A New System to Monitor and Control Your House

Whether you own one property, your home, or multiple properties such as a vacation or rental home, you want to protect your property when you are not there. Did the heat fail? Are the pipes freezing? Did the water get above flood stage? Is the drip irrigation system jammed open and running out of control? Is the renter running the AC at 62ºF?

In each of these instances, and many more that you can imagine, a remote monitoring and control system will alert you to such potential emergencies, so that you can take action to prevent loss.

Third Eye Not Blind

Enter FREEVOLVE’S housEvolve. FREEVOLVE defines this product as:
“housEvolve: (n., hous-e-volv) a system that allows you to manage and control your remote property’s environment, such as a business or second home, from anywhere in the world. housEvolve provides comprehensive environmental alerts, such as temperature too low or water presence detected, and provides you with the ability to interact with and control the remote environment;” (FREEVOLVE, 2009).

The housEvolve system provides control and status reporting for HVAC, water levels, and garage door access with a set of modular interconnected controllers.
Panamax BlueBolt

How It Works
The housEvolve modular system comprises a Main Controller and individual modules: a Thermostat (HVAC controller), a Water Presence Detector, and a Garage Door Controller. Multiple individual modules can be linked in a daisy chain configuration. This feature allows, for example, two or three temperature control modules, which may be required in larger homes with plural HVAC zones, to be readily connected to and controlled by the Main Controller.

The Main Controller module gives full remote access to any modules connected to the system

The Main Controller is the central hub for control of the individual modules and provides system reporting and operations and communications to the outside world. In particular, the controller can be accessed via landline telephone to remotely monitor and control the vital statistics of the house. FREEVOLVE chose to make the remote interface via the telephone landlines for a variety of reasons including reliability, cost, and security. Also, landlines are pervasive and provide nearly complete geographical coverage, whereas wireless networks have blind spots, particularly in mountainous or remote areas.

The individual housEvolve modules provide direct control and status monitoring similar to the self standing controllers that are already in many homes for HVAC control and garage door control, but with the added benefit of remote control. Otherwise, these elements of the system should be familiar to most readers.

The housEvolve Thermostat is easy to use, yet gives full temperature control with your fingers.

The housEvolve user gains access remotely by entering a user defined password from the remote handset. During remote operation, communications may flow in either direction: from the Main Controller to the user specified phone number for reporting purposes, or from the user to the Main controller for control activities. The Main Controller can store up to five “trusted” phone numbers as destinations for reporting purposes, and to increase security during access to the password protocol in the case of a forgotten password. Non-“trusted” numbers are also able to access the system by entering the proper password.

Programming the Main Controller uses a five button control keypad on the controller unit combined with a separate numeric keypad. The same programming capability is available from a remote location via the phone line; in which case, an automated voice prompt similar to voicemail systems performs queries for the input parameters. Programming input is relatively straightforward and similar to programming digital thermostats.

All peripherals are programmed and controlled at the central Main Controller. The currently available peripheral modules consist of a Thermostat (HVAC controller), a Water Presence Detector, and a Garage Door Controller. These peripherals allow the user to control the house’s HVAC system, a bank of water sensors and/or water control valves, and the garage door(s).

The HVAC system control is similar to current digital thermostats in form and function, except that it is integrated with the controller. Daily and weekly set point parameters control the house’s climate variation. The Water Presence Detector module employs a bank of moisture sensors to measure for the presence of water in unintended areas. For example, sensors can be positioned in the vicinity of a hot water heater to alert the owner during a water flood situation, such as when the hot water heater leaks. Optional control of two on/off valves for supply lines can be used to avoid significant flooding should tank failure occur while the house is unoccupied. This is a nice feature, since water damage from a hot water tank failure can be a somewhat serious (and expensive) event.

The housEvolve Water Presence Detector will alert you when the water is running out of control.
Yet, really you will be in control with the optional valve shut off feature.

The Garage Door Controller operates in parallel with the house’s existing garage door controller. The installation of this module is in addition to the existing opener, not as a replacement. In essence, this module makes the existing opener “smart” by providing remote control and status reporting capabilities.

Once installed, housEvolve provides the owner with a reliable and secure way to observe the house’s status on demand. Nice; no more lost sleep worrying about frozen pipes. Owners of multiple properties, some of which may be unoccupied for extended periods of time, should find the housEvolve system to be a cost effective and essential component in the house’s utility system. Furthermore, single homeowners should find some of the features, such as the water leak alert, quite valuable.

Room For Improvement
Being a new product concept, housEvolve offers opportunities for improvement and/or enhancement.

The use of a voicemail style interface for remote operation is functional, but could be enhanced by offering control applications to run on Smartphones or on a PC. For example, an iPhone app could show a representation of the Main Controller front panel. That would be a more intuitive remote interface than the voicemail system. Similar interfaces on the PC could offer more sophisticated reporting and status analysis capabilities.

If you forget to close your garage door, the housEvolve system lets you close or open it from any phone.

When first reviewing the housEvolve system, we were concerned that since it may allow access to the house via the Garage Door Controller and provide the potential for hack access. We were concerned that the lack of an option to lock out all but “trusted” phone numbers would allow hacking with an unfriendly incoming call.
Somfy Systems

Anderson Micu, CEO of Freevolve LLC responded to this concern in a statement.

“We went to great lengths to protect the security of our customers and believe the system offer the highest level of protection against unauthorized access, even compared to Internet-based technologies.

“First, access from un-trusted numbers is essential in ensuring the maximum homeowner flexibility in accessing their home’s environment at any time. As a matter of fact, it is the only reason a remote access pass code is even necessary.

“Second, incorrect password entry attempts result in a communication session reset, causing the system to hang up. This feature, in combination with the voice interface used for remote interaction, makes our system immune from automated password capture attempts – not to mention the time constraints and costs placed on the would-be hackers if they attempted to do it in person. Each re-dial involves new connection charges at the originating party, while in-coming calls do not incur charges on a land line. Another issue is that of visibility. A comprehensive hacker attack through an Internet connection, for instance, is virtually undetectable by ordinary users. The same cannot be said for a phone line, tied-up for extended periods.

“Third, the length of the password field places the homeowner in the position to balance security concerns with ease of use in such ways as to best match their individual requirements.

“Since housEvolve only remains connected to the outside world for the duration of a communications session, it is far safer than other technologies. High-speed, broadband Internet connections are far more vulnerable to attack, both because an always-on connection allows automated password capture attempts and because system complexity opens security vulnerabilities at numerous software layers.”

FREEVOLVE seems to have created one of those products that we always needed, but just never recognized. The use of housEvolve for the control and monitoring of remote properties should be considered by owners of multiple properties. Beyond this intended market, this central system may be attractive also to owners of single residences purely for the centralized monitoring and control capabilities that it offers.

The warranty support is handled through their distributor, http://www.diycontrols.com. All FREEVOLVE products are covered against manufacturing defects for a period of two years from the date of purchase.

FREEVOLVE LLC is an American company. “FREEVOLVE LLC is a designer and manufacturer of a new generation of electronic home monitoring systems, improving the way technology is used to protect your home or business. FREEVOLVE was established to offer a home monitoring system that actually allows you to manage your home remotely.” (FREEVOLVE)

Where to Buy
The links* below go directly to the product pages for the FREEVOLVE housEvolve system, saving you time. HomeGear.com makes it easy for you to compare prices.