Thursday, August 4, 2022

Saving Water Using Smart Home Technology

My latest blog post, "Saving Water Using Smart Home Technology" was originally published by the good folks at Residential Tech Today Magazine on their web site here:

Below is a copy of the article.  

The headlines have been full of articles on the “Megadrought” that the western U.S. is currently facing. According to the U.S. Drought Monitor (The U.S. Drought Monitor is produced through a partnership between the National Drought Mitigation Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.), as of April 4, 2022:

  • 67% of the U.S. is facing some level of drought conditions
  • 94% of the Western U.S. is in some level of drought with 37% of the Western U.S. experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions

With rising temperatures in the U.S. and around the world, these drought conditions are not expected to change anytime soon.  With this in mind, I thought it timely to look at how smart home technology can help people save water.

Stopping Leaks

Water leaks in a home waste a tremendous amount of water.  According to the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “The average household's leaks can account for more than 10,000 gallons of water wasted every year, or the amount of water needed to wash 270 loads of laundry.”  “Household leaks can waste more than 1 trillion gallons annually nationwide. That's equal to the annual household water use of more than 11 million homes.” 

I’ve written quite a bit about smart home technology that can help homeowners detect leaks in their homes.  However, those articles were primarily focused on the amount of damage that a water leak can cause in a home, along with the cost of making repairs.  Two leading water leak detection products are the Phyn Plus Smart Water Assistant + Shutoff and the Flo Smart Water Monitor and Shutoff.   Both of these products can:

  • Detect very small leaks in a home
  • Shutoff the water supply to the home to minimize damage
  • Provide information on the water used by different fixtures or appliances in a home

So, using one of these products you can see how much water was used by your dishwasher, when you took a shower, when you flushed a toilet, and more.  These products allow family members to understand that consequences of their actions; such as the amount of water used when relaxing in a 20 minute shower or when washing dishes by hand vs. using the dishwasher.

For more detailed information on leak detectors you can find some of the articles I’ve written here:


According to the EPA, “Nationwide, landscape irrigation is estimated to account for nearly one-third of all residential water use, totaling nearly 9 billion gallons per day.” “In addition, some experts estimate that as much as 50 percent of water used for irrigation is wasted due to evaporation, wind, or runoff caused by inefficient irrigation methods and systems.”

One way to minimize the water used to irrigate lawns and gardens is to use a smart irrigation controller.  Smart irrigation controllers are available from:

These smart irrigation controllers offer a wide range of features to minimize the amount of water needed for irrigation.  Some of the features are:

  • The use of local weather data to decide when to water a lawn vs. when the soil has enough moisture to support a healthy lawn and other plantings
  • Automatically skip watering when it is raining
  • Scheduling watering to minimize water lost due to evaporation
  • The ability to detect leaks in your irrigation system
  • Seasonal adjustment of the amount of water applied to a lawn so more water can be applied during the hot summer vs. the cooler spring and fall. 
  • The ability to skip watering during high wind events
  • And more…

Rachio, for example, states that “Rachio users see up to 30-50% savings on their monthly watering bills and have helped saved more than 30 billion gallons of water.”

I wrote in detail about the Rachio irrigation controller in an article on smart ways to take care of your yard.  That article can be found here.

Dumping Water Down the Drain While Waiting for Hot Water

The plumbing system in a traditional home uses a centrally located hot water heater to supply hot water to all the plumbing fixtures in the home.  So, if you want to take a hot shower you have to pour all the cold water located in the pipes, between the hot water heater and shower, down the drain before hot water reaches your shower.  This can waste a significant amount of water.  In fact, according to an article in rise, you could be wasting upwards of three gallons of water each time you take a shower while you wait for hot water.  So, if each member of a family of four takes a shower each day, over four thousand gallons of water will be wasted each year.  Fortunately, there are a number of ways to solve this problem.

The first solution is to install an on-demand, or tankless, hot water heater near the shower.  An on-demand hot water heater doesn’t heat hot water and store it in an insulated tank.  Instead, it senses when a hot water fixture is opened, such as turning on a shower, or starting a washing machine to clean a load of clothes, and only then starts heating water.  The hot water heater heats the water as it flows to where it is needed in a home.  An on-demand hot water heater can either be centrally located to supply water for the entire home or smaller units can be located where hot water is used; including bathrooms, the kitchen, etc.  By locating a small on-demand hot water heater in a bathroom the amount of water that is wasted, for example, waiting for hot water to reach the shower is greatly reduced. 

On-demand hot water heaters air available powered by either natural gas or electricity.  A model that is going to supply hot water for an entire home is typically powered by gas.  Smaller units designed to be located near where hot water is used in a home offer the option of being powered by electricity.  It is best to consult a qualified plumber before purchasing an on-demand hot water heater as sizing the unit, so it has the capacity to heat water at a fast enough rate to meet the demand of the fixtures it services, is very important.  Otherwise, you may find yourself with only lukewarm water coming out of your shower.

A second solution to minimize the amount of water wasted while waiting for hot water to show up at the fixture where you need it is a recirculation pump.  And, just like an on-demand hot water heater there are both centralized pumps as well as pumps that can be located near where hot water is used in a home.

Large homes, where hot water could take an extensive amount of time to reach plumbing fixtures in a home are typically designed to use a recirculation system.  In this case, a centrally located pump takes water out of a tank style hot water heater, continuously circulates it in the hot water pipes in the home, and hot water that isn’t used is put back into the hot water heater’s storage tank.  This minimizes the waste of water but it does waste energy as the hot water will cool as it travels around the home and will need some degree of reheating when it comes back to the hot water heater.  Typically these recirculation pumps will include timers so they only operate at times when homeowners will typically use hot water.

A second kind of hot water recirculation pump can be located at a plumbing fixture that is farthest from the centrally located hot water heater.  Instead of circulating hot water through a specially designed network of pipes the recirculation pump will pump water from the hot water line into the cold water line until hot water reaches the pump.  This kind of recirculation system can either operate:

  1. Automatically – The pump senses when the water in the hot water pipes has cooled and will automatically pump hot water into the cold water line until hot water reaches the pump and is ready for use. 
  1. Manually – When someone wants hot water they trigger the pump and only then does it pump water from the hot water line into the cold water line.  Again, the pump will operate until it senses that hot water has reached the pump and is ready to be used at any fixture between where the pump is located and the hot water heater.  Typically these recirculation pumps are triggered by either a wall mounted switch or a small, wireless, remote control. 

