MAX!imum irritation level reached

I just don’t get it. The ELV MAX! heating control system is probably the most unfinished product I have ever seen in my life. What were they thinking @ ELV when they decided to start selling it? We’ll fix the remaining bugs with some firmware releases afterwards? Cause this product has not been tested thoroughly, I can tell you that!

I was very close to kicking these Radiator Thermostats right off the radiators; a well-placed kick against those things should be enough, since it’s all plastic.

What happened? When the clock was set back one hour last weekend (Sunday morning @ 03:00 to be precise), the Max Cube LAN Gateway suddenly started closing the TCP/IP connection every 10 minutes. Or maybe it even rebooted itself; I don’t know cause I didn’t bother to check that. I was completely done with MAX!. I can’t think of anything else than the internal time keeping of the MAX Cube being the cause of this.. well done guys, and thanks for this mature and reliable product!

ELV MAX! sucks

 

Nothing helped to get the Cube going again, so this evening I had to perform a factory reset and teach in all the Radiator Thermostats again. I stopped after teaching in just 2 of the 8 Radiator Thermostats  I have; the fun is completely gone; I have to regain confidence before I teach in the other 6 Thermostats. I don’t like MAX! anymore and for me, ELV has been demoted to a company that sells crap. I’ve just had too much problems with it.

And yes, I was very pissed when I wrote this. Working with products which have so many flaws and for which I payed almost 300 Euro makes me angry, very angry. It sucks away all the fun… I’ve never ever had this experience before, actually. But hey, that’s why I’m writing these posts –  the passion for Domotica and the fun I have with doing what I do, day after day. Disappointments like this seem to come with the territory…

Now it’s time for some soothing soldering therapy 😉

MAX! interface completed

Since last Thursday, I’m now controlling 6 ELV MAX! Radiator Thermostats. Yes! But to be honest, not everything about the the ELV MAX! Central Heating system is that great. Here are some of the ‘problems‘ I had to deal with.

F2 errors.

When a Radiator Thermostat is installed, it will do a so-called adapter run to check whether the pin of the heating valve can be moved and the actuating range is OK. If not, the LCD display will show an error (F1, F2 or F3). Nearly all my Radiator Thermostats got an F2 error; which means the actuating range is too high. Strange, because my Jaga radiators have an actuating range that’s smaller than the 4.2 mm actuating range of the actuator.. I found out that the actuator didn’t make contact in fully retracted position – that’s not good, cause this means that the actuator can’t make use of the full 4.2 mm to control the heating valve. The result is, that the actuator doesn’t reach the position where the heating valve pin can’t be pushed in any further, hence the actuator thinks the actuating range is too high… After measuring some dimensions, I concluded that only a small modification of 1-1.5 mm would suffice, so I took a Radiator Thermostat with me to the garage and used a hacksaw to cut a slice off the Thermostat:

Before...After.

It worked! I’ve done this with all my 6 Radiator Thermostats and they’re all running fine now, no more F errors!

Cube doesn’t know what time it is

This one was even more serious. The Cube doesn’t have a clock; it synchronizes with a time server on the Internet. Right; but if (for whatever reason) that synchronization fails, you could find yourself waking up in the middle of the night with your bedroom temperature set to a day temperature! That’s unacceptable of course. There seems to be a work-around for that, you know… power cycle the Cube on a Saturday at 10:00, and the weekly program will run just fine! Why? Because when the Cube can’t do a time sync, it assumes it’s Saturday 10:00; Bravo! I found this work-around on the ELV forum BTW, where quite a few ELV customers vent their problems with the ELV MAX!.

Actually, if you can’t do what I did (=developing my own weekly program functionality), this problem actually makes the ELV MAX! system completely useless.

Fortunately, I could start using the Radiator Thermostats, despite these issues… 🙂

 

DIY to the MAX

Sometimes it looks like you have to do everything yourself…

While testing the ELV MAX system, I noticed that the Radiator Thermostats were off-schedule quite often. I don’t know why, but it’s a fact, and I have to deal with it.

