Monthly Archives: September 2021

Sonoff iFan04. I’m A Fan

Sonoff iFan04

Introducing the Sonoff iFan04. In MOST cases you WILL NOT need one of these, however, if you have an older home where your ceiling fan and light are wired to a single wall switch and you have to control the fan by pulling on the chain………..then you need one of these.

If you have two switches it is WAY easier to buy smart wall switches.  One for a 3 speed fan and one for a regular switch.

Note, that I didn’t say it was cheaper to buy 2 smart switches.  It is EASIER to install the switches though.

The iFan04’s are about $18 each.  That is a bargain.

One real big limitation of the iFan is that it is, errrrr…….big.  Meaning you have to have space to install it in your fan.  The first fan I tried to install this on in my house………….there was just no way.  The ceiling baseplate cover was just too small with absolutely no room to install it.  I would literally need a whole new ceiling fan before I could make it work.

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Shelly. I love you. I hate you. Shelly Switches.

I generally like most tech I review.  I have mixed emotions here but this may be a cluster f*** of my own making.

I dig home automation.  There is nothing better than asking a smart device to turn on a light or a fan or effect lighting or play a song …………and it works.

I’m a long time user of HomeAssistant .  It was kind of hard in the beginning but it is super smart and more intuitive now. Again, you don’t have to go off the deep end.  Turning a light on and off or hooking up to your thermostat can be huge.

I’m a big fan of taking Internet of Things (IoT) devices and flashing them with open source firmware such as Tasmota.  And my house was AWESOME.  But then I moved and I had to start all over.  ESP8266 is kind of slowly being phased out by ESP32 chips and Sonoff devices have some competition now such as Shelly.  I had seen the Shelly 1 a couple years back but opted to stick with Sonoff devices.   Fast forward a couple years and Shelly has really advanced.  They have some cool offerings and I decided to give them a trial run.

So since I’m starting over I grabbed some Shelly devices.  The internet bubbas love them. But I wonder if they have ever deployed them other than in lab conditions for a YouTube video because I had a hell of a time with my first installation.

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Add a temperature sensor to a wifi chip

The subject line is “Add a temperature sensor to a wifi chip”.  Why would you want to do that?  I can think of a few reasons.

  • Know what the temperature is in the attic and also use the chip to control an attic fan.
  • Know what the temperature of the hot tub water is and have it send you temp alerts if the water starts getting cold, or even worse, too hot.
  • Know the dew point which is vital when using a laser engraver which has a water cooled laser tube.  Too much condensation means you’ll shorten the life expectancy or the tube or cause it to catastrophically fail.
  • Have a remote temp sensor for other rooms.
  • Monitor humidity where you store important papers, or cigars or stuff like that.

Now that we know it is useful, let’s do it.   This is actually one of the simplest things you can do with an ESP8266 or ESP32 Internet of Things, wifi chip.   It isn’t hard at all.
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Etekcity Outdoor Plug Tasmota Flash

Found another somewhat easily Tasmota flashable Outdoor plug.  It is the Etekcity ESO15-TB, (approximately $20).   It can only be flashed via serial to USB and oddly enough I found no good solid guide online for flashing it.   When I opened it up I saw that it had an ESP-01E chip.  I also discovered that it required a complete disassembly to get to the bottom of the board.

When I first flipped it over I thought all was lost because the ESP-01E is kind of a plug in module and the solder points are SUPER close together.  Closer than my 59 year old eyes can navigate, at least not without mumbling some special words I learned in the Navy.   A closer inspection revealed clearly marked test points with the exception of GPIO0 which almost always has to be held to ground to put the chip into boot loader mode.   The pinout in the ESP-01E doc shows that GPIO0 is pin 8.

ESP-01E Pinout

And I confirmed this by looking at the chip itself.
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How to make your your dumb device smart

There are no shortage of Internet Of Things (IoT) devices in the big box stores that promise that their app or Alexa and/or Google integration will make your home smart.  There is no doubt you can walk into Walmart or Best Buy and walk out with a smart switch or outlet or LED strip or whatever.

Pretty soon though you end up with a multitude of apps and instead it is chaos instead of convenience.   Also if you add something to Alexa, and remove it then add it again you may have two instances in your Device log with the same name which will cause problems.

Another problem I have with these devices is that they are mostly all made in China, and so is the app.  A few years ago when I first started doing home automation there was a popular plug (which is still around) that one geekster used a packet sniffer and proved the device was sending your network credentials back to its server in China.  I won’t dwell here too much but if someone has a back door in the software of a device that resides on your network………..THEY ARE IN YOUR WHOLE NETWORK.

My requirements for a smart device are this:

  1. The ability to remove their firmware and flash it with Open Source firmware.  This is number 1 on my list for a reason.  Security.  Many devices with IoT chips are now blocking the ability to reprogram their devices.  Tuya, which makes about a zillion guts for smart devices has been doing this for a couple years.
  2. The ability to incorporate the device into my Home Automation.  I use a program called  HomeAssistant.  I don’t necessarily want the Googler or the foreign agent, Alexa running the whole show.  I want a web interface, dashboard that I can control from FAR AWAY.  Can’t tell Alexa to turn the thermostat down if you aren’t in the house.   And again this goes back to my previous point of having multiple smart apps = chaos and confusion.
  3. The ability to control it manually should automation break.. If it breaks 100% when the internet goes down………what good is it?

Now, lets get on with making dumb stuff smart.

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Home Automated Landscape Lights

Decided to put some landscape lighting up at my new home and figured I might as well make it home automation friendly.  That means I want to control it from a browser or by Alexa or Google commands.