The advantage of locating the recirculation pump at the location of the plumbing fixture that is farthest from the hot water heater is that it doesn’t require a specialized plumbing design and can be retrofit into any home.  In a ranch home where the two ends of the house can be quite a distance from a centrally located water heater, two recirculation pumps could be installed; one at either end of the home.  The disadvantage of this system is that pumping water from the hot water line into the cold water line can cause the cold water coming from a faucet for drinking to be tepid. 

I wrote an article about the Chilipepper CP9000 hot water recirculation pump and how it can be integrated into a smart home; including the ability to trigger the pump using voice commands.  That article can be found here.

Water Recycling

Another way to reduce the amount of water you use is to recycle a portion of your wastewater; referred to as gray water.  Gray water is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “household wastewater (as from a sink or bath) that does not contain serious contaminants (as from toilets or diapers)”.  Treated gray water can be reused in:

  • Toilets
  • Clothes Washing
  • Irrigation
  • Topping Up a Swimming Pool

Hydraloop is a gray water recycling system announced at CES in 2020.  It received a number of awards including Best Sustainable Product and Best of the Best.

Wastewater is routed from showers, tubs, your clothes washer, and water drainage from an air conditioning or heat pump system to the Hydraloop system.  The wastewater is then cleaned; using many of the same technologies used in wastewater treatment plants.  Competing systems typically use filters or membranes that require ongoing maintenance to clean wastewater.  Hydraloop combines six different technologies to clean the gray water produced in a home: sedimentation, floatation, dissolved air floatation, foam fractionation, an aerobic bioreactor, and disinfection of the cleaned water with powerful UV light.  Hydraloop estimates that a family of four can save 20,000 gallons of water each year using a Hydraloop system.

Obviously, a Hydraloop, or any gray water recycling system, is going to require significant changes to the standard plumbing layout in a home.  A Hydraloop system is also about the size of a refrigerator so additional planning is needed when considering installation into an existing home. 

Simple, Low-Tech Changes to Save Water in a Home

There are also a number of inexpensive, and low-tech, changes you can make to a home to save water. 

  1. Low-Flow Showerhead – Installing a low-flow shower head is an inexpensive change that can save a significant amount of water.  WaterSense is an EPA program that helps consumers find water efficient products.  According to the EPA, “Replacing showerheads with WaterSense labeled models can save 4 gallons of water every time you take a shower”.  A family of four where each person takes one shower per day can save almost 6000 gallons of water per year.
  1. High Efficiency Toilet – Replacing an old toilet with a WaterSense labeled toilet can, according to the EPA, save the average family nearly 13,000 gallons of water per year.
  1. Altered Extreme Water Saving Nozzle – This can best be described as a faucet aerator on steroids.  The Altered Nozzle produces a fine mist of water droplets.  These droplets do a good job of, for example, applying water to your hands when washing them; but use 98% less water than the flow from the faucet without the Altered Nozzle.  A simple twist of the nozzle changes it to spray mode that can be used to, for example, rinse your toothbrush.  And, even in spray mode, you use 85% less water.
  1. ShowerStart TSV – The ShowerStart TSV minimizes the water wasted while waiting for hot water to reach a shower.  The ShowerStart TSV monitors the flow of cold water from a showerhead.  Once the water reaches 95 degrees Fahrenheit the ShowerStart automatically lowers the flow of water to a trickle.  Once you get into the shower you simply pull the attached cord to resume the normal flow of water.  The ShowerStart TSV allows you to save water and simplify your routine.  You can start your shower, and brush your teeth or get your clothes ready for work, while minimizing the amount of water you waste getting hot water to your shower.


Clean water is becoming an increasingly precious resource.  Technology offers both high-tech and simple solutions to minimize the water used in a home.  Individual homeowners can make simple changes that can save thousands of gallons of water each year.  If these changes were made on a nationwide basis the savings would be well over 100 billion gallons of water each year. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Tailwind iQ3 is the Perfect Pro Integrator Garage Door Controller

 My latest blog post, "Tailwind iQ3 is the Perfect Pro Integrator Garage Door Controller" was originally published by the good folks at Residential Tech Today Magazine on their web site here:

Below is a copy of the article.  

Shortly after my last article on smart garage door solutions (How to Integrate the Garage into a Smart Home), MyQ, the most prominent supplier of smart garage solutions, changed their API (application programming interface) and broke the Crestron-MyQ driver I wrote for that article; along with other 3rd party integrations.  The MyQ API is undocumented, and MyQ has a history of, without warning, changing their API in ways that break third party integrations.  Since that time, people have reverse engineered the MyQ API again and some third party integrations have been fixed.  However, MyQ’s lack of support for people writing drivers to integrate with their products, reputation for periodically changing their API in ways that breaks the work people have done, left me with no choice but to abandon support of the Crestron-MyQ driver. 

Without a documented, and stable, MyQ API, the only practical way to integrate a MyQ garage door opener system with a smart home processor / hub is through IFTTT; which MyQ does support.  The MyQ-IFTTT service works well.  It supports the ability to close the garage door and receive triggers when the garage door opens or closes.  However, the MyQ-IFTTT service doesn’t support the ability to programmatically open a garage door. 

One of the ways I like to automate the operation of a garage door is to allow a homeowner, including myself, to use their smart phone as a secure key and open it by simply scanning an NFC tag (near field communications tag – see the article I wrote on using NFC tags in a smart home here) mounted on the wooden trim outside the garage door.  This left me searching for an alternative way of automating my garage door.


