The ultimate DIY SMART RV – tour our SMART HOME on wheels

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(door clicking) – Hey, Google I'm home. – [Google] Hi, welcome home. – For the past few years
we've been building out the ultimate DIY smart RV. And today we're going to show you around. Turn off the office lights. – [Google] All right,
turning office lights off. – Turn on all the lights. – [Google] Sure, turning five lights on. (screen clicking)
(fan whirring) – Turn off the outside lights. – [Google] Okay, turning
off awning lights. – Turn off the fridge.

– [Google] Sure, turning fridge off. – Set the temperature in the RV to 74. – [Google] All right, setting
the thermostat to 74 degrees. – For many people camping in their RV is all about an escape from technology. But for us, our RV is our full-time home and we've been living and working here for the past almost three years now. As a self-confessed geek and maker, I love using technology to find ways to make our RV life more efficient, more secure and more comfortable, which is why over the past few years I've been using technology
to turn our home into the ultimate smart RV. Much like a smart home,
only our home has wheels. This has been a gradual process and in many ways is very much
still a work in progress.

But today I'll give you a tour around our RV to show you some of the capabilities that
we've been able to add. And then we'll take a
look behind the scenes at some of the technology
that makes this possible. Where better to start our smart home tour than with some of the voice control that we've added to the RV. This is maybe one of
the most obvious areas but it gives us a lot of capability. For example, we can say things like, "Hey Google, turn off the office lights." – [Google] All right,
turning off office lights. – You may be thinking,
why is that so valuable? Can't you just press a light switch? And that's true.

But sometimes you've just climbed into bed and you remember you've
left the bathroom lights on. Now you can just say, "Hey, Google turn off
the bathroom lights." – [Google] Okay, turning
off the bathroom lights. – And the bathroom lights go off as well. Little things like that are really useful but we've taken it to the
next level in some areas. Imagine for example, you're
working in the kitchen, particularly when we're boondocking we don't have the inverter on, and you realize that
you need the inverter on but your hands are messy from
where you've been cooking. You can just say, "Turn on the inverter" and it'll turn on the inverter. Likewise, we have control of the heating and the thermostat so
that when you're in bed you don't even have to get out of bed, you don't have to get your phone out.

You can just turn the
heating up from in bed. There is nothing better
than that on a cold morning. Our Google Home Mini is
just one of the many devices that we've integrated into
our home automation system. At the heart of it we have a hub, and then all these different
devices connect into there and allow us to control
them through our phones, through voice or even through automations. So to start this journey
looking through our home, why don't we start with looking at which devices we have incorporated. The most obvious device that we've chosen to control is the lights. And we've done that by
upgrading the light switches. This is one of the earlier versions but we did actually try
a different one first. We've upgraded the light switches so that you can just press the button here and that'll turn the lights
off and back on again, and there's no toggle
switch that says on or off because we need to make sure that, even if you change it through
the home automation system, the switch doesn't have
the wrong value displayed.

The first one we tried
was actually using one of the capacitive touch switches where you just place your finger against the kind of glass plate and
that'll toggle the switch. It looked great. It worked great. But in reality we just found
it wasn't that practical. This switch here is
kind of round the corner and oftentimes in an RV with tight spaces, you're reaching just to
try and turn a switch on without necessarily looking at it. And the smooth glass plate
offered no tactile response to that kind of action.

So we replaced it with this
one with a physical button where we can turn it off and on. And that works really well. But we're not really in love
with the styling of this. So in the bathroom, we
tried something else. This switch looks identical to the switch that was originally
installed in the bathroom but this one is a momentary
toggle so that when I press it it springs back to its original location, meaning I can turn the lights on and off but it never says the wrong value. In addition to the bedroom
lights and the bathroom lights that you saw, we've also got
the original light switches here for the main lights
and the awning lights. Now I've integrated these into
the home automation system but I haven't yet wired up
the switches themselves.

