I have always been something of a control freak when it comes to mechanical and electrical things. The more data I can glean, the more automation I can incorporate, the better! Little surprise I quite enjoy my job - designing and installing building automation systems. Nothing quite like "flipping the switch" on a newly finished control system and watching the systems come to life!
I am now on my third HVAC controls-related job, still doing the same thing! I've worked with a number of different systems and found that while all have their good and bad points non really stands out as the must-have better than the rest. The one component I've found comes closest to that - for me - is the Tridium Niagara JACE (Java Application Control Engine) which acts as the front end for a larger control system. The picture above is of the JACE I purchased for use at home.
I said it came closest - it is still a long way from perfect. The commercial HVAC world, like many others, is rife with overbearing and frankly idiotic licensing rules. Coming from an open source / free software background via Linux, I am constantly vexed by these purely arbitrary limitations. Worse, everyone is out to protect their little feifdoms. Get on the bad side of the local rep for a given product and you will find your price goes up - or they just won't sell to you! Great way to treat a customer... I also don't care for the almost universal requirement for really shitty Windows software, I've never seen such lousy software as what many control hardware vendors write to support their own products!
That said, Tridium has a great product. It has software that's quite good compared to others, and I bought the embedded AX option that lets me do much of the programming through a web browser so I don't even have to break out the work laptop. Primarily I wanted it as an easy and excellent way to talk to a wide variety of hardware. LON, Bacnet, Modbus, plus 34 hardware points on the IO module.
Presently the JACE runs the bulk of my home automation. That is viewable from the Home Automation link in the Live Systems section to the right. The weather station data is the only portion not on the JACE, that comes from another computer.
Things I have the automation system running:
- Main HVAC system
- A few temperature sensors around the house
- Monitors and controls the solar system
- Monitors the water heater
There is a considerably longer list of things I'd like to hook up, just have to find one of those Round Tuits...
As time has progressed, I have found I'm not really satisfied with the JACE as the main controller. I'm a command-line junkie, like writing my own code, and that's quite cumbersome in the JACE. It is a graphical oriented device, drop blocks and connect with lines, which really limits me in many cases. Gets messy in a hurry too!
My plans now are to start migrating actual control functions to my own programs running on a Linux server, using the JACE primarily as a gateway to the various communication protocols. At some point perhaps I won't even need that feature, I've been tinkering with Arduinos and such and think something like that could be used for remote IO and simply ship everything back via the network.
This is the sort of area where the sky is the limit! Only imagination limits what could be possible - although I suppose money can be a limiter as well. None of this is necessary, although some of it may save a few bucks through more intelligent operation of the various household systems, but it sure can be fun!