Over this Christmas break, Charlene said “why don’t we start replacing the knob and tube with those two lights”. We did, and then started on the next light, and in the process of tearing that apart at midnight I said “screw it, I’m taking tomorrow off and we’re going to re-do all the lights”.
So we did: removed all vestiges of knob and tube and replaced it with modern wiring, Romex, a little bit of THHN in conduit for the exposed parts; replaced light fixtures; beefed up the ceiling fan mount. Just reworked the whole damned thing.
Three major changes have come from this:
- When we moved in, we had a breaker panel installed to replace the fuse box, and in the process our doorbell transformer got disconnected. I tripped over the wires for that and was inspired to try to find a replacement that wasn’t a cheesy plastic battery powered wireless doorbell.
- We finally broke down and put a real fan/heater combo in the bathroom.
- We also got (haven’t installed it yet) a temperature controller for the ceiling fan.
All of this has inspired a fit of “we should improve how the house behaves!” gusto in us. In particular:
- I learned that doorbell transformers draw 3 watts at idle. Modern switching power supplies (“wall warts”) draw almost nothing if they’re not being drawn on, and for a watt and a half I can put a Linux computer up in the attic. So I’ve ordered a couple Raspberry Pi embedded Linux devices, and need to find reed switches to put sensors on all of the doors, and maybe drop a few webcams in appropriate locations too.
- We put the standard switch on the heater, and a timer too so that we can set it to 15 minutes after our shower to dry out the bathroom, but we got to thinking it’d be really nice to be able to grab a cell phone or a tablet when we’re lying in bed and switch on the bathroom heater, just like we can already kick on the water recirculator so that the shower is hot when we get there.
- The temperature controller for the ceiling fan looks… fine…, but has a separate remote. We’re a pretty wired household, we each have a laptop, a tablet, and a smart phone. Why add yet another silly things with buttons to the mix?
So I’m trying to dig further.
The previous owner had put some ceiling speakers in that we haven’t removed yet. With the Raspberry Pi, all we need is a simple amplifier to drive those. I could build one, or hopefully find something fairly cheap that I can plug in to the audio out of the computer. I probably have one in the parts drawer that’d drive a single 8Ω speaker, I’m not sure how loudly or with what fidelity. Long-term, we think it’d be cool to drive a couple of solenoids hitting some physical audio sculpture. We’ll see where we get.
I’m trying to figure out how to reasonably switch the 20A circuit for the bathroom heater. There are X10 and Insteon modules that will switch 20A (and I have to be careful, many timers and smart home switches will just switch 2A or 3A, small lighting circuits) but I’m running into enough potential issues with trying to debug Insteon that I’m not sold. I may have to just see if someone has a UL approved relay assembly I could drive with one of the TTL outputs or a USB port on the Pi.
Similarly, the ceiling fan has lower loads, but maybe using a 1-Wire button to sense temperature and switching the fan and lights in the living room with the Pi might make sense.
Finally, I’ve often thought that it’d be cool if I could control the doors, both entrance and garage, with my smart phone, or with one of the many RFID cards I already have in my pocket (office/work door key, my transit Clipper card, etc). The garage door is easy, just a transistor, resistor or two, and a few protection diodes off of one of the Pi TTL outputs., but the others will require an RFID reader and a couple of solenoid driven strike plates.
Anyway, problems to be solved, I’ll use this series as a place to throw ideas and discoveries up as I implement them.
-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California, http://www.flutterby.net/