Right before my original article on smart garage door solutions was written, my ten year old garage door opener died.  A friend of mine owns a garage door company and he replaced it with a garage door opener with MyQ built into it.  So, I’ve experienced first hand how this made integration with a smart home processor / hub challenging.  On older, or more basic, garage door openers, the wall mounted pushbutton that opens / closes a garage door is just that; a pushbutton.  Pressing the button simply momentarily “shorts” the two wires that are connected to the garage door opener.  On many newer garage door openers this is no longer the case.  There is circuitry in the garage door button and it sends a unique signal to the opener when the button is pressed.  This makes most of the inexpensive devices, which are designed to make a garage door opener smart, incompatible. 

There is a workaround for smart home hobbyists for this issue.  You take a wireless remote control that is compatible with the garage door opener, open it up, and solder wires to the button contacts so the smart garage door adapter can “press” the button on the wireless remote to open / close the garage door. 

This might be a reasonable solution for a smart home hobbyist who is going to maintain their smart home system over time.  However, I didn’t feel this was the best solution for me, or any professional smart home integrator.  At some point in time, the battery in the garage door remote is going to wear out and, without any warning; the whole system will stop working.  This will probably be a year, or two, down the road when nobody remembers that the system relies on a battery in a garage door remote that is hidden in the rafters of the garage.  I’m not aware of any professional smart home integrator that wants to deal with that kind of a service issue.

Tailwind iQ3

The Tailwind iQ3 smart garage controller was included in my previous article on smart garage control solutions.  But, at that time, I wasn’t able to do a “hands on” evaluation of the product. Now I’m able to rectify that.

Tailwind has been in business since 2015.  It is well recognized as a top supplier of smart garage door controllers and has continued to improve their product over time.  In fact, they have been recognized by Wirecutter as “The Best Smart Garage Door Opener Controller” for three years in a row.

Tailwind offers the widest range of features of any smart garage controller; some of which are patented.  These include:

  • Support for up to three garage doors connected to a single Tailwind iQ3 controller.  In addition, the Tailwind app includes the ability to integrate operation of multiple iQ3 controllers for larger installations
  • Both iOS and Android smart phone apps that let you open / close a garage door and check the door’s open / close status from anywhere.  Tailwind also supports the Apple Watch and Android Wear OS watches
  • The ability to have your garage door automagically open when you come home and close when you leave; without having to press any buttons to control it.  This requires an optional Tailwind vehicle sensor for your car; unless you are an Android phone user with your Android phone connected to your car through Bluetooth.  All iPhone users must have a Tailwind vehicle sensor installed in their car.  The distances from your home to where the garage door will be activated to open / close is individually configurable in the Tailwind app.
  • The ability to give other people access to open / close your garage door.  This is used to give family members the ability to control your garage door using the Tailwind app or, for example, to provide a maid service or contractor access to your garage at scheduled days/times as a way to enter your home. 
  • Cross Family sharing allows trusted neighbors, who also own a Tailwind smart garage door controller, to open / close your garage door without having to log out of their own Tailwind account that they use for controlling their own garage door.
  • The ability to partially open a garage door by simply pressing and holding the door icon in the Tailwind smart phone app.  The number of milliseconds that the door will open when the door icon is pressed and held is configurable in the Tailwind app.
  • The Tailwind iQ3 saves a history of the date, time, who, or what device opened / closed a garage door.  For example, it may include in the log that Susan, opened Dad’s car garage door at 10 pm. 
  • The Tailwind iQ3 sends notifications to your smart phone when the garage door is opened / closed.  In addition, these notifications can be scheduled so, for example, they aren’t sent late at night.  There is also the ability for the notifications to be “spoken” by your smart phone so you don’t have to pull the phone out of your pocket and look at the screen.
  • The Tailwind iQ3 includes “night mode” where it can optionally be configured to automatically close a garage door five minutes after it was opened during the night.  The hours of what is considered night can be configured in the Tailwind app.   Some smart garage door controllers include the ability to set a time, for example 10pm, when they will automatically close the garage door if it was left open.  However, if you come home after that time and forget to close your garage door, then it will remain open for the rest of the night.  Tailwind’s “night mode” overcomes this issue.
  • In addition to night mode, the Tailwind iQ3 includes the ability to notify the homeowner any time the garage door is left open for a configurable period of time during the day, or night.  Optionally the Tailwind iQ3 can also be configured to automatically close the garage door after the notification is sent.
  • The Tailwind iQ3 includes the ability to disable the operation of the garage door.  This is useful to keep the door from being closed while you are working in the yard or being opened while you are working in the garage and have equipment where your car would be parked.  For added security it is also valuable to disable the operation of your garage doors when you are away on vacation.
  • If the Tailwind iQ3 doesn’t successfully close your garage door (possibly the neighbors cat ran through the safety beam while the door was closing – yes I’ve seen it happen), it will try a second time.  If the door can’t be closed a second time then the Tailwind will send a notification to your smart phone. 
  • The Tailwind iQ3 includes the ability to allow other family members to open / close the garage door without giving them the ability to change system settings or even to view the history of when the garage door was opened / closed.
  • Installing the Tailwind iQ3 doesn’t in any way disable operation of the garage door using either the wireless remote controls that came with your garage door or the wall mounted pushbutton in your garage.  Should anything go wrong with the product these are always available as a backup.
  • There are NO subscription fees for any of the above features
  • The Tailwind iQ3 includes a one year warranty and lifetime product support

Support for the Professional Integrator Channel

Tailwind is further differentiating itself by working to support the professional integrator channel.  Tailwind, like other smart garage door controllers, uses a sensor to track whether a garage door is open or closed.  Tailwind has recently released the iQ3 PRO Door Kit designed for the professional integrator channel.  The PRO sensor:

  • Includes rugged aluminum construction with the sensor and magnet sealed to protect them from moisture and rain
  • Can sense the garage door when it is up to two inches away from the sensor.  This provides accurate sensing even on a loose garage door in windy conditions
  • Simple Installation
  • Extra long cables for wiring the sensor to the Tailwind iQ3 controller

In addition, Tailwind offers adapters to integrate the iQ3 controller with garage door openers that can’t be controlled by a simple contact closure; including newer garage door owners that have a yellow learn button.  This relieves the individual installing the Tailwind system from having to solder wires to a compatible, wireless, garage, remote control.  Today the Tailwind adapters do require a battery to operate.  However, Tailwind recognizes the issue I described earlier where this adapter will eventually stop working when the battery goes dead.  They are in the process of developing a new version of their adapter that will be externally powered.  Prototypes of the new adapter are being tested and it is expected to be available soon.

