Title:
Gas fireplace monitoring and control system
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A monitoring and control system for use with a decorative heating appliance such as a fireplace, stove, or fireplace insert. The monitoring and control system includes a sensor module, a computer system, a controller, and a communication system. The sensor module is configured to monitor a burner, gas valve, and ignition system of the heating appliance and generate monitoring signals. The controller is configured to generate fault condition signals based on the monitoring signals. The communication system is configured to communicate the fault condition signals to the computer system, wherein the computer system is located remotely from a living space within which the heating appliance resides. The computer system is configured to generate control signals in response to predetermined fault condition signals and communicate those signals to the controller via the communication system for control of at least one of the burner, gas valve, and ignition system or other functions of the heating appliance.



Inventors:
Bachinsky, Thomas J. (Lakeville, MN, US)
Williams, Kelly (Lakeville, MN, US)
Application Number:
11/238640
Publication Date:
03/29/2007
Filing Date:
09/28/2005
Assignee:
Hearth & Home Technologies (Lakeville, MN, US)
Primary Class:
International Classes:
F24B1/187
View Patent Images:
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20090283090Hot Top With Dual BurnersNovember, 2009Garvin
20090250452Steam Convection OvenOctober, 2009Tse
20070290486Collapsible barbecue cartDecember, 2007Chung
20030005920Adjustable height gas grillJanuary, 2003Floyd Jr. et al.
20060042618Aromatic barbeque charcoal kitMarch, 2006Gonzalez
20090205634Residential fireplace insert system improvementsAugust, 2009Schreffler
20100083955Burner assembly with integral log setApril, 2010Gorby



Primary Examiner:
MASHRUWALA, NIKHIL P
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FAEGRE & BENSON, LLP;PATENT DOCKETING (90 SOUTH SEVENTH STREET, 2200 WELLS FARGO CENTER, MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 55402, US)
Claims:
We claim:

1. A method of monitoring and controlling features of a fireplace system, the fireplace system including a sensor module, a burner, and a valve, the method comprising: monitoring with the sensor module a condition of the burner; communicating to a computer a fault condition based on the monitored burner condition, wherein the computer is located at a location remote from a living space within which the fireplace system is positioned; and shutting off the valve when a predetermined fault condition is detected.

2. The method of claim 1, further comprising monitoring with the sensor module the presence of particulate accumulation on features positioned in a combustion chamber of the fireplace system.

3. The method of claim 1, further comprising communicating control signals for control of the fireplace system from the remotely located computer to the fireplace system in response to the communicated fault condition.

4. The method of claim 1, wherein the fireplace system includes a controller, and the sensor module communicates the monitored conditions to the controller and the controller generates and communicates the fault condition.

5. The method of claim 4, wherein the information about the monitored conditions includes a status indicator, and the remotely located computer system automatically generates reports or control signals based on the communicated status indicators.

6. The method of claim 1, wherein the sensor module includes a plurality of sensors, each sensor configured to monitor a condition of the fireplace system and generate a signal.

7. The method of claim 1, further comprising monitoring hours of use of the fireplace system and communicating to the remotely located computer a fault condition based on the monitored hours of use.

8. The method of claim 1, further comprising monitoring with the sensor module air flow within the fireplace system and communicating to the remotely located computer a fault condition based on the monitored air flow.

9. The method of claim 1, further comprising monitoring with the sensor module a condition of the valve and communicating to the remotely located computer a fault condition based on the monitored valve condition.

10. The method of claim 1, further comprising locking out the valve when the predetermined fault condition is detected, wherein locking out prevents generation of a flame in the fireplace system.

11. A monitoring and control system for use with a fireplace system, the fireplace system including a burner, a gas valve configured to control fuel flow to the burner, and an ignition system configured to ignite a flame at the burner, the monitoring and control system comprising: a sensor module configured to monitor the burner, gas valve, and ignition system and generate monitoring signals; a computer system located at a location remote from a living space within which the fireplace system is exposed; a controller configured to generate fault condition signals based on the monitoring signals; a communication system configured to communicate the fault condition signals to the remote computer system; wherein the computer system is configured to generate control signals in response to predetermined fault condition signals, and the communication system is configured to communicate the control signals to the controller for control of at least one of the burner, gas valve, and ignition system.

