Hey, something that I was trying to sort out by myself probably gets sorted even better by Loxone. One of the things that do have quite extensive impact on the overall energy consumption but was very difficult to control externally is the Air Conditioning. Loxone recently launched a product that should be the remedy for this.
I do have Toshiba Air Conditioners in my house since the house was built. Or to be more precise, I had the pipes and wiring prepared since that time but have installed the units a bit later as these were not the top on the priority list. Once these were fully installed, I was told that apart from the supplied IR remotes the option is to have optional Wi-Fi modules installed or some kind of Modbus interface module. Both of these options were no-go for me. The Wi-Fi works just with an App on the phone throughout some cloud somewhere with no API whatsoever, and the Modbus would require additional wiring into each indoor unit, not talking about the horrible price tag.
I was really surprised there is not standard (open) AC protocol that could be used to control these units from external systems. And I feel the pain Loxone engineers had to make their AC control device work with multiple brands and types of Air Conditioners.
Now, before I describe Loxone’s solution in more detail, let’s sidetrack a bit for a while.
A bit of background
- Yes, there was a partial solution already there by Loxone using the Loxone IR module. I am using that one (the former wired version) with my AV setup, but I was not going down that road for AC mainly due to the lack of bidirectional communication, non-existing cabling for this in my house, and also because I never had any need for AIR devices (for second generation of IR) in the past.
- There are third party AC controlling devices like Sensibo on the market, but I haven’t found any that would work with any smart home solution without relying on the internet and third-party cloud provider. And typically, these are again just unidirectional, forwarding IR signals they have learned.
- There are some complex interfaces for multi AC residential or office open plan offices like Intesis, but these are not cheap and I found it difficult to choose what exactly I need for my home setup.
- I have done some experiments with Raspberry Pi and LIRC library, building my own prototype of infrared AC control. Having Multiroom audio based on RPI at home already, this would just expand its possibilities and use these for additional purpose. I did some prototyping on a bread board, and it worked well. I can elaborate more on this one separately. However, the main drawback remains, this would be again an option to send commands to the AC, without any feedback or status reading.
- I came across a few articles where people successfully implemented AC control using ESP8266 (Martin Neruda). That would be awesome. However, I couldn’t find (had no time to investigate) the details about the implementation, for instance if this is using the interface cable designed for the Wi-Fi module. In case the full communication protocol has been successfully implemented and it would be available either in form of open-source solution or to purchase at reasonable costs, I would go for it.
Now let’s have a look at what Loxone came up with
Finally, there is a product which makes the integration and control of air conditioners easier. It is using their closed wireless proprietary AIR protocol, so there is no benefit for people without Loxone. But for Loxone implementations this is gorgeous. The config fully supports this in the visualization so there it is a matter of adding one new block.
This Loxone’s small device is designed to fit inside of the indoor AC unit, acting as the original Wi-Fi module from the manufacturer. So here is the thing: If you have spent extra money on the original Wi-Fi modules, you have to make a careful decision about what works best for you. You cannot have there both. Either the Wi-Fi module or Loxone AC control AIR.
One could think that the design of the Loxone AC control unit has been crafted to easily snap to some dedicated space inside of the air conditioner. But no, they just used Nano DI Tree enclosure and put different electronics in it.
I can imagine how difficult it must have been (and still it is) to launch such a product covering a wide range of air-conditioner manufacturers and models. Surely the willingness to share protocol details was limited (if any), so the model coverage is being expanded in some kind of staggered way. If you need to know whether your AC model is supported, you need to check Loxone website and check for your device model number. You always need to order a specific module based on the AC unit specification.
The installation is pretty straight forward. In my case, I have Toshiba Suzumi Plus multi-split unit (three indoor/one outdoor). I had to check on loxone website if my model is supported. Luckily RAS-B10 PKVSG-E can be found there, selecting the option RAS-BxxPKVSG-E from the Toshiba models. If your model is not listed there, ask Loxone, they might be expanding the models coverage as we speak.
After I ordered and got the device, it was just a matter of removing the front cover of the indoor unit and unscrewing one bolt to remove the metal cover from the connection box. Of course, make sure your device is disconnected from the mains, and if you do not feel comfortable or safe doing this, consult with your local technician the assistance. This is not a toy; it is an electrical device, and you are responsible for all things you are doing.
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If you have decided to install this on your own and you understand all the consequences I outlined above, after the metal cover removal you should see an unused connector. If you have an optional Wi-Fi module from the past there already, you will need to remove it.
Now, simply connect the connector from the Loxone AC control device together with the one in the AC unit. If you have ordered the correct version, these should be able to connect together. There is no need for any external power source, it takes the power from the AC unit through that instrumental cable, like if there was the Wi-Fi module the cable was designed for. Next you need to find the right place to put the small device box. My recommendation is to put it outside of the metal connection box to not block the signal between the Loxone AIR extension and this module. It can still be hidden within the AC unit, but remember, there is not any designed place where this should actually go. Use your best judgement depending on the AC model and the space that is inside of the AC unit. Make sure it does not directly interfere with anything else inside.
Once you have finished the hardware connection and attached all the covers you have removed, you need to continue in the Loxone config. Power on the AC device (to standby with the circuit breaker that you have disabled prior to the installation back on). In the config search for new AIR devices. The AC control should appear on the list. Add it to your project and upload the config.
The AC (based on the manufacturer and model) will probably indicate that Wi-Fi control module is present. In the Loxone config you can drag the Loxone AC Control AIR into the desired tab/room and there you go. See this KB article for more details about the inputs, outputs and parameters. Now you can control your AC unit from Loxone based on predefined events in your own logic, or manually using the Loxone app.
- I was surprised how easy and straight forward this installation was. And it really works! I need to admit, this was the first real reason which made me purchase AIR extension. Another step into vendor lock-in.
- When you control Toshiba unit using Loxone and this module, the AC unit does not beep to confirm the change, like it does when control it via IR remote. It receives all commands silently and does what it should do. The Wi-Fi icon on the dash remains lid, which is what my kids find annoying at night, and I need to cover it with a sticker.
- These AIR modules should also help to improve the AIR signal (mesh repeaters), which is probably something I would love to be able to disable.
- In the Loxone app you will see the following AC controls. But obviously, the biggest strength is the ability to manage the energy consumption in your building holistically.
- I think I would love the Loxone AC control AIR product, if it was reasonably priced. I understand there has been some engineering done to support the variety of devices, however for my three indoor AC units this means investment around 270 EUR each (total of more than 810 EUR altogether / ~856 USD). Knowing that this is what you have to spend just because the original manufacturers are not willing to let you connect to your AC unit in any standard way is alarming.
- The communication does not work bidirectionally. I thought it will be, but apparently it is not. This is the biggest disappointment. There might be multiple things causing this. I need to reconfirm with somebody who has original Wi-Fi AC adapter installed in the air conditioner, if that module is getting any changes back from the system. If not and this is by design, then we cannot blame Loxone at all. However if this works, then I hope Loxone will provide an update to the module allowing the status being sent back. In other words, at this moment, if somebody uses the original IR remote, Loxone will not know this is happening, and such changes won’t be propagated into the Loxone app.
I will continue to test this, but if I just conclude the last two points together, it is raising my eyebrows. Because what we are practically getting here is just a bit better (more reliable) one way connection compared to the IR. I know, there is also the SW support behind the price (the block you have ready in the config) but still, kind of harder to swallow. At this moment I will refrain from any conclusion. I will open a support query to confirm if this is the intended behavior and will report back any findings. If you have any comments of suggestions, feel free to add comment. Thank you.