plausible that an air-fryer might end up consuming more energy than the oven.

If (as seems likely) the air fryer is more energy efficient, the question becomes:

  • How much more efficient?
  • When does it amortise (i.e. at what point do the energy savings outweight the initial purchase cost)?

That second question will also help answer the question of whether it's worth investing in an air-fryer to try and counter high energy prices.

In this post, I cook myself some chips and compare the resulting energy usage using

To see how they compare.

If you're not interested in how I actually arrived at them, there's a set of TL:DR's at the bottom of this post:

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Energy usage Monitoring With TP-Link Smart Sockets and InfluxDB

I've written in the past about the approach I use to monitor our electricity usage.

A key part of that monitoring is the use of Smart Sockets, these allow me to record usage of particular appliances (the aim is that, eventually, most things will be monitored via one of these sockets).

When I wrote the original post, I was using TP-Link Kasa KP115 Smart Sockets, but TP-Link have since discontinued the Kasa range and moved their focus to the Tapo family (which even have a different app.... sigh). There's an example of my use of TP-Link Tapo P110s here.

My collection of stats from these device has relied on a couple of quickly hacked together scripts (Kasa and Tapo) which poll the devices for usage information and then push that data into InfluxDB.

This weekend I decided it was time to tidy those up, so this post is about how to monitor electricity usage by collecting data from Kasa and Tapo smart-plugs and writing it into InfluxDB.

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Building a Topper to Extend My Desk (and Increase Leg Room)

I've never placed much importance on having a nice looking desk: it's just a bit of furniture that you pay no real attention to whilst it holds the stuff that you are paying attention to.

When we last moved, I switched from my original desk to using one that I'd previously been using as a workbench. The switch was purely on the basis that the workbench didn't have drawers built in, giving more room for me to move my legs around.

As a result, for the last couple of years, my desk has been an unimposing white thing. At 46cm deep, it has just enough space to hold my various bits and pieces

Tightly packed desk

Until recently, this worked absolutely fine.

For reasons involving a motorcycle and diesel, I've got longstanding knee pain. Lately, it's been giving more jip than normal so I decided to order a foam foot-rest to see whether that helps.

Unfortunately, doing so has revealed something I hadn't previously realised: the recess under my desk is perfectly sized for me. Adding the foot-rest raised my knees too high, so I needed to wheel my chair back a bit, leaving me unable to rest my wrists on the edge of the desk.

I didn't want to replace the desk entirely, so decided to try and make a topper that would extend the desk outward, allowing me to sit a little further back whilst still providing that all important wrist support.

This post details the process I followed to make my desk extender.

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How much more efficient is refilling a kettle than reboiling it?

Like many on this here Sceptred Isle, I use my kettle regularly throughout the day.

I live in a hard water area, and the prevailing wisdom is that you should refill rather than reboil your kettle in order to reduce the rate that limescale builds up at (and by extension reduce energy usage).

The logic is that during the first boil, the denser minerals move to the bottom of the kettle, so after you've made your cuppa, the adulterants in the water left in the kettle are much more concentrated, leading to an increased rate of scaling in each subsequent boil (and, it's been suggested, possible increased health risks).

From an energy use perspective, this is an issue: Limescale adds mass to the inside of the kettle, so over time more energy is required in order to boil the same volume of water (though, strictly speaking, if you're using the gauge on your kettle you'd actually be boiling a smaller volume water because the limescale will have displaced some measure of it) because you're having to heat the limescale layer too.

Emptying and refilling reduces the rate of build-up, but, if the kettle is used even semi-regularly it comes at a cost: the residual warmth of the remaining water is lost and the new water has to be brought to boil from (tap) cold instead.

It's the cost of that temperature gap that I was interested in: I wanted to see how big a difference refilling made in energy usage (both per boil and over time).

Over the course of a few days, I stuck to my usual routine (best summarised as: want tea, make tea) but used different approaches to kettle filling to see what the effect on energy consumption was.

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Re-Seasoning a Roasting Pan

It's so easily done: you cook a nice roast dinner and someone "helps" by cleaning your roasting tray.

