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Wasserpest 02-22-2010 04:50 AM

Fancy Temperature Monitoring
Over the years, I have collected a curious bunch of temperature measuring devices. Bright yellow analog thermometers that are a disgrace to beautiful aquariums. Digital ones that measure all over the place when the probes get soggy, or due to some electromagnetic interferences, or when the button cells slowly die. And various devices with hardly readable screens that pull in their wireless data via some sensor.

Some years ago I was looking into a wireless temperature monitoring solution for a mid-size company. Got quotes from a few suppliers, and it ended up being around 20 Grand and too limited at that.

Looking at the many cheap contraption with wireless sensors that greet visitors at my door, I figured there must be some affordable way to do this by now. So a few days ago I started my search.

First, I found USB sticks that collect data. They are often used to track temperatures during transits, and you have to download the data to analyze it. I wanted to be able to look at my data in real-time, so no good.

Then, I looked at some weather stations which can be connected to a computer to download the data that is collected. Actually, they have to be connected to a computer, which is a minus. Also, they do a lot more than I wanted (and along with that cost more than I wanted to spend), and the reliability seems to be questionable for the cheaper units.

Finally, I came across this unit. Besides being moderately priced, it seemed to do exactly what I wanted, and then some. So I quickly went ahead and ordered it...

And received it two long days later. :wink:

Unwrapped it, and studied the short instructions: Plug Gateway into router to transfer your temp measurements to a website, push a button, register at website, check. Unpack sensors, push button, register at website, check.

The Gateway comes with a "free" weather station that pulls info from the web. While I didn't really want it, it's actually neat to see if it will rain or freeze tomorrow.

Once everything worked, I distributed the six sensors throughout house and garden. What's nice is that each sensor has a detachable probe (for your fish tanks, of course), so you get effectively two readings from each unit. 12 readings for me. For example, you measure the outside temperature (and humidity), and the probe hangs in the pond and tells you if the goldies are freezing or boiling.

Next, I looked at the website to make sure data is collected. Indeed, there are my 6 sensors, sensing temps and humidity.

Each sensor shows a couple of recent measurements, so you'll know if the link is working. During the first night I lost a link to the furthest sensor. It returned in the morning, but placing the gateway at a higher spot seems to have improved the situation.

For a quick look at all temps (maybe at the cell phone of your choice), they provide a link too:

Now for the interesting part... they data is collected into a tab-delimited file which can be opened with Excel. Personally, I prefer Access to do data collection and mining, so I import the measurement log into a database and work with it from there.

Here is what all 12 sensors look like when displayed in an Access pivot chart:

While this won't tell you much, it provides me with lots of joy for many hours. Now I can exactly see what happens when I add a fan here, remove a bulb there, or open a door here. It tells me whether the heater in my garage aquarium is sufficient, and how outside temperatures affect temperature in my pond. The large swings on top, for example, are the temperature of the canopy, showing when the first set of bulbs kick in, then the second, etc.

Oh yeah, and you can have an alert sent to your phone/email if something seems out of range, a signal is lost, or a battery is starting to lose charge.

OverStocked 02-22-2010 04:56 AM

Wow. That is an awesome idea, and well priced. I think I am going to have to do this too. If only it connected to the network on WLAN.

Where did you order from?

It looks like there is a wlan adapter.

Wasserpest 02-22-2010 05:02 AM

I bought it from AmbientWeather (see link above). The Gateway plugs into your (broadband) router, I guess you could make it all wireless via some access point.

The only thing I don't like so far is that the gateway makes a high-pitched noise. Many people won't hear it, but I am a bit sensitive. Will need to find some way to block out the buzzing without blocking reception.

stripe157 02-22-2010 05:23 AM

Too cool.
I love it!

plantbrain 02-22-2010 04:37 PM

I think there's some application for heating the home, vs the energy to heat the tanks/personal comfort etc.

You can measure the difference between the tank and ambient vs the energy usage.

Takes a lot more heat energy to warm an aquarium that's in a room at 65F compared to 75F if the goal in the tank is 78F. You save heating the whle room/house etc, but the tank's heater is going nuts.

You can use more heaters etc during the winter or over build for that issue also. Still, the energy to keep tanks warmer during the colder months is a dramatic issue in terms of energy usage. More than light energy.

