Brian, our Director of IT & DevOps, is an efficiency guru. He’s constantly thinking about how to automate and make things run faster for our team and our clients by uncovering “a better way.” Not only does he do that every day at FrogSlayer, but it’s on his mind at home as well.
About 18 months ago, Brian began tinkering with his home’s ventilation system to discover energy efficiencies, which soon evolved into turning his entire 2,900 square foot home “smart.” With eight kids and a wife, these practices not only reduced energy usage in the home but have also proven beneficial to his family’s health. Read about the first step in Brian’s “smart house” journey below in, Un-fogging the Bathroom Mirror.
I’m an efficient guy. I like to think out of the box and ask a lot of questions because I believe if you can make something efficient and affordable you can have as much of it as you want – such as comfortable living temperatures in the home without the added cost. With that thought in mind, I began transforming our traditional home into a “smart house.” My ultimate goal for this project was to have comfortable living temperatures in my home to be the norm, not a choice of how much money we were willing to spend.
You know how the bathroom mirror gets fogged up while someone is taking a shower? Well one morning I noticed it and couldn’t get it out of my mind. I began tossing around the idea of if I could get the ventilation system to properly dehumidify the bathroom during showers, maybe I could also heat and cool the entire house through the ventilation system.
First, I investigated the wall switches that ran the exhaust fans in each of the three bathrooms, and soon realized that my family either did not run the fan or ran it for very short or very long periods of time. As a simple solution, I purchased timer switches which allowed the fans to be turned on for a set amount of time. After further investigation, I found it would be better if the fans ran during showers to keep the fog down instead of letting it accumulate and condensate on the mirrors.
To test this theory, I experimented by starting the fan at the beginning of the shower but got pushback from my family due to cold air being pulled into the shower as it was starting up. Installing humidity sensing switches and wiring them next to the fans was the answer. This let the fans turn on by themselves based on the relative humidity setting, fans would start part way through the shower and would run until they passed the set point.
As I was monitoring the system, I discovered that even running the vents during the shower was not enough to keep the bathroom from filling up with fog, especially with five girls sharing a bathroom. A little research revealed that while the standard fans that came with the home complied with code requirements, they were inadequate to keep the humidity level in a bathroom down. A quick search on Amazon led me to these larger exhaust fans that could keep pace with the fog.
After installing the fans, it seemed they started running even when the shower was off – usually on very hot days when I didn’t want to push air out of the house and have it replaced with outside air. A simple solution would have been to keep upping the humidity sensor level, but I knew there was a better way. After investigating, I realized what we really needed was to be able to compare the amount of moisture outside verses moisture in the bathroom air.
This is where our home started becoming smart. I purchased and installed sensors inside and outside that compared the amount of moisture in the air between the two environments. Calculations were then used to determine the dew point so that humidity levels could be compared. Next, we ran new electrical lines to the vents, installed a relay, and wrote code to run the vents. After quite a bit of tweaking to get it to dehumidify the bathrooms, while not overly cooling or heating the house, the system slowly became smart.
We then added a garage door opener to the crawl space we had created when our home was built. In the winter, this air is cold and comes in under the master bath. So, we added a door from the attic to the carport that included a sensor, so we could bring in either hot air to the attic or cold air to the crawl space, depending on whether we are trying to heat or cool the house.
Reaping the Benefits
Beyond energy efficiency, tinkering with my home’s ventilation system has made a huge impact on my son’s Asthma. Older buildings are prone to mold/mildew which causes issues for those with Asthma. It is also theorized that keeping your humidity levels low can keep dust mites from growing. Because of what we have implemented in our home, our goal is to never have those issues.
Overall, this project reminded me that little tweaks to a system can change things for the better. If you keep iterating, testing and seeking feedback, you’ll end up with the best solution for the problem you’re solving plus a few extra benefits. You will need to wait for a future post to learn how we moved from bathrooms to controlling temperature and humidity in the whole house.
If you’re interested in what I used in the project, leave a comment below and I’ll send you the information.