# Modeling Home Heating Systems With Circuit Simulation Software

Electricity flow is generally invisible, silent, and not something that most humans want to touch, so understanding how charge moves around can be fairly unintuitive at first. There are plenty of analogies to help understand its behavior, such as imagining a circuit as a pipe of water, with pressure standing in for voltage and flow standing in for current. But you can flip this idea in reverse and use electric circuits to model other complex phenomena instead. [Oxx], for example, is using circuit theory to model his home’s heating systems.

To build his model, he’s using LTSpice, a free circuit simulation program. Using voltage to model temperature and current to model heat flow, he’s set up a model for his home to compare the behavior of a heat pump and a propane furnace. A switch model already in LTSpice with built-in hysteresis takes the place of the thermostat. Using temperature data for a single day in January [Oxx] can see how each of his two heating systems might behave, and the model for the heat pump is incredibly close to how the heat pump behaved in real life.

The model includes all kinds of data about the system, including the coefficient of performance of the heat pump and its backup electric resistive heater, and the model is fairly accurate at predicting behavior. Of course, it takes a good bit of work to set up the parameters for all of the components since our homes and heating systems won’t be included in LTSpice by default, but it does show how powerful an electric circuit analog can be when building models of other systems. If you’ve never used this program before, we’ve featured a few guides to getting started that you can take a look at.

Thanks to [Jarvis] for the tip!

# Simulate A Better Termination

If you are making certain precision measurements, you know you need to terminate the connections with the right impedance, normally 50 ohms. Proper termination minimizes reflections on the line which can disturb measurements. Some instruments already have 50 ohm terminations, at least optionally. If not, you usually use little connector shells with the right resistor inside. [Joe Smith] decided to see if he could improve on the normal terminations using circuit simulation techniques. You can see a video of the work below.

In the process of testing, he also needs a resistive splitter, and, just like with the terminators, he shows you what’s going on inside. It was easy to compare since he had a scope that could independently set channels to have a 50-ohm termination or a 1 megaohm termination.

# Kitchen Steganography With Turmeric

It is a classic rite of passage for nerdy kids to write secret messages using lemon juice. If you somehow missed that, you can’t see the writing until you heat the paper up with, say, an old-fashioned light bulb. If you were a true budding spy, you’d write a boring normal letter with wide spacing and then fill in the blanks between the lines with your important secrets written in juice. This is a form of steganography — encoding secret messages by hiding them in plain sight. [Randomona] shares a different technique that seems to be way cooler than lemon juice using, of all things, turmeric. This isn’t like the invisible ink of our childhood.

That’s probably a good thing. We doubt an LED bulb makes enough heat to develop our old secret messages. [Ranomona’s] ink doesn’t use heat, but it uses a developer. That means you must make two preparations: the ink and the developer. The results are amazing, though, as shown in the video below.

# QSPICE Picks Up Where LTSpice Left Us

[Mike Engelhardt] is a name that should be very familiar to the hardcore electronics nerd. [Mike] is the developer responsible for LTSpice, which is quite likely the most widely used spice-compatible simulator in the free software domain. When you move away from digital electronics and the comfort of software with its helpful IDEs and toolchains, and dip a wary toe into the murky grey waters of analog or power electronics, LTSpice is your best friend. And, like all best friends, it’s a bit quirky, but it always has your back. Sadly, LTSpice development seems to have stalled some years ago, but luckily for us [Mike] has been busy on the successor, QSpice, under the watchful eye of Qorvo.

It does look in its early stages, but from a useability point of view, it’s much improved over LTSpice. Performance is excellent (based on this scribe’s limited testing while mobile.) Gone (thankfully!) is the uncommon verb-noun usage paradigm — replaced with a more usual cut-n-paste flow. Visually it still kind of looks like LTspice in places, but nicer with a clear and uncluttered design that gets straight to the point. Internally, the simulation engine has improved in speed and accuracy, as well as adding native support for modern semiconductor types, such as wide bandgap materials like SiC. Noted is that this updated software has a particular emphasis on power integrity and noise analysis, which are sticky problems that have a big impact on modern high-power systems.

