Effector Elements

The things that accept instructions from the controllers and translate those into changes in the real world (our effectors) come in several types, and some off these have more than one layer to them. Perhaps we can divide and conquer.

Synapse SimplySNAP lighting control endpointLighting

LED lighting fixtures are wired through drivers that convert AC power to the Voltage that the fixture wants to see. Our fixtures fall in the class that are dimmable through a 0-10 Volt control.  The driver may normally be controlled by a wall switch, or by a combination of a wall switch and inputs from sensors that track things like ambient light or motion in a room, if not by a more complex automation system.

The image at the left adds one more element, a radio-linked control module directly wired to the driver. Modules like this can govern whether a light fixture is on or off, and whether it's at full brightness or dimmed to some lesser level.

Synapse RF220UF1 bridgeThese modules get their commands by radio from an interface that installs back in our controller infrastructure. 

This gives us a way to effect changes in the on-off status and (for those lighting fixtures that support dimming) in the brightness of each and every light, indoors or out, with only a few exceptions. Those exceptions involve lights built into things like ceiling fans, where their control may be limited by the wiring connections and choices built into those products.

Routine electrical devices and electromechanical relays

Radio Shack Low-Voltage relayThink of all the things you normally just turn on and off by flicking a switch or pushing a button: ceiling fans, for example, or cooktop exhaust vents or garage door openers.

The device at the right is an electromechanical relay, a mature technology that comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes with all kinds of capabilities, but for which the fundamentals are always the same: when you provide power to a relay, it uses that power to activate an electromagnet inside (a coil of wire wound around a ferric core) that pulls down an armature to cause groups of contacts to make or break electrical connections.

Relay close-upThis close-up view shows the top of the coil, the arm and two button-shaped contacts, and allows us to make an important point.

Relays are inherently reliable as long as those contacts remain effective. The specifications of any relay include both current and Voltage ratings for its contacts. If you overdrive those contacts, they will degrade early and become unreliable. If you under-drive them, meaning if they are specified to be able to handle far more current and Voltage than you ever intend to connect to them, they should prove capable of the 40-year endurance that we set for the project. One way to do that, if we feel it is appropriate, is to let one relay drive another when the second has a higher power rating for its contacts. 

Ecovent registersVentilation

The Ecovent System motorizes the ventilation register, affording 1000 extents to which each vent can be open or closed. These are intended to run on a quartet of AA cells each; we power ours from the 5 Volt DC lines in the house.

They have different designs for ceiling, floor and wall vents, each effective and each available in a choice of sizes.

They connect by a proprietary wireless link to the Ecovent (very) smart hub, which we can reach over WiFi.

Fire response

This is our most complex collection of effectors. 

USR 5637 voice modem

CALLING THE FIRE DEPARTMENT: Our local volunteer fire department provides us only one option for reaching them: a phone call. That was once an easier task because of a class of products called voice modems that, in addition to data or fax communications, could dial up for voice communications. (They were popular in automatic calling or automatic answering applications, back in the day). We found one remaining choice, a US Robotics (itself a blast-from-the-past brand) model 5637 voice modem. It can seize a phone line, place the call and repeat a message until the other side hangs up. A Raspberry Pi can tailor the audio that gets played. In addition to giving the nature of the alert (smoke, fire or both) and the address of the house, it can indicate how many people and pets are in the house or if the house is empty.

E Ink Pearl

FLOOR PLAN: We want to make sure that firefighters waste no time getting to where they are most needed and that begins at the front door. The E Ink Pearl digital paper sign in the picture shows you the look of our front door panel but not, of course, the message. This display usually appears to be simply a vanity panel, showing the house number or the family name in big characters, driven by a dedicated Raspberry Pi because it is actually an 800 x 600 graphic display. In the event of a fire, the display changes to show a floor plan of the house with the location of every adult, child, infant or per within the house, as well as the locations of hot spots. A battery within the panel can help it maintain that display even if the power and data feeds from the house are all interrupted.

Triple-plus gas valve

SHUTTING OFF THE GAS:  The natural gas line feeding the house presents a fuel source that it makes sense to deny a fire. There is a main shutoff valve at its entry point, but that requires manual operation, and in any case, we can foresee circumstances where we would not want to cut off gas to the backup power generator, which is the first connection to the gas line after it enters the house (and power is needed for the pump to provide water). A second gas shutoff valve that our automation can shut down gets placed just after the feed to the generator, so nothing else in the house will get any gas. Note that when the house can be restored to normal operations, gas appliances (especially those with pilot lights) may require specific procedures before they can be safely operated; natural gas utilities would rather come out and assist with that than lose a steady customer.

Candle flames in the wind

TURNING OFF FANS and CLOSING OFF AIR FLOW: Fuel and air are companions in combustion so it is as important to deprive a fire of one as it is the other. Instructions to the thermostat to shut down the HVAC (if testing proves it necessary, we can directly deprive the HVAC of power) and signals to shut down all ceiling fans remove replenishment and motion of air inside the house. A command to the Ecovent System to fully close all vent shutters stops the transit of air between rooms.



Deadlatch style door latchAll exterior doors get equipped with Schlage electrified locks.. There is no separate deadbolt and none is necessary. Instead, a spine along the back provides the same kind of stubborn stiffening.

Schlage D Series electrified lockThe lock works in a sensible but, to many, unfamiliar way. A 24-Volt solenoid inside determines whether it is locked or unlocked. The inside knob has no hardware; you can always turn it to exit.

Schlage cylinder closeupThe outside knob can always open with a key (this model uses a 6-pin cylinder that's harder to bump, pick or drill open). If the door is not electrically locked, just turn the knob to enter. The key cannot change it from locked to unlocked., but it can always get the door to open.

AIRcable FlasherGarage doors

A relay in parallel with the usual wall-mounted pushbutton switch (make that switches, since we are mounting those pushbuttons in 2 locations) acts like yet another pushbutton to command the garage door openers. And flashers like the one shown here are positioned over and just ahead of each garage parking space, shining first occasionally, then more rapidly, then constant on as a car comes to its appropriate parking position, finally turning off when the car stops moving.



Newstips Swoosh TM 210

Editorial Project House

© Copyright 2016 Newstips, Lord Martin Winston and J2J Corporation; all rights reserved

Lot 14, Riding Ridge Court
Builder Don Cerra


Front elevation

This site needs a larger screen and is not optimized for phone or tablet viewing