Anders Brownworth

Technology and Disruption

Proliphix IP Thermostat

My latest toy is a Proliphix NT10e IP Thermostat. It?s essentially a standard thermostat with an IP address and a web server. While a bit on the expensive side compared to your average thermostat, ($299) the ability to control your home heating and cooling system remotely is extremely useful. Traditional ?digital? thermostats never quite got the user interface simple enough to allow the common man to do daily scheduling. It was a little like the user interface nightmare that was VCR programming back in the day. With an IP enabled thermostat, the user interface can be a web browser which is significantly less constrained than the traditional thermostat sporting a 2-inch screen. That said, Proliphix still has done a brilliant user interface design job within the constraints of their 2-inch screen and 5 buttons. Of course it?s nice to be able to set my thermostat from work before I go home so my house is comfortable when I get there, but to me the most significant feature of the thermostat is its API. You can read the temperature from the thermostat (and other temperature sensors available from Proliphix) and set things like a new temperature target on the thermostat or turn on and off the heating and cooling systems. It would be fairly simple to generate graphs with rrdtool showing the temperature over the days. (I already graph temperature this way) You could colorize the graph showing when the heating or cooling systems are on effectively showing your energy usage. Add to that an external temperature sensor and you could show how much energy you expend given the temperature differential between inside and outside. As you can see, the possibilities are literally limitless, even for something as simple as a thermostat. To me, the sooner everything around me has an IP address, the better. Congratulations, Proliphix.

About a year before these thermostats were introduced, I traded several emails with Walter Dray, the President of Proliphix. He was initially focused on more of a commercial offering, but thankfully he has a product that hits the home market as well. I would guess that the typical homeowner with a vacation property will be very interested in this product as well. Given an Internet connection and an IP Thermostat, you could control cost much more effectively across any number of remote properties. Hotels, I would imagine, would also be a major market segment, but I guess that?s no longer ?home? use.

I thanked Mr. Dray for not making the IP connectivity wireless although people in the market were clamoring for that. In my opinion, something that sits on the wall for years and years and controls something that costs money is not worth the risk given the abundance of wireless exploits these days. I?ll endure the 10-minute wiring job for the years of security it will afford me. The convenience of wireless is just not worth the security risk. Then again, people type their passwords on wireless keyboards, so maybe I?m in a minority on this one.

The power for the Proliphix IP Thermostats is some version of Power over Ethernet, (PoE) but it wasn?t immediately evident that the flavor of PoE was a standard. Ideally the thermostats would use industry standard PoE so I could just get a PoE switch to power all the little devices like cameras and phones around my place. I already have 4 Cisco 7960 phones that use PoE, but then again they are Cisco proprietary PoE on those as well! Oh well, we?ll count it as yet another industry that blossomed before the industry specification did. You have to purchase a separate PoE adapter from Proliphix and wire that down to a punch block.

And for that matter, why aren?t the temperature sensors IP based? I understand that it?s a bit expensive, but what about making a temperature / humidity sensor that runs on PoE and has an IP address? That would be very handy in my basement to change a motorized damper setting or to exhaust the hot air in my attic to the outside. I guess it is still too expensive to make a tiny little self contained PoE Linux computer on a chip. Anybody want to help design one? If you could mass produce them in large quantity, they could become very attractive as little hardware web applications!

Proliphix publishes their API on their website. As you would imagine, its an HTTP based API that allows you to read and write just about every variable the thermostat has to offer. I have been working on a home control application that can talk to external devices such as these via a plugin architecture. I?ll be including support for the Proliphix product line as well as several other IP cameras and other devices (temperature / humidity sensors?) as they become available. Aside from simple graphing, creating a system that takes attic, basement and external temperatures into account before deciding to spend some energy making the house a particular temperature could be a money saver. For example, if its very hot outside and in the attic but not in the basement, I may want to only run the air conditioning downstairs because its not cost effective. It may not be worth diverting air upstairs until I run the attic fan for a while to cool down the air conditioning ducts. I think there are large savings to be had through the entire house by having all the little parts work together rather than independently.

The Proliphix Ip Thermostat gets me one solid step closer to the ultimate goal of total home automation. When we get to a point where every light and light switch is an IP device, then I will think we have arrived. Anyone want to work on a simple general IP enabled PoE device?

Picture of NT10e in Operation

Comments (27)

Anders from RTP

Walter Drey, President of Proliphix, just wrote in to add this clarification to my PoE comments:

We carry two lines of thermostats, Basic Series and the Professional Series. We find that the Basic products (NT10e, NT20e) are most often purchased by homeowners for their primary and secondary residences or for their private businesses. The Professional products (NT100e/h, NT20e/h), on the other hand, are sold more exclusively to HVAC dealers and contractors (for light commercial applications) through our growing number of HVAC distributors.

