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

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hey google i'm home 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 all right turning off this lights off turn on all the lights sure turning five lights on turn off the outside lights okay turning off awning lights turn off the fridge sure turning fridge off set the temperature in the rv to 74. 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 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 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 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 our 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 the kind of glass plate and that will toggle the switch it looked great it works 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 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 they're 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 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 4chan pro and i've used some software called esp home 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 wi-fi 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 airfryer lid where we took a look at exactly how much power that appliance draws as rv is 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 spark 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 hardwired soft power r2 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 for 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 program 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 the living area 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 in 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 because 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 hours of battleborn lithium batteries as well as a victron multi-plus 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 vikron 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 tight 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 neck that we've used 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 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 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 noc here has several things plugged into it we have over here a zigbee and a 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 nut 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 pep wave 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 the wall with some command strips but that works great for us networking wise we have a switch up here and a wi-fi access point just above my head and that's how we get wi-fi inside the rv this is a very powerful system that gives us really really fast wi-fi 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 wise 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 the setup that runs this system so let's take a look at the dashboard and how we actually control things day to day at 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 nook 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 them 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 will 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 more than once we have forgotten to turn off the water heaters so this way once they've been on for an hour they automatically turn 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 setup 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 sensors 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 setup so for example the thermostat has a program where it'll turn up and down the heating during the day and the night so 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'll 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 what 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 reach a threshold the inverter would automatically turn on which would power laptops and charges and things around the rv as the batteries continue to still charge eventually the fridge would turn from propane to electric savings a bit of electric uh savings 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 on board 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 implemented a system whereby if you double press that button it would turn the inverter on and then automatically turn it off after five minutes this was perfect in the 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 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 sensors we have seven of the the temperature sensors that you saw near the thermostat we also have the three contact sensors in 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 that 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 the absorption system is on and it's running we can also see the duty cycle and actually 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 going to 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 the inverter and the charge 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 what 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've 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 on to 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 sometimes 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 a 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 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 rrv 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 sea level 2 sensors so 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 uh 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 tank's 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 at the rv to reduce the chance of plumbing braking 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 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 multi-color 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 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 this system it's taken us a couple of years to get to where we are with the 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 the what the things we've introduced this uh 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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