12. The monitoring and control system of claim 11, wherein the sensor module comprises a first sensor configured to monitor the presence of a flame at the burner and generate a flame signal.

13. The monitoring and control system of claim 12, wherein the sensor module further comprises a second sensor configured to monitor the gas valve and generate a valve signal.

14. The monitoring and control system of claim 12, wherein the sensor module further comprises a third sensor configured to monitor the ignition system and generate an ignition signal.

15. The monitoring and control system of claim 12, wherein the sensor module further comprises a fourth sensor configured to monitor particulate build-up in the fireplace and generate a particulate signal.

16. The monitoring and control system of claim 11, wherein the controller monitors operation time of the fireplace system and generates fault signals indicative of the amount of operation time.

17. The monitoring and control system of claim 11, wherein the fireplace system further includes at least one of a blower, a light fixture, an air filter, a pressure sensor, and a scent generating device, wherein the sensor module is configured to monitor the at least one of the blower, light fixture, air filter, pressure sensor, and scent generating device and generate monitoring signals.

18. A heating system, comprising: a fireplace, including: an enclosure defining a combustion chamber, the enclosure including at least one panel that provides viewing into the combustion chamber; a burner positioned in the combustion chamber and coupled to a source of combustible fuel, the burner being configured to generate a decorative flame; a valve configured to control fuel flow to the burner; and an ignition system; and a monitoring and control system, comprising: a controller configured to control functions of at least one of the burner, valve, and ignition system and generate fault signals in response to predetermined conditions of at least one of the burner, valve, and ignition system; and a computer system positioned remotely from the fireplace, the computer system being configured to receive the fault signals and generate control signals for controlling functions of at least one of the gas valve, ignition system, and burner.

19. The heating system of claim 18, wherein the monitoring and control system further comprises a sensor module configured to monitor conditions of the burner, valve and ignition system and send signals to the controller indicative of the monitored conditions.

20. The heating system of claim 19, wherein sensor module includes a plurality of sensors.

21. A method of monitoring and controlling performance of a fireplace system, the fireplace system comprising a combustion chamber, a burner positioned in the combustion chamber, an ignition system, a valve, a controller, and a plurality of sensors, the method comprising the steps of: monitoring a status of the burner, the ignition system, and the valve with the plurality of sensors; controlling the burner, the ignition system, and the valve with the controller in response to the monitored status; and communicating a fault signal between the controller and computer in response to a predetermined monitored status, wherein the computer is located at a location remote from a living space within which the fireplace system resides.

22. The method of claim 21, further comprising generating a control signal with the computer system in response to the fault signal and communicating the control signal to the controller for control of at least one of the burner, the ignition system and the valve.

23. The method of claim 21, wherein controlling the burner includes shutting off the valve when at least one of the sensors indicates no flame is present after the valve has been opened for a predetermined time period.

24. The method of claim 21, wherein the computer and the controller are configured to report the predetermined monitored status.

Description:

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

1. Field of the Invention

The present invention generally relates to monitoring and control systems, and more specifically relates to systems and methods for monitoring and control systems heating appliances such as fireplaces, stoves, and fireplace inserts.

2. Related Art

Gas, electric, and wood burning heating appliances such as fireplaces, stoves and fireplace inserts are an efficient method for providing warmth and creating the appeal of a fire within a room. Fireplaces have become commonplace in today's building trades for both residential and commercial applications. Most new home construction designs include at least one, and often several fireplaces. Further, a significant number of remodeling projects are focused on fireplaces.

Most known heating appliances include some type of heat control system that facilitates on/off control, the level of heat output, and possibly thermostatic control. In the case of a gas powered heating appliance such as a gas fireplace or stove, heat generation is controlled by altering the flow of gas to a burner via a gas valve.