You find out, far too late, that they did this by putting it in the dishwasher, so the next time you see your trusty roasting pan all the seasoning's been stripped and it's a rusty mess

Unless you're partial to added rust in your food, this is an unmitigated disaster - anything cooked in the pan is going to stick and your roast spuds will pull apart when you try and take them out of the pan.

It is, however a recoverable disaster - the pan can be re-seasoned using much the same method as you'd use to Season cast-iron cookware.

Essentially, what it involves is coating the tray in (cooking) oil, and then holding that oil at it's smoke point for an extended period so that it leaves a protective residue on the base of the pan.

In this post, I'm going to re-season what was my best roasting tray. The same process can be used for cast-iron pans too.

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Receiving weather information in EcoWitt protocol and writing into InfluxDB and WOW

I recently acquired an EcoWitt weather station.

It comes as a kit, consisting of an EcoWitt GW110 Gateway and an EcoWitt WS69AN 7-in-1 Weather station.

It's advertised as being able to write into WeatherUnderground as well as EcoWitt's own service, so I figured I'd probably be able to do something to catch its writes and get them into InfluxDB.

The listing doesn't make it clear, but it actually supports configuring "custom" weather services, so this proved to be extremely straight forward so was largely just a case of building something to receive and parse the writes.

This post details how I did that and, in theory, how you can too (in principle, it should work with any of their weather stations)

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Repairing a punctured football

Footballs are meant to be kicked around in the centre of a big grass field, they're not really supposed to be booted anywhere that has sharp stuff. But, kids will be kids, so inevitably they end up in a brambles and similar.

If you're unlucky, then they'll manage to puncture the bladder and the ball will no longer hold air. I got presented with such a ball and asked if I could repair it.

Footballs aren't particularly expensive - I could probably have replaced it for less than £10, but that'd mean the old one contributing to landfill.

Still, I was sorely tempted to chuck it - this ball is cursed. Despite the worn appearance in the photo, it was only actually 2 days old - first it wouldn't scan through at the shop, then it ended up in an electricity substation. Hours after UK Power Networks kindly returned it, it ended up in brambles.

Still, I figured the environmentally conscious thing was to at least have a go at repairing it.

Although there are kits (essentially gunk you inject into the ball) available online that claim to be able repair punctured balls, reviews on them are extremely poor, and they often say they don't work for balls with a bladder.

This post details the process I went through to repair the puncture.

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Updating my IHD to graph device category energy usage and cost

A little while ago, I posted about creating an In Home Display to track our energy usage. It allows us to see an overview of our current and historic usage (much like the IHD supplied with a Smart Meter would, but without all the negatives of having a remotely addressable meter).

I've recently acquired some TP-Link Tapo P110s which I'm using to track energy usage on appliances such as our dishwasher and washing machine.

In my previous post about creating the IHD, I mentioned that in future, I wanted to add an additional page/view to show usage per device.

I'm monitoring consumption on a range of devices and at 748x419 the display's resolution is quite space constrained, so allowing selection of individual devices could be challenging (and realistically, I can always look them up in Chronograf anyway).

I decided instead to add a pane to show usage by category of device

Appliance Category Usage

Because the Tapo (and my older Kasa plugs) don't track cost there were some challenges around implementing the cost per day graph without hardcoding costings.

This post discusses how I constructed the interface and (more importantly) the queries.

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How much more efficient is a Washing Machine's Eco cycle?

I recently did some exploration of dishwasher power usage to see how Eco mode compared to Normal mode in terms of power consumption.

At the end I noted

I am curious to see whether the same holds true for the washing machine - our machine doesn't have an explicit Eco mode, but it does have a short-cycle

First, a correction: It turns out our washing machine (a Bosch Serie 4) does have an eco-mode, it's just not well marked.

As before, I'm using some Tapo P110s to meter usage, and writing the data into InfluxDB for easy analysis.

There are many, many more options on a Washing machine than a dishwasher - if I were to try and test them all, I'd still be at it next Christmas. So, I'm going to constrain myself to just a few

  • 60 Degree (centigrade) cotton cycle
  • 40 Degree cotton cycle
  • 40 Degree cotton cycle with eco mode enabled
  • 30 minute short-cycle (runs at 30c by default)
  • 15 minute short-cycle (runs at 30c by default)

To see how they compare.

