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Controlling my sprinklers with mControl and Windows Home Server on a Friday night

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This week I am going to walk you through the installation of a sprinkler control module connected via mControl to my Windows Home Server. The irrigation module costs quite a bit more than a regular sprinkler timer but I am hoping that the convenience of internet access to my sprinklers will save time, water and frustration.

WHS and mControl

Background

The mControl application with Windows Home Server allows you to control your home from Internet Explorer, the WHS Console or Windows Media Center. The system works by connecting your WHS to your electrical system and then transmitting signals through your home wiring to modules and switches that control lights and appliances. Through simple macros you can control and monitor lights, HVAC, irrigation, music and even your cameras and surveillance.

You can read my previous mControl articles at:

Installation of the mControl Add-In and WHS Setup

https://moviesgamesandtech.com/2009/05/16/adding-mcontrol-to-windows-home-server-on-a-friday-night/

Creating mControl Macros

https://moviesgamesandtech.com/2009/05/30/mcontrol-macros-with-windows-home-server-on-a-friday-night/

Adding Modules

https://moviesgamesandtech.com/2009/06/14/adding-an-mcontrol-module-to-windows-home-server-on-a-friday-night/

Adding mControl to Windows Media Center PCs

https://moviesgamesandtech.com/2009/06/20/adding-mcontrol-to-windows-media-center-with-windows-home-server/

mControl Review

As a refresher, mControl is an Add-In that you install on your WHS that controls modules and other communications devices within your home. mControl is the software and not the control modules.

There are three components to a basic system:

  1. The mControl software Add-In on your WHS
  2. A USB device (PowerLinc modem #2412U) that sends your WHS mControl signal to your house electrical wiring
  3. A module plugged in to the house electrical that controls a light or device (add as many or as few as you want, I got two to start)

These three parts are all that you need to begin. Before I started this project I thought it would be really complex but I was wrong!

The diagram below shows how you can connect to mControl via your PC, Internet Explorer, Mobile client, Extender or XBOX 360.

Network Digram

mControl and Smarthome

As I mentioned in previous articles, the Add-In and the device modules are from different companies. I downloaded mControl from their web site at http://www.embeddedautomation.com/EAHAmControl.htm

I live in Southern California and there is a place that sells modules close to my home called Smarthome. I bought my modem and two modules from http://www.smarthome.com/_/INSTEON/_/23b/land.aspx. mControl is compatible with INSTEON devices so to keep it simple I just bought those types of products. mControl can work with other devices but I will not talk about those in this series. The basic INSTEON modules are easy to use and run about $30. Some of these modules switch on and off and can even have dimmer options. Smarthome also sells outlets, wall switches, bridges, keypads, touch screens, sensors, remotes, thermostats, sprinkler controls and even infrared controllers. Make sure you choose INSTEON (or compatible) type devices.

Equipment Needed

mControl on your WHS

EZ Flora Irrigation Controller and AC Transformer

Two Beers (optional as always)

iTunes streaming your favorite radio station

Equipment Needed

Irrigation with WHS? Seriously? Why?

My wife and I have recently been renovating our backyard and have had new sprinklers installed. While my existing sprinkler timer still works well, it is a pain to update for Daylight Savings, it is hard to access in the garage and it has limitations for times in different zones. In addition, every time I want to adjust the sprinkler heads I need to walk to the garage, turn it to manual and then walk back to the yard. I think you can see where I am going with this, yes?

I bought a Insteon-Compatible irrigation timer from Smarthome that controls 8 sprinkler valves. This module was flippin expensive ($124.99) but I had a $20 off coupon so it was $104.99.

http://www.smarthome.com/31270/INSTEON-8-Zone-Sprinkler-Controller-Lawn-Irrigation-System/p.aspx

Ok, it was expensive but even the good ones at Home Depot are $70.00. Did I mention you can control it from WHS? I have wireless. Do you see where this is headed? Seriously.

It is time to touch some hardware.

Lets set this pig on fire!