Decorative heating appliances such as fireplaces and stoves typically include a combustion chamber of some type wherein heat is generated or simulated in the form of a flame, and the flame is viewable for aesthetic purposes. Many fireplaces and stoves that burn a gaseous substance rather than a solid fuel like wood or other fibrous material attempt to produce a flame or flame effect that simulates burning of a solid fuel. Providing a flame generated from gas can involve safety and maintenance issues different from burning fibrous products. A heating device that provides improved monitoring and control of a gas flame is desirable.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

The present invention generally relates to systems and methods for monitoring and controlling heating appliances such as fireplaces, stove, and fireplace inserts. The disclosed embodiments illustrate example systems and methods for monitoring and controlling the burner and other features of a heating appliance, and communicating the status and conditions of the heating appliance with a remotely located computer system. The status or condition of the heating appliance can be indicated with a fault condition signal. The fault signal can indicate a priority level of the heating appliance condition.

One aspect of the invention relates to a monitoring and control system for use with a heating appliance. The heating appliance includes a burner, a gas valve configured to control fuel flow to the burner, and an ignition system configured to ignite a flame at the burner. The system includes a sensor module, a computer system, a controller, and a communication system. The sensor module is configured to monitor the burner, gas valve, and ignition system and generate monitoring signals. The controller is configured to generate fault condition signals based on the monitoring signals. The communication system is configured to communicate the fault condition signals to the computer system, wherein the computer system is located remotely from the heating appliance. The computer system is configured to generate control signals in response to predetermined fault condition signals. The communication system is configured to communicate the control signals to the controller for control of at least one of the burner, gas valve, and ignition system.

Another aspect of the invention relates to a heating system that includes a heating appliance and a monitoring and control system. The heating appliance includes an enclosure defining a combustion chamber, a burner positioned in the combustion chamber and coupled to a source of combustible fuel, the burner being configured to generate a flame, a valve configured to control fuel flow to the burner, and an ignition system. The monitoring and control system includes a controller and a computer system. The controller is configured to control functions of at least one of the burner, valve, and ignition system and generate fault signals in response to predetermined conditions of at least one of the burner, valve, and ignition system. The computer system is positioned remotely from the heating appliance and is configured to receive the fault signals and generate control signals for controlling functions of at least one of the gas valve, ignition system, and burner.

A further aspect of the invention relates to a method of monitoring and controlling features of a fireplace. The fireplace includes a sensor module, a burner, and a valve. The method includes monitoring with the sensor module a condition of the burner, communicating to a remotely located computer a fault condition based on the monitored burner condition, and shutting off the valve when a predetermined fault condition is detected.

A still further aspect of the invention relates to a method of monitoring and controlling performance of a heating appliance. The heating appliance includes a combustion chamber, a burner positioned in the combustion chamber, an ignition system, a valve, a controller, and a plurality of sensors. The method includes the steps of monitoring a status of the burner, the ignition system, and the valve with the plurality of sensors, controlling the burner, the ignition system, and the valve with the controller in response to the monitored status, and communicating a fault signal between the controller and a remotely located computer in response to a predetermined monitored status.

The above summary of the present invention is not intended to describe each disclosed embodiment or every implementation of the present invention. The Figures and the detailed description that follow more particularly exemplify certain embodiments of the invention. While certain embodiments will be illustrated and describe embodiments of the invention, the invention is not limited to use in such embodiments.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention may be more completely understood in consideration of the following detailed description of various embodiments of the invention in connection with the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a front perspective view of an example fireplace that includes monitoring and control features according to principles of the present invention;

FIG. 2 is an exploded front perspective view of the assembly shown in FIG. 1;

FIG. 3 is a further exploded front perspective view some of the subassemblies shown in FIG. 2;

FIG. 4 is a schematic diagram illustrating an example system according to the present invention;

FIG. 5 is another schematic diagram illustrating another example system according to the present invention;

FIG. 6 is a schematic diagram illustrating features of an example control system according to the present invention;

FIG. 7 is a flow chart illustrating functionality of an example control system according to the present invention;

FIG. 8 is a flow chart illustrating steps of an example method according to the present invention; and

FIG. 9 is a flow chart illustrating steps of another example method according to the present invention.

