The best DIY electrical engineering projects are effective, simple, and inexpensive. Devlin Gualtieri’s design of a wireless water alarm, which he describes in Circuit Cellar’s February issue, meets all those requirements.
Like most homeowners, Gualtieri has discovered water leaks in his northern New Jersey home after the damage has already started.
“In all cases, an early warning about water on the floor would have prevented a lot of the resulting damage,” he says.
You can certainly buy water alarm systems that will alert you to everything from a leak in a well-water storage tank to moisture from a cracked boiler. But they typically work with proprietary and expensive home-alarm systems that also charge a monthly “monitoring” fee.
“As an advocate of free and open-source software, it’s not surprising that I object to such schemes,” Gualtieri says.
In February’s Circuit Cellar magazine, now available for membership download or single-issue purchase, Gualtieri describes his battery-operated water alarm. The system, which includes a number of wireless units that signal a single receiver, includes a wireless receiver, audible alarm, and battery monitor to indicate low power.
Because water conducts electricity, Gualtieri sensors are DIY interdigital electrodes that can lie flat on a surface to detect the first presence of water. And their design couldn’t be easier.
“You can simply wind two parallel coils of 22 AWG wire on a perforated board about 2″ by 4”, he says. (See Photo 1.)
He also shares a number of design “tricks,” including one he used to make his low-battery alert work:
“A battery monitor is an important feature of any battery-powered alarm circuit. The Microchip Technology PIC12F675 microcontroller I used in my alarm circuit has 10-bit ADCs that can be optionally assigned to the I/O pins. However, the problem is that the reference voltage for this conversion comes from the battery itself. As the battery drains from 100% downward, so does the voltage reference, so no voltage change would be registered.
“I used a simple mathematical trick to enable battery monitoring. Figure 1 shows a portion of the schematic diagram. As you can see, the analog input pin connects to an output pin, which is at the battery voltage when it’s high through a series connection of four small signal diodes (1N4148). The 1-MΩ resistor in series with the diodes limits their current to a few microamps when the output pin is energized. At such low current, the voltage drop across each diode is about 0.35 V. An actual measurement showed the total voltage drop across the four diodes to be 1.33 V.
“This voltage actually presents a new reference value for my analog conversion. The analog conversion now provides the following digital values:
“Table 1 shows the digital values as a function of battery voltage. The nominal voltage of three alkaline cells is 4.75 V. The nominal voltage of three lithium cells is 5.4 V. The PIC12F675 functions from approximately 2 to 6.5 V, but the wireless transmitter needs as much voltage as possible to generate a reliable signal. I arbitrarily coded the battery alarm at 685, or a little above 4 V. That way, there’s still enough power to energize the wireless transmitter at a useful power level.”
Gaultieri’s wireless transmitter, utilizing lower-frequency bands, is also straightforward.
“Photo 2 shows one of the transmitter modules I used in my system,” he says. “The round device is a surface acoustic wave (SAW) resonator. It just takes a few components to transform this into a low-power transmitter operable over a wide supply voltage range, up to 12 V. The companion receiver module is also shown. My alarm has a 916.5-MHz operating frequency, but 433 MHz is a more popular alarm frequency with many similar modules.”
Gualtieri goes on to describe the alarm circuitry (see Photo 3) and receiver circuit (see Photo 4.)
For more details on this easy and affordable early-warning water alarm, check out the February issue.
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