As you know, the Basic Series tstats can only be powered though our low cost Ethernet power injector, our EPA. This method of powering our thermostats is proprietary and was created as a lower cost alternative to true Power over Ethernet (PoE) mid-span power injectors.

However our Professional Series thermostats may be powered by either one of three alternatives. The Professional Series thermostats can be powered by either our EPAs or via network devices (e.g. Ethernet switches and routers) which adhere to 802.3af (PoE) IEEE standard. These models would be designated as NT100e or NT120e ("e" for Ethernet powered).

In addition, the NT100h or NT120h can be powered from the HVAC system directly. In this case, both the "24vAC" and "common" leads from the HVAC system must be present (in most residential settings the "common" lead is not connected or available at the thermostat location).

If you have a PoE switch or router, our Professional Series products would work just fine. Because of the current expense of network equipment which include PoE capability, we don't find much of that technology in residential applications.

John O'Brien from Ottawa / Canada

I was just curious if you had managed to integrate some humidity sensors/controls into this device... It seems silly to not have such a simple and useful feature.

Anders from RTP

I don't have anything working yet, but I have a line on IP temp / humidity sensors, so I'll eventually get there. The question is can they eventually be probed by the Proliphix device directly. Under my setup, I would stat the temp/humidity, read the proliphix settings and maybe write new settings to the proliphix so it's not a true integration. Who knows though, that may change in the future. I've mentioned the idea to the president of Proliphix.

Anders from RTP

I now have some graphing capability going with the Proliphix thermostats. I intend to make the code available to all when I get it a bit more streamlined but I'm not there quite yet.

Anders from RTP

I've just released the source code that creates these graphs in a package called thermostat-graph. Download it an enjoy!

Christian from Berkeley, California, USA

I found this while looking at the gallery for the RRDtool. I've been thinking about using RRDtool to generate graphs for the electricity consumption in my house. I'm about to purchase the Brultech ECM1220.h energy monitor. It doesn't have IP connectivity, but they are coming out with a model that does Zigbee communication. This way you could read it out wirelessly.

I thought you might be interested, since you also seem to have an 'obsession' about logging data and home automation.

Anders from RTP

Christian: Thanks for pointing that out. Looks quite interesting. Of course the lack of IP is disappointing but it looks like you can get the data via USB in realtime so that might be interesting. Anyone played with these yet?

Jason from Kansas City / MO / USA

Great post! I'm just about to buy a house which has 3 HVAC systems. I'm planning to make this a very "Smart" home, and thermostats like this will definitely be on my list. I see that they offer ones now which support POE, but at an additional cost of $100/thermostat. I'll probably just go with the NT20e (so I can add thermal sensors later) and the 6-port power block. I'm hoping to be able to interface the units with a Linux-based system that will be running the brains of the home. A quick read through the software API makes it look like this would be a relatively easy task.

JELo from Sheridan / WY / USA

Have you looked at the Netbotz products? Intended more for sever room monitoring, I collected enough parts off of Ebay to have pods all over the house and garage. The pods are USB but the main unit has an IP interface. Haven't explored all of the options yet but there is quite a range of sensing and reporting capabilities. If only there was a way to combine the Proliphix unit, a Netbotz and maybe X-10 or something. Anyway, just throwing out some other ideas.

Dunc from Philadelphia PA USAa

Thanks so much for putting the graphing app together for the Proliphix thermostats! I'm now running several versions of the app to monitor several thermostats. As I'm running several versions it would be nice if future versions allowed image and database file names could be tokenized. I'm going to poke around in the code a little and see if I can start polling the 2nd remote sensor as I use 2 on all my thermostats. I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but I'm noticing that the heat / cooling indication is not working properly for me. Our thermostats are in an office building and we only run AC. The graphs do not capture all of the ACs' cycles, and occasionally indicate that the heat has come on. Any thoughts on these anomalies? Thanks again,


Anders from RTP

Dunc: Yes, that is a known issue. The problem comes from rrdtool's desire to smooth out the "brick wall" effect. The HVAC state is read from the Proliphix in code. Lets say you get a reading at 10:00AM of the code "2" which means the Proliphix is neither heating nor cooling at the moment. So rrdtool saves this in it's database and a graph is generated. At 10:01AM, the system is cooling so the code returned is a "6". Now when the graph is generated, the blue line should start to show as expected. In the real world, however, the code is returned from the Proliphix at some slight time lag. Lets say that last result is posted 2 seconds after 10:01AM. The graphing run, however, wants to put a pixel at exactly 10:01AM so rrdtool "smooths out" the line between the samples, so we get some value between "2" and "6". As it happens, codes 3, 4 and 5 relate to the heat being on so the graph thinks that the heat was on momentarily and graphs that. I have done my best with MIN and MAX to put that brick wall back in there mathematically though there are edge cases where that doesn't work. Ideas to fix this include using a multiplier that makes the error far less likely or petitioning Tobias Oetiker who wrote rrdtool to add a switch so that feature can be turned off. Either way, there is a way around it. Your code changes are greatly appreciated as well.

