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Garage a go-go

23 Jul

As part of our ongoing renovations I needed to replace the old outlet on the back porch, which is part of a bigger project I’ve had on the back burner for a while. The wiring in the garage was not up to our standards and so the only way I could replace the outlet in good conscience was to re-wire the entire garage. As luck would have it I had run a new feeder line from the panel up to the attic above the garage when we were doing work in the kitchen and dining room. The outlet outside in the back was the first order of business but also on the list were the ceiling outlet for the garage door, a new light, a replacement outlet inside the garage, a new outlet and light switch by the rear door, a new outlet in the front and a new outlet and switch for the exterior lights on the garage. I’m already exhausted from just writing that list. The good part of replacing the old outlets is that the Sheetrock in the back of the garage was bashed to hell already so it was easy access.

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This is after I made a straight cut across the whole damaged area in anticipation of repairing it.
As with most wiring projects the real work is fishing the cable through the walls, at least with the unfinished attic I was able to fully access the wiring from above, and pull most of the wires through where the old wires were. Being a garage there is also no insulation besides the wall against the interior of the house, so that helps make things a little easier as well.
There were a number of challenges involved but I won’t chronicle them all here, instead I’ll move on to the fun stuff.
Over the last few months I’ve been stocking up on some Z wave items to continue our home automation project. The big one I was exited about was the garage door integration with Z wave.

First off, the fact that an integrated product to do this does not exist seems crazy since the internet is full of accounts of people going through this process. Instead, you kind of have to figure out on your own. This required two separate pieces of equipment; a garage door sensor and a relay module.

The sensor is used to indicate whether the door is closed or open, or more accurately closed or not closed. My brother Chris actually was over to help with this part of the installation, which wasn’t too labor intensive but it was good to have another person to bounce ideas off and make sure things weren’t interfering with each other. The sensor works through means of a glass reed switch, which is basically a switch that connects a circuit if it senses a magnet next to it. This is the basis for most door and window sensors used in alarm systems.
The trick was placing it somewhere where the magnet would be able to safely travel with the garage door without interfering with something and mounting the sensor where it wouldn’t be impacted by any of the moving parts. The sensitivity of the magnet switch is pretty precise so the magnet needs to land within a quarter inch of the sensor when it is closed. We played around a bit and found a spot on the frame of the garage door where we could mount the sensor and have the magnet on the edge of one the door panels to just barely scrape by.
I had previously joined the sensor to the Z wave network and tested its functionality prior to mounting it so once it was up we could see right away that it was working. As of now the sensor only sees itself as a door sensor intended for an alarm system environment, which is a little odd because it gives its status as “Tripped”: Yes or No. If the sensor is not detecting the magnet it is considered tripped, which translates to open. Like I said though, a limit of this system is that it can’t really say it’s open, just not closed. If the door was open one inch it would be “tripped”. Many people recommend a camera to confirm whether the door is actually closed or open, which kind of negates the need for sensor, in my opinion. I’m sure we’ll get one anyway, at some point.
We also installed a Z-wave contact closure relay that I wired in to the garage door opener which actually allows us to open or close the door from the remote app. It functions by briefly connecting two conductors on the opener, mimicking what would happen if you hit the button inside the garage. It actually works pretty well, and any shortcomings it does have I think are more of a symptom of the app we use rather than the hardware or installation.
So now that this project is complete we can plug stuff in without having to use a ground lifter and if we go somewhere and think “oh no! Did I leave the garage door open?!” We can check, and if we did we can close it. As an added bonus if I’m too dumb to even realize I left the door open, I was able to program in a timer that emails and texts me if the door is open longer than a half hour.

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Network Nook

23 Feb

For a while now, I’ve had this project in mind and finally a couple of new nail guns and some scrap plywood made me finally get around to building this thing. As with many things the cable modem and wireless router just got put in the basement “temporarily” when they were first installed, with the idea that they’d find more permanent homes in the future. The original home for these items was the floor, and then they were upgraded to sitting on top of two mini-fridges for about the past 2 years. Over time other accessories joined the party, like the UPS, the Vera LITE Z-wave router and eventually a networked hard drive. At some point due to wired and wireless ranges of cameras and stuff I decided I’d get better range by moving the Airport to more centralized point of the house, and higher up.

This was the solution, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say:

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Not exactly a clean installation, to say the least. You can see the Airport clamped to the bottom of the I-beam, the hard drive sitting on TOP of the I-beam, and the VERA way in the back ground, the cable modem had made its way to a cardboard box, with cables going every which way in between it all.
It was time to put an end to this madness!

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Trane Zwave Thermostat

23 Feb

Today I installed our new Trane TZEMT400 Z-wave enabled thermostat. You may recall that this is a replacement for the 2Gig CT-30 we originally installed.
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One of the big additional features that this thermostat has (or that the CT-30 lacks) is that it reports the set point back to the Z-wave controller. This way you can tell what the heat is set at remotely, even if it has been manually changed at the thermostat. Installation was a little more straightforward than with the CT-30, due to the more logical method of mounting a plate with wire terminals and then snapping the control on to that. This thermostat did require the installation of a “C” wire, which required replacing the original 18-2 thermostat wire with an 18-3 to gain the extra conductor. I’ll probably cover this in a separate post.
This thermostat was the easiest device to pair with Z-wave I’ve used so far, there was no button holding or mystery sequences to enter, you just scroll to “Join Z-wave network” and press OK and then it’s up to the Z-wave controller. It worked instantly, and I did a remote enrollment at full power from about 15 feet away instead of bringing the controller right next to the thermostat. It also fetched the time from the Network as well, which was a nice touch.
The thermostat has only been installed for a few hours so I can’t really comment on durability ad user friendliness but I won’t be afraid to point out quirks and shortcomings as they are discovered.