Tom Barr

Wasserpest 02-22-2010 05:14 PM

Figuring out the heating vs cooling of tanks and house has been a big reason for me to set this up.

For example, my 250gal tank is "heated" by 6 T5HO bulbs. That heat needs to go somewhere... In Winter, it is channeled into a small, unheated room - saving the need to heat that one. In Summer, it will just vent into the garage/outside.

Having the sensors makes it easier to determine how changes in venting or ambient temperatures affect the water temperatures. Two tanks in my office, both unheated, one running at 79 degrees, the other at 72. What's the difference? The hot tank uses higher light wattage, and better insulation, so it doesn't cool out at night when the room temps are down.

I have a 135 gal tank in an uninsulated garage, and only a 50W heater is needed to keep temps up. Why? Because the tank itself is insulated well. All plywood, styrofoam sheet covers up the front glass, tight fitting cover. Heating tanks is always easy. Cooling them is tricky.

Craigthor 02-22-2010 05:49 PM

This is just plain sweet!

CL 02-22-2010 09:49 PM

Very cool! I always love monitoring the weather too, so that's built into the unit. The fact that the sensors have temp. probes in addition to being able to monitor air temp is amazing. Plus it looks like you can monitor it on your phone?
Very cool.

Wasserpest 02-22-2010 10:41 PM

I agree, those sensors are a good value. Monitoring humidity is another thing that can come in handy for us watery folks. One could add one to a riparium, reporting air and water temp along with the humidity. Just don't drown the sensor housing.

One of the screenshots above is a "mobile link" with the latest sensor data formatted for a smart phone screen. So you just pull up that link on your phone browser and bingo. Temps on the road. :icon_mrgr

What I have not figured out is how long they will collect data, in other words, how large the data file gets before it is either reset, or the oldest data drops off. I emailed them about that. Would be nice if you could reset that yourself.

tyler79durdan 02-22-2010 10:47 PM

Great move! Nice tech! Looks like a few good, solid hours of enjoyment.

NJAquaBarren 02-23-2010 12:55 AM

"While this won't tell you much, it provides me with lots of joy for many hours."

that statement gives me joy. :)

Wasserpest 03-05-2010 11:00 PM

So this has been running without any issues for two weeks. I have collected just over 10000 records, each with two temperature and one humidity value, plus timestamp and location.

Works just great. I can see exactly what's going on where, how cold it has been last night, if I should call the wife to open the garage door, how waterchanges affect temperatures in my tanks. I switched fans, reduced the lighting period, dropped an ice cube, disconnected the pond waterfall, etc, and all is clearly visible in various graphs.

I created a couple of those, some just showing the daily highs and lows, some humidity values, etc. Usually I just look at the temps for the two past days plus the current one.

Rarely ever something works out as nicely as this did. Only issue so far is that data is just collected and collected, after a year I will have over a quarter million records, and downloading that will take a while. By then perhaps the novelty has worn out and I'll download only weekly or so.

epond83 03-10-2010 12:02 AM

For my home weather station i it set up to save data every two hours and it collects indoor and outdaor tempature and humitity, also barmetric pressure. Since the first of the year i have like 700 some data points and the file is about 40KB. So with your site thing they should be able to keeo a lot of data, this stuff seems to be formatted in a way to stay very small.

Wasserpest 03-10-2010 12:36 AM

I have most sensors collect data every 10 minutes. So it is 6 (sensors) x 6 (samples per hour) x 24 (hours per day) x 365 (days per year) = 315,360 records with 946,080 sample points (2x temp and 1x humidity).

After just over two weeks the file has grown to 850k. So theoretically in a year it would grow to over 20MB which isn't impossible to download, just a bit of a drag because I download the same old, same old data over and over. I'd like to be able to either reset that data file, or specify where I only download say the last week or two days.

The tech service at WeatherDirect was pretty useless, they just repeat the same stuff over and over.

Do I need a data point every 10 minutes? Maybe not, but Access can handle a few million records. And do you need a 15 Megapixel image from your camera? ;)

crossbow 03-10-2010 11:32 AM


And do you need a 15 Megapixel image from your camera?
Yes. Because sometimes you just need to count every single scale on your fish. Just to make sure they're all still there. :)


Thanks for the link and review! Question: Can you set alerts? If that thing could email/txt you if the temperature suddenly spiked or dropped....oh man, that device would be worth it's weight 10 fold over.

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