# Modeling A Guitar For Circuit Simulation

Guitar effects have come a long way from the jangly, unaltered sounds of the 1950s when rock and roll started picking up steam. Starting in large part with [Jimi Hendrix] in the 60s, the number of available effects available to guitarists snowballed in the following decades step-by-step with the burgeoning electronics industry. Now, there are tons of effects, from simple analog devices that would have been familiar to [Hendrix] to complex, far-reaching, digital effects available to anyone with a computer. Another thing available to modern guitarists is the ability to model these effects and guitars in circuit simulators, as [Iain] does.

[Ian] plays a Fender Stratocaster, but in order to build effects pedals and amplifiers for it with the exact desired sound, he needed a way to model its equivalent circuit. For a simple DC circuit, this isn’t too difficult since it just requires measuring the resistance, capacitance, and inductance of the overall circuit and can be done with something as simple as a multimeter. But for something with the wide frequency range of a guitar, a little bit more effort needs to go into creating an accurate model. [Iain] is using an Analog Discovery as a vector network analyzer to get all of the raw data he needs for the model before moving on to some in-depth calculations.

[Iain] takes us through all of the methods of figuring out the equivalent impedance of his guitar and its cabling using simple methods capable of being done largely by hand and more advanced techniques like finding numerical solutions. By analyzing the impedance of the pickup, tone and volume controls, and cable, this deep dive into the complexities of building an accurate equivalent circuit model for his guitar could be replicated by anyone else looking to build effects for their specific guitars. If you’re looking for a more digital solution, though, we’ve seen some impressive effects built using other tools unavailable to guitarists in days of yore, such as MIDI and the Raspberry Pi.

# An Open-Source, Free Circuit Simulator

The original circuit simulation software, called the Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis, or SPICE as it is more commonly known, was originally developed at the University of Califorina Berkeley in the 1970s with an open-source license. That’s the reason for the vast versions of SPICE available now decades after the original was released, not all of which are as open or free as we might like. Qucs is a GPL circuit simulator. And if you want the GUI option, you might want to try out QucsStudio, which uses Qucs under the hood, and is free to use, but binary-only.

(Editor’s note: the author was confused between the GPL open-source Qucs and the closed-source, binary-only QucsStudio. We’ve cleaned that up.)

QucsStudio supports a wide range of circuit components and models much in the same fashion as other more popular SPICE programs, including semiconductor devices, passive components, and digital logic gates. Qucs also utilizes SPICE-based simulation, which can model various types of circuit behavior, such as DC, AC, transient, and small-signal analysis.

Unfortunately there are only Windows versions available, and although some might have some success running it under WINE. There are plenty of other options for those of us running non-Windows operating systems though. Here’s a review of 30 of them.

Thanks to [Electroagenda] for the tip!

# Practical Inductors In LTSpice

LTSpice and the underlying Spice engine does a great job of simulating ideal components. But it is also capable — if you know how — of handling models of real-world devices. Inductors, for example, are one of the most imperfect components. Their constituent wire has resistance, and there is parasitic capacitance between the windings. If there is a core, it also will have many imperfections and losses. [Sam Ben-Yaakov] has a lecture about modeling real inductors in LTSpice, and he covers how you can capture some of these imperfections in the video below.

There is a bit of math in the presentation, but we liked that it relates back to datasheets for actual components. Being able to understand what the parameters on a datasheet mean is crucial, and if you ever wondered what some of these entries mean, you’ll get a lot from this video.

The main feature of the model is the flux equation. The tanh (hyperbolic tangent) function is similar to the curve you want for the flux equation, so it plays a major part. Of course, there are other parts of the inductor you may have to model, too, but this is one of the most difficult parts.

You can also model transformers using LTSpice. You can also create custom components.