Smart Home on Wheels

I’m working on a series of articles called Smart Home on Wheels that aims to take a reader through the steps to make their RV a mobile workstation and entertainment center. I had looked at a lot of options, but I’ve come to the conclusion that using a few Raspberry Pi 3’s with other devices in the wifi network would be the best bet with openHAB. However, I don’t have any experience with openHAB as I just found it a few days ago.

I have to get all the hardware, so I figured I’d ask you all what would be the best to make everything work together. I’m going to have a Pi Zero W with a couple temp sensors at different heights and one outside. That’s easy enough. I’m also going to have a File Server Pi, a Media Server Pi, a VPN/Router Pi, a openHAB Pi, and finally one (maybe more) core unit that processes all the data and uploads it to one of my websites so I can access everything behind a login/pass so I can see the temp and control everything remotely.

Now, I have no idea if I can do this. I’m looking for DC devices because the things like lights are DC powered in an RV. I’m going to be adding more batteries soon and I’ll have the Pi’s and everything else I can run off that directly so it has power all the time. We will be adding solar as well, so I’m hoping we never have to worry about the LTE modem, and thus the whole networks connection to the internet, going out.

I was drawn to openHAB because of the ability to work with smart devices across the range. I don’t want to be limited to HomeKit or Z Wave or whatever, I want to find what I need and make it work.

I may be making this more complex than it needs to be, so that’s why I’m asking here for advice. For the openHAB setup, what I can do for DC switches? I’d also be interested if there is a thermometer so I don’t have to build one myself, but it needs to be able to detect inside and outside temp. And yes, I can put a hole in the wall and cover it up to have a meter outside. Its a 30 year old RV, I don’t mind drilling or cutting as need be. A battery meter would be nice as well. Also, is there anything else anyone can recommend? I’m really new to the RV and smart home line of thinking.

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Anyone know if the WHDTS devices on amazon work with openHAB? Looking at this:

WHDTS WiFi Relay Delay Switch Module

Hi Eric,

for your Smart Home on Whells you will need definetly another approach then with “normal” Smart Homes.

First of all your list of up to 5 Raspberry Pi’s is in my opinion a little bit of overkill: I don’t think you will need so much computing power!
A second point is: I think you should think about power consumption regardless of your additional batteris or solar panels. Every Pi draws power, every WLAN connected sensor draws a lot of power.

My suggestion would be: temperature sensors and other sensors with an update rate of > 1minute should be connected via a less power hungry solution e.g. Bluetooth or nRF24L01. Or use wired sensors (e.g. one-wire DS18B20) which can be directly connected to your openHAB Pi.

The same for the switches: have a look for port expanders for the Raspberry to have more IOs and use them for your switches, And you can use the digital Output ports to connect them to a relay card to switch your ligths. Or use a PWM Controller to control your LED lighting incl. dimming feature or RGB colour selection…

Think about to use as many wired sensor as possible, because they do not drain alot of current…

For your servers I would suggest to use one Raspberry as file server AND media Server. In this use case watching movies from the file server is the same as watching local files…

For your VPN/Router Pi you should think about, if a LTE Router (inclusive modem) with VPN functionality wouldn’t be a better solution: only one powered device with same functionality. If you need a higly customizable solution have a look at openWRT or DD-WRT…


Thank you, that’s a lot of help.

For the media/file server, I do agree that one Pi to do both of them would be ideal. I don’t think we’d be backing anything up and streaming something at the same time, and if we had to, it wouldn’t be very often.

Since I have no experience with openHAB yet, would it be possible to remotely control the switches and such? I would also like to add a few cameras so we can at least see still images if we want, but I’m not sure the best way to do that. Also using a wired connection instead of wifi or even bluetooth is possible, we are planning on running a bunch of ethernet cable when we get to our next destination, so that’ll be easy too.

I’m also trying to find a LTE modem that I can use. We technically can’t put the sim card in a different modem, but we may do that when we can afford it. I would prefer a better modem anyway, I’ve read that the one we have, which was cheap when we got it, pretty much sucks and is old tech. Other’s have put the sim card in newer modems without trouble though, so we can probably do it and be fine.

openHAB has its own API and the UI for sure. Cameras are not yet integrated very well, but if the cameras are LAN cameras, you could get the pictures through a webview and integrate it this way. Another option would be to save pictures to the file server and to get the pictures from there.

