Magic Mirror on the wall, now the Tiny House will tell me all

Marc Bilodeau/ Automating, Smart Sensors, Tiny House

The Internet of Things and home automation! I’ve been looking forward to adding them to the tiny house. I began the tiny house journey with a dream and no construction skills. In time and with the help of my father, I’ve learned a lot and have come to appreciate the skillset needed to build anything. As the end of the construction phase approaches, the next phase is to make the tiny house a smart home using different types of sensors. However, I will need something to show me what’s happening in the tiny house. Thankfully, there is a solution to this problem. I’ll use a special mirror, a Magic Mirror.

[photo album]

At the moment, not every sensor is up and running in the tiny house. Currently, there are two (a webcam and the neurio). I have plans to add more sensors and collect more precious data in upcoming projects. Regardless of how many sensors there are, the tiny house Magic Mirror will display the telemetry, alerts, and my gorgeous face.

The Magic Mirror Frame and Mirror

The frame consists of left over premium plywood cut from the table and sitting bench. Otherwise, I would use a 1″ x 3″ x 8′ (~2.5 cm x ~7.6 cm x ~2.44 m) common board if there wasn’t any extra plywood.

Tiny House Magic Mirror Frame
(top left) strips of plywood for the frame – (top right) frame hanging on the bathroom wall – (bottom left) hardware and markings where the screws will line up with the mounting brackets – (bottom right) hardware installed for hanging the mirror.

The frame’s dimensions largely depend on the monitor. First, the monitor must be removed from its plastic case to get the correct measurements. The monitor without the case is 11.5″ x 20″ (~29 cm x ~51 cm). However, I want a 24″ (~ 61 cm) tall mirror. Since the width isn’t changing, the monitor will fit snuggly inside the Magic Mirror frame. Therefore, an additional brace will be necessary to prevent the monitor from moving up and down inside the frame.

The mirror is a custom cut 11.5″ x 24″ (~29 cm x ~61 cm) smart mirror. The mirror is glass instead of acrylic, because glass is better for bathroom mirrors.

Glass Mirror

The Electronics

The monitor determines the dimensions and depth of the Magic Mirror. It’s important to choose a thin monitor to keep the overall depth of the mirror down. I used an ASUS VS228H-P 21.5″ Full HD 1920×1080 HDMI DVI VGA Back-lit LED Monitor, which is approximately 2″ (~5.1 cm) deep after removing the case.

Since the frame is only 2.5″ (~6.4 cm) deep, a standard power and HDMI cable will stick out too much. This increases the depth and unfortunately would require a deeper frame. Therefore, a 1′ (~30 cm) Maxim High-Speed HDMI 2.0 4K Nylon Braided Cable + Right Angle Adapter and a 2′ (~61 cm) 18 AWG Universal Right Angle Power Cord solve this problem.

Tiny House Magic Mirror Components
A Raspberry Pi, Power and HDMI cables, and the monitor outside of its casing.

The brain of the Magic Mirror is a Raspberry Pi 3 B+. Although it’s possible to use a Raspberry Pi Zero W, I need slightly more horse power to run all the software for the Magic Mirror and my custom software to collect the precious data from every tiny house sensor. The Raspberry Pi is not powered by the monitor, but will be directly plugged into the wall. Therefore, the monitor can be off without powering off the Raspberry Pi. This saves electricity, but still collects the data.

Assembling the Magic Mirror

The glass mirror fits flush over the monitor within the frame. However, the monitor has a silver edge that can be seen through the mirror. My solution is to use black electrical tape. By tracing the silver edge with black tape, it no longer shows through the mirror. I was worried that the tape would be too thick. That could affect the width of the monitor and make it too wide to fit within the frame. In my case, it still fit properly in the frame. In hindsight, this step should have been done first before measuring the frame’s dimensions.

