Home Automation – Saving Energy

We have all seen the headline news with the rising cost of energy and the need for sustainable living. We cant all afford to get renewable energy like solar panels bolted to our roof so I have taken a few steps to manage the energy my home needs to tick over and save some money along the way.

Time of use energy supply

Energy tariff’s where the price drops at certain times of the day aren’t just for posh electric car drivers. I am on Octopus Energy’s “Go” tariff which gives 4 hours of cheap energy between 12:30-4:30.

We don’t have smart appliances so we use the delay timers on them to make sure that the dishwasher and washing machine will only run when energy prices are cheap. A timer in Home Assistant shows the time left until the cheap electric time.

The dehumidifier also has a lower target humidity when prices are lower to try and encourage it to run at a cheaper time.

Automatic Lights

Probably the first thing that most people turn to when setting home automation. Smart lights paired with a motion sensor\light level sensor we can make sure that the lights are turned off when the room is empty and only turned on when the room is dark.

Bonus Tip: Create a “virtual switch” (called a helper in Home Assistant) to enable or disable the automatic light feature for each room, this lets you override then lights for things like movie nights.

Heating

In the UK we rarely have to think about cooling of our houses so I have only setup heating controls in our house. So now we just need to be sure that were only heating the house when we need to.

Using contact sensors on all windows\doors and a smart TRV on each radiator we have automations to drop the target heating temperature when a window or door is left open.

Rooms that have very little use only turn the heating up when we are using them and our bedrooms have the target temperature set based on our mobile phone morning alarms.

Obviously we don’t want to use energy heating our home when were not there so that target temperature is dropped as soon as we all leave the house based on the geolocation of our phones.

Bonus Tip: Create a virtual switch as an over-ride to make sure that the temperature us not dropped if guests are in the house without you.

No-one Home?

When no-one is home our house should be using a little power as possible, so our house does all of the stuff below when we have all gone out exploring. They are not just energy saving, some are just for fun :-).

  • Drop target heating temperature.
  • Turn off all the lights.
  • Turn off non-essential switches (TV’s, Office etc).
  • Set the Alexa based home alarm.
  • Send notifications to our phone if we have forgotten to take our medication.
  • Turn off music playing all Alexa’s in the house.
  • Close the curtains if the sun has set, or wait for the sun to set if it hasn’t already.

My favourite Home Automations

Many home automations make up our home control system so I thought I would share the ones that I like the most. All of the automations in this list are setup using Node-Red and Home Assistant.

Temperature triggered curtains

We have been enduring 2 record breaking heat waves in the UK recently and we seem to spend all our time opening and closing curtains\windows to try and keep our house as cool as possible.

We installed switchbot curtains on our front room curtains recently and have an automation to close the curtains when were not home and it is hot outside, this helps to keeps the temperature down by a few degrees.

As a bonus it also shuts the curtains after sunset and warns us via an alexa announcement if a window behind the curtain is still closed.

Light Mode

EventLightMode-NodeRed

Around the house there are a few colored LED light strips running WLED, most of the time these have a white glow but if it is a special event like a birthday the lights will change to the birthday persons favourite color.

DIY Ambilight

Not exactly an automation but great to showoff at a party. Using Hyperion on an old Raspberry Pi 3 with some LED strip around the outside of the TV we have our own ambilight effect. I am always very unimpressed with the colors and accuracy when watching a philips ambilight TV, DIY with Hyperion works even better!

Night-time

With a single command to Alexa before going to bed Home Assistant will turn off all the downstairs lights, turn on our bedroom lights, ensure that all plugs not needed are turned off (garden water feature, office desk, TV etc) and close the curtains. Alexa will also let us know if we have left a window open or forgotten to schedule the dishwasher to run overnight.

Once we have been in bed for around 5 mins the alarm system is armed.

Good Morning

Home Assistant knows when we are awake based on the alarms going off on our mobile phones in the morning so the house alarm is auto disabled and automatic lights are re-enabled. The first time that movement is seen downstairs it will run our ‘flash briefing’ on Alexa followed by an update of any chores that need doing followed by some music that is unique to the day.

Eufy RoboVac 11 Review

The Eufy RoboVac 11 is the cheapest robotic hoover of the Eufy range and also one of the cheapest out there overall but it still manages to outperform our regular hoover. The hoover will go around the floor to do its thing and then return to its dock when its done or running out of battery.
All home gadgets need a name and this is no exception, our hoover is named Marvin after the paranoid android on hitchhikers guide to the galaxy.