But as @imhofa said, this all would consume much energy, would be worth to calculate that part first.

Well, we are going to be adding solar and about 600aH of battery storage, so I’m hoping power isn’t an issue. Also, we are almost always plugged in, so for now, power doesn’t really matter, we have electricity for free.

That said, I’m going to look into what we can do. I want as much to be DC powered as possible since otherwise it would lose power in the inverter, so a direct DC power source would be best and more efficient.

I’ll look into Lan cameras. I had thought about doing it with Pi Zero W’s, but I’m not sure how much power they draw. And I have to find a small temp sensor so I can plug that into the network.

And yeah, uploading pictures once every minutes would be acceptable, even if it was saving more photos than that.

Also, for the cameras, here’s an idea. I will probably start with just one so that I can test it out and figure out how to make it work and deal with adding more later.

Basically, if I use a Pi Zero W, it will record and send the video to the file server, maybe even a dedicated hard drive just for security. Then, depending on what format it stores it in, I could figure out a way to have it upload every so often and write a PHP page with a MySQL database that displays the most recent photo, but still allows me to go back through the previous ones to see them as well. I have no idea if I can stream the video so I could watch a current view, but it might be possible. Or hell, I could set up the Pi Zero W to stream live feeds, then have the VPN make a passthrough to the video feed somehow. It might need to have its IP updated periodically, but I think it would work.

That is what the openHAB cloud connector and service is designed to provide. If you don’t want to depend on a third-party service for remote connectivity, you can host your own copy of the server on an AWS server or the like to provide remote access.

This would be the easiest and most straight forward approach. But there are plenty of others.

Sitemaps and HABpanel can show still images loaded from a folder or stream video on the UIs. If you want more (e.g. motion alerts) you will probably want to use something like Motion or Zoneminder.

I think my biggest hurdle is finding things are DC powered. I found Fibaro and Qubino, but I’m not sure which one to go with. I know with openHAB, I can use almost anything, but I’d prefer to use the same one for several things, or at least the same source.

I think after the holidays, I should have enough money to buy a Raspberry Pi and everything needed for it, and then probably get a DC switch from Qubino since they seem better than Fibaro. Then at least I can start something and figure out what works a little at a time instead of diving in completely and then learning something doesn’t work.

For a start and to find out what is possible with openHab, a good start will be a Raspi (2 or 3 doesn’t matter) with a good power supply and a housing.
If you can go the DIY-way you can find cheap devices based on ESP8266 for various inputs or outputs. A good start is going with MQTT to communicate between multiple ESPs and openHAB.
With a cheap ESP12 module and ESP-Easy firmware you can build many different I/O knots for your wheeled home automation…

  • Switching DC or AC devices on/off: Aptinex IOT RelayNode RN4CE8 (8 Relays)
  • RGB(W) stripes: Arilux LC-01 (or 02/03/…) flashed with ESP-Easy
  • selfmade sensor knot with DS18B20 (stainless steel for outdoor or as TO92 for indoors)

With ESP Easy ( you can build a very versatile system for measureing temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, illuminanc, manual Switches or PIRs.

The sensors are very cheap…


You don’t have to wait if you don’t want to. You can install OH on just about any OS and there are plenty of bindings that do not require hardware that you can use to get started.

This is a great place to get started.

This is another

The sooner you can dive in and start playing with OH the better. You might learn something that could drive purchasing decisions or architecture decisions.

Thanks everyone. I downloaded the Android openHAB app and started playing with the demo to see what it can all do. Christmas is coming up quick though, so if we are still stuck at our campground after the first of the year, I’ll definitely buy most of the parts I need to hook everything up.

I’m also doing some networking in the RV, so most of the devices will be hooked up via ethernet if I can figure out where to run it. I do think I’m going to go with one Pi3 for the media/file server, but I’d still like a RAID for the media hard drive at least. I can get hard drives for about $150 or so each, and that’s 8TB, so it should be enough to last awhile.

Then I’ll make an openHabian Pi3 and figure out how to hook everything together. Most of it will be Z-Wave I think, so that should be easy enough. If I can control it all via our iPhones or Android tablet, that would be great.

Also, if I can figure out how to do this right, I might try and turn it into an installation business. I know a guy who travels the country doing solar installs, so maybe I can travel the country automating RVs. That would be fun, a lot of work, but if I could somehow get it down to a science and not have to stumble through it every time, maybe I can streamline it when doing others.

