At a home, a weather station measures the ambient weather that defines a homeowners “microclimate”. With that information and a connection to the Internet, various home automation systems can control some home functions in a near immediate response to changes in the weather.

Home Weather Station – Toy or Necessity?

John Johnston | WeatherHawk

Home Weather Station - Toy or Necessity?
by John Johnston,  WeatherHawk

At a home, a weather station measures the ambient weather that defines a homeowners "microclimate". With that information and a connection to the Internet, various home automation systems can control some home functions in a near immediate response to changes in the weather.


As the use of technology expands to enhance the modern home many new products make their début as a "Home Toy". One of those products is the home weather station. When home weather stations first appeared as a home accessory in the late 1990's, they didn't really integrate with a "smart home", they just attached to the roof. Most of the early systems provided a homeowner with a visual display of current conditions outside their own home, and not much more. With that much information a homeowner could talk about "their" weather and decide whether to put on a coat or wear shorts when they took the trash out, but the weather station offered no home control or weather forecast features.

With those limitations, a homeowner's natural question to a home automation installer was: "I can walk outside, or go to the Internet for current weather and a forecast, so why do I need a weather station on my home?" Until recently that was a difficult question to answer, and so home weather stations were principally purchased by technology early adopters and technophiles.

In 2003 the rugged, reliable WeatherHawk (http://www.weatherhawk.com) family of home automation weather stations became available. Since then, WeatherHawk has cooperated with many control system manufacturers to develop a range of drivers that integrate a WeatherHawk to their systems. With full integration now possible, the reasons for including a weather station among the features of a home are legion. What started in the 1990's as a "Home Toy" is now a value producing home enhancement.

Just what is a Home Weather Station and what does it measure?

A home weather station is a suite of sensors connected to a processor that stores the weather measurements in memory, and then it exports that information for use by display software, or other processors.

The sensors measure wind speed, wind direction, outdoor air temperature, relative humidity, barometric pressure, solar radiation and rainfall. The newest systems for home automation are easy to install, maintain and interface with a home; they are reliable and aesthetically acceptable to most homeowners.

 

Typical Rooftop Home Weather Station Installation

You can't do anything about the weather but you can use weather information to control home features and for recreational planning; so a homeowner usually cares about the weather they feel. The weather that a person feels is what defines their microclimate, and so for home automation applications, "It's all about the Microclimate" TM.

What is the Microclimate?

To understand the microclimate you need to know the relationship between "weather" and "climate". Weather is defined as the state of the atmosphere at a specific time and with respect to its effect on human activities. It is also limited to the short term variations of the atmosphere as opposed to the long term variations, which are referred to as "climate". The weather data record defines the climate and the microclimate is simply, the climate of a specific place within the climate of a larger area. Home located weather stations measure the weather, and the data logs they create can be used to describe the microclimate.

Microclimates can be very different from the climate of a larger area. This is evident when you hear the weather report for a large city and note that the conditions in the suburbs or countryside are different than a nearby city. Those differences can be due to the proximity of a large body of water, a forest, or mountains near a home that are not near the city. Larger cities also create their own weather because they are "heat islands" and so a city may, or may not affect a homeowner's microclimate. If a homeowner wants to control home features/functions, or make local plans based on weather, they cannot rely on a regional weather report to describe their microclimate; for that they need a home weather station.

How can a homeowner use the weather for Home Control?

At a home, a weather station measures the ambient weather that defines a homeowners "microclimate". With that information and a connection to the Internet, various home automation systems can control some home functions in a near immediate response to changes in the weather. In addition, any one of several independent weather services can predict the weather at that home for 5-10 days into the future to facilitate homeowner recreational planning.

WeatherHawk weather stations are now fully integrated with AMX, Crestron, Control4, CorAccess, and HAI (via CorAccess); with integration to élan, Motorola and RTI systems available in the near future. Integration of the weather station to the home control/automation system enables a range of features including:

  • Control of window covers in response to sunlight, to protect expensive carpets and furnishings from the effects of UV
  • Control of sidewalk lighting, walkway and driveway heating in response to sunlight and air temperature.
  • Optimization of pool and spa heating in response to air temperature.
  • Control of storm shutters, sprinklers and fountains in response to wind speed and direction.

This WeatherHawk closes Storm Windows during High Winds

For homeowners that travel, or those that have more than one residence, the current weather conditions at a home can be automatically updated on their personal websites for access over the internet. The weather information display can even have a Netcam image embedded within it so that the viewer can relate the information to a visual image of the current weather.

Typical Owner Webpage Display of Weather

 

Webpage Incorporating a Netcam

How can a Homeowner gain Value from a Weather Station?