Totally wrong! The weekly program I used in the past days was specifically created to monitor the accuracy of the Radiator Thermostats. Every 2 hours the temperature set-point was increased with 1°C;  starting with 10°C at midnight, 11°C at 02:00, 12°C at 04:00 and so forth. This way I had enough switch-points to see how these Radiator Thermostats would perform. Well, as you can see, the temperatures are totally wrong! Grr.

Why? I don’t know. But they are, for some odd reason. And the worst thing is, there’s nothing you can do to resolve this. Once the Radiator Thermostats have a wrong sense of time, you’re doomed and you’ll have to wait (for how long?) till the Cube resolves this for you. Hmm.

It seems that the Cube periodically retrieves the date & time from a time server on the Internet, so I wanted to know how often;  I took an old 10/100 Ethernet hub and connected the Cube and a laptop with Wireshark installed to this hub. Even after 36 hours, only 2 IGMP packets were seen. Even a power cycle didn’t make the Cube check to see what time it was. Too bad, I hoped I could find something that would trigger the Cube to check the date & time, but I’m lost. The Cube will probably check date & time once every few days or even a week, probably.

But can I live with Radiator Thermostats that are totally off schedule? No, of course not! So I had to write my own code to handle the weekly program and use that to control the Radiator Thermostats, until there’s another way to get the RT’s (Radiator Thermostats) working the way they should.

Autonomy is good for things like controlling the temperature in the house; it should be able to function all by itself, without the need for a Home Automation system to constantly dictate what the temperature should be – only when the residents want to overrule the default weekly program, Home Automation should kick in in my opinion. For now, that doesn’t seem like an option with the MAX system. It just doesn’t look completely finished yet? So much for the “Deutsche Gründlichkeit”.. I guess this is another examples of a product being pushed to market a bit too soon..

Nevertheless, 4 new Radiator Thermostats are coming this way; moving on! 🙂

Preparing for the winter

Yep, it’ll be there before you know it. Last week our central heating spent some time in CH (Central Heating) mode, so my ELV MAX project has moved to the top of my to-do list for the next days. No more soldering, sketches or other intermezzo for a few days…

Temperature Dialog

With the basic interfacing already finished some time ago, I also started working on the other end sooner than I usually do: the GUI, so I won’t make that same mistake again. Normally the thermostats will run on their weekly program; with 13 switchpoints per day I don’t think that manually adjusting the temperature will be used much, but without the possibility of changing the temperature this way, it’s no fun, right. On the floor-plan of our house, which is the ‘home page’ of our touchscreen GUI (I should update that picture some day, a lot has been added in 2 years!) in the living room, I created a button in every room that will have MAX radiator thermostats. Touching one of these buttons will show a very basic (and still a bit ugly) dialog with a track-bar to override the temperature. This dialog is nearly finished; all I have to add is an additional combo box to set the date/time at which the radiator thermostat should return to the weekly program again. I will not be able to control each individual radiator thermostat BTW; I chose for temperature control per room and not per radiator, cause I think that will be enough.

I also updated my Domotica system yesterday, so I can test all the functions which are finished and ready to use all day long. And since I had to make sure I know exactly where all the Radiator Thermostats are installed (not in a textual way like ‘Bathroom’ in the device description, but by assigning locations id’s), I have finally categorized all my devices (actors, sensors, interfaces etcetera) on building- (we also have a littlle shed in the garden 😉 ), floor- and room level.  With more than 200 items to categorize, it won’t surprise you that some of the devices in my database are currently listed as ‘unknown’: I don’t know where they all are anymore?!

All I have to do now is order some more Radiator Thermostats and write code for the weekly program administration.  Coding will probably take less time than waiting for the delivery, so a turnaround of 10 days should be doable… MAX!

Unravelling the ELV MAX! heating control system protocol

A German company called ELV has a new heating control system since a few months – it’s called MAX!.  With this system you have the ability to control your heating system via Smartphone, Internet and local PC (oh, and manually of course). The MAX! radiator thermostats seem to have all I need: flexible daily switching programs, auto/manual/holiday mode, temperature can be set between 5 and 30 °C in steps of 0.5 °. Other components of the MAX! system are wall switches for Eco mode, window sensors and wall thermostats. Prices are good too; very good actually, when you compare them to alternatives.