While the invention is amenable to various modifications and alternate forms, specifics thereof have been shown by way of example and the drawings, and will be described in detail. It should be understood, however, that the intention is not to limit the invention to the particular embodiments described. On the contrary, the intention is to cover all modifications, equivalents, and alternatives falling within the spirit and scope of the invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT

The present invention generally relates systems and methods for monitoring and controlling features of a heating appliance. Some example heating appliance structures with which the disclosed monitoring and control systems could be used include universal vent, horizontal/vertical vent, B-vent, and dual direct vented fireplaces, as well as multisided heating appliances having two or three glass panels as side panels, or in any other unit used as a gas, electric, or wood burning fireplace, stove or insert.

The monitoring and control systems of the present invention can provide improved safety, reduced maintenance costs, and enhanced user control of the heating appliance. These monitoring and control systems can also provide improvements in troubleshooting a fireplace for maintenance problems either on-site or from a remote location, and can reduce overall incidents of unsafe conditions for the heating appliance. These monitoring and control systems can also provide a history of hours run and/or problems that have occurred in the past for the heating appliance. This historical data can be useful for many purposes such as evaluating total maintenance costs, determining when certain repair/maintenance should be performed, and to evaluate performance of a plurality of systems to determine core problems.

The example monitoring and control systems described herein include a plurality of sensors and related functionality that provide monitoring of at least the burner, fuel valves, and ignition system of a heating appliance to ensure that those features are working properly. In the event any of those systems are monitored as not functioning as intended, a control system can automatically shut down and/or lock out some or all functions of the heating appliance. The example monitoring and control systems may also include a remotely located computer system that receives transmitted monitored and other information about the heating appliance. The computer system can be located remotely from a living space within which the heating appliance resides. In one example, the computer system is located outside of a room within which the heating appliance resides. In another example, the computer system is located at least 1-100 miles away from a room within which the heating appliance resides.

The remotely located computer system may be capable of controlling some features of the heating appliance via, for example, an analog or digital control signal sent through the controller at the heating appliance. The remotely located computer system may have other functionality that provides improved communication of information related to the heating appliance.

An example embodiment of the monitoring control system according to the principles of the present invention is discussed with reference to a fireplace 10 shown in FIGS. 1-3. Fireplace 10 includes an outer enclosure 12, a combustion chamber enclosure 14, a burner 16, an ignition assembly 18, a valve 20, a grate 22, and controller 24. The fireplace 10 may also include a blower 19, a light fixture 21, an air filter 23, a pressure sensor 25, and a scent generating device 27 (see FIG. 2).

The outer enclosure 12 includes front and rear panels 40, 42, first and second side panels 44, 46, and top and bottom panels 48, 50 that together define an enclosure within which the combustion chamber enclosure 14 can be positioned. First and second wall members 52, 54 shown in FIG. 1, which are attached to the outer enclosure 12, illustrate that this particular fireplace structure can be positioned between two wall members to provide viewing of the fireplace interior from either the front or rear side of the fireplace 10.

The combustion chamber enclosure 14 includes front and rear panels 56, 58, top and bottom panels 60, 62, first and second side panels 64, 66, first and second side decorative panels 68, 70, and a bottom decorative panel 72. The plurality of combustion chamber enclosure panels define a combustion chamber 76 in which the burner 16 and grate 22 are positioned for viewing. The combustion chamber enclosure 14 may also include a mounting panel 74 that is configured for mounting some features of the fireplace such as the ignition assembly 18, valve 20, and controller 24.

The burner 16 includes a burner surface 80 having a plurality of apertures 82 formed in a pattern thereon. Each aperture provides for gas flow out of the burner, wherein the gas flow is ignited into a flame such that each aperture is associated with a separate flame member. Due to the close spacing of the apertures 82 on the burner surface 80, the flames extending from each aperture can merge to provide the appearance of a single flame having a shape corresponding to the pattern of apertures 82. Many different burner structures can be used with fireplace 10 in connection with the monitoring and control system described in further detail below.