In the near future Tailwind will be releasing a very bright (6000 lumens), four foot long, ceiling mounted, dimmable, LED, garage light.  The light will include both motion and ambient light sensors and can be configured, in the Tailwind app, to automatically turn off after a delay.   It can also be configured to only turn on when the light level in the garage is below a certain threshold.  This keeps the light from turning on when motion is sensed in the garage and sunlight is shining into the garage through a window, which would be a waste of electricity.

The light will be controllable through both the Tailwind app and the Tailwind local control API; more on the API below.


The Tailwind iQ3 smart garage controller integrates with a wide variety of smart home platforms including:

  • Alexa – Tailwind offers two Alexa skills; a custom skill and a smart home skill (both can be enabled if desired).  The custom skill requires that you say, for example, “Alexa, ask Tailwind to open garage door 1”.  If you use the smart home skill, Amazon treats a garage door as a lock.  You can eliminate saying “Ask Tailwind” and say “Alexa, lock garage door 1” to close the garage door.  Tailwind has a video to help homeowners choose how they want to integrate the operation of the Tailwind iQ3 with Alexa.  That can be found here.
  • Google Assistant
  • Apple HomeKit
  • Google Home
  • SmartThings
  • Hubitat
  • Home Assistant

In addition, Tailwind has just released a new version of their integration API (available here).  The API is well designed, easy to use, and well documented.  It is also a local control, not a cloud, API.  This makes it ideal for integration with professional smart home platforms.  I have written a free Crestron-Tailwinds driver module that can be downloaded from my GitHub here.  Tailwind is working to get drivers written for other professional smart home platforms

The Tailwind iQ3 can also be integrated with a Control4 smart home system using the driver developed by Intrinsic.  That can be found here.

The soon to be released Tailwind LED garage light is already supported by the Tailwind API.  This will allow it to be independently controlled by a smart home processor / hub if the homeowner has unique requirements that are not covered by the feature set Tailwind has built into the product.

The new API is another way that Tailwind is working to better support the professional integrator channel.


Installation of the Tailwind iQ3 is pretty straight forward.  To begin with Tailwind provides a nice YouTube video that demonstrates the installation process.  That video can be found here.

As with almost every IoT device the first step is to download the Tailwind app from the appropriate app store. 

Before beginning the physical installation of the Tailwind iQ3 you should unplug your garage door opener so there is no chance of the door accidentally being opened, or closed, and potentially causing an injury.  Then you can mount the iQ3 control module.  Typically the control module is mounted on the side of the door opener where the door sensor will be located.  I was installing the Tailwind iQ3 on a garage door opener that required a Tailwind adapter, which was included with my order.  With this adapter the Tailwind iQ3 was going to communicate wirelessly with the garage door opener and there wouldn’t be any direct wiring between the two.  So, I chose to mount the Tailwind iQ3 and the wireless adapter on a piece of plywood that was screwed to the brackets that mounted my garage door opener to the ceiling of my garage.  This seemed to make for a very clean installation.  It also provided easy access for plugging the power supply for the Tailwind iQ3 into the outlet in my garage ceiling.

If your garage door opener doesn’t require a Tailwind adapter then there will be a wire that connects the Tailwind iQ3 to the garage door opener and your decision on how to mount the Tailwind iQ3 will probably be different than mine was.  Tailwind includes a 3M double-stick pad so the iQ3 can be easily mounted to the garage door opener.  The case of the iQ3 also includes slots for using two screws, included in the box, to mount it.  I used these screws to mount mine to the plywood.

Next mount the garage door sensor on the garage door’s J-Track and the magnet that trips the sensor onto the garage door.  Tailwind provided me with the “Pro” sensor that has been designed for installation by integrators.  It very easily clamps to the garage door’s J-Track with a single screw.  The magnet must be mounted on the garage door within two inches of the sensor using either two self tapping screws or a 3M double-stick pad; both of which are included.  If you are using the double-stick pad you will need to clean the mounting area with an included alcohol soaked pad to ensure that the magnet sticks properly.

I chose to mount the magnet with the self tapping screws.  While 3M makes quality products I have simply found that double-stick pads will eventually fail, especially in a hot environment, and there is no chance of the failure if you mount the magnet with the screws.

Tailwind includes a selection of zip ties, self adhesive wire clips, and nail in cable staples for running the cable from the door sensor to the iQ3 controller.  Again, if you use the self adhesive wire clips, you should clean the surface they will be adhered to thoroughly with isopropyl alcohol, or another solvent, that can remove the grease and dirt that can be deposited on surfaces in a garage.  Tailwind only includes a single alcohol pad with the iQ3.  If you used this for the installation of the door sensor you will probably need some additional alcohol and a rag for installation of the wire clips.

If you want the installation to look professional, running the wire from the door sensor to the controller takes a bit of time and care but isn’t difficult.  With the wire plugged into the controller I connected the wireless adapter to the controller using 3M Scotchlok connectors.  If I didn’t need a wireless adapter to connect the Tailwind iQ3 controller to my garage door opener, at this point I would have to connect the two wires from the controller to the same connectors as the wall mounted button in my garage.  Instead, I had to use the learn button on my garage door opener to add the wireless adapter as a trusted, wireless, controller of my garage door opener.

Finally, I connected the controller’s power supply, plugged my garage door opener back in, and the physical installation was completed.  At this point I was ready to complete the rest of the installation process using the Tailwind smart phone app.

The first step when using the app is to scan the QR Code on the back of the Tailwind controller.  Here is an example of how Tailwind has done an excellent job of thinking ahead and taking steps to avoid customer problems with their product.  If you have already installed the Tailwind iQ3 Controller then you can no longer access the QR code sticker on the back of the unit.  However, Tailwind has you covered.  There is a duplicate QR code sticker on the front of the installation manual that is included with the product.