The same load was used throughout - it was given a run through prior too to ensure it was soaking wet at the beginning of all runs (so that the first run didn't get a weight advantage by having dry clothes).

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How much more efficient is a Dishwasher's Eco cycle?

Our dishwasher (a Hotpoint Experience thing) has an Eco-cycle - the idea being that it does $things in order to save energy.

Quite some time back, a repair engineer told me that Eco was a false economy because it ran things twice as fast/hard to be able to run for less time. That explanation's never sat particularly well with me - it'd be the same amount of work/energy, just compressed into a shorter time.

As I'm on a bit of an energy saving kick anyway, I was curious to see just how much difference Eco mode actually makes compared to a normal cycle. As I've previously set up to monitor our electricity usage I figured it should be relatively easy to check.

Both runs had exactly the same load in them - I don't expect it makes too much difference in practice, but seemed an easy thing to control.

I don't have a water meter, so wasn't able to check whether the Eco mode also uses less water (it's quite possible that it does, so that the smaller volume of water can be heated to the same temperature with less energy).

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Fixing a stopcock that leaks near the gland nut

I'm not a plumber, in fact, I generally try to avoid jobs that involve plumbing - I don't like the idea that a single mistake could lead to a slow, steady drip that eventually costs you a ceiling (or expensive damp problems), so I leave most plumbing jobs to the professionals.

But, I found water on the floor around one of my water supply stopcocks.

Dealing with it is a pretty straightforward job (I didn't even need to turn the main off) and takes about 10 minutes - it's hard to justify calling a plumber out for that, and you obviously don't want to leave it to get worse and/or ruin everything in it's path.

This post details the process of repacking a stopcock (water shut off valve to the Americans) gland nut - if I can do it, then anyone with a couple of spanners can.

Although this is on a main supply stopcock, the same process can be applied to stopcocks elsewhere in the house - whether it's a shower isolation tap or something else.

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Tracking my remaining AAISP Data Quota with Telegraf

Some time back, I switched our internet connection over from BT to Andrews & Arnold. Although the quality and reliability of our service has improved immensely, it does mean I've had to get used to us having a quota (generous though it is) rather than being "Unlimited".

AAISP make checking this pretty easy - you can simply go to their homepage and it'll display there.

However, they also expose a JSON API to check it

curl -s -L --header "Accept: application/json" | jq
  "monthly_quota": 5000000000000,
  "monthly_quota_gb": 5000,
  "quota_remaining": 9026529201951,
  "quota_remaining_gb": 9026,
  "quota_status": "green"

(AAISP let you roll over half of your unused each month, which is why quota_remaining is higher than monthly_quota)

So I wanted to configure Telegraf to poll this periodically and write it into InfluxDB.

This post details the steps I followed

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Creating a In-Home-Display (IHD) to view real-time energy usage

A month or two back, I put up a post detailing how I was capturing information on our energy usage into InfluxDB. The natural extension of that was to create an In Home Display (IHD) that displays current and historic usage.

Some time back, I created a Music Kiosk using a Raspberry Pi and a touchscreen, so it made sense to adjust that in order to fulfil both needs.

This post details the steps I took to have my kiosk run Flux queries against my InfluxDB instance to retrieve energy consumption data, and then graph it using Flot.

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Making a Polished Concrete Table

I've never really played around with creating things using concrete, but you see some awesome polished concrete creations.

We wanted a small coffee table for our decking, it'd need to survive whatever our British weather could throw at it so something concrete seemed ideal.

Although I had a specific use for it in mind, I still considered it experimental - odds are that you'll screw up the first one, so it's worth trying a few things.

This blog post details the process I followed, presented as a "How to".


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Triggering HomeAssistant Automations with Kapacitor

In an earlier post, I described how I've set up monitoring our home electricity usage using InfluxDB.

However, I thought it'd be good to be able to have this interact with our existing Home Automation stuff - we use HomeAssistant (previously for that.

In my earlier post, I described using Kapacitor to generate alert emails when the tumble dryer was finished, so in many ways it made sense to make this an extension of that. TICK scripts support calling arbitrary HTTP endpoints via the HTTPPost node, and HomeAssistant allows you to control sensors via HTTP API, so it's reasonably straightforward to implement.