It’s actually not very complicated, as far as home automation goes.  The whole project is centered around a Sonoff 4 Channel Relay.  The device I linked is actually a newer model than the one I have.  I have the Sonoff 4 Channel Relay R2 Pro.

Sonoff 4CH R2 Relay

Figured I may as well use it.

It can control 4 different lighting circuits however I’ll probably only install 2 or 3 circuits, and this of course will give me room to grow.

These things come ready to roll but the device and smart app are Chinese and I don’t dig that at all.

So I flash mine with Open Source firmware called Tasmota.  At least I know my information isn’t being sent to some server in China.

NOTE: These devices are rated to 10 amps only.  If you use them on an AC home circuit breaker it is likely a 15 or 20 amp circuit.  Translation:  The Sonoff will fail catastrophically before a circuit breaker trips if something goes wrong.  We are powering this device with DC power and using low voltage DC landscaping lights that are 12 volt.  This will be safe.

So basically what we need to pull this off is:

  • Sonoff 4 channel relay
  • 12v power supply (I use a 360 watt)
  • Low Voltage Landscape Lights (from anywhere, Lowes, HomeDepot, Amazon, etc.)
  • Low voltage wiring. 2 conductor usually 14 or 16 gauge.

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Sonoff 4 channel relay bricked

Sonoff 4Ch R2 Relay

I have an older Sonoff 4 Channel Relay (R2 Pro) which I had flashed with Tasmota firmware version 6.4.1.

In the interest of incorporating easily into my home automation I decided to upgrade the Tasmota firmware to the latest version (9.5.0 at the time of this writing). I want to use it for landscape lighting.

I uploaded the Tasmota minimal which did upload but when the relay rebooted the relay 2 light came on and the relay 1 relay began furiously clicking.

The WiFi was NOT connected as well.   No problem.  I’ll just put the device in boatloader mode and rewrite the flash memory.  You do that by holding down this button while powering up:

Enter boot loader mode (click pic to enlarge)

Great, except it didn’t work.  I was pretty sure it was bricked for all eternity and I was ready to throw it in the trash.   Holding the button down is supposed to short data pin GPIO0 (zero) to ground causing the device to enter boot loader mode.

I decided I would try to manually short GPIO0 to ground by using these pins while the FTDI controller was connected.

Continue below:

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Smart Plug For Home Assistant

Smart Plug

Bought some of these plugs a few years back and never used them much because I put z-wave smart switches all over my house.

Well, I have a “new” house now which was built in the 80’s and it doesn’t have a dedicated neutral line which limits my smart switch choices a bit which leads me back to the smart outlets.

First of all, when you get switches like this that say “Compatible with Alexa or Google” just know  that that means they are made in China and the controlling software and app are made in China and that your smart device is sending info to China.  You can’t be sure because the software is proprietary,

Enter “Tasmota” which is a custom firmware with Open Source code which means you can see the code which makes you feel more comfortable when you say “Alexa, turn on Safe House, Safe Room lights”.  That of course is an exaggerated joke.

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Nest Thermostat Review

When I lived in Japan I had a co-worker look up from his phone one day to an alert that his unoccupied house in Arizona was too hot. He called a family member and confirmed that there was an HVAC problem.  It was at that moment I understood the importance of a smart Thermostat.

As soon as I moved back to the US in around 2015 I had a home built and I immediately installed a 2nd Generation Nest.  Recently I bought a new home and installed a 3rd Generation Nest Learning Thermostat  ($249 but now reduced to $199) downstairs and a Nest Thermostat (4th Generation) ($129) upstairs.  A few weeks into the new home we opted to install a new upstairs A/C unit which came with a 3rd Generation Nest Learning Thermostat which I had them go ahead and install.

3rd Gen Nest Learning Thermostat

You might think a 4th generation product would be “better” than a 3rd generation product however I don’t really find this to be the case.  The 4th gen only works with the Google Home app whereas the 3rd gen works with the Nest app, the Google Home app, and a web browser.  Also the 3rd gen integrates with Alexa.  To voice command the 4th gen you need a Google Nest Hub.  Speaking of Alexa integration, when I added the 2nd Nest Learning Thermostat Alexa could not find it.  I had to disable the Google Nest skill in Alexa and re-enable it before the Alexa voice commands would work on both thermostats.   There is something very cool about just saying “Alexa, Set Hallway temperature to 74” in the middle of the night without having to get up.

4th Gen Nest Thermostat

So to me the 3rd gen Nest Learning thermostat has way more flexibility.  Also the HVAC installers told me that they did NOT like the 4th gen at all.  Let me preach on it…….

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NEST Thermostat for the Save

This is pretty cool I think.  Bought a new house and we noticed the upstairs unit wasn’t cooling real well.   Fortunately I put a Nest Thermostat on it.

Sure enough, I got the below email from Nest telling me that something was wrong with my AC unit.  The email showed a graph of the temperature and best of all provided a link at the bottom to schedule an appointment with their “Handy Network” for roughly $50.

Click link below to see the email:

Urgent cooling system issue at Your Home Nest Thermostat

For $50, within 2 days I had a tech knocking on my door.   So their email indicates a problem, graphs the temperature increase problem, and asks the basic questions like “Did you leave a door open or something”, etc.

I’m a techie and even this impresses me.  The system doesn’t just tell you its not working good, it provides a solution for inspection and repair.   I won’t take this blog beyond this point but I strongly recommend Nest, which is maturing and getting better all the time.  Only thing that would make it perfect was if Google didn’t own it.