Building a Raspberry Pi based Central Heating Controller, part 1 – Hardware build

This is the story of how I came to build my own Central Heating controller.

I bought the house I’m presently living in over 15 years ago. It was basically a L shaped bungalow with 3 heating areas: Living, Bedrooms, and Hot Water.

It came with a Horstmann H37XL. And all was well for about 10 years.

Horstmann H37XL 3 Channel Programmer

One day, said Horstmann stopped working, so doing what a good hacker would do, I took it apart.   There on the inside was a button cell 2032 battery. Let’s replace that – simple? Not so much.  Horstmann in their infinite wisdom had soldered the battery in – it was a non-replaceable part.

Not to be outdone, I brute forced that battery out. Jerry rigged a new CR2032 in place – and the box came alive. Great! So I soldered that in and put it all back together again. The unit soldiered on for another couple of years.

Then came the roof conversion.  Upstairs in the bungalow was an additional 700 sq ft of open space, so late 2016 we converted that to a couple of extra bedrooms, bathrooms and a playstation/xbox area.

But – Upstairs needed to be a new heating zone – I needed a 4 zone heating controller.

Lots of research later, I settled on a ‘smart’ miGenie Wish 3 by Drayton.

Drayton are (were) a well respected brand of heating controllers in the UK – so I thought it would be a safe choice.   But, I wouldn’t be writing this article if that was true!

The pack came with a 4 zone controller, 2 remote thermostats and a ‘internet’ connector box.  The iphone wasn’t included.

The electrician working on the upstairs professionally installed it in October 2016 towards the end of the roof conversion. And then we had 3 areas + hot water, plus I could monitor and switch zones on and off from my phone. Awesome.

For 2 years. Then it crashed and would constantly reboot anytime a zone turned on.

Contacted Drayton – and long story short – it was out of warranty and I was out of luck.

They did offer me a discount on a replacement – thanks, but no thanks. Your products should last more than 2 years.

So now I had no heating and needed something urgently – cue the DIY manual switch box.

So this dumb switch box allowed me to turn on each zone individually – and this is how I learned how the wiring worked. It’s basically a whole bunch of mains 240V live wires.

From here it was a small step to realise I could use a Raspberry PI and a 4-way relay to control the live zone switching – and I could fit them both in a double-gang pattress box.

I ordered a Pi Zero W (with the header pins pre-soldered because I would probably make a mess of doing that myself) and a 4 channel relay module. I already had a few pattress boxes lying around so grabbed one of them and began to tinker.

As you can see – plenty of space in the box – tho I haven’t affixed anything yet – we’ll need to make holes for power and the mains cabling later.

Put together a small python script to walk the pinouts switching the relay – and connected a multimeter in short detector mode to beep when relay one was enabled.

I’ve other videos, but this is the most interesting one (at this stage).

Now I have to put it all together. Note the PI to the left is running on low voltage DC while the relay to the right has 240V Mains – so I figured best to put an insulator in there keeping the wiring apart.

The next video shows using Fauxmo – a Python module to simulate Belkin WeMo devices. Here you can see both the Pi and Relay screwed into their final location, with an insulator to keep the DC and AC cables away from each other.

(so I wasn’t very accurate in screwing the relay in perfectly aligned)

Now comes the hard part – putting this on the wall and wiring it all up – and I have a huge ‘please don’t do what I did’ – I need 5 core mains wire – but I couldn’t get 5 core – all ‘live’ brown (thinking about that it might be hard to match the ends properly)…. so I’ve used 5 core (with neutral, earth and others) and used all the colours as live…. So not up to code…

You can see the old mounting plate for the Drayton – so that has to go, and we’ll use another double pattress box and tidy up the wiring inside that.

That’s tidy, right?

Add a Amazon Fire HD 7″ Tablet as a controller and, just in case it all crashes an burns, a manual rotary timer for the hot water and I present my new Central Heating control system.

So what you’re looking at here is a redundant central heating controller platform with rotary timer for hot water and manual switches to turn on and off all 4 zones.

Above that we have the Raspberry Pi Zero with 4 channel relay switch.

Above that we have am Amazon Fire HD tablet (because they are super cheap) to be used as an interface to the Pi controller software.

Hardware Requirements:

  • Raspberry Pi Zero W with Header pins
  • 4 Channel Relay Module (5VDC / 230VAC)
  • Amazon Fire HD tablet, any size.
  • Optional: Xiaomi Mi BLE Thermostat (qty 1 to 3) – though range on these are not great especially trying to hit the tiny Pi Zero ‘air’ antenna – so depending on the wall construction of your house – they may not work for you. Mine go through 2 solid walls and that’s it.

Part 2 of this, the software installation, can be found at https://blog.pgregg.com/blog/2021/09/raspberry-pi-central-heating-controller-part-2-software/


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