This page is about remote monitoring of temperature at my cabin, and the protection I get from a heater cable on my Well-line. I’m focused on using real data to make objective decisions on draining the water system. In the Adirondacks the classic time to shut off water and winterize is Columbus day weekend. I’m not aiming to have a four-season camp but I think that date can safely be pushed back a month.
The take away point from this page is that you can use a low cost USB Temperature sensor to figure what is happening inside a cabin or vacation home and how the inside reacts to temperature trends outside (accessed on Weather sites). All assuming you already have internet and a basic PC at your second home. Where you put the sensor is up to you, as long as the USB cable reaches. I have the USB sensor on my well line right now as the base station of my weather station measures temperatures inside the cabin. Come summer I may switch to an attic sensor.
My goal is to know that protective measures like pipe heaters are working, and to establish when camp season is truly closing down. I’m obviously into remote monitoring but a literal freeze alert system seems silly. I’m a hundred miles away. There is nothing much I can do immediately if there is an alert. I looked at products like the ‘intermediate freeze alarm’ with action thresholds programmable: OK, usable but over a hundred bucks vs. $15 for the cheap USB sensor I’m using. I have the same problem with cellular devices from Marcell, and the extra one that my second home lies in a cellular dark-zone.
Cabin & Vacation Home Remote Monitoring of Temperature: Hardware
You need a 24/7 internet connection to manage remote monitoring of your cabin or vacation home. I am using DSL on regular copper telephone lines. I don’t have a regular phone, just the data option, and I use an internet VOIP phone that has 911 service. I have a PC at the camp and the USB temperature sensor is plugged into that. I am in a cellular dark-zone so I need phone or internet access for remote temperature monitoring and for any type of freeze alert.
One caveat about the USB temperature sensor: You can’t get useful data if you plug the USB device directly into a computer case because the probe picks up heat from the innards of the box. You need an un-powered hub or a male A to female A USB extension. I am using the latter to reach down to my sensor location on the Well line. My PC is a small refurbished Dell but before that I was using a netbook. The PC doesn’t need a great specification to manage IP addresses and a temperature probe. The DSL router/modem is more important, mine currently is from Frontier, my TelCo.
I’ve gradually figured out what is likely to block my internet link from home to the cabin. My ‘server’ PC is on a UPS to survive short power outages, but I also configured the PC to restart after a power outage shutdown (you just have to toggle a setting in the BIOS). My router/modem sometimes hangs and I am not around to reboot, so its on a timer that turns it off for a minute once a week as a remote-recovery measure.
Remote Temperature Monitoring for a Second Home: More Tech!
My DSL modem labors mightily with various data streams: weather from a Vantage Vue weather station, Video from multiple cameras and a simple USB temperature sensor that is strapped to the above ground section of my insulated well line. There are three IP cameras sending out video streams. I have pages on using internet cameras for remote cabin security monitoring and about my cameras. There is a post about my Davis Vantage Vue 6250 weather station, purchased for remote monitoring of weather. This year I added the cheap USB temperature sensor when I rehabbed the insulation on the above ground line from the well.
The weather station and its base unit measure conditions inside and outside the cabin, respectively. The probe on the well line tells me how that is doing with or without a pipe heater cable running, though next fall I will turn it off after I drain the Well-line. If you don’t have a weather station outside your cabin or vacation home then you can can access the slightly less custom data off weather sites like Weather Underground (BTW: you can check if someone nearby has a weather station registered to that site).
TEMPer USB Temperature Sensor Software for Remote Monitoring
The USB temperature sensing device comes with TEMPer software on a disk. Folk complain about not being able to make the software run, I had to use an old trick of copying to a flash drive (or hard drive) then running the install. You can try a download. Its best unzip the software package on your desktop if that is where you want to run the program from an icon. You can set the TEMPer program to run at startup.
The TEMPer software will email you temperature updates at regular intervals from your cabin or vacation home to a specified email account. That is the option I found useful. In the setups you appear to be emailing yourself a message. There is an option to send at a threshold at what a screen calls Hysteretic temperatures: I guess a Chinese programmer was writing English from a dictionary. You essentially can configure the software to be a Freeze alert with a 32F setting. The snag is you can’t do a low temp alert AND time based alerts. I prefer regular updates as I don’t trust the program enough to let it just make a one-time freeze alert call if the sensor gets cold. You won’t get a message if the power goes out which means you would not get a freeze alert, with timed messages at regular intervals you can get a feel for the occurrence and duration of power blackouts.
There is a free software alternative called ThermoHID, from a guy in Britain, that works with the temperature sensor. It does better graphs for temperature vs time on the host (cabin) PC. You can remote log-in on the cabin PC with TeamViewer (free for home use), but that is clunky. I couldn’t make the ThermoHID email work (it got banned as spammy on Gmail). The software options for the temperature probe are all cheap and nasty but one can live with them.
Data Logging Temperatures Inside, Outside and Under my Cabin
I’ve been logging camp temperature numbers manually several time a day off of the weather station and the TEMPer Well-line emails, I used that for the full month graph. Thirty-minute data is automatically archived on the WeatherLink site for the Vantage Vue – that is where I sourced data for the single day.
Looking at one day in October, you can see the cabin was staying above freezing in the overnight hours while it was below 25F outside. Some of that may be from insulation but there is some passive solar heating: There is a south facing glassed in veranda that lets the inside get a extra boost in the afternoon. I won’t say the cabin is well insulated. I’ve worked on Roxul in the attic but the wall and floor are poorly insulated.
The traditional water-off day in my camp’s area is Columbus day but you can see in the graph for October that the cabin interior only flirted with 32 F (Freeze Alert!) on one night. That is information you wouldn’t have with just weather data, since the outside was at freezing at 9am on at least 3 days.
I turned on both the well line heater and temperature sensor on Columbus day weekend the heater line is suppose to cut in at 44F. You can clearly see in the last week of October the Well-line’s insulated box was kept above 43F, well above freezing, during a cold spell.
I plotted January interior and exterior 9am temperatures from the camp weather station set-up and from the USB sensor on the empty water-line. In early January you can see the cabin inside is following the outside down in a cold spell, but its lagging behind. In the January cold spells the drained Well-line,with the pipe heater cable off, was warmer than either the cabin or the outside come morning. The goal of my Well-line insulation was to both keep the cold winds out with the outer box and the warmth in with the insulation. I’m now thinking there is some protection simply from an earth tube effect – warm air from down in the ground coming up that 4″ corrugated tube visible in pictures from when I had done the line repair.
How Does Remote Monitoring my Cabin Temperature Help Me?
I’m no longer rolling the dice on the well line since it has an Easy Heat pipe heater cable. The USB temperature sensor I included in the well line insulation shows the well line held at >40F after I turned it on Columbus day in October. That includes a cold spell in late October when the well line box was distinctly warmer than the inside of the cabin. I had pipe warmers running under the sink but they were probably not necessary this year.
I drained the water system and well line around Veterans’ day weekend and I’m not going to push my luck too far – by Thanksgiving it gets chilly and you are fortunate if it is a warm weekend. There is also the risk a prolonged power outage – if conditions are bad enough to kill the power for more than 12 hours then they are also bad for a trip north. Plus, I don’t want it freezing outside when I’m trying to winterize with a hose running out the door.