So for now we've got some other switches that we've installed to
control those lights. The same is also true of the gas and the electric water heater switches. I've integrated the two water heaters into the home automation system, but haven't turned the, or haven't wired these switches back in. So for now the only
controllable through the phone or voice or through the app
that I'll show you later. Again, not been a big problem. That's worked fine for us, and has given us a lot of control. At some point I'll come back and I'll wire these four switches in
so they work properly, but it's just not happened yet I guess.

There's also a few switches here that we've deliberately not integrated into the home automation system and these are still working switches. And that is the awning and the slide. As far as I'm concerned, I want
to have full manual control over those because I
don't want those moving unless I've got eyes on
the awning or the slide, and if ever a bug should
get into the system, the last thing that I
would want to happen is for the awning or the
slide to start extending as we're driving down the road.

So these are manual and
they're staying that way. We also have the water
pump here that's manual for the same reason. We don't often use that switch so it's not a big problem for us to use that switch manually. At some point I would like
to start looking at options for doing that and seeing
if we can get a bit cleverer about when we turn on
and off the water pump. All of the switches
that we've talked about so far have been low voltage switches. That is they're switching 12 volts. And for that I've used the Sonoff SV and the Sonoff 4CH Pro, and I've used some software called ESPHome to integrate them with Home Assistant.

But what about all of our
appliances that run on 110 volts? What have we done there? For controlling 110 volt appliances we've used the Sonoff S31 Smart Plug. We have a whole blog post on our website about exactly how we've done this, but in essence it's a
smart plug that hooks in through wifi to our
home automation system, and means that we can control
anything that we plug into it. In addition to being able
to turn it on and off, we can also see exactly
how much power it's drawing which is really, really useful. We've used this for several
of the reviews on our website including the one all
about our Instant Pot and the air fryer lid where we took a look at exactly how much power
that appliance draws. As RVers knowing the power draw of an appliance is really valuable. We use these smart plugs to
control several appliances around the RV. Inside the RV our portable
electric space heater and the dehumidifier in the
bathroom are both plugged into their own smart plug.

Outside we have our heated hoses, the fresh hose and the sewer hose, also plugged into two
more of these smart plugs so that not only can we control them but we can monitor
their power consumption. We also use a similar system, although it's a hard wired Sonoff POWR2 to control the fridge. That allows us to switch the fridge between electric AC and propane, and also to see exactly how much power the fridge is drawing. As a result of that, we can
also monitor the duty cycle. How often is the fridge absorption
system actually running? And from that, we can get a sense of how hard the fridge is working, and a good indicator of when perhaps we might need to defrost it.

One of my favorite devices in our home automation
system is this little switch. This little thing is magnetic and is programmable so
that we can make it do whatever we want. When we're out boondocking,
we have this programmed to turn the inverter on and off. But while we're here on full hookups we don't need to be doing that. So here, I've got it
set to turn the lights in the living area on and off. One of the most useful integrations in the smart RV that we've
designed is this thermostat.

This is something that we installed to replace the existing analog thermostat that the RV came with and
gave us wireless control of the furnace and the air conditioning. This has been super, super useful, especially on those cold
mornings when nobody wants to be the first to get out of bed to come and turn the heating on. Now we can do that remotely. And in fact we don't even have to, because we've set this up
with a programmable schedule to automatically turn on
and warm up in the morning. Speaking of temperature,
we have a lot of sensors in the RV because it's not
just about controlling things, it's about understanding
your environment as well. We have about 17 temperature
sensors dotted all around the RV, some in different
areas like the living area, and you can see this one here. We have one in the bathroom. But also in some very specific areas. So for example we have
a temperature sensor on the water pump. We have two on the hot tank so we can see how much
hot water is in there.

And we have a couple of sensors
on the back of the fridge so we can understand exactly
how well that's working. All of those sensors put that information into the central system so that we can use that to respond to, to turn
on and off different systems. We also have seven humidity
sensors around the RV keeping an eye on the
humidity in the bathroom and the living area, as
well as outside the RV.