The interface for all these wireless devices is the MAX! Cube LAN Gateway; with this you can control, configure and adjust all your MAX! components. Cool..

Not so cool is the web portal that has to be used when you want to control the MAX! system from outside your own house (e.g. via Internet, with your smartphone or whatever). Some people, and I’m one of them, don’t like being forced to use a web portal controlled and secured by a 3rd party; I prefer making my own solution for these kind of  things, especially since every website seems to be hack-able these days and leaking all kinds of information… No, if someone is leaking information about me/us, it should be me doing that, not some company..

Last week someone posted some details about the MAX! Cube LAN Gateway on the Domoticaforum Europe. It seems possible to connect to port 80 of the Cube and even communicate with it. OK that’s a start, now all that’s left to do is finding out how the MAX! Cube works, which can be a tough job. The protocol that’s being used is another proprietary one and therefore nothing has been (and probably never will be) published about it. Time for some good old packet inspection – and for that, it’s better to have a MAX! Cube and a Radiator Thermostat at my disposal, so I bought those 2 items last weekend. After that I started searching for more detailed information about the protocol – but as expected, without result.

I reread the ELV MAX! topic on the Domoticaforum and looked at some lines of MAX! communication that were logged by a member called blb. At first sight I could not tell what it all meant, although I did see some lines that had Base64 characteristics: all characters were more or less human readable and they were ending on 1 or 2 ‘=’ characters. And yes, it’s Base64 encoded; I decoded one of the logged lines and it revealed a url pointing to a portal on the elv.de domain, another decoded line revealed the location and name that forum member blb probably assigned to one of his Radiator Thermostats. Finding out how the temperature had to be set wasn’t hard either. There still are some bytes unknown though 😉

Nevertheless, this is what I call a good start; so as soon as the ELV MAX! stuff I ordered has arrived, I’m gonna start dissecting the protocol, bit by bit – exciting!

Update: I posted some protocol information on the Domoticaforum. Enjoy!

Proliphix Plugin finished

Today I finished the Homeseer Proliphix Plugin I wrote about before. In short, the updated Plugin has been enhanced with the following features:

  • Celsius support;
  • Support for the IMT series thermostats;
  • Support for the IMT series Humidity sensor.

Although I received the code only for adding Celsius support, I’m sure the Homeseer guys won’t mind I added those other 2 items as well 🙂

I was fortunate to have a IMT350 here, sent to me by a Domoticaforum member who found out that the IMT350 wasn’t supported by the current version of the Plugin and asked me to have a look at it. So I did, and in the process I added support for the IMT350 to the Plugin.

Together with another Homeseer user who volunteered as beta tester for the Plugin, we accomplished the 3rd item in the list, support for the Humidity sensor. While I was writing the code for the IMT350, I realized that the first thing that would be missing, was support for the humidity sensor and I just couldn’t leave it like that; it felt like delivering an unfinished product, so I decided to throw in some extra lines of code to make the Humidity sensor readings accessible as well. After some ‘research’ (I’m not a Homeseer user, you know) I found out how to do this, and also found a way to get Humidity readings into HSTouch (with the help of that same beta volunteer who tested my findings). Below a HSTouch screenshot, including the humidity:

Another project finished, still dozens to go!

The Proliphix IMT350c

Proliphix added a new series of Thermostats to their product line: the IMT350. Two models are available; the IMT350c with wired Ethernet and the IMT350w with WiFi. I won’t go into their details, the Proliphix site has all the information you need. I was lucky to receive a IMT350c a few days ago – a Domoticaforum member bought one, but since the Thermostat didn’t work in combination with the Homeseer Proliphix Plugin, it was rather useless to him; so I was asked to have a look at it. Yeah, I always like those kind of questions 🙂

As a coincidence, some time ago I received the source code for the Homeseer Proliphix Plugin to add Celsius support to it. The Homeseer guys are too busy with all kinds of things but not with this Plugin, so they agreed on a 3rd party (eventually being me) to add the Celsius support. Adding Celsius support had already been done, and now suddenly I had this IMT350… and i knew the Plugin didn’t work with that model, so sounds like a good opportunity to fix that problem too..
First some pics of the IMT350 (click for larger image):
Proliphix IMT350c IMT350 Touchscreen
IMT Base Plate IMT350c back side
IMT350c USB connector?