James Bathgate from San Bernardino, CA , USA

We're looking to put one of these in our office and build a voting system on one of our servers to talk to the thermostat to set the temperature based upon the median vote since there's so much arguing about temperature in the office. Would this be possible?

Anders from RTP

James: Yes, this would be possible in theory. Aside from just reading the temperature from a Proliphix IP thermostat, you can also write to it. The voting idea is very interesting. The more people you can amass towards your "ideal temperature", the more likely it is to be set there. Then people who are chronically cold or warm could petition others in the office to move their vote in a particular direction. That's a brilliant idea. Let us know if you end up building it!

Scott from Austin, TX USA

Anders, what software/hardware are you using to plot the temperature in your home? I'm very interested in doing this. Have been looking at the Prolifix thermostats as well. It appears they can be used to monitor temperature and humidity (if equipped), but have not seen a third party application that could make use of the built-in sensors. Your original post was in 2005, so I'm interested to know what you are using now and in any recommendations you might have. Thanks!

Anders from RTP

Scott: In general, its just a perl script running on a Linux machine. It drives rrdtool to update the databases and build the graphs. I released the code in a package called Thermostat Graph. Should run in Windows as well but I haven't tried. Best of luck!

Ted from Granger, IN USA

I have been trying to get NT10e stats to show up on the web site without the firewalled label. A sniffer shows me port 80 going out with 4 packets and port 8081 coming back from the server. I am using cisco routers and placed a port forwarding line at the top of the ACL list. But the stats still show up as firewalled. Any suggestions or secrets? ts

Anders from NY

@Ted: I have no idea. Your best bet is to test from the outside on your own rather than trust some external app. Watch the traffic with tcpdump on your internal LAN and see what is or isn't getting through. Best of luck.

Paul Vail from Raleigh, NC

Anders, your Temp/Humidity PoE sensors:

I'd love to find some schematics and learn to build my own, as these could be useful in my crawlspace, attic fan, shed... all over where I might want vent fans to kick on or off depending on system. Leads always welcome!

Anders from NY

@Paul: Thanks for the link. Looks like they have some interesting devices. I have built serial temperature sensors from kits in the past but I'm still interested in the holy grail of IP based power over Ethernet devices.

Erik from CT

@Ted: I just installed two NT10e's and had the same frustration. I'm using a Netgear router with simple port forwarding, so if I forward port 8081 on the WAN address, the LAN address must be listening on the same port. It was not obvious at all (to me, at least) that in this situation, you must set the inbound firewall port and the web server http port to the same port in the thermostat admin. Apparently, the inbound firewall port is just the port that the device reports to the server, the thermostat is not actually listening on that port. Of course, if you can do port mapping on your cisco so 8081 on the WAN address maps to 80 on the LAN address, that should work also.

@Anders: Do you have a link to the API Proliphix publishes? I can't locate it on their site...

Anders from NY

@Erik No, I don't have the API URL. I think they pulled it but I hear you can ask them for it and they will just give it to you.

Yail Bloor from Salt Lake City, UT, USA

I am just beginning to research a system to remotely monitor and control my HVAC system. It seems the Proliphix suits my needs well (hard wired, no required recurring costs), my only real concern is the web based GUI, from what I can tell is overly busy. I'd like to have all that control a layer or two behind a more simple GUI, such as a simulation of the faces of my four thermostats with their current display and the ability to make simple changes from that display... then drill down if needed. Is this somehow a possibility without incurring an additional monthly fee?

Jeff from Alberta

How many sensors can these support?

Anders from Cambridge, MA

I think 2 for the consumer models. There are commercial models that support more but I'm not familiar with that part of the line.

Earl Brendle from Tampa, Florida

The only problem with the Proliphix thermostats is the large deadband especially for 2 stage heating and cooling. It really doesn't work well in the deep south where humidity control can be as important if not more than temperature. It would be great if the 1 stage deadband could be set for +- .5 degree and second stage at +-1 degree. Other than that the thermostat is very workable.

Nick from San Bernardino

Hello Anders,
I just got my second sensor working by modifying your code. Its a bit messy right not, and I am still fine tuning the graph overlaps.
Thanks for releasing your work! If you send me an email I can reply back with the modifications that I have made, if you like.

Tony from Aurora

unable to power the NT10e thermonstat from a cisco 3750 poe 24 port switch. what type of config do you need on the switch port??

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