The last type of sensor we have is known as a contact sensor. We have one of these on the front door as well as the two storage bay doors. And these tell us whether
the door is open or closed. You absolutely could
use those for security but that's not why we did it. We originally put these on
'cause we had a really bad habit of getting to camp, setting things up and leaving our storage
bay doors open overnight. So this way we can easily check that they're closed before going to bed. When we moved into our RV full time, one of the first big mods we did was to upgrade the electrical system.

We installed 300 amp powers of Battle Born lithium batteries, as well as a Victron MultiPlus inverter and solar charge controller under the bed. This gave us a fantastic
off-grid capability, but the most important thing
was this little box here. This is the Victron CCGX and
inside here are some brains that control the whole
system under the bed. That then integrates with
our home automation system and allows us to do things like see how charged the batteries are, to see whether the inverter is on or not, if we're connected to shore power, how much solar power is coming in, as well as control some
of those things too.

So for example, we can
turn the inverter on and off automatically as part
of the home automation system. All that is thanks to this Victron CCGX. We've looked at a lot of the
devices that make up the system but where do they all talk back to? Well, we've hidden all of
that goodness behind our TV. Now I did warn you, this is
something of a work in progress because we're always changing
and adding things here. So there are definitely some wires that maybe aren't as tidy as they could be but they might get added or
removed or changed over time so we're not too concerned. Let's take a quick look at some
of the things that are here. This box here is the
main brain to the system.

It's an Intel NUC that we've
used with a little adapter so that it runs directly from 12 volts. And actually the same is
true of everything back here. All we need is 12 volts
to run this entire system. And, as we'll talk about
it a bit more later, we don't need to be
connected to the internet for nearly all of this to work. So if we're in the middle of nowhere or even just at a rest
stop with no signal, it doesn't matter. Everything that you've seen so far, with the exception of the voice control, will continue to work. The Intel NUC here has several
things plugged into it. We have over here a
Zigbee and Z-Wave stick, and that's what's used to
connect to a lot of the sensors as well as the thermostat
that we saw earlier.

We also have over here
a software defined radio and that's what we're using to intercept a lot of the sensors including the fridge and freezer temperature sensors as well as many of the
other temperature sensors such as the one just behind
me here, all around the RV. Our home automation system is just one of the many things that the
Intel NUC here is running. But let me show you a few
of the other components that are part of this overall system. The first is the Pepwave router. This is our cellular modem
that we use to get connectivity when we're traveling out on the road using just a normal cellular signal. But right now we're staying in an RV park, and we actually have cable
internet plugged into the RV which is why you can see this cable modem up on the wall here.

Because it's only
temporary I haven't worried too much about the wiring, and it's only attached to the
wall with some command strips but that works great for us. Networking wise, we have a switch up here and a wifi access point
just above my head, and that's how we get wifi inside the RV. This is a very powerful
system that gives us really, really fast wifi in and around the RV, which is great when we're
working from the road. We also have the base station here for two of our Wyze outdoor cams. If you haven't checked out
the blog post for that, see how we use those outdoor
cameras to keep an eye on the RV, even when we're away. So this is all of the setup
that runs this system, so let's take a look at the dashboard and how we actually
control things day to day. And the heart of our system is a piece of software called Home Assistant which is an open source piece of software that runs on the Intel NUC
that you saw behind me.

It's all self-hosted
entirely within the RV which means that if we have no
internet connectivity at all, we can still control everything
that you've seen so far. But if we do have the
internet connectivity, we get a few more bonuses. One is the voice control on
our Google Home Mini will work. And another is we can do things like pull in the weather forecast
and the weather data.

It also means that we
can access Home Assistant from outside the RV. Again, as long as the RV itself
has internet connectivity. We'll talk about some of the ways that we use this in a minute. But first let's take a look
at Home Assistant itself. This is the main dashboard
on Home Assistant and as you can see there's
a lot going on here. This is where we try and
get everything on one screen that we use semi-regularly. We can access this
dashboard on our computers or on our phones which
makes it really easy just to quickly load
something up and control it. So, for example at the
top here under appliances you can see we have all our lights, and I can just hit on here and
turn off the office lights, or I'll turn it back on again.