The ignition assembly 18 includes a pilot flame nozzle 84, a spark-generating probe 86 and ignition controls 88. The ignition controls 88 include a controller that provides for spark generation in timed sequence with opening and closing of a pilot flame valve (described below) to ensure that a spark is generated only after the pilot flame valve is opened. The ignition controls 88 also include a sensor that determines the presence of the pilot flame. The ignition controls 88 can provide for a repeated cycle of spark generation in the event that the pilot flame is not generated within a predetermined time or number of sparks. An example ignition assembly is the IPI ignition system model GM-6KA produced by DEXAN.

The valve 20 includes a main flame valve 76, a pilot flame valve 78 that are combined together in a single valve housing. Each of the valves 76, 78 is separately controlled to regulate the flow of fuel to the burner 16 and pilot flame nozzle 84. A fuel line 79 couples the valve 22 a source of fuel (not shown). An example valve 20 is valve model no. H3V produced by DEXAN.

The controller 24, while shown generically in FIG. 3, may include a plurality of subcomponents that are mounted to, for example, a printed circuit board and housed within a housing. The controller 24 preferably includes a microprocessor such as the ATMEGA48V microprocessor produced by ATMEL CORPORATION of San Jose, Calif., that has some advantages such as, for example, its memory size, cost, power requirements, interrupt mode options, sleep mode options and its compatibility with the IPI ignition system. The controller 24 may include other features as described below with reference to FIG. 6. The controller 24 is provided with hardwire or other communication capabilities to provide communication of control signals and monitored information between the burner 16, the ignition assembly 18, valve 20, blower 19, light fixture 21, air filter 23, pressure sensor 25, and scent generating device 27 and the sensors described below.

The fireplace 10 includes a pilot flame sensor 26, a spark sensor 28, and a main flame sensor 30. The pilot flame and spark sensors 26, 28 may be mounted to a bracket 89 of the ignition assembly 18 so as to be positioned adjacent to the pilot flame nozzle 84 and the spark generating probe 86. Such a mounting would provide the proximity of the sensors necessary in order to provide accurate monitoring and assessment of the existence of a pilot flame and spark generation. The main flame sensor 30 may be positioned, for example, on the burner surface 80, or otherwise mounted so as to be positioned adjacent to one or more of the apertures 82 where a main flame of a burner 16 exists. In some embodiments, multiple main flame sensors 30 may be positioned at various locations on or adjacent to the burner surface 80 so as to monitor the presence of flames across different locations of the burner surface, which may relate to a complete ignition of the burner.

A fireplace 10 may also include a particulate sensor 32, a temperature sensor 34, a gas sensor 36, and an airflow sensor 38 (see FIG. 1). The particulate sensor 32 is configured to monitor the presence of particulates such as soot that build up or are otherwise present such as, for example, the burner surface 80, the pilot flame nozzle 84, the spark generating probe 86, or on any of the sensors 26, 28, 30, etc. The presence of particulates such as soot may affect the performance of the fireplace features. Therefore, the particulate sensor 32 can generate a signal when the particulate is identified so that maintenance or other measures may be taken.

The temperature sensor 34 may be mounted to any of a number of different locations within the fireplace 10. The temperature sensor 34 may be mounted to, for example, a transparent glass panel of the fireplace so as to monitor the temperature of the glass. In another example, the temperature sensor may be mounted to the burner, different features of the ignition assembly 18, or the controllers so as to determine whether those features are maintaining a temperature that is within a predetermined temperature range.

The gas sensor 36 may be used to determine the presence of a gaseous fuel in or around the fireplace 10. The determination of the presence of gas may be particularly useful at those times in which there should be no gas present. The gas sensor can also be used to determine the presence and flow of gaseous fuel within a fuel line, in the valve, or in the burner, for example.

The airflow sensor 38 may be used to monitor aspects of airflow in the fireplace 10, such as, for example, the amount of airflow, the content of the airflow (i.e., oxygen content or combustion products content), or the direction of airflow.

Other sensors in addition to or in combination with sensors 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 may be used to monitor and assess conditions of the blower 19, light fixture 21, air filter 23, pressure sensor 25, and scent generating device 27. Some example conditions monitored by such sensors include speed and power requirements of the blower 19, time of use of the light fixture 21, air filter 23 and scent generating device 27, and positive or negative pressure or pressure gradients within the fireplace with the pressure sensor 25.