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I actually have everything I need now to at least set up openHAB on a raspberry pi. I’ve had a pi3 sitting around as an old school gaming console, but I haven’t used it since we moved into the RV in August. I could easily take out the microSD card and set up openHabian on it and at least get started working as on a the smart home on wheels, even if I don’t have anything for it to control quite yet.

I’m hoping I can mess with the android app a bit and make it easy enough to customize and control things. I’m not sure how it all works together, but I’m hoping we can just mount a 10" cheap android tablet in the dash where an CRT TV used to sit. Its a big 16" square hole right now, but it has its own 12 volt power outlet, so if I got something cheap, I could mount it in there and use it to control anything inside. I wouldn’t do it while driving, but if the buttons were big enough, my wife could play pandora or change anything she wanted to.

My dad is stopping by tomorrow, so I won’t be able to figure anything out until Friday. Then I’ll have nothing but free time to figure this out.

Get the Fibaro FGRGBW, a lot of people use it. It has quad PWM dimming-capable outputs to work with either LEDs or classic halogen or other 12VDC consumers plus quad 0-10V inputs. Qubino is the same, just there’s less experiences (and it’s slightly more expensive, I believe). Plus maybe deploy a Fibaro FGMS or Aeotec Multisensor 6 (they provide temp, motion, light plus the Aeotec has humidity and can be wire-powered, the FGMS is battery-only).
I would not start messing with Arduinos, ESP-Easy or other DIY like electronics.

Just be aware that this is ZWave, so you need a ZWave controller such as the RaZberry board or the Aeotec USB stick in your openHAB server. Remember to check out frequencies the devices use. Both Fibaro and Qubino are European vendors so they use 868MHz by default. Qubino has different ordering codes for the various frequencies.
RaZberry can be tuned to use a specific frequency, not sure if the Aeotec can do it, too. I use a RaZberry and I’d go for it again.

I’ll have to look into Fibaro more closely then. I’m going to have to figure out how to power this all too. I would like a temp and humidity sensor, eventually I’d like to control the temp inside, but we have a propane furnace and an air conditioner that doesn’t work at the moment, but I’m not sure I can turn on our plugin electric heater without pushing the start button. If we had one we could somehow turn on remotely, that would be great, but that’ll require more searching.

For power, I’m going to get everything I can that is DC powered, since that can run directly off the batteries and will work if we lose shore power. I have a fuse box, but I think I need to get a regulator on top of that in order to keep the volt at nearly constant 12 volts all the time. I found something that’ll do it, but it requires some soldering. My other option is to run a small inverter directly off the battery bank and have USB plugs and such off of that. It would be a bit of a loss of power to from DC to AC back to DC, but it might be the easies way to accomplish it.

Also, in the end when I’m done with this project, I’d like to turn into a money making enterprise. I know there is a lot of customization, but I’d love it if I could get this so down that I could install something similar in other’s RVs. I’m writing a series of articles about how i’m doing it, but if I could put out an ebook or make some money on the side doing it, that’d be awesome. I just need to figure out the best way to throw everything together.

Hi there

I have a caravan that I use just for holidays but your post attracted my interest and I’m curious to know just what you want to control in your RV and whether you spend most of your time in it. So far I’ve only used it with a power hook-up and wi-fi each time but I have considered going off-grid.

My whole house runs on OH but I only have a ZWave PIR/Temp sensor in the Caravan, which provides a burglar alarm function and a mains power switch in the garage which turns the Caravan power on once a week when not in use to keep the battery charged.

If I were to spend more time in it, especially in winter, I’d probably want to control my heating, which either runs on Mains electricity or gas bottles. It can get cold here in Britain. Conserving all resources would be a priority and I’d be tempted to get heated blankets for the beds to reduce heating requirements.

The fridge runs on Mains, battery or gas but must work if the food is to stay fresh.

I have considered using a small, old notepad PC, which could support a ZWave controller, OH and internet via wi-fi or 4g dongle but I only have a small 60AH battery, so off-grid it could be a bit of a drain.

As yet, I haven’t been motivated to automate my caravan beyond what I’ve done. If you want to make a business out of it I’m guessing there need to be some compelling benefits. What do you feel they are?


