I need help with home automation IoT

Today, I am starting on a new project. I am going to automate my hen-house and I need your help to do it. I have never really been a gadget person. I have used the same personal computer at home since I built it from spare parts in 2003. I don’t own a tablet or a smart watch. I chop my wood with an axe, not a machine. It’s not that I don’t like gadgets, I just don’t see the business case.

But there is one exception. Home automation, it would be very nice to have some home automation. If I had a business case. So far, I haven’t had one. The equipment has been too expensive and honestly, I can just as well walk around and turn the lights on and off manually. Now I have found a use case or two where there might actually be a business case for automation. One of them is the pool pump, I could save both energy and money if I could let it run as little as possible to maintain the water clean and clear.

Automating the hen house

The other one is automating the hen-house. I have built my own hen-house using a simple design called an “A tractor“. A comes from the A-shaped frames I used and tractor because it’s possible to move it to new locations on the lawn. That supposedly helps against parasites and the hen always have access to fresh feed.

Autumn is here, the days are getting shorter and the nights are getting colder. The hen need 13 hours of light and a minimum temperature slightly above freezing. To that end, I have installed a light and IR lamp. The light is controlled by a timer but the IR lamp has been on since the weather turned colder.

Functional requirements

I would like to automate these two functions: light and heat. Light should turn on at 0700 and off when sun comes up and then on again when the sun sets and off at 2000 (=13 hours). It should be possible to turn it on manually for ten minutes or so to care for the animals. The heat should turn on when the temperature inside the hen-house drops below 5°C. Why the emphasis on inside? Because the birds themselves and their bedding generates heat as well. The inside is often warmer than the outside.

An aggressive environment

The environment in the hen-house is much more aggressive than in the normal home automation setting. Temperatures shift between -20°C and +60°C. The hen generate a lot of dust and the bedding emits gases such as ammonia. Add to that the very real risk of rodents chewing on cables. So the solution needs to be rodent safe, temperature resistant and protected against the intrusion of dust and water.

The logical blocks of a solution

I know roughly what the solution looks like. It has the following logical blocks:

  • A temperature sensor
  • A clock
  • A daylight sensor – physical or calendar based
  • A button or similar to turn the light on for 10 minutes
  • A relay to control the light
  • A relay to control the heat
  • A control unit to integrate the sensors and control the relays

But what components should I use, in terms of hardware and software? Will you help me? Watch the video below and add your advice in the comments below or by tweeting.

Image sources

  • automating the hen house: Lotta Artmann

About Greger Wikstrand

Greger Wikstrand, Ph.D. M.Sc. is a TOGAF 9 certified enterprise architect with an interest in e-heatlh, m-health and all things agile as well as processes, methods and tools. Greger Wikstrand works as a consultant at Capgemini where he alternates between enterprise agile coaching, problem solving and designing large scale e-health services ...


  1. Here is my suggestion on components:

    1. Z-Wave Home Automation controller. There are several of these that have the capabilities I believe you are looking for. My suggestion is the SmartThings hub ($100). Other controller options, feature breakdown, and links can be found here: http://darwinsden.com/home-automation-controller-feature-comparison/

    2. Two GE outdoor Z-Wave lighting module/switches. Use these to power your light and IR lamp ($35/ea)

    3. Aeon Labs ZW100 Z-Wave temperature/multi-sensor ($50)

    With the SmartThings hub, you can schedule the light to turn on and off at specific times, at sunrise or sunset, or based on light detection by the multi-sensor. You can also control the switches manually via their control buttons or via the SmartThings smartphone app. The IR lamp can be programmed to turn on or off based on the multi-sensor temperature reading.

    Total cost: $220

    Good Luck!

  2. Due to the simplicity of the project I advice you to use a simple Arduino Uno as control unit https://www.arduino.cc/en/Main/ArduinoBoardUno

    Do you wan to connect your hen house to the internet to be able to check the temperature from everywhere?

  3. Have you thought of a Egg Pocket in your hen’s house ? So the eggs are stacked and you get notified . Notification can be achieved by weighing the surface of the Hen house. Basically a digital weighing scale set up below the surface to track.

    • I don’t really see the point of the egg notification function. I go egg hunting every evening / afternoon and that has been enough so far. Also the weight thing won’t work because weight(hen+egg)=weight(hen)+weight(egg). Perhaps a small camera or even a microphone – as you know, hen give a specific sound when laying.

      • I got your point . Yes an audio or video recognition can be worked out . I was thinking even a body temperature measurement can also used to identify the eggs ( assuming the body temperature changes when it lays eggs ) and also to track the health of the hen. Thoughts ?

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