After scanning the QR code, the app takes you through the process of connecting your phone to the Tailwind iQ3 Controller and connecting the controller to your home’s WiFi network.

At this point the app did something unexpected.  It asked me to stand 20 feet in front of my garage door and, using the phone’s GPS, came up with the street address of my home.  Other apps have always required me to manually type in my address.  The rest of the registration process was as expected; including validating my email address and creating a password.

In case you started working with the app before doing the physical installation of the iQ3 controller and the garage door sensor, the app displays videos demonstrating how to perform the physical installation. 

Next the app displayed instructions for where to find the Apple HomeKit setup code in the app in case I wanted to integrate the operation of the Tailwind iQ3 Controller with the Apple Home app.

Finally the app allowed me to do a firmware update on the controller.  At this point there were just a few additional steps to test the installation before the Tailwind iQ3 system was ready for general use. 

The first of these steps was to test the door sensor. This is a very simple process of opening the app, viewing the door’s current state (opened or closed), and using the wall mounted button to operate the garage door while you watch the door’s state update in real time in the app. 

Next you need to test the operation of the door using the app.  When you close the door with the app the iQ3 controller will beep and flash an LED display bar for 5 seconds before closing the door.  This is a safety feature that is required by law to alert anyone who might be standing under the garage door that it is about to close.

Now you are ready to use the system to control your garage door. 

Hands on with the Tailwind iQ3 Garage Door Controller

The vehicle sensors are the real magic of the Tailwind iQ3 garage door control system.  Being able to have your garage door automagically open when you come home and close when you leave is a wonderful feature.  How many times have you wondered, when you are driving away from your home, if you remembered to close the garage door behind you.

Tailwind also makes the process of controlling a garage door using the Tailwind app very easy.  To open/close a garage door you just:

  1. Select the garage door you want to control from the “My Devices” screen in the app
  1. Tap on the image of the garage door.  If it is opened, it will close, and if it is closed, it will open.  The image of the garage door will change in real time to reflect the garage door’s current state.

The Tailwind iQ3 offers a wealth of other features.  There are four different menus in the Tailwind app, which can be a bit confusing.  So, some features may not be apparent when you first start using the product.  I won’t go through each and every menu.  However, there are two key features that almost every homeowner will use.

The first thing most people will do after they have installed the Tailwind iQ3 is to share control of the garage door with other family members.  The Tailwind App makes this a very simple process.  First you select “Share Device” from the menu.  Next simply enter the email address of the individual you want to share control of the garage door with.  An email is then sent, to that person, which includes a link to accept the invitation and a password.  They simply click on the link to accept the invitation, download the Tailwind app to their smart phone, and log into the app as an invited user using their email address and the provided password.  They are then ready to start controlling the garage door.  Tailwind does this, rather than having the person who setup the iQ3 share their username and password so it can include in the history log the name of the person that opened / closed the garage door and on what date / times they performed the action.

“Night mode”, is just as easy to setup.  Again, “night mode” is where the Tailwind iQ3 can optionally be configured to automatically close a garage door five minutes, or another time that you select, after it was opened during the night.  To configure night mode you simply:

  1. Select the time you want night mode to begin
  1. Select the time you want night mode to end

Suggestions for Improvement

The Tailwind iQ3 is a very well designed product.  However, there are a few ways I believe the product could be improved:

1.     You should be able to schedule night mode based on sunrise and sunset.  The times you want the garage door to start automatically closing may be significantly different in the summer time vs. the winter time; when darkness comes so much earlier.

2.     Tailwind should add optional support for viewing the video stream from a camera mounted inside of the garage to the page in the app where a garage door can be opened / closed.  For safety, the Tailwind iQ3 will beep and flash its LED light bar when a door is being closed to alert someone standing beneath the door.  However, being able to see that nobody will be hurt if the door is closed provides an added level of safety when the door is operated remotely using the app.

3.     If the Tailwind iQ3 isn’t successful in closing a garage door then the notification sent to the homeowner’s smart phone should be a high priority notification.  If a homeowner is leaving for vacation the last thing they want to happen is to be several hours away from their home before they realize that their garage door is, for some reason, not closed.

4.     Tailwind includes a double-stick pad for mounting the vehicle sensor in your car.  However, if the pad is used then you can’t access the screws for changing the vehicle sensor’s battery.  Instead, Tailwind should use an adhesive backed metal disk that can be stuck to a surface in your car.   Then a magnet inside the vehicle sensor would allow it to “stick” to the metal disk but be easily removed for battery changes.

5.     Tailwind includes small wire nuts for connecting various wires during installation.  Small wire nuts are not very secure and are rarely used by professional integrators for connecting low voltage wires.  In addition to using their garage as a protected parking area for cars, homeowners use their garage for general storage.  Wires can easily be pulled on when people are moving boxes, gardening equipment, etc. around a garage.  For better physical integrity of the wire connections, “B” connectors (sometimes called “Beanies”), such as these, or 3M Scotchlok connectors, should be provided with the Tailwind iQ3.


The Tailwind iQ3 Garage Door Controller is reasonably simple to install, very simple to use, and offers a wealth of features that will meet the needs of advanced smart home users.  That being said, the optional vehicle sensor is what really set the Tailwind iQ3 apart from the competition.  It can automatically open your garage door when you come home and close it after you leave.  You never have to worry about forgetting to close your garage door again.

Tailwind is also improving the product to better meet the needs of professional smart home integrators, including the addition of the ruggedized, “Pro”, garage door sensor. 

Integration is also a key requirement of professional smart home integrators.  The Tailwind iQ3 already supports many of the most popular, consumer oriented, smart home, ecosystems and the new local control API can be used to integrate the Tailwind iQ3 with professional smart home platforms.


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Leveraging Smart Ceiling Fans for Summer Energy Savings

My latest blog post, "Leveraging Smart Ceiling Fans for Summer Energy Savings" was originally published by the good folks at Residential Tech Today Magazine on their web site here:

Below is a copy of the article.  