Down here you can see
all of our appliances. Some of these I talked about earlier, so the water heaters I
can easily turn those on, and that'll start heating
the water in the water tank. With a lot of these things we also have automation set up as well. So Home Assistant, as well as
integrating it into one place, is the brains that makes
this into a smart RV. For instance, the awning light here, we have set to come on
automatically at sunset every day. Sunset changes throughout the year and depending on where we are but we've got GPS data
feeding into Home Assistant so it always knows where our RV is. Using that data and
knowing what date it is, it knows when sunset is and will turn the awning
lights on automatically. We don't want to be nuisance neighbors so it then turns off automatically at nine o'clock every night as well.


We can always adjust this if we want but that's how that's set up right now. We also have automation set
up on some of the appliances. So for example, the water
heaters will automatically turn on in a morning to ensure that we have hot water for
a shower when we wake up. And they're also set to automatically turn off after an hour. Although it doesn't use
as much gas or electricity to keep the hot water tank
full as it does to heat it up, it does still use some and more
than once we have forgotten to turn off their water heaters. So this way, once they've
been on for an hour, they automatically turned back off again. Down at the bottom here you
can see the temperature sensors from our fridge and freezer. We like to keep the fridge
at just over freezing. So about 35, 36 is pretty good for us, and having the freezer just below zero Fahrenheit is pretty perfect.

So right now they're looking really good. Right now we don't have any alerts or monitoring set up on
the fridge or freezer but that's definitely something
we can add in, in future. It could send us an alert
if the fridge gets too warm, and that way we would know
to do something quickly before all our food was ruined.

Up here you can see some
of our temperature sensors. These are the three that we
kind of use most frequently: outside, the storage bay and inside. And that lets us get a sense
for how things are doing. As I said earlier, we have
a lot more senses than that and we'll show you those in a minute. Below that are the controls for the electric heater
and the thermostat. Now again, we can control
both of these manually but we also have automation set up.

So for example, the
thermostat has a program, we'll turn up and down
the heating during the day and the night, so that when we go to bed we don't mind if the
temperature drops a little bit, but in the morning it
will gradually increase that temperature so by
the time we wake up, the RV is nice and warm. We also have some safety
stuff built in here as well. For example, when we go
out we can tell Google that we're going out. That will automatically
turn off all the lights and also turn off the electric heater because we don't want that
running when it's unattended. I mentioned earlier about
the electrical system and how all of the Victron
stuff is sending data into our home automation system. And that's where you can see up here. As you can see our batteries
are pretty much full and we're on shore power with about four or five amps coming in right now. And that's running things like our fridge and the lights that you see
around and things like that.

But it does a lot more
than just show that data. We can then use that data in a number of really clever automations. So for example, when we were boondocking in the desert earlier last year, we were able to use these
automations to make the most out of the solar power that we had. We had enough power coming in. Our batteries would easily fill up. And we didn't want to waste
all that extra solar power. So we set up some automations to detect, as our batteries got more and more full, it would start to turn on
different things in the RV. So for example, when our
batteries reached a threshold, the inverter would automatically turn on which would power laptops and charges and things around the RV. As the batteries
continued to still charge, eventually the fridge
would turn from propane to electric saving us a bit of electric, er saving us a bit of propane and using that solar power that we had available. If it was sunny enough
and the batteries continue to charge further, eventually the electric water heater would turn on.

And throughout the course of a sunny day it would be enough power to
actually fill the hot water tank with hot water generated
entirely from solar power. But as the battery started to drain each of those things would turn off so that we didn't end
up with flat batteries. This winter we've been on shore power, and we've been able to do
some other clever things.

For example, our RV has
a 30 amp main breaker, which means that we
can run two appliances, two big appliances without too much worry, but turning on that third appliance, that can sometimes be a problem. Some of our appliances,
you know when they're on. If the portable electric heater is on, you can see and you can hear that it's on. But some of the others you don't know exactly when they're on.

