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 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”

A Lightweight Smart Home Server

Working towards automating a few things in a home often seems simple on the surface, but it’s easy for these projects to snowball into dozens of sensors and various servos, switches, and cameras strewn about one’s living space. The same sort of feature creep sneaks into some of the more popular self-hosted home server platforms as well, with things like openHAB requiring so much computing power that they barely function on something like a Raspberry Pi. [Paulo] thought there should be a more lightweight way of tackling a project like this, and set about building his own smart home server with help from some interesting software.

The project is based around the Dirigera hub from Ikea, partially because [Paulo] is planning to use other smart home devices from Ikea as he can easily find them where he is, and also because these devices tend to use Zigbee, a non-proprietary communications standard. This means that if he ever wants to swap out the hub for another one in the future, it won’t be difficult to do. From here the major hurdle is that using the default software from these devices is fairly limiting, so [Paulo] reached for a Raspbee 2 Zigbee gateway for use with a Raspberry Pi and an extremely lightweight and customizable web server called Mako to make this happen. Using Lua as the high-level language to tie everything together he was able to easily deploy the server to control the Ikea hub and devices and automate them in any way he sees fit.

While it is true that software like openHAB and others already exists to do virtually any home automation task that could be imagined, if you’re looking to do something with a bare minimum of computing power something like [Paulo]’s solution is likely going to be the fastest and most reliable method of getting a few things automated around the home. If you’re looking for something completely open source and built from the ground up, though, we have seen a few alternative smart home solutions like this one which don’t rely on any proprietary hardware or software, but do take a little bit more effort on the user’s part.

Low-Cost 433 MHz Door Sensors Get Open Firmware

It’s an unfortunate reality these days that if you see a cheap piece of consumer electronics, there’s a good chance its only cheap because it’s designed to lock you into some ecosystem where you’ll either end up paying a subscription, or worse, have your personal information sold behind your back. One of the best tools we have against these sort of anti-consumer practices is the development of open source firmware replacements that put control of the device into the hands of the community, rather than a corporation.

Now, thanks to the work of [Jonathan Armstrong] we have such a firmware for the 433 MHz magnetic door and window sensors that you can pick up on AliExpress for $4 USD a piece. The new firmware not only ensures you can use these sensors with a wide array of receivers, but adds a number of new features over their stock configuration. Continue reading “Low-Cost 433 MHz Door Sensors Get Open Firmware”

Circadian Lighting For The Home Via Home Assistant

Artificial lighting is great, in that it lets us work and live well into the night. However, our bodies are dependent on the natural lighting cycles of the sun as part of their basic operation, and artificial lighting can interfere with this. [Tyler Cipriani] decided to use Home Assistant with some smart lights to try and make home lighting more suitable for our natural circadian rhythms.

The basic intent was to give the home bright white/blueish light during the day, matching the sun’s output. The light would then be altered to warmer yellow/red tones in the evening. The eye has cells that respond to blue light to regulate our circadian rhythms with the presence of the sun, so reducing blue light at night may help reduce disruption to sleep and other body processes.

Home Assistant has a Circadian lighting component available built specifically for this task. It’s a useful smart home tool for achieving such a job, too, as it readily works with a wide variety of hardware from different vendors. In [Tyler]’s case, light switches are Zigbee devices that talk to Home Assistant via a Zigbee2MQTT hookup and a Combee Zigbee gateway. Lights around the home are a mixture of Philips Hue devices and other brands of smart lights.

[Tyler] states the effects are “subtle but noticable.” He notes that it’s easier to feel sharp and work during the day, but harder to continue the lighting warms and dims at night. He points out that this is a design feature to help keep him on a healthy sleep schedule.

We’ve seen other circadian rhythm lights before. In fact, NASA uses them on the ISS, but you can build your own for a lot less than they spent. If you’ve got your own circadian lighting hacks, don’t hesitate to drop us a line!

Homebrew LED Strips That Are HomeKit-Compatible

Google, Amazon and Apple are all duking it out for supremacy in the smart home space. As you’ve probably noticed, cheaper smart lights and the like typically don’t offer connectivity with Apple’s HomeKit system. However, if you want some smart lighting that works in that ecosystem without breaking the bank, you can always build your own!