Product Review: 2Gig CT30 ZWave Thermostat

14 Feb

Following below, is pretty much word for word my amazon review of the 2Gig Technologies CT-30 Thermostat with Z-Wave.

This product is actually made by the Radio Thermostat Company of America, and is marketed under several names, such as the one mentioned above, the 3M Filtrete 3m-50 (a Wi-Fi version) and the CT30 by Radio Thermostat, it is also available as part of the Vivint Wireless Alarm System. In any event, it’s the same thermostat and it’s available 3 ways: as a standalone unit, or with different “USNAP” modules, as a Wi-Fi thermostat, and as a Z-Wave thermostat. The latter two options offer some level of remote control of your heating and/or air conditioning system. Depending on how you set it up, this can be within your home or even outside the home on the web or your wireless device. The Wi-Fi version requires a subscription to a service, I believe. (don’t hold me to that)

Overall, it is a nice thermostat. We were working through the kinks and starting to get used to it, but we woke up one day and the heat had not turned up as scheduled. The thermostat would not respond to Z-Wave commands or report back the temperature, so I knew something was up. It took about 2 hours of troubleshooting but I got it working again. Problem is, if it DOES fail when you’re away it won’t continue on its normal schedule, it will just stay at whatever setting it was left on. I don’t think this is the case, but I would be worried that it could get stuck off, which would be trouble in sub-freezing temps.

The thermostat does have a pretty cool looking touchscreen interface, but it projects off the wall a bit, and looks a bulky from the side, and being in the hallway, that’s how it is first seen. If it weren’t for the reliability issues, we’d probably put up with some of the quirks, but we are most likely going to try the Trane TZEMT400 instead, which will run off its own built in schedule if it loses Z-Wave connectivity.

the 2Gig/ Radio Thermostat CT30

My issues with the CT30:

  1. Once connected to Z-Wave, it will not run off the built-in schedule on the unit, you must schedule from Z-Wave.
  2. Unit does not report set-point temp to Z-Wave. ie: If someone changes the temp at the thermostat, the change will not be reflected in Z-Wave, it will only know the last setting that was initiated through Z-Wave. This seems to be a known, designed by choice, issue.
  3. After about a week of seemingly working fine, it began to lose contact with the Z-Wave network, and commands would not be sent to it. I changed the batteries, removed it, and re-added it a few times before it would work normally again. At that point it was not recognized as the same node, so all my scenes in Vera did not refer to it anymore, so I had to redo all the scenes.
  4. From reading the forums, it seems reliability can be spotty due to running off batteries rather than 24V power. Of course, the fact that this unit can run on batteries is one of its main selling points… What I will say about running power to this thing, (or the “C” Wire or “Common” as it’s referred to) is that the C Wire is no more than a ground back at the source of the thermostat wire. This is rarely mentioned in the all the posting about C Wires and transformers, etc., but from what I have learned, that essentially all it is. I do not have a C Wire, but I do have a Common back at the Taco SR502 that my boiler and hot water tank are hooked to, so all I have to do is pull a 3rd wire to my T-Stat and connect to the terminal labeled “COM” in the SR502 and it should work. But if it didn’t have that, I should be able to just run a wire to the metal cabinet of the boiler, furnace, or wherever the T-Stat wire originates from.
  5. I would prefer there to be a plate that mounts to the wall where you wire to and then the unit snaps into the plate. The LuxPro this replaced was like that, and is also “armchair programable” as they say. Also, the battery and wiring access covers are tricky to remove and there is no instruction on how to do so.
  6. Not knowing that the built-in schedule would be useless, I went ahead and programmed the whole thing. This was a tedious process which did not seem to function exactly as the manual says, especially the “Copy” function which did not seem to work at all.

Ridin’ the Z-wave

1 Feb

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We have been planning on this for a while but two coordinating events were the impetus for us to finally dive in to the Z-wave world.
The two events that coincided were the installation of our new heating system and the release of the Mi Casa Verde VeraLITE.
What the hell am I talking about? Good question, I’m about to explain, a little. In short, Z-wave is a wireless home automation protocol that allows you to remotely control aspects of your home that are equipped with Z-wave.
Before you jump aboard, this is NOT a simple plug and play system, it is a tinkerer’s game, and a patient tinkerer at that. There is a lot of configuring and testing and scheduling and adding and removing of devices and such. Only a madman would go through so much effort under the guise of making things easier or to “save time”. Anyway, there will be a lot more to come on this topic, here’s a look at the VeraLITE.

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For now we have just two devices, the new z-wave thermostat, which we are still getting the hang of, and our existing ishi cam, which was able to be added to the Z-wave network.

Future additions on the wish list include Z-wave door locks, temperature sensors, door sensors, more cameras and Z-wave controlled lighting.