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Holidays Lights 2023: How Much Power?

As I’ve noted many times recently, instrumentation is addictive. Or perhaps it’s just my latest affectation? As I went about putting up our usual outdoor holiday lights, it occurred to me that I should change up how they are powered. In so doing, I’d collect some data on how much power is used by the festive presentation.

Holiday Lights 2023

The lighting design is the same one we’ve used for years. Its has a 5-pointed wooden star mounted to the top of the porch, with a cascade of mini-lights falling from the base of the star to the fence line. It was inspired by the fact that, long ago, Stella’s father had a 5-pointed metal star that he put atop their homestead in Thorndale, TX.

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Flume Water Monitoring: One Year Later

It just so happens that it’s almost exactly one year since I published the post on the installation of the Flume water meter. Since then, it has continued to help us save water and money. Sometimes in unexpected ways.

At the point of initial installation I found that I had to locate the Flume base station in our living room. I had to move it to the point in the house that was nearest to the Flume sensor, which is in the water meter housing, out on the boulevard.

This is likely because we have bronze metal mesh in our window screens. They tend to block wireless signals. This is also why I installed a supplemental Wi-Fi access point in the attic above the front porch.

Frozen

Over the holiday season of winter 2022 we suffered a couple of very hard freezes. During one of these freezes a fitting under the back of our house cracked. It’s where a metal pipe connects to PVC just before it goes underground to the garage. That metal/PVC interface fitting split. Not entirely unexpected given the different thermal expansion/contraction of metal vs plastic.

When the temperature finally started to rise, and water once again flowed, the Flume system alerted me to the rather dramatic leak resulting from the broken fitting. It’s not like I would have missed it in any case, since water was literally spraying aloud under the back of the house.

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Lights Out, Please! Enlightened Devices Support Darkness

Today, the simple fact is that IoT devices are excessively, unnecessarily, intrusively bright. This is not the first time I’ve addressed this matter. Sadly, the trend does not seem to be improving. All manner of techno-gadgetry has power or status LEDs that typically cannot be disabled. In the hallway of our home, where the network core and IoT hubs reside, there are several devices with status lights that likely made the product designer proud, but they convey no useful information at all. They merely make it impossible to have a dark room.

“You are beginning to damage my calm.” – Jayne, Firefly.

I am recently reminded of this in the course of dealing with our elderly Labrador. She’s had trouble sleeping the past few weeks. This is quite common in very old dogs. We’ve tried many things to help her sleep at night. Anti-anxiety medication only sorta works. Brown noise helps a little to mask the noise of nearby traffic.

Last weekend we installed a couple of calming pheromone dispensers. These are like Glade scented plug-ins, except they dispense a pheromone that is supposed to have a calming effect.

Calming pheromone dispenser

Each pheromone dispenser covers 700 square feet. So, two of them handle our entire home. Further, they last about 30 days under normal circumstances. Pheromone refills are $22 each.

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Flume: Know About The Flow

As I’ve mentioned previously, household instrumentation is addictive. Further, it can draw out my compulsive tendencies. I’ve been wanting to add a smart water flow meter to our home for a while. This was motivated by the fact that we have gardens, and we occasionally forget the water is on. On such occasions the result is a soggy, boggy part of the yard and an unwelcome spike in the water bill.

A False Start

Last year, I tried an initial experiment using the Orbit B-Hyve Smart Hose Faucet timer. This device would only control one faucet, but under $60, it was cheap. I thought it a good experiment. The trouble is I could not get it to work for me. I was never able to get its little hub to connect to the device.

As a result, I returned it and began to investigate devices that would meter flow in the main water line from the city. I hoped that I could set an alert to tell me if we left the water running too long or into the evening. It would not turn off the water, just alert me that I had to do it.

Red Pill or Blue Pill?

I considered two kinds of add-on flow meters designed for DIY installation by the homeowner. One type, as embodied in the Stream Labs Smart Home Water Monitor, clamps onto the water supply line and read the flow using an ultrasonic beam sent through the pipe. They work with copper or plastic pipe. At our home the main water supply line from the city is plastic, so this could work for us.

Flume-Box-and-Devices-copy

However, I settled on the simpler approach used by the Flume water flow meter. It has a sensor device that clamps onto the city water meter. This senses the motion of a magnet on the rotating mechanism inside the city meter.

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NYT on Household Energy Monitors

Last week the New York Times Wirecutter ran an article whose headline posed a question; Do You Really Need a Home Energy Monitor? It’s an interesting question.

Wirecutter - Do your really need a home energy monitor

They say only that you might save some money. Maybe. And they even question that assertion. Well, we installed a Shelly 3EM last year for reasons that the Wirecutter article completely fails to mention. So, I thought it worth sharing our experience.

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Upgrading Our Home Assistant Server

Home_Assistant_Logo.300For our first couple of years using Home Assistant the software was hosted on a Raspberry Pi 4B with 4GB of memory and a 32GB High-Endurance micro SD card. To get started, the Pi4 was cheap and readily available. It had enough power to do most things. My initial requirements were very simple, so not a lot of CPU requirement. The RPi4 was an admirable, accessible solution at the time.

However, times change. I get silly new ideas that I’d like to try. For example, it would be interesting to integrate our surveillance cameras with HA. Perhaps with some AI-based object detection.

Also, in post-COVID times, RPi4 have become hard to get, and much more costly. They’re currently running about 3x normal price, if you can get them. Thus, it could be useful to reclaim the RPI4 from HA duty, if another suitable host could be found.

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