Installation

The installation of the module is actually quite easy. Since I already have a sprinkler timer near the power outlet all I have to do is disconnect the wiring from the old system and connect it into the new irrigation module.

Irrigation Module

Mental note: Having to connect a DC transformer to the EZ Flora controller sucks. The instructions say you can plug the transformer into the controller but it is so heavy it pulls out from the plug. At least add a secure point for the center screw of the wall plate. Is this the best your can do for $150? Seriously?

Another mental note: Neither the transformer nor the EZ Flora came with the wire to connect the transformer and the module. If you are not going to include it at least tell me that I have to purchase it separately. Is this the best your can do for $150? Had I not been writing the article I would have told you to shove the transformer up your ass. Seriously.

mControl Configuration and Setup

Now that I have connected the module to my home electrical wiring I can find the irrigation module in mControl and Windows Home Server.

Choose the Zone in which you want to add the device. Open Beer Number Two now.

Manage Zones

Click on “Add Device”.

Edit Zone

Give the Device a Name, choose the Adapter and Module, pick an image and enter the INSTEON address. Once you are done, click on “Save”.

Add Device

Once you have saved the device you will see it in the Zone.

Edit Zone

Click on “Back” and mControl will show the Zone View. Click on the arrow to view the Device.

Zone View

This module controls 8 valves and can have 4 programs. Click on “Prog 1” to set the program times.

Sprinkler Device Screen

The default program times are “-1”. You will have to change any unused valve schedules to “0” before you “Apply”.

Valve Schedule Screen

I am going to set my four zones at 15 minutes each. Click on “Apply” to finish.

Sprinkler Screen

Ok, now that everything is connected it is time to test the system. Do you really think I am going to do this from the office PC? Hell no. Lets take the laptop outside my friends. I have not dropped coin for a HD video camera yet so the following is a little grainy:

Now that the system has been tested all I have to do is create a macro to start Program 1 on the days our city allows sprinkler watering.

Follow the macro process from my prior article.

Sprinkler Macro

Once the macro is completed the view from Windows Media Center is easy to understand.

WMC View Zone

Conclusion

This module installation was easy once I got back from buying a stupid power cord from Home Depot. It would have been nice to know ahead of time that neither the transformer or the irrigation module was NOT going to include the wiring needed to complete the installation. I am done venting. Up yours. Ok, now I am really done.

Over the last few months I have added a bunch of modules and it has become second nature to me. I really enjoy working with mControl and it has shown itself to be a stable Add-In. I hope you get a chance to try mControl with Windows Home Server!

See you next Friday night.

Timothy Daleo

Timothy Daleohttp://usingwindowshomeserver.com
Timothy Daleo is a Project Resource Analyst and Oracle Applications Trainer in Pasadena, California. In addition to financial analysis, Tim has been developing training materials since 2003 and supporting direct projects through various auxiliary databases since 2005.

15 COMMENTS

  1. One question: in regards to your setup, will all 4 of your zones trigger simultaneously? or consecutively? I have done exactly as you have – 4 zones: 2 front, 2 back. I have tested 2 zones independently and I am planning to trigger all 4 zones at 4am Sunday (day after tomorrow). I'm not sure if there's enough water pressure to run all 4 zones at the same time. I just converted from my original analog dial-and-pushpin system yesterday. That setup would not allow more than 1 zone to run at a time.

    Thanks for your write-ups, Tim. Very handy. I have indoor lamps, outside porch, patio and landscape lighting and now irrigation all automated within the last 3 weeks – thanks to winning a WHS mControl license from Using Windows Home Server! Best. Website. Ever. Next, I'd like to see your setup for A/V equipment and outdoor security / motion detection. Whaddaya think?

  2. Currently all four zones fire in order but with different durations. I have never tried to get them to go all at once. I have 65 psi with 6 full head equivalents on each zone so even if I tried it I would probably end up with bubbles at each head.

    I am glad that you have built your own system. I am finishing up my garage this weekend and will have one final article for mControl tying everything together.

    I had a professional alarm system installed last year so I will not use those functions but I will show everything else I have done with mControl for the final article next weekend.

