Hackaday Prize 2023: AutoDuct Smart Air Duct

Modern building techniques are relying more and more on passive elements to improve heating and cooling efficiencies, from placing windows in ways to either absorb sunlight or shade it out to using high R-value insulation to completely sealing the living space to prevent airflow in or out of the structure. One downside of sealing the space in this fashion, though, is the new problem of venting the space to provide fresh air to the occupants. This 3D printed vent system looks to improve things.

Known as the AutoDuct, the shutter and fan combination is designed to help vent apartments with decentralized systems. It can automatically control airflow and also reduces external noise passing through the system using a printed shutter mechanism which is also designed to keep out cold air on windy days.

A control system enables features like scheduling and automatic humidity control. A mobile app is available for more direct control if needed. The system itself can also integrate into various home automation systems like Apple’s HomeKit.

A 100% passive house that’s also as energy-efficient as possible might be an unobtainable ideal, but the closer we can get, the better. Some other projects we’ve seen lately to help climate control systems include this heat pump control system and this automatic HVAC duct booster fan system.

Heat Pump Control That Works

Heat pumps are taking the world by storm, and for good reason. Not only are they many times more efficient than electric heaters, but they can also be used to provide cooling in the summer. Efficiency aside, though, they’re not perfectly designed devices, largely with respect to their climate control abilities especially for split-unit setups. Many of them don’t have remotely located thermostats to monitor temperature in an area, and rely on crude infrared remote controls as the only user interface. Looking to make some improvements to this setup, [Danilo] built a setup more reminiscent of a central HVAC system to control his.

Based on an ESP32 from Adafruit with an integrated TFT display, the device is placed away from the heat pump to more accurately measure room temperature. A humidity sensor is also included, as well as an ambient light sensor to automatically reduce the brightness of the display at night. A large wheel makes it quick and easy to adjust the temperature settings up or down. Armed with an infrared emitter, the device is capable of sending commands to the heat pump to more accurately control the climate of the room than the built-in controls are able to do. It’s also capable of logging data and integrating with various home automation systems.

While the device is optimized for the Mitsubishi heat pumps that [Danilo] has, only a few lines of code need to be changed to get this to work with other brands. This is a welcome improvement for those frustrated with the inaccurate climate controls of their heat pumps, and since it integrates seamlessly into home automation systems could also function in tandem with other backup heat sources, used in cold climates when it’s too cold outside to efficiently run the heat pump. And, if you don’t have a heat pump yet, you can always try and build your own.

How To Survive A Wet Bulb Event

Territories across the northern hemisphere are suffering through record-breaking heatwaves this summer. Climate scientists are publishing graphs with red lines jagging dangerously upwards as unprecedented numbers pour in. Residents of the southern hemisphere watch on, wondering what the coming hot season will bring.

2023 is hinting at a very real climate change that we can’t ignore. As the mercury rises to new heights, it’s time to educate yourself on the very real dangers of a wet bulb event. Scientists predict that these deadly weather conditions could soon strike in the hottest parts of the world. What you learn here could end up saving your life one day.

Hot Bodies

The body has methods of maintaining a set temperature. Credit: Wikimedia Commons, CNX OpenStax, CC BY-SA 4.0

To understand the danger of a wet bulb event, we must first understand how our bodies work. The human body likes to maintain its  temperature at approximately 37 °C (98.6 °F). That temperature can drift slightly, and the body itself will sometimes move its temperature setpoint higher to tackle infection, for example. The body is a delicate thing, however, and a body temperature above 40 °C (104 °F) can become life threatening. Seizures, organ failures, and unconsciousness are common symptoms of an overheating human. Death is a near-certainty if the body’s temperature reaches 44 °C (112 °F), though in one rare case, a patient in a coma survived a body temperature of 46.5 °C (115.7 °F).

Thankfully, the body has a host of automated systems for maintaining its temperature at its chosen set point. Blood flow can be controlled across the body, and we instinctively seek to shed clothes in the heat and cover ourselves in the cold. However, the bare naked fact is that one system is most crucial to our body’s ability to cool itself. The perspiration system is vital, as it uses sweat to cool our body via evaporation. Water is a hugely effective coolant in this way, with beads of sweat soaking up huge amounts of heat from our skin as they make the phase change from liquid to vapor.

Continue reading “How To Survive A Wet Bulb Event”

Ventbot fans with 3D printed brackets and control circuit board with ESP32 breakout and multicolored 3D printed cases

Ventbots Are Fans Of HVAC And Home Automation

[WJCarpenter] had a common HVAC problem; not all the rooms got to a comfortable temperature when the heater was working to warm up their home. As often happens with HVAC systems, the rooms farthest from the heat source and/or with less insulation needed a boost of heat in the winter and cooling in the summer too. While [WJCarpenter] is a self-reported software person, not a hardware person, you will enjoy going along on the journey to build some very capable vent boosters that require a mix of each.

