Custom Cut Pinwheel Makes A Useful HVAC Duct Flow Meter

Everyone is familiar with pinwheels, and few of us haven’t crafted one from a square of paper, a stick, and a pin. Pinwheels are pretty optimized from a design standpoint, and are so cheap and easy to build that putting a pinwheel to work as an HVAC duct flow meter seems like a great idea.

Great in theory, perhaps, but as [ItMightBeWorse] found out, a homemade pinwheel is far from an ideal anemometer. His experiments in air duct flow measurements, which previously delved into ultrasonic flow measurement, led him to try mechanical means. That calls for some kind of turbine producing a signal proportional to air flow, but a first attempt at using a computer fan with brushless DC motor failed when a gentle airflow couldn’t overcome the drag introduced by the rotor magnets. But a simple pinwheel, custom cut from patterns scaled down from a toy, proved to be just the thing. A reflective optosensor counts revolutions as the turbine spins in an HVAC duct, and with a little calibration the rig produces good results. The limitations are obvious: duct turbulence, flimsy construction, and poor bearings. But for a quick and dirty measurement, it’s not bad.

Looking for an outdoor anemometer rather than an HVAC flow meter? We’ve got one made from an old electric motor, or a crazy-accurate ultrasonic unit.

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Measuring Air Flow With Ultrasonic Sensors

Measuring air flow in an HVAC duct can be a tricky business. Paddle wheel and turbine flow meters introduce not only resistance but maintenance issue due to accumulated dust and debris. Being able to measure ducted airflow cheaply and non-intrusively, like with this ultrasonic flow meter, could be a big deal for DIY projects and the trades in general.

The principle behind the sensor [ItMightBeWorse] is working on is nothing new. He discovered a paper from 2015 that describes the method that measures the change in time-of-flight of an ultrasonic pulse across a moving stream of air in a duct. It’s another one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” things that makes perfect sense in theory, but takes some engineering to turn into a functional sensor. [ItMightBeWorse] is using readily available HC-SR04 sensor boards and has already done a proof-of-concept build. He’s getting real numbers back and getting close to a sensor that will go into an HVAC automation project. The video below shows his progress to date and hints at a follow-up video with more results soon.

Here’s wishing [ItMightBeWorse] the best of luck with his build. But if things go sideways, he might look to our post-mortem of a failed magnetic flow meter for inspiration.

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Redundant Automated Water Filler For Your Coffee

We’ve always wondered why we have indoor plumbing if it isn’t hooked up to our coffee pots. We probably drink as much coffee as water anyway, so why not just hook up a water line to refill the pot? [Loose Cannon] aka [LC] has been working on just that problem, with a whole lot of extra features, creating a very robust automatically-filled, gravity-fed, vacuum-sealed water tank for whatever appliance you have that could use it, including your coffee pot.

[LC] tapped into the 1/4″ water line from the ice maker, which has the added bonus of being a common size for solenoid valves. He’s using an eTape sensor to measure the water level in the reservoir, but he ALSO is using a flow meter in the line itself to double-check that the reservoir won’t overflow. The flow meter allows a hard limit to be set for the maximum amount of water allowed into the tank. He’s used an Arduino Micro to tie the project together, which also handles a real-time clock so the tank can be filled on a schedule.

The tank that [LC] was trying to fill was vacuum-sealed as well, which made things a little trickier. Without a vacuum on the tank, the water would just run out of the overflow valve. This is an interesting project that goes way beyond the usual automatic water supplies for coffee pots we’ve seen before.