Features

• Drop sensor to make sure it doesn’t fall down the stairs to its demise.
• Power\warning light on top and audible warning when something goes wrong
• Bumper bar on front to detect if it has hit something and to protect your furniture
• Auto return to home when finished\low batteries
• Scheduled daily running time
• User replaceable maintenance parts
• Front sensors to reduce how much it knocks into things
• Quiet operation compared to some other hoovers

 

First Impressions

Once out the box the RoboVac was easy to setup and was plug and play. We were disappointed that the manual recommended placing the dock against a wall with 1 meter of empty wall either side and 2 meters in front. I’m sure that many people are like us and don’t have the luxury of large empty walls near a power socket, thankfully we were able to place the dock under a small wooden kitchen trolley which is barely bigger than the robot with a wall on one side and more furniture on the other and everything seems to work fine. Occasionally RoboVac will take a little longer to find its home but always gets there in the end.
The RoboVac feels sturdy and well made with user replaceable maintenance parts (some spares are included). It has a smart and simple design with a single illuminated power button\light on top.
It would be nice for the RoboVac to have a battery indicator as there is no way of know how much charge is left.

 

Performance

We thought that a robotic hoover would be a bit of a gimmick and we would still find ourselves sweeping floors and hoovering behind it. However, we were surprised and it a little embarrassed by how much dust and dirt was picked up. This hoover performs better than our cheap traditional hoover and best of all we don’t have to touch it. We found that the battery easily ran long enough to hoover all the downstairs rooms of our fairly small family home. Although the hoover is mainly aimed at hard floors we found it was perfectly capable of a medium pile carpet.
RoboVac will work around your floor in a random fashion and does not learn the layout of your room like some other robots, this means that you can move furniture or leave larger things on the floor and Eufy will just work around it. Smaller things like socks will likely get sucked up and cause the hoover to stop and beep. It has a large bin for a small device and can hold around a weeks worth of muck for our home.

 

Conclusion

Its feels very futuristic to wake up in the morning and find a hoover doing its thing and cleaning the home while you were asleep, it has saved endless sweeping of the hard floors in our home and also helps out on the carpets too.
I do wish that the model had smart control features to let us start the RoboVac using Alexa or automatically running when were not home, the remote control works well but it is limited to a single daily schedule and uses infra-red so the remote and RoboVac have to be quite close together to work. Eufy do have slightly more expensive models with these features that I think are well worth the increased cost.
Overall the Eufy RoboVac 11 is a great helping hand at home at a very reasonable price compared to its competitors and we highly recommend getting one in your home.

 

15 changes I will take to be more green in 2018

We have all watched Blue Planet 2 (go watch it right now if you haven’t already) and it has started a lot of conversations about living ‘green’ and looking after the planet around us. I have always been aware of my responsibility to be green but not acted on it as much as I would like so with ‘new year, new start’ ringing in my ears here is what I plan to change in my life to reduce my load on the planet.

1. Install smart home heating controls so I am not heating the house when no-one is home
2. Buy food (especially veg) loose where possible
3. Be more vigilant with recycling, it’s easy to get lazy
4. Make RO\DI water for the fish tanks at home instead of driving to a store to get it
5. Support companies with ‘green credentials’
6. Make regular monetary donations towards a company that are making steps to become green or help make others go green
7. Complete smart home lighting so that everything is turned off when no-one is home
8. Finish installing LED bulbs in every room of the house
9. Grow more veg at our allotment using grey water
10. Experiment with Solar power at home
11. Try home food delivery instead of driving to the store
12. Compost home food waste at the allotment
13. Re-sole shoes instead of replacing them when possible
14. Replace failing appliance with more energy efficient models
15. Re-use waste plastic containers from food

It’s easy to forget that in 2017 I already did these things:

1. Walk instead of driving whenever possible
2. Installed LED lighting in the most used rooms of the house
3. Started to support ‘green’ companies
4. Fix things rather than replacing them
5. Got an allotment and grew our own veg
6. Bought a petrol car
7. Paperless billing for almost everything
8. Switches to a green energy supplier called ‘Bulb’
9. Re-use plastic bags
10. Replaced aging old radiators in home with more efficient panels

My 1 year runniversary

The people closest to me will know that I have now been running for around 1 year. There have been good and bad bits but overall it has been great fun seeing and feeling myself improve over the 12 months so I thought I would share a few things that I have learnt along the way:

1. Don’t convince yourself to not run just because of the weather
2. Expensive shoes don’t equal good shoes
3. Really cheap shoes do equal really bad shoes
4. Compare your running times only to yourself and not others
5. Don’t be competitive, it’s all just a bit of fun
6. When starting to run keep close to home so that you can quit if things take a bad turn
7. Wristwatch with ability to track runs and show information as you run will make you go data crazy
8. Don’t expect people on pavements to move out of your way but thank the ones that do
9. Sometimes you will have a bad run, and sometimes you will never come up with a reason why….move on
10. At your first event you will be in awe of the people sprinting the finish line as you cross the halfway marker