The example sensors 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 represent some of the many different types of sensors that can be used to monitor different functions and conditions of the fireplace 10. Each of these sensors may be configured to generate a signal related to the condition that they are monitoring. The signal can be sent to the controller 24 directly, for example, via the ignition controls 88 such that the controller 24 acts as a central database of the monitored information. The controller 24 in turn can communicate the information that is delivered to it via the sensors 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 36, 38 to another device such as remotely located computer system (e.g., system 104 described below).

FIG. 4 illustrates a relationship between a controller 100 that communicates with a heating appliance 102. This communication may involve the input and output of signals relative to the controller 100 via a plurality of sensors and other devices included in the heating appliance 102. The controller 100 can communicate with the remote computer system 104 via any desired communication system. Some example communication systems include, for example, radial frequency (RF), infrared (IR), cellular, satellite, ultrasound, optics, drawn wire, or any other wireless or wired communication systems. One example digital means of communication includes the use of a modem wherein the communication signals between a controller 100 and remote computer system 104 are delivered via a telephone or cable wired communication network. Other example digital means of communication include cellular and satellite means of communication. Some example analog means of communication include, for example, direct AC/DC and POT (plain old telemetry) systems.

FIG. 5 provides a schematic illustration of the various components related to the controller 100, heating appliance 102 and remote computer system 104. The heating appliance 102 and ignition system 106, a main valve 108, temperature sensor 110, and a particulate/soot sensor 112, a gas sensor 114, and an auxiliary system 116. The ignition system 106 includes ignition controls 120, a pilot flame valve 122, a pilot flame sensor 124, a spark generator 126, and a spark sensor 128. The ignition system features may have at least those capabilities described above related to the ignition assembly 18, valve 20, and sensors 26, 28.

The main valve 108 includes a main valve control 130, a burner flame sensor 132, and a main flame valve 134. The main valve features may include at least those capabilities described above related to valve 20 and main flame sensor 30.

The controller also communicates with the remote computer system 104, wherein the remote computer system includes controls 140, a modem 142, and memory 144. As described above the modem 142 may be replaced with any desired communication device or system that provides communication with the computer system 104 when it is at a location remote from the controller 100.

The computer system 104 may be configured to automatically log all information received from the controller 100. Based on the type and priority/fault level of the information received, the computer system 104 can perform different functions. For example, the information sent by controller 100 may be given status/fault indicators related to specific fireplace conditions. Upon receipt of the information by the remote computer system 104, the system 104 can both log the information in memory 144 and generate signals via the controls 140 and deliver those control signals via a communication system or network (e.g., the modem 142). In one example, the status/fault indicator for the information transmitted by controller 100 has a high priority representing, for example, the main flame valve being turned on, verification of spark generation, and a main flame sensor signal representing that no main flame is present even after repeated cycles of attempted ignition (e.g., see Fault F1 in FIG. 7). Such a signal represents nonfunction of the fireplace burner, which needs immediate attention. In response to receiving this signal, the computer system 104 can log the entry of the data with, for example, a date and time stamp along with the status/fault indicator, and generate a control signal via controls 140 that instructs the controller 100 to shut down the fireplace until maintenance can be performed. In some embodiments, the controller 100 may automatically shut down the fireplace in response to a high priority status/fault indicator before communicating the information to the remote computer 104.

In other examples, wherein the status/fault indicator represents a low priority, the logged data saved in memory 144 can be reviewed on a periodic basis and acted upon either manually or automatically via the controls 140 and modem 142. In some instances, the computer system 104 can generate a notification signal that notifies, for example, the fireplace owner or maintenance personnel who can address the maintenance needs of the fireplace. In one example, the auxiliary system 115 may be configured to monitor the usage time of the fireplace and the controller 100 can generate and transmit a signal to the remote computer system 104 that indicates that regularly scheduled maintenance should be performed in view of the amount of usage time. In response to receiving this signal, the computer system 104 can transmit a signal to the homeowner or to maintenance personnel to perform the necessary maintenance (e.g., changing a filter, cleaning, etc.).

