Friday, July 3, 2020

1-wire Temperature Sensors and Lightning (and other sources of interference)

I use a lot of 1-wire temp sensors around the house for various purposes. One of which was a sort of hack to know when the hot water heater was in use. I placed one on the inlet side and one on the output side of the tank and when the 2 temperatures diverge by enough I know that the hot water is actually flowing. Within a few minutes of someone turning the tap off the temperature has equalized enough that it can tell the hot water is no longer in use. 

The main reason I set this up initially is that I wanted to have my bathroom lights go off after there was no motion in the bathroom for a while, but I didn’t want them to go off while I was in the shower nor did I want to set the timeout to be so long that they would stay on unnecessarily at other times. So now if the hot water is in use the logic of the master bathroom will not turn off the lights on you, but will keep checking back to see if the water is now off or if there has been more motion.

My day job is home automation software so all the logic for that is running in XTension.

Here is the graph of the output from last night:

The blue and red lines are the inlet and outlet temps of the water heater. Physically they are just a standard 1-wire temp sensor taped to the pipes a few inches up from the water heater. The yellow highlight is when the hot water is considered to be in use. The light green line is another 1-wire sensor just hanging in the attic showing the ambient temp in the attic. You can see 2 spikes to 185 degrees between 5:30 and 6pm last evening and one identical spike on the inlet sensor. 

Those were all caused by very sharp close by lightning hits. These particular sensors are connected to a Barix Barionet device which is a fantastic remote host for 1-wire sensors as well as digital inputs and relay outputs. Very handy for home automation and fully supported by my plugin for it in XTension. I have another device that is just basically an arduino that has a similar sensor that is glued to the side of a power supply so that I can make sure it is not overheating as it is in an electrical box with no ventilation. When those lights are on that sensor reads the same 185f or 85c repeatedly until the load decreases. These 1-wire sensors are just prone to interference and when that happens they return a reading of 85c. 

The reading of 185c is within the range of temperatures the device can actually read so it isn’t good to just filter that out in the driver or plugin or hardware. I am considering for a future firmware build of the 1-wire to wifi kit that if I get an 85c reading I will attempt another reading a few seconds later and only report it if the reading is the same twice. For the moment though the solution to filter them is easy enough inside the XTension ON script for the Unit. In the case of the above graph I am not going to filter it as it is interesting and happens rarely and does not throw off any other calculations or anything. For the sensor on the power supply it happens so frequently that it is frustrating to look at the graph. In that case I use the Change Future Value verb to change the value back to the previous reading if it is exactly equal to 85c. That does potentially ignore some valid measurements, but it does let anything through that is 84.9 or below or 85.1 and above and so I’m not terribly worried about that. The script is very simple and just looks like this:

if (future value) is equal to 185 then

change future value to (value of (thisUnit))

write log "ignored bogus 185 value for porch temp sensors"

end if


futureValue tells you the value that the unit will be set to when the script is finished running. The (value of (thisUnit)) portion returns the current value of the unit. This is sometimes initially confusing to people new to working with XTension but it allows you to do things like this or anything where you need to compare the current value with the new value and potentially override or change it. It also lets you do very specific smoothing of readings or throwing out ones that are out of range such as this. The call to ThisUnit just returns the name of the unit that you would normally have to pass to the value of verb so that if you renamed the unit you wouldn’t have to remember to edit the script and if you had many of the devices you want to do this to you could either cut and paste the code, or create a single script that you could call for all of them.

This 185/85 reading is actually a known issue with some 1-wire temp sensors. I don’t see a difference between powered or parasitically powered networks. The sensors in the above graph are parasitically powered but the one that is on the power supply is powered. The parasitically powered ones are on an absolutely horrible network of wires flying through the attic and to say that it is not a single bus or a standard star configuration would be a dramatic understatement. There is no shielding though they are on a single twisted pair of bell wire. Anyplace I wanted to add more sensors I just spliced into it and extended it. That attic network is my test of the absolute worst case I can imagine for testing 1-wire reading devices. The barix does exceptionally well under almost all circumstances except for these lighting storms.

That network now has 10 sensors on it all over the attic and it does sometimes drop a reading for one of them entirely. It also reads the intake and output temperatures from 3 different AC units so that I can verify the temp differential and know if the units are leaking gas and will need a recharge (or in one of the older ones a replacement is coming up I’m afraid) before they actually stop working and we have to make an emergency call to the HVAC folks. That reading also lets me run the fan after an AC or Heat cycle the best length of time to get all the cold or hot out of the unit. I turn the fan to On when a cycle completes and then start watching the temp sensors. As soon as the 2 temperatures are within a few degrees of each other I turn the fan back to Auto. 

I am also going to update the hardware in the next revision of the wifi temp sensor to use the better interface that is outlined in the 1-wire best practices documentation to see if that will help with bad values or interference.  In any case, overall 1-wire sensors work great, are inexpensive and there are a lot of options for getting them into your home automation system. 

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