Now that last one is a bit strange; do I see a USB connector there?? It sure looks like it; but since this Thermostat isn’t mine, I’ll leave the plugging in of a USB cable to the owner; I don’t want to destroy anything… I searched the manuals, but I couldn’t find any information about this USB port.

The IMT350 series Thermostats have a nice Touchscreen, which feels good and the up- and down-buttons for setting the temperatures are responsive enough. With my NT20e I sometimes had the problem that I clicked the buttons too often cause the Thermostat didn’t react fast enough; that’s gone now. The bottom row of buttons seem to react a bit slower though. Please don’t think I’m reviewing this Thermostat; I’m just telling my experiences I’ve had with it for a very short period; not long enough to be precise and conclusive. One thing surprised me was that the Thermostat takes more than 2 minutes to boot; that’s rather long, if you ask me. For the rest: this thermostat definitely looks much better compared to the NT20e, but still, I wouldn’t call this an “eye-catcher” in my house…

OK, let’s do some research on this IMT350! Connecting the Thermostat to my network was easy; the thermostat has DHCP so after connecting an Ethernet cable to the EPA-20 (Ethernet Power Adapter) and plugging the power adapter into a wall socket, I could start using the web-interface right away. I entered the factory set username and password and there it was. Time to start my own Domotica system and see if I can use this Thermostat; nope. I immediately got an exception on the first login attempt: HTTP/1.1 401 Authorization Required. Somehow I couldn’t authenticate, so I started Wireshark and looked at the conversation:

GET /get?....... HTTP/1.1
Content-Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Host: 192.168.10.155
Accept: text/html, */*
Accept-Encoding: identity
User-Agent: Mozilla/3.0 (compatible; Indy Library)
Authorization: Basic YCRWaS43YDRTaX4=

HTTP/1.1 401 Authorization Required
Connection: close
Date: Fri, 01 Jan 2010 01:36:20 GMT
Server: Cherokee/0.99.37 (UNIX)
WWW-Authenticate: Digest realm="proliphixrealm", nonce="0572700e162cb40274041d07e8b87252", qop="auth", algorithm="MD5"
Content-Length: 450
Content-Type: text/html
Cache-Control: no-cache
Pragma: no-cache

Aah… Digest Authentication instead of Basic… Since I’m using Borland Delphi 2005 with Indy 10, I first had to partially finish the Digest Authentication code of Indy 10, cause it didn’t work. 🙁

After that, I could authenticate and communicate with the IMT350 just like I do with my NT20e. That’s it… all the information that I’m used to retrieve from my NT20e, came out the same way with this IMT350!

Wow, that was easy 🙂

Next step, the Homeseer Proliphix Plugin. Adding Digest Authentication to VB.NET was even simpler:

Dim wrCache As CredentialCache = New CredentialCache
Dim netCredential As NetworkCredential = New NetworkCredential(Me.User, Me.Pass)
wrCache.Add(New Uri(URL), “Digest”, netCredential)
MyWebRequest.Credentials = wrCache

Done! Launching Homeseer and configuring a new Thermostat was all that had to be done. When the Proliphix PlugIn starts up, it recognizes a potential HTTP 401 error and if this error does occur, the Plugin will retry with Digest authentication, so that both series (NT and IMT) can be supported at the same time. Here’s the result:

Homeseer Proliphix Plugin

Homeseer Proliphix Plugin with IMT350 and NT20

Gas consumption under the microscope

I’m not really satisfied with how our Central Heating is functioning. Not that we have technical problems, but the way our house is heated isn’t satisfactory anymore. Maybe it has to do with the floor heating we installed earlier this year; I don’t know for sure – I guess it does, but to make the right conclusions, I need more information.

