Hardware – what we currently have

This morning I have made a quick list of the hardware I currently have or have access to. Looking at this I can then decide which task I want to tackle first and what I need to buy.

We currently have:

  1. A collection of old thermostats
  2. Some old baseboard heaters
  3. A now working pellet stove
  4. A collection of computers and parts
  5. An A/C Unit with a fan and ducts
  6. Various computers, parts, wi-fi and an iphone
  7. Access to a 3D printer

Pellet stove/Baseboard heaters

The pellet stove works great so we will be keeping this. It also has the option of being controlled via thermostat so we could have the system turn it on/off as needed. I’ll be digging through the user manual to see if there is also some way to interface with the stove to grab error codes (for example if the stove runs out of pellets). If not since the error codes are displayed on several LED’s there might be some way of scraping this data via a web-cam and using it.

The baseboard heaters are very inefficient, however these will have to stay for the moment. Once I have built the system to control the thermostats I am going to look at what other options we have for heat/electricity sources, however this isn’t an immediate priority.

A/C Unit

The A/C unit, fan and duct work can be leveraged to pull heat through the house and warm other rooms. I want to be able to control this via the system as well. It currently uses a Honeywell thermostat and controller which is programmable. I’ll be looking through the manual on this  to see if it can be interfaced with, if not I’ll consider replacing the controller with something that can.

This however can wait for the moment as it works pretty well and since we don’t have central heat isn’t of immediate concern.

Thermostats

The thermostats are old, crappy and some look like they have seen better days. They are also a mash of different brands and don’t look very nice. Most importantly they can’t be controlled remotely.

Old thermostat

Old thermostat

Due to their placement they are also susceptible to being knocked into and turned on by accident. A few also have dials that don’t look as if they turn off properly. If you get to work and realize you left one switched on you have no way of turning it off until you get home.

We will be getting rid of all of these.

Computer parts/3D printer

I also have a collection of computer parts and several machines running a range of O/S including Mac Lion, Ubuntu, FreeBSD, XP and Windows 7. Some of this will be useful, however for the device that controls the heating system I want something small and compact, that can be mounted on a wall. We also have internet access and wi-fi of course.

Finally I have access to a 3D printer via a co-operative at my work (more on this in a separate post). I’ll be able to use this to print out cases for thermostats I custom build and any plastic parts I might need.

Summary

My first task is going to be to replace the thermostats. I’ll need to find out exactly how to build one and the parts that are needed.I’ll also need to become familiar with how to wire them up. Once they are working I can then start looking at the controller.

Welcome to Intelligent Heating – a journey through home-brew heating

Introduction

This blog will detail my journey through building an intelligent home heating system. Using free and open source software such as: FreeBSD, Python, PostgreSQL and HTSQL, open source hardware such as: Arduino and Raspberry Pi and  a host of other cool additions (including components printed on a MakerBot 3D printer) I am going to overhaul my heating system and blog the progress along the way.

Some background

We currently heat most of our house using a pellet stove. A pellet stove basically burns compressed wood or biomass pellets (in Italy sometimes olive pits) to create a source of heating for your home. A couple of tons of pellets will last us all winter and normally costs between $400 – $600 depending on type and supplier.

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In February 2012 our pellet stove stopped working. When we spotted a problem with it, we consulted the user manual, took the side off and cleaned the whole stove out including the fan, but this didn’t have any effect, so we called out the repair guy. Unfortunately it was going to take a couple of weeks until he could get to us so we had to fall back on the old baseboard heaters that came fitted when we bought the house.

Old base board heaters

Old base board heaters

Throughout the house we had the thermostats set on the baseboard heaters for around 60 degrees F which supplemented the heat from the pellet stove. After receiving our first winter electricity bill, we decided to cut down on the use of the heaters to keep costs low. However once the pellet stove broke we had little choice but to use the baseboard heaters to keep the house warm, and we soon found out this had costs us a small fortune.

These things are possibly one of the most inefficient means of heating a house. This we discovered after receiving a $600 electricity bill from the UI company for a single month… ouch.

For those of you not aware, Connecticut has some of the highest electricity rates in the country. The 2008 OLR report placed CT in the number 2 spot when it comes to electricity costs. Coupled with the tropical storm Irene last year and the freak October snow-storm CT residents were not only dealing with high kWh costs but also periods of blackouts running into the days due to the damage caused by falling trees.

The combined cost of electricity and lack of service at points led me to investigate, how could we power and monitor our heating systems at minimal cost whilst optimizing our electricity usage and room temperature?

I hope to answer the above questions with this blog, and if lucky be able to demonstrate a cheap and cool way of doing it.