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Monitoring our electricity usage with InfluxDB

The are various solutions on the market for monitoring power usage, ranging from smart meters with in-home displays (IHDs), to clamp meters linked to similar displays.

What the majority have in common, though, is a lack in granularity.

They'll commonly show you how much you've used so far today and how much you used (all day) yesterday (and maybe this week).

But, they often lack the ability to drill down further than that. This denies the user the ability to dentify why usage is high (does it jump at a certain time of day, or does it grow almost linearly through the day?).


Smart Meters

The widely touted claim that smart meters enable us to reduce consumption is itself questionable:

  • the supposed benefits don't come from the meter, but from the IHD. You can have a working IHD without the need for a Smart Meter
  • However you monitor your usage, there really is a limit to how much you can reduce it

But, even ignoring this, the real issue is that they don't expose the data in a way that allows you to best act upon it. Instead you're left turning stuff on and seeing how much the IHD's reading jumps.


Cloud Solutions

There are a variety of Cloud based solutions to choose from, but after reading around, I decided to order a cloud-linked clamp meter from the Owl Intuition-e series:

Owl Intuition sales picture

The key selling point to me was that it can be told to also send usage updates to a specific local IP - so even if the cloud service proved not to be up to scratch, I figured I could probably implement something.

Despite the (relative) triviality of making a good interrogable system, the Owl Intuition cloud interface turned out to be pretty limited - it does let you drill down over the last week, but beyond that you can only view per-day stats.

Owl Daily trend
Owl last month

This is better than your average IHD, but still really limits your ability to investigate usage (if you get a large bill, you probably want to be able to dig into at least the last month with reasonable granularity).

There is an Android app... but it's horrifically limited, you can view current usage and that's it (so no pretty graphs). Barely worth the effort of installing really.

The service also lacks the ability to do things like monitor specific plug outlets (as far as I've been able to find, OWL don't sell any smart plugs that interact with Intuition) and/or generate alerts based on usage.

So, it very clearly was time to build my own.

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Making a double sided shelf

Whilst I was making the shelf shown in "distressing wood to make a shelf", littlun asked if I could make them one too.

Obviously, there's a bit of a difference in tone/feel between my office & littlun's room, so I didn't use the same approach.

I also decided to hedge my bets a little - decorating the shelf differently on each side, so that if one side wasn't right, the other might have a chance. One side goes for a distressed wood effect, whilst the other goes for a mottled mix of red and black (the balrog effect...), similar to the look I achieved making a back for my desk

Desk privacy guard

This post details the process I went through to create the shelf.

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Distressing Wood to make a shelf

On reflection, this probably isn't the best example to lead with - the effect doesn't photograph quite as well as something using paint/stain (I wanted to keep the wood's colour), but the techniques used are the same.

I decided that I wanted another shelf up in my office - I've some nice Victorian train style shelf brackets, and plenty of scrap wood to call upon.

By luck, I found a length of pressure treated 2x4 that was already the perfect length.

But, it did look quite a lot like I'd taken a piece of scrap timber and bolted it to the wall (funny that...)

Timber screwed to a wall

Functionally, it's a shelf, but it really is quite rough. What I quite like, though, is the mix of colours - along with the wood's natural mix of colours, parts of it have a slightly green hue (because it's pressure treated).

So, I decided I'd have a go at distressing it - making it look like it was actually a shelf, but had seen some life.


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Automating Our Heating

A little while ago, I wrote some musings on Home Automation and made reference to our heating setup.

As it's had a bit of time (and some poor weather) to run and be improved upon, I thought it might be helpful/interesting to lay out a bit more detail on the setup I'm now using.

We got a NEST thermostat during an unexpected boiler replacement, unfortunately it's smart features didn't live up to expectations, trying to overcome that led me down the path that I'll describe in this post.

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Launching the "House Stuff" blog category

Not the most exciting news I'm sure, but I'm adding a "House stuff" blog category to my site.

I've been feeling a bit... meh... of late, partly because I've not had opportunity to write anything here in a while. Part of the reason for that is that I've been focused on various home improvements/tweaks, not all of which fit well into more tech related sections (though there is some overlap).

The aim of this category is to give me a cathartic outlet, even if I'm just reinsulating or building a door.