For example, here’s the chart for the central heating of December 24th & 25th, where you can see at what times and for how long it’s heating the house:

Why is there such a big heating interval in the afternoons? What’s the most important factor, outside temperature or the amount of sunlight? (the latter is definitely of influence cause the living room has a window on the south, measuring 2 x 3 meters…)

Looking at the right side of the chart below, we see the temperature in the living room (the red line) rising to 21.7 °C without any heating (green = thermostat setback):

Free energy from the sun; that’s very nice, but not good for keeping the rest of the house warm.. 🙁

I really need to create some more insight on all of the factors that influence the behavior of the central heating system.

So that’s what I am doing right now. I’ve added some virtual devices to my Domotica system to calculate some additional values from all the sensors I have.

  1. Break down total gas usage into 2 parts: gas usage for CH (Central Heating) and for DHW (Domestic Hot Water). I can do this cause my Remeha Calenta tells me whether there is DHW demand or not. This should give me a clearer picture of the amount of gas used for heating; ‘noise’ by someone taking a bath or a shower will be filtered out.
  2. Average Outside Temperature per day. For this I compared measurements from the nearest KNMI weather station (12 km) with my own outside temperature sensor and didn’t see a need to collect the weather data from KNMI, saving me some additional work. I’m going to use my own sensor for this. This sensor is probably not located at the right height, it’s mounted to a wall of the garage etc. which will result in an offset, but it should be good enough to use.
  3. Average light intensity in the living room; I have a Lux sensor in the living room and I’m going to use this one to monitor the average amount of light there.

These values should give me a more detailed view of what is happening and how much the influence of both outside temperature and sunlight really is; I know they do, but not how much..

With this I want to be able to explain the behavior of the central heating and explain the gas usage that comes with it.

I started  a webpage to do just that. It’s not finished yet; more information will be added like the weighted average of the thermostat setback during a day, average temperatures in the ‘other’ rooms and things like that.

What I really want, is being able to control the temperature per room: the bedrooms, bathroom, my office and the living room. That’s a total of 6 rooms. Looking at how much sunlight influences the central heating, I need a way to deal with that influence; but how? I will probably need to control the amount of heat flowing through the floor heating based on the temperature in the living room, cause when another room is demanding heat, I don’t want heat pumped into the living room when it’s already warm enough!

And I probably also need to control the radiators in the other rooms to get the right temperatures over there, cause I have the feeling that too much heat is going to the living room right now, leaving too little for the other rooms. But first, that feeling has to become a conclusion before I can move forward!

Proliphix NT20e Thermostat online

Today i created the beginning of a page that will show real-time information about the Proliphix thermostat i started using yesterday. Although not finished yet, it displays some status information and will be extended with several charts to see all you ever wanted to know. But for that, I’ll have to wait a while to have some data to work with. Click on the image to go to my website.

Website Thermostat page

Website Thermostat page

Proliphix NT20e in use

This morning, when i got out of bed, i knew i had a job to do: my Home Automation system was going to be extended with the Proliphix NT20e Thermostat.

All worked well last night with the thermostat on my desk in the office, so drilling a few holes and placing the NT20e in the living room wouldn’t take more then a couple of hours.

However, one little detail took me a couple of hours more then i expected.
This detail was the fact that a Remeha Calenta with an outside temperature sensor doesn’t react on on/off thermostats… it took me some time to figure this out

Once i found out what was going wrong, the NT20e was mounted very easily.

NT20 back plate mounted to the wall
Proliphix NT20 mounted to the wall

Next thing to do was creating a kind of ‘demonstration’ that it all worked. I chose the touchscreen in the living room to be the first GUI to get the new feature of changing the thermostat set point. The touchscreen is 30 cm away from the thermostat, but who cares 🙂

NT20 thermostat and ASUS TOP GUI

NT20e thermostat and ASUS TOP GUI

I created a screen with a “+” and “-” button like this:

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

When a button is pressed, the numeric value in the middle that represents the new desired thermostat setpoint, gets a different color:

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

When neither the “+” or “-” are pressed for a period of 3 seconds, the numeric value returns to its previous color and the current value is sent to my Domotica system, which takes care of posting the new value of the set-point to the thermostat.

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

Setting Thermostat set point in GUI

My conclusion so far about this Proliphix thermostat: the greatest thermostat I’ve ever seen.

But this is not the end of the story, there’s still a lot to be done!