Computing stuff tied to the physical world

Now what?

In Musings on Jan 31, 2013 at 00:01

(Warning, this post is a bit about playing the devil’s advocate…)

Ok, so now I have this table with incoming data, updated in real time РAjax polling is so pass̩ Рwith unit conversions, proper labeling, and locations associated with each device:

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 16.19.55 copy 2

As I’ve said before: neat as a gimmick, but… yawn, who wants to look at this sort of stuff?

Which sort of begs the question: what’s the point of home monitoring?

(Automation is a different story: rules and automation could certainly be convenient)

What’s the point? Flashy / fancy dashboards with clever fonts? Zoomable graphs? Statistics? Knowing which was the top day for the solar panels? Calculating average temperatures? Predicting the utility bill? Collecting bragging rights or brownie points?

Don’t get me wrong: I’ve got a ton of plans for all this stuff (some of them in other directions than what you’d probably expect, but it’s way too early to talk about that).

But for home monitoring… what’s the point? Just because we can?

The only meaningful use I’ve been able to come up with so far is to save on energy (oh wait, that’s now called “reducing the carbon footprint”). And that has already been achieved to a fairly substantial degree, here at JeeLabs. For that, all I need really, are a few indicators to see the main energy consumption patterns on a day-to-day basis. Heck, a couple of RGB LEDs might be enough – so who needs all these figures, once you’ve interpreted them, drawn some conclusions, and adjusted your behaviour?

  1. I tend to agree on the home monitoring, that once you have enough information to change practices, there isn’t a lot of point apart from making sure you aren’t slipping or evaluating new opportunities.

    I am monitoring our business (ponds, water lilies) rather than our home, and that has a lot more serious element to it. I don’t monitor enough yet, in pond temperature (done), nitrogen compounds (thats the bit not done), salt in some situations, tannin (again no monitoring yet – possibly via water color). Allow us to actually understand what is going on, and take appropriate steps for various situations.

    But the kicker is control and alerting. I couldn’t possibly leave the property for more than 24 hours, until I started monitoring water level and controlling our bore for instance. Just having a float switch with no oversight couldn’t tell me if we are suddenly losing water. Monitoring with control tells me a great deal more.

  2. You’ll be able to spot anomalies? e.g. a cooker thermostat starting to fail – though admittedly this is heading towards individual appliance monitoring. Also, I agree with Tim, the best itches are provided by a need to monitor places/things where you don’t live 24×7.

  3. One answer to the “so what” question leaps out if you think of the whole house as a complex, organic “system”. The monitoring is part of the feedback loop that improves the behaviour of the system (and in particular behaviour of its inhabitants) to steer/influence the system towards the desired state (whatever that may be: lowest possible electricity consumption with acceptable comfort for the occupants being just one dimension). The loop can also improve the system’s response to disruptive inputs (such as thermostat failure, step rise in power price, change in number of occupants, etc).

  4. Any activity/behavior that is monitored and measured, will improve… I guess the question is, armed with the data, where does the improvement come from ? And then how can the data be presented and formated in a way to aid or foster further improvement or targeted improvement…

  5. Your suggestion that for reducing your carbon footprint you only need a couple of RGB LEDs ignores the fact that here too, the journey is the reward. Without having gone through all the trouble (fun in your case) you did, you would never have come to the savings you achieve now. In your journey, you learnt to UNDERSTAND what implications there were for the changes that you applied. Simply installing an off the shelve device with those LEDs would never have brought these insights this quickly. Involvement, that is what it is all about. And maybe showing off the results and earning bragging rights inspires other people to undertake a similar voyage.

  6. After implementing a dozen roomnodes and some nodes on the central heating and utility meter I’ve cut back energy consumption by 20% and use 500m3 less natural gas. And all of this without any influence on the comfort levels. All in all I’ve invested less euros in equipment than I’ve earned in savings. Now if all other hobbies I have could have that side effect…

  7. I agree that changing behaviour is the initial goal. Automation must surely be the next aim. For instance in the UK, we’ve had cold weather followed by a mild spell. Constantly adjusting the thermostat and central heating timer becomes time consuming and very imprecise. As a result I’m setting up a jeenode with relay plug to control the central heating – the interesting bit will be combining all the temperature readings from inside and out, ?even weather forecast data from the met office, and coming up with an algorithm that saves energy but keeps the house comfortable.

  8. There is only a point if you want to effect a change I guess, or maybe nothing better to do on a Sunday afternoon ;).

    The cue you need to make that change; should be simple and understandable in meaning – the LED is great, succinct and yet probably lives at the top of a large pyramid of data/knowledge.

    Most of us reading this blog are I am sure, on a similar journey. We collect data as that’s the first step in empirically being able to measure cause/effect over an extended timespan.

    I started by monitoring/collecting room temps, and consumption figures, then making adjustments – finally ending up with homebrew PID controllers etc. I seldom look at my ‘raw’ data now, and I don’t ‘monitor’ with graphs and the like unless I manually intervene to make other changes, after all whats the point in knowing that your PV produced 1.56KWh yesterday and that was .23KWh more than the day before!!. I do however use LED’s as cue’s to thresholds that ‘can’ be affected, like hot water below 35C 30mins before many in my house take showers, or ‘1kw immersion element on as spare PV available’. My PID almost always takes care of this anyhow – but now thats automation isn’t it.

    I think the short of it, is most people want to initially go through the ‘monitor’ phase to ease their understanding, but most do not know how to interpret the data and use it to affect meaningful change. Some may just collect for the sake of it. I know you do a lot of posts about realworld use, but perhaps we should open up a thread on the forum that links to ‘succinct’ realworld implementations by other people (all in one place), so people can use the ‘monitoring’ data to effect real world benefits. Infact, I’m fired up now to create a blog and do one of my own ;).

  9. in general, monitoring is about “normal” and detecting deviations from “normal”. you should consider some alerting and some trending. and look at it each month … jeenodes, damn jeenodes and statistics, as they say…

  10. It isn’t about saving energy. It’s all about trying to do a perfect home environment.

    And how you can do this when you have no data to make a decission? To evidence that the environment that you have created is correct? To compare your home with normal value?

    Home monitoring I started monitoring my home because I need to know that I’m living in an ideal conditions.

    Automation But the conditions was changed in depend on the outdoor conditions, so I have to use home automation to keep my ideal environment. And start again with monitoring.

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