Blog

14Oct
2009
Home Automation And External Devices

It's been a while since I posted an update on my home automation adventures. But, having spent some time tweaking my system this week, I thought it worthwhile to share what I've been up to.

But first, a detour. As many of you know, I am an aquarium enthusiast, and made the switch from freshwater to saltwater marine fish about 9 years ago (I've posted some pictures to Flickr). And recently my setup suffered a minor setback. I have a 180 gallon fish tank stocked with all sorts of marine life (including coral, anemones, shrimp, urchins, and of course, fish). I have another 100 gallon tank below, which is used for filtration, and it is home to biological filters, a protein skimmer, a UV sterilizer, and more. That lower tank is also where water is added during water changes. Well, a couple of months ago that lower tank overflowed for several hours, and the backup measures I had in place to prevent flooding failed. Besides from water in my basement, I also ended up with a drop in water salinity levels (as salt water was being replaced by fresh water), and that stressed out marine life causing them to spew toxins which in turn hurt lots of my invertebrates and coral. The tank has since recovered nicely, and in fact may be healthier now than it was before, thank goodness.

But this little adventure prompted me to look into how home automation technologies could have helped the situation, and prevent similar situations in the future. Obviously, a water sensor could have helped. These are typically little boxes that connect to a sensor that sits on the floor, and when the sensor gets wet a circuit is completed and an alarm goes off. These are cheap, readily available, and really easy to use, but useless if no one is around to hear the alarm.

And then I discovered the Shut Off Valve Kits created by OnSite Pro. Like other sensors, this kit is made up of a small control box and a sensor that is placed on the floor, under the device that could leak. And like other sensors, when water is detected, an alarm sounds. But this goes a whole lot further, it also actually cuts off the water supply to prevent further flooding. It does this via a motor controlled ball valve that sits in between the water feed and your pipe (so it sits inline in between the faucet and whatever is connected to the faucet). When water is detected, and the alarm sounds, the motor is activated, and the ball valve closes, shutting off the water supply. OnSite Pro creates several versions of the kit with different size adapters (for washing machines, dishwashers, ice makers, etc.) ranging in price from $80 to $140 or so. The water feed for my fish tank is actually a washing machine feed, so I used the washing machine version. The sensor is now on the floor right beneath the lower tank, and if the sensor gets wet, the alarm sounds, and water feed is cut off. This is a no-brainer and I'd recommend installing these for use with washing machines and more, installation is quick and easy, and if you ever suffer a burst hose or a leaking washing machine, you'll be thankful for the minimal investment that could prevent serious flooding. Seriously, even if you're not tinkering with home automation, this kit can save you lots of time, money, and aggravation - this should be installed standard with every appliance that uses a water connection.

But wait, it gets better. We can also introduce home automation into the mix. Why would you want a home automation tie-in to a cutoff valve like this? Well, you could have all the lights in your house flash when a leak is detected. Or you could have the system send you an SMS alert. Or you could sound a louder alarm. Lots of options, you get the idea. The Shut Off Valve Kits do not have any integrated home automation support, but they do have an ingenious little interface that makes home automation possible. At the bottom of the control is a little connector where you can attach two wires. These wires are usually part of an open circuit, meaning that they are like a switch in the off position. But when the presence of water activates the alarm and closes the water valve, it also closes this circuit, like turning on a switch. The use of this wire is optional (and not even properly documented in the kit), but it is the key to tying in home automation.

Which brings me to the next Insteon device you need to know about, the I/O Linc. This is a plug in device, (it plugs into any outlet, and provides a pass-through outlet so the outlet can still be used as needed) which contains a wire block at the bottom to which you can attach sensors and more. Sensors generally come in two forms, normally open (circuit broken, like switched off, so when switched on an event has occurred) and normally closed (circuit closed, like switched on, so when switched off an event has occurred). The I/O Linc essentially allows you to connect any device that exposes a change in circuit making it a sensor (and it can also take actions, but more on that in a moment). So, all I needed to do was plug in an I/O Linc near the water shut off kit controller, attach the little connectivity to wire to the control, and then connect the wire to the I/O Linc connectors for a normally closed circuit. Now, when the water sensor activates the alarm and closes the water shutoff valve, it also tells my I/O Linc that the sensor is active, and now that the home automation system is aware of the event, well, it can do just about whatever you can dream up (in my case it sends me an e-mail and an SMS message). Pretty slick.

I/O Linc opens up all sorts of possibilities. If you can find a sensor, chances are that it can be made to work with the I/O Linc. In fact, SmartHome sells sensors for everything from water, to light, to motion, to sound, to temperature, to rainfall, to RFID, to keypads and more. And they also sell a magnetic garage door sensor, which I just installed last night (and thus this post). The I/O Linc Garage Door Control And Status Kit contains the previously mentioned I/O Linc, a magnetic reed switch which acts as a sensor, and a strong magnet. The reed switch switches between two circuits, one that is normally open and one that is normally closed. When the magnet is close to the switch, the open circuit closes and the closed circuit opens. So, mount the sensor on the garage door frame and the magnet on the garage door itself, and now you have a sensor that indicates if the garage door is open or closed. (The I/O Linc also features a relay that can be connected to the garage door activation switch, allowing control of door opening and closing, too). Next, simply connect the sensor to the I/O Linc, and now your home automation system can react to garage door openings and closings. For my own setup I connected each garage door to an illuminated switch in the house, so the lights show me which garage is open and which is closed, and I can use those switches to open and close the doors, too.

And I'm just getting started. For less than $50, I/O Linc opens up all sorts of new options to home automation enthusiasts, and is both useful and lots of fun.

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Comments (7)



  • Lior

    You should also look at the triggerlinc, it has a similar idea where you can attach any open/close circuit. And its wireless; works with the access points that surely you must have. I just started playing with them myself.

    #1Posted by Lior | Oct 14, 2009, 02:12 PM
  • Martin Arvisais

    wow, nice aquarium settup,
    I do too home automatisation (cf, flex, multi-touch, x10, arduino, etc). I've been on the MAX event, and i hope to have soon the flash player 10.1 and AIR 2.0 to connect all this to my mobile and enjoy the new multi-touch API :)

    Happy you share your experience :)

  • Mike Jr

    Awesome! Thanks so much for the post!

    #3Posted by Mike Jr | Oct 14, 2009, 03:35 PM
  • Jeremy Moore

    Very nice. I always wanted to automate the house, but I have yet to find the components that make me say "they got it right". Things are coming around though. You may want to check out http://www.theenergydetective.com/ted-5000-overvie... - they say it is now working with the Google PowerMeter. Link this up with a weather station (mine is uploading data to http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/WXDaily...) and other telemetry data and you can start to get into some really cool data. Like Martin said above, an Air app would be cool to see this data. Maybe even some alerts (low/high temp, water leaks, high power usage, etc.) could be put together like the FedEx demo at MAX.

    Maybe one day... Too much to do, not enough time to do it...

  • garagekits

    garage kits are the easiest things to assemble. I was thinking it would be hard to build,as i went on assembling it ,I enjoyed and looking forward for to assemble.

  • Nisha Acharya

    What kind of technical expertise as per you does one need to install a Home Automation System?

  • John Smith

    Damn Good information, could you please help me out how can i get cheap home automation system for my new home. Z-wave technology seems too much expensive. I am curious to get tips regarding DIY Home Automation.