Ventbot control circuit board with ESP32 breakout in a red 3D printed case

There’s a great build log on hackaday.io here, but for those who need more of a proper set of instructions, there’s a step-by-step guide that should allow even a beginner hardware hacker to complete the project over on Instructables. There you’ll find everything you need to build ESPHome controlled, 3D printed, PC fan powered vent boosters. While they can be integrated into Home Assistant, we were interested to learn that ESPHome allows these to run stand-alone too, each using its own temperature and pressure sensor.

The many iterations of hardware and software show, resulting in thoughtful touches like a startup sequence that checks for several compatible temperature sensors and a board layout that accommodates different capacitor lead spacings. Along the way, [WJCarpenter] also graphed the noise level of different fans running at multiple speeds and the pressure sensor readings against the temperatures to see if they could be used as more reliable triggers for the fans. (spoiler, they weren’t) There are a bunch of other tips to find along the way, so we highly recommend going through all that [WJCarpenter] has shared if you want to build your own or just want some tips on how to convert a one-off project to something that a wider audience can adapt to their own needs.

Ventbot graphing of temperature, pressure, and fan noise

See a video after the break that doesn’t show the whole project but includes footage of the start-up sequence that tests each fan’s tachometer and the customizable ramp-up and ramp-down settings. Continue reading “Ventbots Are Fans Of HVAC And Home Automation”

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Hackaday Links: June 11, 2023

As Tom Nardi mentioned in this week’s podcast, the Northeast US is pretty apocalyptically socked in with smoke from wildfires in Canada. It’s what we here in Idaho call “August,” so we have plenty of sympathy for what they’re going through out there. People are turning to technology to ease their breathing burden, with reports that Tesla drivers are activating the “Bioweapon Defense Mode” of their car’s HVAC system. We had no idea this mode existed, honestly, and it sounds pretty cool — the cabin air system apparently shuts off outside air intake and runs the fan at full speed to keep the cabin under positive pressure, forcing particulates — or, you know, anthrax — to stay outside. We understand there’s a HEPA filter in the mix too, which probably does a nice job of cleaning up the air in the cabin. It’s a clever idea, and hats off to Tesla for including this mode, although perhaps the name is a little silly. Here’s hoping it’s not one of those subscription services that can get turned off at a moment’s notice, though.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: June 11, 2023”

A thermostat unit and a replacement PCB for it

Custom Thermostat PCB Connects Boiler To Home Assistant

Thanks to Home Assistant, automating the various systems that run your home is easier than ever. But you still need to make a connection between those systems and your Home Assistant setup, which can be tricky if the manufacturer didn’t have this use case in mind. When [Simon] wanted to automate his home heating system, he discovered that most Home Assistant-enabled thermostats that he could find didn’t support his two separate heating zones connected to a single boiler. The easiest solution turned out to be to design his own.

The original heating system consisted of two control boxes that each had a 230 V mains connection coming in and a “request heat” control line going to the boiler. [Simon] considered replacing these with a simple off-the-shelf ESP8266 relay board and a 12 V power supply, but figured this would look messy and take up quite a bit of space. So he bought a neat DIN-rail mounted enclosure instead, and designed a custom PCB to fit inside it.

A Home Assistant screen showing two thermostatsThe PCB holds a Wemos D1 Mini connected to two relays that switch the two heating circuits. The D1 runs ESPhome and needs just a few lines of configuration to connect it to [Simon]’s home network. There’s no separate power supply — the 230 V line is connected directly to a 12 V DC power module mounted on the PCB, so the new system is plug-and-play compatible with the old.

Complete PCB design files are available on [Simon]’s website and GitHub page. There are several other ways to make custom thermostats for your home, with an Arduino for example. If you’re interested in repairing your own heating system, or want to optimize it even further, there’s a whole community out there to help you.

Is This The Oldest Open Source HVAC Project In Existence?

Homebrew HVAC systems are one of those projects that take such a big investment of time, effort and money that you’ve got to be a really dedicated (ideally home-owning) hacker with a wide variety of multidisciplinary skills to pull off an implementation that can work in reality. One such HVAC hacker is [Vadim Tkachenko] with his multi-zone Home Climate Control (HCC) project that we covered first back in 2007. We now have rare opportunity to look at the improvements fifteen years of part-time development can produce, when a project is used all day, all year round in their own home. At the start, things were simple, just opening and closing ventilators with none of those modern MQTT-driven cloud computing stuff. Continue reading “Is This The Oldest Open Source HVAC Project In Existence?”