So for example, the electric water heater, it cycles on and off periodically
to keep that water warm. So we set up a system
that would automatically monitor how much power
that we were drawing. And if we turned on another appliance and it used more than 30 amps,
it would automatically turn off the electric water
heater and if necessary the electric portable
space heater to make sure that we didn't trip that breaker. And actually, since we
implemented that system in November last year, we have not tripped that main 30 amp breaker once all winter. It worked really well. I was actually quite
surprised with how efficient that was and how many times it saved us. If you remember earlier, I
showed you that little button that we have, the magnetic
button in the kitchen that we can program to
do different things.

When we were boondocking we had that set up to control the inverter. If you press the button, it
would turn the inverter on. Press it again and it would
turn the inverter off. And we did that because the
inverter has a fairly high background draw for the amount of power that we have onboard. And so leaving it turned off
most of the time made sense. But what we found is that
sometimes you turn it on and we would forget to turn it off. And one of the beautiful things about running our own
system is we can learn from those things and find new and novel ways to make our life better. So we've implemented a system whereby if you double pressed that button it would turn the inverter on and then automatically turn
it off after five minutes. This was perfect in a morning
when we were making a smoothie we needed the blender turning on, and that was just enough
time to put everything in, make the smoothie, and
then you could sit down and have your breakfast without worrying about remembering to
turn off the inverter.

Over here on the side, you can see some of the network monitoring
that we have in here as well. I won't go into detail about this, but you can see some of the things that we're monitoring to make sure that everything is healthy within the RV. The last section on this page is the weather section down here. This is pulling in
external information based on our location to automatically
update the weather forecast and the air quality for
this exact location. Obviously this requires
an internet connection, but it's not a big problem
if we're boondocking and we don't have that data
because we have no signal, but it's quite nice to
have at the same time. Home Assistant has multiple
dashboard views available. And this one here, it
shows all of the sensors that we have around the RV, some of which you saw
on the previous page.

I won't go through
everything here in detail but you can see we have a
lot of different senses. We have seven of the
the temperature sensors that you saw near the thermostat. We also have the three contact sensors and the kitchen button. Those also report the temperature as well as whether the door is open or closed. We have our fridge and
freezer temperatures inside as well as the sensors on
the back of the fridge. And we also have the sensors that we added to the hot water tank and the water pump to make sure that
everything's working fine.

With any of these we can click on them and we can see a history of
how that value has changed over the last 24 hours. So for instance this one here, you can see when we took
a shower earlier on today, the hot water tank temperature
dropped as you'd expect. We also have a dashboard
set up to showcase just a couple of our appliances. In particular, you can
see here the dehumidifier, the fridge and freezer,
and the heated hoses. The fridge and freezer are pretty clever. They have the power sensor on the back so we can see exactly how much power the fridge is drawing when
it's on electric mode. And we can even turn it
on and off to switch it from electric to propane. You can see that right
now the fridge is drawing about 290 Watts, and we know therefore that the absorption system
is on and it's running.

We can also see the duty
cycle and as you see that it comes on about
two thirds of the time. If I turn the fridge
off this will switch it from AC electric mode over to propane and you'll see that the power will drop. And now it's running on propane mode. Since we have the electric here I'm gonna turn that back on again. The next dashboard is all
about electrical system, and you can see here the
various Victron devices that we have. I can turn the inverter
and the charger on and off as well as see exactly how
much power we're using. Check on the batteries and see how much solar is coming in as well.

The auto dump feature is
what I talked about earlier where it automatically
turns on the inverter, the fridge and the water heater depending on the state of charge of the batteries. Since we've been here this
winter on full hookups, I wanted to keep an eye
on our power consumption, and that's where you can see here. You can see that so far today we've used just under eight kilowatt hours of power.

And lastly, I've got a
couple of settings here that allow me to control when
different things can turn on based on various criteria inside the RV. So this is a bit of a look
into the Home Assistant system that is running everything
that you see here. And although this may look
a little complex at first, we've got it set up so
that it's really easy to use on our phones. And that comes in really handy when we're not at home in the RV. So for example, if we'd
been out skiing for the day and it's about an hour's drive home, as soon as we leave the resort we can log onto here and we
can turn up the thermostat so the RV is nice and warm
by the time we get home.

