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Monitoring a Rental by Internet

As newbies, we had a number of concerns when we first were contemplating getting a townhome and renting it out. We wanted a rental property that doubled as a second home in a ski resort with great summer activities, so right off the bat we were facing a long-distance choice. Winter Park, our first choice and where we ending up buying, is a minimum 12-hr drive from our main residence.

Heat, and the loss of it, was my biggest concern. Rental units stand idle much of the time. When not rented, we did not want to pay for heating up unoccupied space. Turning down the thermostat meant that renters and ourselves would also enter a cold unit, with the need to wait hours until the temperature got comfortable again. We could pay someone to go to the house and turn up the thermostat before arrivals, but that is just one additional cost on top of the other costs of a rental unit. And, losing heat can mean frozen pipes or even worse.

I had heard that Internet-based thermostats were starting to prove useful and reliable, but it was difficult to learn much or gain confidence they could be relied upon. Also, everywhere I looked, it seemed pretty complicated how to install and monitor one of these units.

I tend to do much research on the Web before major acquisitions, and while an Internet thermostat has a relatively low initial cost, a poor choice can have big financial impacts. I also wanted to do the work myself so I could properly install and maintain the unit.BAYWeb Thermostat

After much investigation, I chose the standard model of the BAYweb thermostat (part number: BW-WT1-[COLOR]). It can be used with conventional single stage heat and/or cool systems. It supports unlimited X10 wireless, and one wired alert inputs. BAYweb also has heat pump-capable thermostats and commercial units. I paid $222 on Amazon last December (can get it now for $195).

I was attracted to BAYweb because of its clean wall thermostat design and the fact it offers a free online monitoring site. Via your own personal thermostat site you can monitor inside and outside temperatures, set various duty cycles, keep logs of performance and use, and, of course, best of all, change your temperature settings and schedules at will.BAYweb thermostat monitor

I was a bit intimidated by the actual thermostat controller unit and did not like the fact that the standard configuration uses a dedicated cable or a recommended power line carrier over the in-house wiring system to communicate between your Internet router and the controller (which needs to be located adjacent to your heating system). The actual thermostat controller then communicates with the wall thermostat via your existing thermostat wiring. Direct wiring was out and I had used power line carriers in the past and wanted to stick with standard WiFi. Despite finding no examples of others who had tried this configuration, I figured so long as I could get the Internet signal to the controller I should be able to replace the powerline carrier with a WiFi adapter. I thus purchased a Netgear universal WiFi adapter for $50.BAYweb energy monitor

The instructions were clear about how to install the units. But, I took my time to make sure the unfamiliar connections were done right. I installed the thermostat controller unit and WiFi adapter on their own mounting board in the utility room. After a few hours of careful steps, the thermostat came up immediately once I plugged in all units.

Aside from one power outage that took out all Internet service and required a proper sequenced reboot, the system has been online and working flawlessly for months. I also put in a motion sensor for another $8 which is another great way to monitor the unit when unoccupied. I have had a couple of offline notices on my BAYweb monitoring, but that has not affected my standard schedules.

I also like the fact that we can set our unit such that renters can completely override the settings to set their own comfort levels. I always liked that when we have rented, and we can always set the temperature back to where we want it after the renters depart.

So far, the Internet thermostat has proven to be the perfect answer to my main opening concern.

Update: After a Year

In the time since we first installed the BAYweb unit we have had no problems, save one. When we installed the wall thermostat, we strictly followed instructions. However, during the dry Winter months we found that users adjusting the thermostat could generate static electricity and cause the system to trip. To restore proper operation, it was necessary to power down and then power up the unit. This was difficult for renters to diagnose and hard for us to do remotely.

The fix was found in this service alert from BAYweb that describes how to ground the wall thermostat. After making this fix, we have had no further problems.

Why Not the Phone, Too?Ooma Telo Unit

Well, once we got hooked on the thermostat and motion monitoring, we also decided to swap out our local phone service with an Ooma Telo unit (over the Internet) with free home service. You can get your own phone number, and the system offers all of the standard goodies including phone messaging, etc. For a nominal monthly fee (that we don't use), you can also get caller ID and other services. You can pick up a Ooma unit for a one-time fee of about $179.

The net result is that our townhome is now completely powered by the Internet and satellite (for full house HD television). Pretty cool. Or, should I say, hot!