Heating A Home With Sunlight… And Water

The sun is a tremendous source of energy, and while photovoltaic panels are an easy way to harvest some of that energy especially now that prices for them are incredibly low, there are plenty of other ways to tap into that free energy as well. [Engelbert] was looking for alternative ways to heat his house since traditional methods were prohibitively expensive, and ended up building a heat exchanger using solar-heated water to cover his home heating needs. (Google Translate from Dutch)

The system uses several large roof-mounted hot water heating panels. The heat captured by them is then pumped into an underground pipe network which is able to warm up a large area of earth in the summer. In the winter, that heat is able to be extracted back out of the earth and used to heat his home. The system includes almost three kilometers of pipe which are buried two meters below grade, so this will probably not be a weekend project, but it still cost much less than the €80,000 to install gas heating in his home.

[Engelbert] is able to use this self-built system to keep his home and another smaller building at a constant 23°C all year. He actually overbuilt the system slightly and has since disconnected almost half of the pipes, but we certainly understand the desire to over-engineer things around here. The only problem he has had is with various government entities that are slow to adopt energy-efficient systems like these. Perhaps the Dutch government can take some notes from the Swiss when it comes to installing geothermal systems like these.

Thanks to [Jero] for the tip!

The Ground Beneath Your Feet: SuperAdobe Construction

Homes in different parts of the world used to look different from each other out of necessity, built to optimize for the challenges and benefits of local climate. When residential climate control systems became commonplace that changed. Where a home in tropical south Florida once required very different building methods (and materials) compared to a home in the cold mountains of New England, essentially identical construction methods are now used for single-family homes in any climate. The result is inefficient and virtually indistinguishable housing from coast to coast, regardless of climate. As regions throughout the world are facing increasingly dire housing shortages, the race is on to find solutions that are economical and available to us right now.

The mission of CalEarth, one of the non-profits that Hackaday has teamed up with for this year’s Hackaday Prize, is to address that housing shortage by building energy-efficient homes out of materials already available in the areas that they will be built. CalEarth specializes in building adobe, or earth, homes that have a large thermal mass and an inexpensive bill of materials. Not only does this save on heating and cooling costs, but transportation costs for materials can be reduced as well. Some downside to this method of construction are increased labor costs and the necessity of geometric precision of the construction method, both of which are tackled in this two-month design challenge.

Continue reading “The Ground Beneath Your Feet: SuperAdobe Construction”

Home Monitoring, Without All The Sensors

Smart homes come with a lot of perks, not least among which is the ability to monitor the goings-on in your home, track them, and make trends. Each piece of monitoring equipment, such as sensors or cameras, is another set of wires that needs to be run and another “thing” that needs to be maintained on your system. There are sometimes clever ways of avoiding sensors, though, while still retaining the usefulness of having them.

In this build, [squix] uses existing sensors for electricity metering that he already had in order to alert him when his oven is pre-heated. The sensor is a Shelly 3EM, and the way that it interfaces with his home automation is by realizing that his electric oven will stop delivering electricity to the heating elements once it has reached the desired temperature. He is able to monitor the sudden dramatic decrease in electricity demand at his house with the home controller, and use that decrease to alert him to the fact that his oven is ready without having to install something extra like a temperature sensor.

While this particular sensor may only be available in some parts of Europe, we presume the idea would hold out across many different sensors and even other devices. Even a small machine learning device should be able to tell what loads are coming on at what times, and then be programmed to perform functions based on that data.

Continue reading “Home Monitoring, Without All The Sensors”

Arduino Reduces Heating Costs

While almost everyone has a heater of some sort in their home, it’s fairly unlikely that the heat provided by a central heating system such as a furnace is distributed in an efficient way. There’s little reason to heat bedrooms during the day, or a kitchen during the night, but heating systems tend to heat whole living space regardless of the time of day or the amount of use. You can solve this problem, like most problems, with an Arduino.

[Karl]’s build uses a series of radiator valves to control when each room gets heat from a boiler. The valves, with a temperature monitor at each valve, are tied into a central Arduino Mega using alarm wiring. By knowing the time of day and the desired temperature in each room, the Arduino can control when heat is applied to each room and when it is shut off, presumably making the entire system much more efficient. It also has control over the circulating pump and some of the other boiler equipment.

Presumably this type of system could be adapted to a system which uses a furnace and an air handler as well, although it is not quite as straightforward to close vents off using a central unit like this as it is to work with a boiler like [Karl] has. With careful design, though, it could be done. Besides replacing thermostats, we can’t say we’ve ever seen this done before.

Thanks to [SMS] for the tip!

Home Safety Monitoring With IoT

Home automation is a popular project to undertake but its complexity can quickly become daunting, especially if you go further than controlling a few lights (or if you’re a renter). To test the waters you may want to start with something like this home safety monitor, which is an IoT device based on an Arduino. It allows remote monitoring of a home for things such as temperature, toxic gasses, light, and other variables, which is valuable even if you don’t need or want to control anything.

The device is built around an Arduino Nano 33 IOT which has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities as well as some integrated security features. This build features a number of sensors including pressure/humidity, a gas/smoke detector, and a light sensor. To report all of the information it gathers around the home, an interface with Ubidots is configured to allow easy (and secure) access to the data gathered by the device.

The PCB and code for the project are all provided on the project page, and there are a number of other options available if Ubidots isn’t your preferred method of interfacing with the Internet of Things. You might even give Mozilla’s WebThings a shot if you’re so inclined.

Mozilla WebThings: An Open Platform For Building IoT Devices

Mozilla recently officially released their IoT platform. This framework comes with “Gateway” software that can run on a Raspberry Pi and a framework that can run on any number of devices.

As we’ve seen, IoT is a dubious prospect for consumers. When you throw in all the privacy issues, support issues, and end-of-life issues; it gets even worse. Nobody wants their light bulbs to stop working because a server in faraway land shut down, but that’s an hilariously feasible scenario.

WebThings comes with a lot out of the box. It comes with a user interface, logging, rules, and an easy-to-understand API. Likewise the actual framework allows for building on many common devices and can be written in Node, Python, Java, Rust, Micropython, and used as an Arduino library. This opens it up for everything from a eBay ESP32 to a particle board.

We’ve started to notice some projects that use it trickling in on the tip line and on hackaday.io. We’re interested to see what kind of community grows around this, and are curious if it won’t be too long before easy-to-hack kits start showing up on your favorite online retailers.

There’s good documentation and of course, being open source, you can check out the source for yourself.

Another Way To Make PCBs At Home

One of the more popular ways of rolling out your own custom PCB is to simply create the model in your CAD program of choice and send it off to a board manufacturer who will take care of the dirty work for you. This way there is no need to deal with things like chemicals, copper dust, or maintaining expensive tools. A middle ground between the board manufacturer and a home etching system though might be what [igorfonseca83] has been doing: using an inexpensive laser engraver to make PCBs for him.

A laser engraver is basically a low-power laser CNC machine that’s just slightly too weak to cut most things that would typically go in a laser cutter. It turns out that the 10W system is the perfect amount of energy to remove a mask from a standard PCB blank, though. This in effect takes the place of the printer in the old toner transfer method, and the copper still has to be dissolved in a chemical solution, but the results are a lot more robust than trying to modify a printer for this task.

If you aren’t familiar with the days of yore when homebrew PCBs involved a standard desktop printer, many people still use this method, although the results can be mixed based on printer reliability. If you want to skip the middleman, and the need for a chemical bath, a more powerful laser actually can cut the traces for you, too.

Continue reading “Another Way To Make PCBs At Home”