Ulrich Spizig's IoT Smart Socket Chatbot Slashes Summer Gas Bills by Two-Thirds

Having found a hot water pump running even when it wasn't needed, Spizig set about making it smarter — and more eco-friendly.

Maker and self-described "nice nerd from Stuttgart" Ulrich Spizig has tackled the rising cost of energy directly, building an Internet of Things (IoT) chatbot-controlled interface for a hot water heater — and in doing so slashing the amount of gas used by two-thirds.

"As you may have noticed, gas prices in Europe are going nuts in 2022 due to [the] war in Ukraine," Spizig writes. "In our apartment we talked with our neighbors [about] how we can reduce our gas usage. One reason was gas prices, the other was: how can we reduce the gas usage for becoming more eco-friendly."

First, Spizig needed to find out where wastage might be occurring in the heating system. A hunt around the apartments revealed a clue: walls that were warmer than others. Further investigation revealed the presence of hot water central heating pipes in the walls, running to radiators — but, for some reason, still hot during the summer, when all the radiators were turned off.

"How can we reduce this kind of useless energy in summertime," Spizig asks. "This warm water lines are just warming up our apartment in summertime. The reason for this hot water line was a circulating water pump that was constantly pushing warm water. This water line was not isolated and therefore heating up our walls."

The solution: adding control via the Internet of Things. A Sonoff smart switch was connected to the pump, allowing it to be turned on and off at will. When programmed with a simple timer, the impact was immediately obvious: the gas usage dropped a whopping 40 percent compared to the original constantly-running pump.

That wasn't enough for Spizig, who decided to take the project one step further and program a Telegram chat bot interfacing with the smart switch via an Arduino sketch. "Each user in our apartment can switch on the warm water whenever he/she needs warm water. This may be needed for showering, washing dishes. This switching on is done with your personal mobile and the Telegram chat app."

With the chat app in place, gas usage plummeted still further: by the time the project was finished, Spizig and neighbors had reduced the gas usage by an impressive 67 percent — dramatically lowering the bill at a time of high energy prices while preventing over 1,900kg of carbon dioxide emissions.

More details on the project are available on Spizig's Hackaday.io page; the chatbot source code, meanwhile, is available on GitHub under the reciprocal GNU General Public License 3.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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