Summer is quickly approaching and coming with it will be hot weather and sky high electricity bills from running an air conditioner to keep your home comfortably cool.  According to research done in 2019 by Sense (the manufacturer of the Sense Energy Monitor), a 2,500 square-foot home in Arizona would cost $477 per month to keep cool.  Other states where residents have to pay a high cost for cooling their home are New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, and New York; to name a few.  Homes larger than 2,500 square-feet will cost even more to keep cool.  With this in mind, anything that can be done to lower the cost of cooling a home can save a homeowner a significant amount of money.

Start with the Best Set Point

The U.S. Department of Energy recommends that to balance energy savings and comfort a thermostat should be set to 78 degrees Fahrenheit for air conditioning.  And, again according to the U.S. Department of Energy, each degree the set point on a thermostat is raised can result in a 3% increase in energy savings. 

So, what if there was a way to raise the set point on your thermostat by up to 4 degrees; saving you up to 12% more on the cost of cooling your home, without impacting your comfort.  The good news is that there is a way.

Augmenting Air Conditioning with Ceiling Fans

Everyone knows that on a windy day you feel much colder than on a day where the air is still.  Your body is cooled by the conduction of heat to air molecules.  The more air movement there is the more air molecules come into contact with your skin.  Your body transfers heat to each air molecule it comes in contact with so the more air movement there is the cooler you will feel. 

One of the best ways to create air movement in a home is with ceiling fans.  Ceiling fans are much cheaper to operate than an air conditioning system.  In fact, according to the website

  • “A central A/C unit would cost about $129.60 per month
  • Each ceiling fan would cost about $1.20 per month

That’s a whopping 99% decrease in cooling costs when you use ceiling fans instead of air conditioners.” 

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “If you use air conditioning to cool your home, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort.”  And, because a ceiling fan uses so much less energy than an air conditioner, using a fan this way will minimally impact the 12% savings outlined above.

So, to optimize energy savings:

  1. The air conditioner set point could be adjusted to 82 degrees Fahrenheit
  1. A smart ceiling fan could be triggered to turn on when the temperature reaches 78 degrees Fahrenheit
  1. Occupancy sensors could be used to only operate ceiling fans in rooms that are occupied

The logic to turn on/off ceiling fans as described above would be simple to implement on different smart home processors and hubs.  So, instead I’ll focus on ways of integrating control of ceiling fans into a smart home.

Controlling Ceiling Fans in a Smart Home

Today, Big Ass Fans, Modern Forms Fans, Minke Aire Fans, Hunter, and others offer “smart” ceiling fans.  Hunter smart fans, for example, are compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple HomeKit.

However, replacing a ceiling fan with a “smart” model can be both challenging and expensive.  Fortunately there are ways to make your existing ceiling fan smart.

First, you may be able to replace your wall mounted fan controller with a Z-Wave fan controller that can be integrated with a SmartThings, Hubitat, or other smart home hub.  Leviton and Jasco manufacture Z-Wave fan controllers that can simply replace your existing in-wall, wired, fan control.

Second, if your ceiling fan can be controlled wirelessly, then a Bond Bridge can be used to integrate control with a wide range of smart home platforms.  The Bond Bridge is compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings, and Control4.  In addition, I’ve written a Crestron-Bond Bridge driver that can be downloaded from my GitHub.

With these options, and others that are available, it should be reasonably easy for a smart home owner to integrate their ceiling fans with their smart home processor / hub, add programming rules to use their ceiling fans as a first stage cooling system in their home, and set back their thermostat to save money on their air conditioning.

Additional Steps to Save Even More Money on your Electricity Bill

  1. If you live in an average sized home then set back the thermostat when the home is unoccupied.  The exception to this rule is when the home is very large.  In very large homes it will take more energy to restore the home to a comfortable temperature than is saved by setting back the thermostat.   .
  1. Night time set back.  You can comfortably set back the temperature in your home by a few more degrees at night when you are sleeping.
  1. Shades/Drapes - As much as 20% of summer heat enters a home as sunlight shining through windows.  Covering windows with insulated drapes and shades can minimize this heat gain.  However, leaving your home eternally in darkness doesn’t make sense either.  Using motorized shades/drapes that can be programmed to close when the sun is directly shining through a window, and open when it isn’t, can optimize energy savings.  Not only will this minimize the impact of solar gain from the sun on the electricity required to run your air conditioning, but opening the shades/drapes when the sun isn’t shining directly through a window provides light in the home.  This minimizes the need for turning on electrical lights during the day; a technique called daylight harvesting.

For Crestron programmers I have written code that tracks the angle and elevation of the sun and fully automates the operation of motorized shades/drapes.  The code can be downloaded from my GitHub.

I’ve also written articles on solutions for motorizing existing window coverings as replacing your existing window coverings with smart, motorized versions can be very expensive.  Those articles can be found here and here.


Setting back your air conditioning thermostat to 82 degrees Fahrenheit and triggering smart ceiling fans to turn on in occupied rooms when the temperature reaches 78 degrees Fahrenheit can save upwards of 12% on the cost of cooling your home while maintaining a comfortable environment.  There are a number of solutions for making your existing ceiling fans smart so you won’t have to buy new fans.  


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

How SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 Improves on the Original Motorized Curtain Design

 My latest blog post, "How SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 Improves on the Original Motorized Curtain Design" was originally published by the good folks at Residential Tech Today Magazine on their web site here:

Below is a copy of the article.  

The original SwitchBot Curtain was released through a Kickstarter campaign back in 2019.  It followed the release of the company’s first product, the SwitchBot Bot, which was released through Kickstarter two years earlier.  Both products have been very successful because they solved unique problems in a smart home in a user friendly and affordable way.

For those that aren’t familiar with SwitchBot and their products, the SwitchBot Bot is a small, inexpensive actuator that can be used to press a button and transform a dumb device into a smart device.  The original SwitchBot Curtain is a small robot that mounts onto a curtain rod, or curtain track, and turns almost any curtain into a smart, motorized curtain.  Both devices communicate over Bluetooth and can be operated locally by using the SwitchBot app on a smart phone or the SwitchBot Remote. 

