The Shouse Tech (Part One – what does it do?)

The Shouse Tech (Part 1)

This is the first in a series of articles that explain the technology that is used to automate and manage our shed-house (the Shouse). In this article I will provide an overview of what they systems do and how we interact with them.

The Shouse From The Air

The Shouse From The Air

So what do the systems do for us?

The design goal was to have the everyday management tasks taken care of automatically and without any intervention from us. They should operate autonomously whether we are on site or across the other side of the country.

These tasks include:

  • Monitoring the amount of water in each of the storage tanks and turning on the bore pump (located 600m away from the shouse) if the tank levels fall below a set point.
  • Managing the watering of the grass, orchards and gardens.
  • Managing power usage, solar system performance and battery state and health.
  • Managing the security and reporting any potential issues.

All of these things sound very straight-forward and fairly simple. For example a simple ball valve could be used to control the tank levels … but there are good reasons why we opted for a more complex solution.

Let me explain in more detail what the water system manager actually does…


  • It monitors the water level in the bore (ie the number of cm of water above the submersible pump) to make sure we are not over-taxing our bore. It automatically logs the water level every hour and reports any significant changes that may indicate something is going wrong. We can also log and understand seasonal changes in the ground water levels. (I can tell you that it is quite a trick to electronically monitor water levels in a bore pipe that is 150mm in diameter and 10m deep).
  • Depending on the level of water in the bore, it changes the maximum number of liters of water it will pump out of the bore each day.
  • The system considers the time of the year and the likelihood of a storm and changes the maximum tank fill level accordingly (to leave room in the water tanks for rain water).
  • The system logs daily water usage and reports unusually high or unusually low water usage. It also alerts to potential leaks and blockages in the irrigation system (for example if a irrigation section used 35 liters per minute yesterday and 55 liters per minutes today – might be a broken pipe).
  • The water system calculates sunrise and sunset times and changes its behavior accordingly (for example, it will not allow the solar bore pump to start until 90 minutes after sunrise, this prevents tens of pump on-off cycles when the sun is low and too weak to properly drive the pump).
  • The system is self-monitoring and to some degree self-healing. For example, if the system loses network connectivity, it will try restarting its Ethernet adapter, if that does not resolve this issue it will try powering off the Ethernet switch and if this fails to solve the problem it can restart the modem. If all of this fails, the system goes into “disconnected mode” and does its best to make intelligent decisions while isolated from the network.

This is just a fraction of the functions that the water management system performs each day. As you can see, this is well beyond what could be achieved with a simple float valve.

The interface

We wanted to stay informed about how the various systems are operating and be alerted if things went wrong. To facilitate this I developed a web interface that allows us to not only monitor all major functions, but also make changes from anywhere in the world.

Overview Page

Overview Page

Weather Info

Weather Info

Power Control

Power Control

In addition to the web interface, a dedicated alert system receives data from all sensors and makes decisions about what we may need to know about. Alerts are given a rating of 1 – 5.

#1 is a general log event with no associated risk. These are stored on the local micro controller only and are used only for debugging.

#2 is a general “good-to-know” event (for example the battery bank is full). These are logged to a server and can be easily accessed, filtered and searched from any device (phone, tablet, PC). These messages are useful for determining what lead to a more serious event or just keeping an eye on things.

#3 is an alert event – these are pushed to our devices (phones and tablets) much like a text message. These messages are silent.

#4 is an important alert that does not require immediate action. These messages are silent at night.

#5 is an emergency event that requires immediate attention. Message sent at this level are always audible and remain audible until acknowledged. An example of a #5 event might be a suspected broken water pipe or seriously low battery voltage.

In the second of these articles, I will explain the hardware that is used for these systems.

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4 Responses to “The Shouse Tech (Part One – what does it do?)”

  1. Russell Says:

    Hi Gavin. I have been reading your posts and stories about your travels for several years and found them to be very informative and a lot of useful tips and hints for a motorhome builder. Now here is the big question. What do you do for hot water in Hobohome?? And now that “Shouse” is finished what is in use in there? P.S. I have a 1982 38foot Denning Denflex powered by a 6v53 Detroit with a snail coupled to an Allison 4 speed auto. It’s a “WIP”. Work in progress.

  2. Hobo Says:

    Hi Russell,
    Hobohome has an instant gas water heater. I think we paid about $120 for it 3 years ago (on eBay). It replaced the Bosch instant gas unit that finally died after over ten years of service.

    Water heating in the Shouse is a bit more complex (as I’m sure you guessed :-). We have a 320 ltr storage cylinder that holds water heated by a 22 vacuum tube solar collector. At this time of the year the system normally shuts down around midday due to the target storage temperature of 80degC being reached (this 80deg water is automatically mixed with cold to deliver water to the house at a constant 50deg – so 320 ltrs of 80degree water is a LOT of 50degree water).
    The output of the storage cylinder can be directed (by turning a valve) to a gas instant booster unit (on the way to feeding the house). This is a backup for use only if we ever find that solar is not providing enough hot water (winter??). I also have plans to dump excess solar energy from the solar array into the cylinder at some stage. I want to see how the solar only heating goes in winter before going down that road. At this stage I think it is very unlikely to be required.

    If in winter we still have excess hot water, I have a plan to direct water to a couple of radiators inside the house to provide some additional heating. Again, I will have to wait and see.

    When is your motorhome WIP due for completion?

  3. Steve Kruger Says:

    Hi Gavin, my wife and I also live in a “shed” on 2.5 acres of bush in Brisbane. We have a 100,000 litre tank that is filled from roof gathered rain water. As we travel for many months of the year I want to set up an irrigation system that can be remotely monitored and controlled. Your system sounds very good. Did you ever do any more tech articles on the shed and irrigation systems.
    I guess you didn’t fid any interface systems that came up to scratch so you developed your own. Anything come close?

    Great work on the Shouse…looks good and gives us some good ideas.

  4. Hobo Says:

    Hi Steve,
    We just love the shed house – it has worked out very well. We are just in the process of developing the next (and last?) round of additions that will include a conservatory, a tractor implement shed and a propagation area for Tracey.
    I always planned to build my own internet based irrigation system, so did not look too hard at commercially available systems. I did have a look at one (mainly to get ideas) a few months ago – an Australian company that had a system that did much of the same thing as mine. I can’t remember the name, but a Google search for “Australian Internet Watering System” should find them. They used internet based weather forecasts to predict when watering would not be required. This would not work here as we often get huge storm systems that come very close, but deliver very little water. You need a weather station with rain gauge on site (as we have).
    I have not written any more on the tech of the Shouse as I think it has a very small audience – I am however very happy to answer any questions.

    If ever you are up this way, give us a shout, I’d be very happy to show you around the Shouse and its systems.

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