Using electric tape to hide the silver frame on the monitor for the magic mirror

Unfortunately in the process of applying the tape, I scratched the surface of the monitor. Thankfully, the mirror hides the scratches. This is why it’s important to put a soft material against the screen when laying it face down.

Securing the Magic Mirror

The mirror and monitor are held in place using a pair of brackets (in circles) which stops them from falling out the back. The wooden frame (1) and (2) prevents the monitor from moving up and down. The frontside has a 1 1/8″ x 1 1/8″ x 8′ (~2.9 cm x ~2.9 cm x ~2.44 m) Solid Pine Outside Corner Moulding. Not only does it provide a nice finish, it fits over the front of the mirror to stop the mirror and monitor from falling out the front.

The Raspberry Pi (3) is secured in a clear Pi case to the side of the frame. A small hole has been drilled into the case so it can be screwed to the frame. The case also prevents the Raspberry Pi electronics from touching any metal. The Raspberry Pi and monitor plug into the wall (4). Most of the outlets have USB ports to charge electronics and run sensors like this.

The Magic Mirror Software

At this point, it’s an ordinary DIY mirror. At first, I was fully committed to build my own software interface to show all the wonderful data from the tiny house sensors. However, there is software out there that will save me a lot of time.

MagicMirror¬≤ is an open source smart mirror platform with many installable modules from a growing community of enthusiasts. It’s easy to install, and it’s free! Essentially, the installation wizard does a great job setting up the basics. Following these steps installs all the essential software:

  1. Flash a Raspberry Pi with Raspbian with Desktop and enable access to the internet
  2. Log into the Raspberry Pi and apply the latest patches
    pi@raspberrypi:~$ sudo apt update
    pi@raspberrypi:~$ sudo apt upgrade
  3. Run the installation script to install all the necessary software for the Magic Mirror
    bash -c "$(curl -sL https://raw.githubusercontent.com/MichMich/MagicMirror/master/installers/raspberry.sh)"
  4. Reboot the Raspberry Pi
  5. Use these instructions to start the Magic Mirror software automatically on boot

The MagicMirror¬≤ open source smart mirror platform is easy to use and has a well-organized architecture to write 3rd party modules. Yet, I am only scratching the surface. I’m very excited to see what it can do as I add more sensors in the tiny house.

What about the Tiny House Sensor Data?

I’ve been writing software that specifically collects data from my IoT devices. It’s still largely incomplete, but it’s functional enough to utilize custom APIs in my agent to add the readouts to the Magic Mirror.

Neurio on the Magic Mirror

I purposely tried to crank up the power. At the time, the split system air conditioning, the LUNOS e2, and some lights were on. Regardless, this proof of concept shows that the Magic Mirror will be able to show real-time information from the various sensors.

The data isn’t only available when gazing into the mirror. It’s also available from a smartphone and laptop too. No matter if I’m in the kitchen, the great room, outside the tiny house, or when laying down in the loft, the precious data is close by.

Hanging the Tiny House Magic Mirror

The mirror hangs on two corner brackets above the bathroom sink. The mirror has two long bolts that slip through the corner brackets. This prevents the Magic Mirror from falling off the wall when the tiny house is in motion.

Hanging the Magic Mirror in the Tiny House
(left) the bathroom wall – (center) anchors for Magic Mirror – (right) Magic Mirror on the wall

Conclusion

With the majority of the work complete, the Magic Mirror hangs proudly in the tiny house bathroom. Overall, it took about six hours to get the Magic Mirror to this point, a small project compared to a tiny house. The out of pocket costs for this Magic Mirror is roughly $340. Most of the expense is because of the mirror and the monitor.

Tiny House Magic Mirror

When the Magic Mirror is on, it tells me the time, temperature, my schedule from Google Calendar, and the current power consumption. In time, more sensors will come online, and there will be updates to the user interface of the Magic Mirror. Regardless, the first version of this Magic Mirror is a big step toward awareness and automation in the tiny house. Now, let’s see where I can take it next.

[photo album]