• 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.


    My intention was that the eventual system should meet a few basic requirements

    • Certain rooms should be able to call for heat when needed (not supported by the NEST product line as they don't currently have radiator heads)
    • Boiler/Heating usage should be minimised where comfortably possible
    • Decisions should be auditable - ok, the heating came on, but why?


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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".

  • 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.

  • Musings on Home Automation

    I've dabbled with elements of Home Automation in the past.

    In a previous rental, we only had storage heaters, so I equipped each room with an Oil Radiator and an energenie RF plug socket (like these https://www.amazon.co.uk/Energenie-Remote-Control-Sockets-Pack/dp/B004A7XGH8) using a Raspberry Pi and the Energenie remote control header boardto set up an effective heating schedule.

    However, aside from that, and mild "wouldn't it be nice too..." ideas, I've not really been overly interested into it until relatively recently.

    Having spent a bit of time dabbling, I thought I'd write a post on my experience - not least in case it helps people with some of the things I struggled with.


  • 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 Hass.io) 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.