SwitchBot also offers the SwitchBot Hub Mini that integrates these products with a homeowner’s WiFi network and the SwitchBot cloud.  It allows them to be controlled:

  • Remotely using the SwitchBot app
  • Integrated with other cloud connected SwitchBot products
  • Amazon Alexa
  • Google Assistant
  • Siri Shortcuts
  • Other smart home platforms, such as SmartThings, through community developed drivers that utilize the SwitchBot Cloud API (application programming interface).  I developed a free Crestron-SwitchBot driver that utilizes the API.  That driver can be found here.

The original SwitchBot Curtain was compatible with a wide range of curtain mounting solutions including:

  • Curtain Rods
  • U Rails
  • I Rails

However, there were situations where the original SwitchBot Curtain didn’t meet customer expectations; such as on telescoping curtain rods.  So, SwitchBot set out to improve the product.

SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2

The new SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is a 2022 reddot design award winner and improves on the original SwitchBot Curtain’s ability to work with curtains mounted on a curtain rod through a redesign of the mechanism that clamps the motor assembly to the curtain rod.  The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is compatible with curtain rods that are between 15mm and 40mm in diameter (.59 in. – 1.57 in.) and grommet, back tab, tab top, and ring top mounted curtains.  SwitchBot still manufactures the original SwitchBot Curtain for people who have curtains mounted to U rails or I rails.

One of the major selling points of the original SwitchBot Curtain was how easily it could be installed.  The updated design of the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 doesn’t change this.  It can still be installed in only a few minutes.  In addition the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2:

  • Has a rechargeable Internal Battery that Lasts Up to Eight Months on a Single Charge
  • An optional Solar Panel that can extend the battery life even further
  • The ability to Automate Curtains that Weigh up to Seventeen Pounds (8 Kg)
  • Available in White or Black

Hands on with the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2

I tried the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 with tab top and grommet curtains mounted on a 1-1/4” wooden curtain rod.  As I said above, installation is very easy.

  1. The first thing to do before installing your SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is to charge its internal battery.  A USB cable is included in the box for this.  According to SwitchBot it takes 6-1/2 hours for the device to be fully charged.
  1. If this is your first SwitchBot product then you will need to go through the process of installing the SwitchBot app on your smart phone, or tablet, and creating an account.  SwitchBot offers apps for both iOS and Android devices.
  1. Once the app is setup, you start by simply pressing the “+” button in the upper right corner of the screen to add a new device.
  1. Choose the SwitchBot device you want to install from the list displayed on the screen.  In this case I chose “Curtain”
  1. Select whether your curtain opens from one side or whether it opens from the middle.  If it opens from the middle then you will need two SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2s; one for each section of curtain.  In my case I was installing the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 on a curtain that opened from one side.
  1. To connect your smart phone / tablet to the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 over Bluetooth you press and hold down the button on the device for 2 seconds until the device’s LED starts blinking.  Then press the “Next” button on the screen.
  1. Once the connection is made to the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 you will be asked to name the device and select what room in your home the curtain is located.  If you have just installed the app you may not have set up any rooms yet.  If that is the case you can go back and set some up later and then associate this SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 with a specific room by editing its settings.
  1. Next you specify what kind of curtain rod you have (U-Rail, Rod, or I-Rail).  In this case I chose that I had a rod.
  1. Next you choose whether you have the original SwitchBot Curtain or the Curtain Rod 2.
  1. At this point the instructions are customized based on your prior selections.  Because I said that I had a curtain rod, the next step was to choose whether I was had grommet, ring top, tab top, or back tab curtains
  1. For curtains with grommets, SwitchBot requires that plastic clips be attached to each grommet.  These clips are interconnected with plastic ball-chain.  For tab top and tab back curtains there are plastic clips that must be attached to the first three curtain tabs.  All these adapters are included in the box. 

Depending on your choice of curtain type in the prior step, the proper instructions are displayed for installing these adapters and the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 motor on the curtain rod. SwitchBot also provides YouTube videos that demonstrate how to install the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2, and any necessary adapters, on different types of curtains.  They can be found here:

How to install SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 on Grommet Curtains

How to install SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 on Ring Top Curtains

How to install SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 on Tab Top Curtains

How to install SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 on Back Tab Curtains

  1.  Next the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is calibrated so it knows where to move on the curtain rod to fully open, and close, the curtain.  This is accomplished using on screen buttons that move the device to the right, to the left, or pause its movement.  Once the calibration is complete you are ready to start using SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2.

The simplest way to open, or close, a curtain whose operation is automated with a SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is by simply giving the curtain a tug in the direction you want it to move.  The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 senses the tug and then takes over to fully open, or close, the curtain.  SwitchBot calls this feature “Touch &Go” and it can be enabled, or disabled, in the advanced settings in the SwitchBot app.  Be aware, that more that a simple tug is required.  You must pull the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 for more than two inches for it to sense that you want move your curtain.

SwitchBot offers a number of options for automating the operation of your curtains.  First you can simply setup a schedule of when you would like your curtains to open / close.  You choose the time you want this action to take place, whether this is a one time event or on what days of the week you want it to be repeated, the exact position you want the shade moved to between 0% and 100%, and whether you want the motor to operate in Performance Mode or Silent Mode.  Performance and Silent modes offer the homeowner a choice between speed and noise level.  More on this later.  

The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 includes a light sensor that faces outward towards the window where the curtain is installed.  The operation of the curtain can be automated based on the light level being measured by the device.  For example you can choose to open a curtain when the sun comes up and close it when the sun goes down.  A graph of light levels, measured by the light sensor over time, are displayed so you can choose a specific light level that will trigger the action.  For example, for privacy you can choose to close your curtain at dusk vs. when it has become fully dark outside.  This option is currently listed in the app as being in “Beta”. 

If the light level, as measured by the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2’s light sensor, shows a value greater than six in the SwitchBot app, then the SwitchBot Solar Panel can be used to further extend the time before you need to recharge the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2’s internal battery.

You can also set a delay before the curtain is opened or closed.  This is useful as a timer.  For example, if your houseplants appear to need more light you can open your curtain and then create a delay to close it later in the day.  This would allow your plants time to get some needed sunlight and then close the curtain so your home doesn’t heat up too much from the solar gain of the sun shining in through the window.