We live in our RV full time, so I’m trying to make it as teched out as I can. Its a 30 year old Tiffin, so it doesn’t have anything with technology in it now. Hell, it doesn’t even have a computer in the engine. I have no experience with openHAB, but I have a lot fo experience with networking and programming, so I’m hoping I can manage this.

I’m just tossing ideas out there about doing this as a side job. I wouldn’t want to do a lot of it, but I’d like if I ran into someone at a campground and was able to install one for them, but each individual RV could have a lot of differences that would make that hard.

As for what we want to control completely, I’m still working on that. I’ll set up lights, that’s easy enough, then I’d like to add cameras and temp sensor. I’m not sure how to tie it into the thermostat yet though, but even then, we usually use an electric heater instead of our builtin furnace. It just turns on though, but it has a remote, so I’m hoping I can find someway to hack a custom remote that I can control remotely, just haven’t figured out how yet. The AC might be able to be as well. I’ve also reached out to a company that makes vent fans that can open or close, turn fan on or go through 10 speed settings, so I might be able to control that remotely too. This is definitely not a straightforward install, so there’s going to be problems that come up along the way.

Hi Eric

There are a load of OH supported devices available that will do most of what you want (not sure about 10 speed settings though). Most are based on some form of wireless control for easy installation in a typical house. I use both ZWave (low power mesh network) and WiFi (Hue lights, Sonos) but there are others too. Sensors (PIR, temp, light, smoke, humidity) are usually battery powered and control units (power sockets, light switches, heating demand control units) are typically mains powered. One exception I have is a battery powered Zwave TRV valve for my radiators, which I use to control heat in each room independently.

I suspect you’ll want a hybrid and to run off-grid without an invertor you’ll probably need to look for a DC powered relay or make one yourself to control your heating.

Before I used openHAB I had a hard-wired system I designed myself (both the software and electronics), using a Velleman K8055 USB board as the base. It’s old now and probably obsolete but it used a PC running XP and Visual Basic to control a set of digital and analogue I/O ports, to which I added thermometers via the onboard A/D converters and relays to control heating demand. It worked but it was a pain to install, build and program. There is an OH binding for the Velleman board but I could never get it working. OpenHAB is way better than my old system but you need to list what you want to monitor and control and check what devices are available to do the job for you.

Take a look at the list of Bindings in openHAB – that will show you exactly what you can interact with using openHAB and may give you some inspiration too.

A word of caution – battery powered devices (Zwave at least) try to minimise battery usage so effectively “go to sleep” most of the time and any commands you send get queued up until the device next “wakes up”. You can usually set a “Wake-Up” interval but for things like PIR detectors it may be as much as 30 minutes before they will send say a temperature report, though they will report immediately if a PIR sensor is triggered.

They all have their quirks and it’s best to read up in detail on their manuals before you buy to make sure they will fit your purpose. Lots of people have posted on them too, asking and receiving good advice about them.

I’d also suggest tinkering with OH on a PC before you go Pi. There’s quite a lot to learn and it just makes the learning curve a bit less steep to begin with.

Oh and it’s worth always having a manual control for when you get a bug in your code or Windows decides to do an update or something else goes wrong. I don’t think the community has quite cracked “high-availability” yet.

It sounds like an interesting project.

I’d be interested to hear how you get on, particularly with heating control and web-cams as I may go that route myself with my caravan, though I doubt I’d get it working off-grid as it’d just be too much hassle for a lazy bloke like me. “Laziness is the mother of invention :blush:

Good luck!

After Christmas, I’m going to get the Pi and set up openHabian on it and work from there. I should be able to get at least one Z-Wave device too, leaning towards the Fibaro RGBW controller since it can take care of several devices at once. I’ll start easy though, just with some lights and go from there.

I was looking into a vent fan that has a remote, not sure if I’ll get one yet, but I’m trying to figure out a way to hijack and reproduce the signal with some other device. I’m pretty sure it uses an IR receiver, so I might be able to figure out a way to make something that sends out the same signals that I can copy and have control of it through openHAB. I have no idea if its possible, but I’m going to try and figure out a way anyway.

For the heat and AC though, I’m still looking into options. The heater we have also has an IR remote, so if I could place that where it will be permanently, then maybe I can hack something to work with that too. I’ll have to figure out how I can make an IR signal though, and then figure out a way to make it into what I want to do. I have no idea if this is possible, but I have lots of spare time on my hands.