One of the most exciting new features for automated homes is the advent of internet implemented ET (evapotranspiration) based landscape irrigation control. Localized ET based irrigation control has been used for many years by public parks and large golf courses to efficiently manage water use but it hasn't been available for any but the largest estate homes. This method of irrigation management can save 30-50% in water use but it formerly required an expensive and very sophisticated control system. Internet based irrigation control technology eliminates most of the cost and places this level of precision irrigation system management within reach of the typical automated home.

The usual residential irrigation system is timer based, and this requires seasonal user adjustment to assure proper operation. Timer based systems are not based on demand and users typically over-water to assure healthy landscaping. That expensive excess water is lost to infiltration and evaporation, and wasted with no benefit to plants. ET based systems, such as one from AccuWater (http://www.accuwater.com), measure change in the microclimate and calculates water use on a daily basis to dynamically manage each irrigation zone in response to the weather. The AccuWater system takes into consideration the species of plant or turf ground cover, soil characteristics and microclimate information, and then it uses the existing irrigation system to replace water lost by evaporation and transpiration. An ET based system is self-adjusting throughout the year, resulting in significant water savings and lower maintenance costs. A home weather station, connected to the Internet, enables this function for any home at a reasonable price because the need for a sophisticated in-home irrigation control system is eliminated.

In a large planned community, a single weather station, installed in a common area and connected to the Internet, can be used as the weather information input to an IP based irrigation management system for all homes within that microclimate.

For homes or communities in arid climates, and those that face landscape water use restrictions, a weather station connected to ET based irrigation control can mean the difference between a green lawn and a dustbowl in a dry year.

How does a Homeowner get a weather forecast using their Home Weather Station?

Home weather stations cannot accurately forecast weather because a forecast is based on information from a variety of weather information sources. However, a home weather station can "become" one of those sources and obtain a professional forecast from any of several weather services over the Internet. The homeowner only needs a connection to the Internet, and with their WeatherHawk software they can register their weather station and configure it to feed data to those services. In return the weather services will create an on-line webpage for that weather station, complete with the current weather information and a forecast for that home microclimate. This information is entirely FREE because the weather services want your local data as much as you do.

What should I look for in a Home Weather Station?

To gain the most value for the investment in a weather station a home owner needs a system that will:

  • Seamlessly connect to their chosen home control system.
  • Connect to the Internet directly, or with software that runs on their home control system, or their home PC.
  • Be supported by their home automation contractor.
  • Have minimal maintenance and no user calibration requirements.
  • Meet the architectural compliance requirements of many neighborhoods.
  • Have a range of mounting options.

WeatherHawk (http://www.weatherhawk.com) offers two distinct families of home automation weather stations. The first family consists of the industry standard WeatherHawk Model 232, and wireless Model 916 systems. The second family consists of the new Series 500 WeatherHawk Model 510 and wireless Model 520 systems.

Standard WeatherHawk

The industry standard Model 232 and 916 systems were the first family of weather stations introduced to home automation applications by WeatherHawk. They are an industrial grade system, originally designed for use on golf courses and they have been adapted to home automation applications by changes in the firmware. Model 232 and 916 systems have conventional sensors consisting of rotating anemometer and wind direction sensors, a tipping bucket rain gauge, a pyranometer (solar radiation sensor), a temperature compensated barometer, a temperature sensor, and a relative humidity sensor, all fully integrated into an easy to install sensor platform. These standard WeatherHawk systems interface with most home automation/control systems, offer Internet data display features and they will connect to ET based irrigation management systems. These rugged, cost effective sensor platforms are fully maintainable at the home, with a typical service interval of 18-24 months depending on site conditions.

Series 500 WeatherHawk

The new Series 500 WeatherHawk Model 510 and wireless 520 systems were designed specifically for home automation applications based on over two years of homeowner and installer input. They significantly increase reliability and time between maintenance because they do not have any moving parts. The typical time between service requirements is 3-5 years, depending on site conditions.

WeatherHawk Series 500 wind speed, wind direction and rain sensors use the latest technologies to improve measurement precision and minimize or eliminate any requirement for maintenance. Mechanical, rotating wind sensors, such as those used on older weather station designs can freeze in place, or become encrusted with rime ice. For cold regions the Series 500 weather station sensor head has a thermostatically controlled heater element that assures accurate wind measurements to temperatures of -40 C. The most amazing new sensor measures rainfall with a solid state piezoelectric surface that counts the individual raindrops and their intensity, eliminating the mechanical switches that can fail in a conventional tipping bucket rain gauge.

WeatherHawk Series 500 weather stations will also usually meet the aesthetic requirements of any but the toughest architectural restrictions because they do not look like a conventional weather station.

Author: John Johnston is Product Manager for the WeatherHawk Division of CSI (http://www.weatherhawk.com), manufacturer of the WeatherHawk standard and Series 500 home automation weather stations. Mr. Johnston has been involved in product development and business development for over 30 years with experience in the offshore oil industry, agricultural and environmental instruments, and consumer electronics.


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