The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 can be connected to the SwitchBot Hub Mini.  When this is done the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is connected to the SwitchBot cloud.  This opens up additional options for both operating and automating your curtains.  More on this later.

  • You can operate your curtain from anywhere.  Without a cloud connection you are limited to operating your curtain from where your smart phone is able to maintain a Bluetooth connection to the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2. 
  • You can open / close your curtain using Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Siri Shortcuts, and IFTTT.  For example, you can simply say “Alexa, open, or close, [name you assigned your SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2].  There is no need to include the very annoying “Ask SwitchBot to…” 
  • You can integrate the operation of your curtains with other cloud connected SwitchBot devices.  For example you can use a SwitchBot Meter that measures the temperature and humidity in a room to close a curtain if it gets too warm in the room.  This is very easy to setup by simply creating a scene in the SwitchBot app that is triggered when the temperature is above a specific value.  The scene then closes the curtain.

Scenes are very useful for triggering multiple SwitchBot devices with a single trigger.  For example, a scene could be created that closes all the curtains in your home that are automated with SwitchBot Curtains and SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2s when you leave your home.  That scene could also trigger a SwitchBot Bot to press the arm away button on an older security system that doesn’t provide for smart home integration and turn off appliances plugged into SwitchBot Plug Minis.  Scenes can be manually executed through the SwitchBot app or by speaking a voice command to an integrated smart speaker.  They can also be triggered at a scheduled date / time.

Optional Add-Ons

SwitchBot makes a few other products that work with the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2.

  1. SwitchBot Solar Panel – This solar panel is specifically designed to plug into the window facing side of a SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2.  If your window receives adequate sunlight, the SwitchBot Solar Panel extends the time before your SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2’s internal battery needs to be recharged.  The SwitchBot Solar Panel includes its own light sensor so you can still automate the operation of the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 based on light levels with the optional SwitchBot Solar Panel Installed.
  1. SwitchBot Remote – This is a small, two button, wireless remote control that can be linked directly to a SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 using the SwitchBot app.  Once linked, the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 can be operated by pressing the buttons on the SwitchBot Remote.

Impressions and Suggestions for Improvement

Overall the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 worked quite well in my testing.   The SwitchBot app offers a good selection of automation tools that alone will meet the needs of many users.  In addition, adding a SwitchBot Hub Mini greatly expands the value of the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 by offering integration with voice assistants and smart home platforms.

However, the SwitchBot Curtain Bot 2 isn’t perfect and there aspects of the product that people need to be aware of as well as ways it could be improved.

First, I found the process of calibrating the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 so it understands where to move to fully open and fully close a curtain a little challenging.  The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 moves fairly quickly and your finger doesn’t always find the small pause button on a smart phone screen while you are watching the movement of the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2.  Larger buttons, or simply pressing and holding a button to move the device, and then releasing the button to stop it, would be, I believe, much easier to use.

Second, unlike a cord operated curtain track, when the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 closes a curtain it isn’t operating against the outside edge of the curtain; instead it is pushing against the 2nd point where the curtain attaches to the curtain rod.  Because of this, when the curtain is fully opened by the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2, the exposed area of the window isn’t as wide as it would be with a cord operated curtain track that pulls against the outside attachment point of the curtain.  This probably isn’t a problem on larger windows but could be an issue on smaller ones; especially if the window is covered by center open, double-sided, curtains.  This was much more of an issue with tab top curtain I tested with than the grommet curtain because the plastic adapter included in the box for the grommet curtain held the folds of the curtain fairly close together. 

I also found that the combination of plastic clips and ball-chain required for a grommet curtain wasn’t very aesthetically pleasing.  I don’t know what the solution of this could be except to redesign the clips so the ball chain is hidden on the window side of the curtain.  On the other hand, the plastic clips needed for tab top and back tab curtains were almost invisible and no adapters are required for ring top curtains. 

The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 provides two different operating modes; Performance Mode and Silent Mode.  Silent mode is supposed to move the curtain at a slower speed and produce less noise.  However, I found little, if any, difference between the two modes.  The SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is reasonably quite but not silent.  It produces about the same amount of noise as other mid-priced, motorized window covering products I’ve worked with before.  But, the promise of Silent Mode is the ability to operate the curtains in a bedroom without disturbing someone who is sleeping.  SwitchBot simply needs to improve Silent Mode so it fulfills this promise.

Finally, while the cost of a single SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 is quite reasonable for a device that automates the operation of a window covering, the price can quickly add up when you purchase enough of them to automate the operation of a number of curtains in a home and include the accessories.  Based on the list prices shown on the SwitchBot web site (at the time I’m writing this article), a SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 costs $99, a solar panel costs $19, a SwitchBot Remote costs $19, and a SwitchBot Hub Mini costs $39.  To automate the operation of center open, double-sided, curtains could require:

  1. Two SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2s
  2. Two SwitchBot Solar Panels
  3. One SwitchBot remote
  4. One SwitchBot Hub Mini so the operation of the curtain can be integrated with Alexa or other smart speakers / voice assistants)

This would cost almost $300.  SwitchBot does offer some “combo” packages and you would only need a single SwitchBot Hub Mini for your entire home.   However, I believe, the number of combo packages needs to be designed around how people would use the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2 in a home.  For example, SwitchBot should offer center pull combo with two SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2s, two solar panels, and a SwitchBot Remote.  There could also be the ability to add a SwitchBot Hub Mini to any combo for a reduced price to create a starter combo. 

In prior articles I’ve discussed the value of automating window coverings in a home for:

  • Daylight Harvesting
  • Solar Heating in the Winter
  • Preventing Solar Heat Gain in the Summer
  • Glare Reduction
  • Safety
  • Privacy
  • Security
  • Protection of Valuable Furnishings from the Sun

If SwitchBot would offer people some better thought out combo packs and volume discounts so they could save money but purchasing products to automate multiple curtains, it would help people incorporate the above benefits into their smart homes with the SwitchBot Curtain Rod 2.