This simple build uses an ESP8266-01S as the brains of the operation. It’s a cut-down board that only has two GPIO pins available, but for this job, that’s enough. It’s paired with a simple relay for switching a single-color LED strip on and off, and an MP2307 buck converter for power. The code loaded onto the ESP8266 is simple, and allows it to connect to Wi-Fi and link up with Apple HomeKit for control.

Let’s say you’re a real fancy-pants, though, and you want RGB-addressable LEDs for your HomeKit setup. No problem, you can do that too! It’s as straightforward as hooking up an ESP8266 to some WS2812B LED strip and flashing the right firmware that emulates an Elgato EVE LED strip. You can even activate special lighting effects on the via the EVE app if you so desire, to take advantage of the fully-addressable nature of the strip.

There are plenty of off-the-shelf solutions in this space, but many of them are quite expensive for what you actually get in the box. Sometimes building your own is more fun, too. Alternatively, if you don’t like Apple’s smart home solutions, you can always try a more open alternative. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Homebrew LED Strips That Are HomeKit-Compatible”

ESP8266 Smart Vents Keep Tabs On Home Temps

Have you ever found that, despite having a central heating and air conditioning system, that not all the rooms in your home end up being the temperature you want them to be? Maybe the dining room gets too hot when the heater is running, or the bedroom never seems to cool off enough in the summer months. If that sounds like your house, then these motorized “smart vents” from [Tony Brobston] might be exactly what you need.

The idea here is pretty simple: an ESP8266 and a servo is built into the 3D printed vent register, which allows it to control the position of its louvers. When connected to your home automation system via MQTT, the vents allow you to control the airflow to each room individually based on whatever parameters you wish. Most likely, you’ll want to pair these vents with an array of thermometers distributed throughout the house.

While [Tony] says the design still needs some testing, he’s released smart vents in a range of sizes from 2×10 to 6×12 inches. He’s also provided excellent documentation on how to print, assemble, and program the devices. It’s clear that a lot of care and thought went into every element of this project, and we’re excited to see how it can be developed further by the new ideas and contributors that will inevitably pop up now that it’s gone public.

Want to add some automation to your HVAC, but don’t have a fancy central unit? Don’t worry, as long as your heater or air conditioner has an infrared remote, you should be able to wedge a WiFi-enabled microcontroller in into the equation.

Continue reading “ESP8266 Smart Vents Keep Tabs On Home Temps”

Screenshot of the Insteon's new blog post, showing the Insteon logo in the header, the "A New Day for Insteon!" title, and some of the intro paragraph of the blog post

Insteon Gets Another Chance

It would appear that, sometimes, miracles happen. A few days ago, an update graced the website of Insteon, a company whose abrupt shuttering we covered in detail two months ago. An entity described as “small group of passionate Insteon users” has bought what was left of the company, and is working on getting the infrastructure back up. Previously, there was no sign of life from the company’s APIs. Now, Insteon hubs are coming back to life — or perhaps, they’re Inste-online again.

We’ve explained that revival of these devices without acquiring the company IP would’ve been tricky because of stuff like certificate pinning, and of course, a pile of proprietary code. Buying a company that’s undergoing a liquidation is not exactly end-user-friendly, but it would seem that someone sufficiently business-savvy got it done. The new CEO, as reported by [CNX Software], is a member of an investment committee — it’s fair to assert that this would help. A more sustainable funding source rather than ‘sell hardware and then somehow provide indefinite services’ is promised; they are moving to a subscription model, but only for Insteon Hub users. Recurring payments don’t sound as bad when it comes to paying developers and covering operational costs, and we hope that this revival succeeds.

Nothing is mentioned about moving towards openness in software and hardware — something that protects users from such failures in the first place. The new company is ultimately vulnerable to the same failure mode, and may leave the users in the dark just as abruptly as a result. However, we have our fingers crossed that the updated business model holds, purely for users’ sake. At least, unlike with the Wink hub, Insteon’s transition to a subscription model is better than the Inste-off alternative.

We thank [Itay] for sharing this with us! Via [CNX Software].