Need Help setting up Z-wave Christmas Lights?
Christmas is just around the corner – if you need any assistance, feel free to send me a comment and I will email you back. If you are using a Raspberry Pi with a Aeon Labs controller, I can send you the disk image with working open-zwave controller, server and client.
Back to the blog:
I am super excited that it is Christmas light time again. This year I am looking forward to connecting my outdoor lights with my Raspberry Pi open Z-wave setup. Who has time to worry about turning the lights on and off? For the outdoor Z-wave plug, I am using the GE 45604 module. Inside, I am controlling it all with an Aeon Labs Z-Stick S2 plugged into the $35 Raspberry Pi. This setup has worked reliably now for about 5 months indoors with only one exception – which was completely my fault. I decided that I should log everything from all 10 z-wave devices on my network 5 months ago when developing the client/server application because of course I would need to review the data and I would never forget to properly handle the log file. Five months and 4 gb of log files consumed the remaining space on my partition and since it was the only partition for the Pi’s OS, and the Pi gave up on turning on and off my lights.
Christmas Light Setup Concern – what this post is really about.
My wife and I bought a new fridge a couple months back and sat the old one in front of two Intermatic InTouch CA3000 switch. We had a nice joke about not having to worry about hitting the switches anymore because of our fun new setup. So it turns out that with the way open-zwave / my server does the polling, the stupid fridge was a problem. For the next two weeks while we were waiting to move it, we had a slow response (sometimes as long as 5 minutes) for any light in the network to come on.
While the delay is a complete ‘first world problem’ it is annoying and on at least 1 or 2 nights the lights didn’t come on automatically.
In general, Z-wave is great about reliability due to its source routed mesh network setup (most devices work as a repeater and expand the reach of your Aeon controller). With this setup, each device checks in and tries to figure out what device is close by so the controller can deliver a message to a far away (outside the range of the controller) node with the fewest amounts of hops. When the controller can’t get a response through the expected ‘middle’ device(s) it tries to fix the problem by routing the message to other nodes until the message is delivered. The extra routing is slow (in comparison to us walking over and hitting the switch).
You will see the distance and time lag problem mentioned in a lot of Amazon reviews. *NOTE: People new to Z-wave – it is never as fast as manually flipping a switch and that is ok.
I don’t want my Christmas lights to introduce the refrigerator problem to the network. So I daisy chained 5 extension cords together, put a GE 45604 module at the end with a little nightlight and politely asked Ali to stand in the middle of the street holding it all. For the first test, I wanted to see how far I could reliably control the GE switch without degrading the network. Going through 1 brick wall, it turned out to have a range of 110 feet from the nearest Z-wave device, a CA3000 wall switch. This wall switch is almost directly in between our controller and the test switch. The controller is about 15 feet and three walls away from the wall switch. Any further and I would see a slow down in the control of any device on the network. We did get it to work at about 130 feet but it took about 3 minutes for the device to get the on/off message. I am assuming this is right around the max.
Overall, I have to say I was impressed. The manual says it has a 100 foot range under the best conditions without walls or obstacles. Our quick tests had bricks and trees. And since the outdoor GE nodes work as repeaters, the reception should only get better as we add outdoor switches to the mesh network. *NOTE: This would be fun to test – how far can I get daisy chaining the wireless adapters?
This distance is well beyond what we need for our Christmas lights, but I still want to do one more test before I start designing my Christmas light zones. Will these hold up through the rain, heat and cold with the same reliability (tonight it was a comfortable 70 degrees when we were testing)? To test this, I pulled the extension cords out of the equation to hopefully eliminate a little bit of the fire hazard I created and put the GE 45604 into the hanging position described in the instructions. Set the sprinkler to run and I have Z-wave controller set to turn a strand of lights off and on a few times over the next couple days. The GE module is not in the direct path of the sprinkler (“outdoor” does not mean submersible unfortunately) but it will get some over spray that would simulate a good rain. I will report back in a couple days.
BTW, I gave the GFI wall outlet a quick test too.
Christmas Light Update
GE Z-wave outlets working wonderfully outside. I added them to a new “Christmas Light Group” and have them set to go on 20 minutes before sunset and shutoff 6 hours later.
You can find my Z-wave php client library at Github. There is also a small snippet on for the Xmas light control.