We can turn on the water heater so we've got a full tank
of hot water for a shower. And it just makes life much
more comfortable being able to do those things remotely. It's also really nice
when we do leave the RV, we can check on things and make sure everything's looking okay. If we need to adjust something, we've got access to do it here. And we can also see if
we've left a door open or something's not quite right. It gives us an early
warning system as well. We can also use this
system to control things in the RV while we're
actually towing the RV. This may sound strange,
but there are some times that we want to actually
manage different appliances and devices within the
RV while we're towing. So for example, we've done
it before where we'll turn on the AC shortly before
we arrive at our location to start cooling down the RV, knowing that when we arrive
we'll have full hookups and the batteries can charge back up, but we'll use the power we've got coming from solar, plus from the truck charger, as well as in the batteries already to run the AC and cool things down so we're not setting
up in the heat outside and then coming into a hot trailer.

We also do a similar thing
with the electric water heater. We'll turn that on when we're driving so that we've got plenty of hot water for a hot shower at when we arrive. In addition to letting us monitor and control all of our devices, Home Assistant also takes all
of that data and stores it. We're collecting about 900,000 data points every single day. And we have been doing now
for well over two years. This is a vast amount of data
that we've been able to use to look back on and understand
better how our RV is working. When we've looked at doing
some mods or changing our solar it gives us really good
data to learn from. We've spent over two years setting up everything that you see here. But like I said right at the start, it's still very much a work in progress and we're always learning more things and finding more ways to
make our life simpler, more comfortable, more
efficient and more secure using home automation technology.

While we've incorporated
a lot of different devices there are still many more
things that we want to add in. For example, right now
we're not really doing much with any of the sensors,
the tank sensors on the RV. One of the things we'd like to do is to install some better
quality tank sensors, maybe some SeeLevel two
sensors so that we can see exactly how full our fresh
and holding tanks are.

We could install some
electric valves to allow us to automatically dump when
we're on a full hookups like we are here. We can leave the valves
closed most of the time, and have the system
automatically open those valves when the tanks are nearly full. We could even add in some
electric control valves on the city water supply. For example, automatically
flushing the tanks after it's dumped or turning
off the city water connection when we're not out of the
RV to reduce the chance of plumbing breaking and causing a flood. In general we haven't
really added too much in the way of alerts. We've got a lot of things
that we can monitor but not really anything at the moment that tells us that
something is problematic. That's certainly something I'm interested in exploring more of in future. All of our light switching so
far has been pretty simple.

It's either on or off. And one of the things
I'd like to do is explore some slightly more advanced controls. I've got some multicolor RGB LED lights, and I'm really interested
in finding a way to have those change the color
temperature during the day so that during the middle of
the day, when we're working and they can be a cooler blue light. And then in the evening when
we're thinking about going to bed they can automatically
warm to a more yellow light to help us kind of get
ready for bed really.

We also haven't really
incorporated anything from the truck yet but that's something that I'm really interested in doing. Some of the more basic things maybe checking the battery voltage or the tire pressures using the TPMS, but could be as advanced as real-time data when we're driving, feeding
back into the system. It's taken us a couple of
years to get to where we are with a home automation system,
but we've learned so much along the way about what works for us.

I can't imagine living
in the RV without it and even just being in the
hotel a little while ago, it felt really odd not being able to control things from my phone. I really hope you've enjoyed
this tour of our smart RV. It has been a labor of
love over the last couple of years to build the
system to where it is now. We've made lots of
mistakes and along the way we've learned so much about how to build a smart home automation system in an RV. It's working really, really well for us, and I honestly can't
imagine living in the RV without a lot of the systems
that we've put in place.

Let us know in the comments down below which has been your favorite
aspect of this whole system. And maybe if we've inspired you to start your own smart RV project, and you want to learn more
about the behind the scenes, do let us know about that as well. We showed you some of the what,
the things we've introduced in this video, but we didn't talk too much about the technology and
exactly how we set things up. So if you want to see
a future video on that, leave us a comment and let us know. And we will see you next time..

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