    Have a safe holiday if you are on this side of the pond.

    Tim

  3. Paul,

    The EZ irrigation module used doesn't allow running all zones simultaneously; they have to go in sequence – the first stats, stops, then the second and so on until the 7th or 8th (depending whether zone 8 is set as a pump or not).

  4. I have a really basic question — I think I am missing something here. How do the hoses connect to the Insteon-Compatible irrigation timer from Smarthome? It looks as if you have the controller inside, and their website recommends an indoor application. But my backyard is outside. What am I missing?

  5. You should have a valve outside that controls your sprinklers. You can either turn that valve on manually, usually by sliding or turning a knob, or by connecting power to it. If you have a valve that is only manual you should talk to a contractor or local Home Depot, Lowes etc. before you proceed.

    The EZFlora controller, as with all irrigation controllers, just sends the electrical signal to your valve to open it. When the mControl macro runs it sends a command signal and that signal is received by the EZFlora controller via your home wiring. The EZFlora module then converts that signal to 24V and sends current to your sprinkler valve with the attached wiring. The valve opens with that current and stays open with that current.

    The fourth picture down above shows the EZFlora controller in my garage. The WHS mControl signal comes in through those metal conduits to the white module. The 24V is connected to the module with the white wires and is plugged in to another outlet. The black, red and orange wire to three valves in my backyard and the small white wire is the common for those valves.

    A good site I have used for irrigation basics can be found at:

    http://www.irrigationtutorials.com/sprinkler00.ht

    Hope this helps.

    Tim

  6. I've been looking at that site — it is very helpful, but way more complex than I had intended for my little 1/2 acre. I need a glorified drip system, but I have three separate outdoor spigots I'm working from, and I'm tired of crouching down to set the timers — inevitably it is dark and the wrong temperature and the mosquitoes are out. I currently have battery-operated timers, so I suppose they must be both controller and valve. Clearly I have a lot to figure out. I had hoped this would not be a major project –that is, I know it would be a project to install, but I had hoped it would be easy to decide what to buy and install! In any event, thanks very much for your help. I am working through the information you have given me.

    • It sounds like you have a lot of work ahead of you. Without seeing your property I would suggest branching off your current spigots and adding a two valve manifold at each of the three locations. Once the valves are installed run basic PVC from each valve with 6 "heads" each to good locations for the drip. At the ends attach the 8 way drip lines and then have those little mini sprinkler heads on each one. If you have 65 psi (normal) then this should be enough pressure.

      This whole set up will give you 12 heads at each spigot and 8 drip lines at each head. This amount multiplied by three locations and you are looking at 288 drips. Over your half acre (assuming a normal size house) you would have good coverage.

      The system I described is about $1000 as described but you can always scale it back. I have a side yard with four raised organic beds and 12 rose bushes and I run a similar system.

      I know this is not an irrigation site so enough of the mechanics. I LOVE my WHS controlling the sprinklers and automating my home. My system has grown slowly so I would suggest the same to most other people. Just by one module a paycheck if you can. The first time you turn on your sprinklers from your laptop is a great feeling!

      Tim

  7. Tim — thanks so much for letting me go off-topic. I'm going to start with one spigot and go from there. I'm fairly confused — I appreciate the hand-holding!

  8. I contacted Hunter to see if I could use their valves with an internet connection, and they said: yes "but the software starts at $4,999 and requires an ACC controller, ACC-COM-HWR, and a CCC-USB. In other words, we can do it but it is not inexpensive.)" Ouch!

    What brand valves have you used?

    • I think the scope of this project has strayed. I bought standard brass valves from Home Depot that were about $50 each. You could also buy the plastic ones for a third that price. Your two biggest expenses are the EZFlora controller (and AC adapter) for $135 and mControl. The EZFlora will work with most any standard irrigation set up.

      In the most simple translation all that WHS-mControl-USBPowerLinc-housewiring-EZFlora-irrigationwiring-sprinklervalve-water-happyplants does is just open a valve.

      Hope this clear it up a little.

      Tim

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