Referring now to FIG. 6, the controller 100 may include a CPU 150, a power supply 152, a nonvolatile memory 154, a volatile memory, 156 input devices 158, output devices 160, communications connection 162, digital-to-analog (D/A) converter 164, and an analog-to-digital (A/D) converter 166. The CPU 150 can be any desired processor such as a microprocessor that provides processing and control of information gathered by the controller 100.

The power supply may be, for example, a 5-volt dc regulator that provides power to the controller via, for example, nonregulated plug in dc power supply. The power supply 152 may also include a backup power provided by, for example, some type of standard sized battery (e.g., D battery) that is either chargeable or nonchargeable that provides operation of the controller 100 for a specified number of hours in the event the hard wire power supply is disconnected.

The volatile and nonvolatile memory provides for the storage of various types of information necessary to operate the controller 100 as well as storing monitored information and generate and receive control signals.

The input and output devices 158, 160 may include, for example, the modem described above or any other communication system that can receive and transmit signals via, for example, the communication connection 162. The D/A and A/D converters 164, 166 may be used for communication between different types of sensors and devices within the fireplace as well as to convert different types of signals incoming via the input device 158 or outgoing via the output device 160.

A software code may be loaded into the controller memory and operated with the CPU 150. The code preferably provides monitoring of the sensors to detect the proper sequence involved in igniting the fireplace and then to generate and transmit data via the communication connection with the remote computer system 104. The code must also store important information such as ignition history, fault status, call/transmission status, and hours of operation.

The software code may be structured similar to a state machine. When the fireplace is turned off, the controller 100 is preferably operated in a low power sleep mode (first state), while checking the on/off switch periodically (e.g., every 100 ms to 500 ms). When the controller detects that the on/off switch has been turned to the “on” position, the controller goes into a second state wherein it watches for an indication via the ignition system that the main flame valve has been opened. When the controller determines that the main flame valve has been opened, this indicates that the ignition controller has sensed that the pilot flame has been ignited and is present so that it is appropriate to turn on the main flame valve. Once the main flame valve has been opened, the controller enters a third state in which the controller will monitor the presence of the main flame via the main flame sensors. If the main flame is not observed within a predetermined amount of time, the controller 100 may be configured to shut down the fireplace automatically and send a signal to the remote computer system. The remote computer system may in turn generate a control signal that is sent back to the controller 100 for shutting down the fireplace. In this scenario, it may be likely that the fireplace is disabled until it can be serviced to determine a reason why the main flame was not generated within the proper time period given the occurrence of all the sequence of steps needed to ignite the main flame.

The condition in which the main flame is not detected within the predetermined time can be referred to as a default or fault detection. This is just one of several fault conditions that may occur and be determined by the controller 100. Other example faults with less high importance include a determination that no pilot flame is generated after a predetermined time from when a spark is generated and the pilot flame has been turned on. Another fault relates to observance of, for example, debris, soot or particulates at various locations in the fireplace at the time of ignition. A yet further fault relates to the scheduled maintenance timer being tripped in response to a certain amount of usage of the fireplace. FIG. 7 illustrates in schematic fashion various functions that may occur in response to sensors S1-S4 monitoring information that results in faults F1-F4.

Once a fault has been detected by the controller 100, a signal can be sent with that specific fault indicator to the remote computer, to the user, to maintenance personnel, or to all three. When the controller transmits this information about the fault, it may also send concurrently the serial number of the fireplace and other relevant information such as the date and time, the number of hours since the last maintenance was performed, etc.

The following is an example of how communication occurs between a controller and a remotely located computer when using an analog communication system:

EXAMPLE 1

  • 1. A fault is tripped on the controller by the fireplace actions.
  • 2. The controller checks the telephone line to see if it is being used, and if so waits a set amount of time after it is not used before dialing.
  • 3. If/when the line is not in use, the controller performs any action necessary to reach an outside line.
  • 4. The controller then dials the designated phone number to reach the remotely located computer system.
  • 5. The receiving computer system picks up and waits for ready to send code from the fireplace controller.
  • 6. The receiving computer system hears a “ready to send” code and transmits “ready to receive” code.
  • 7. After hearing the ready to receive code, the fireplace controller sends the serial number with a coded signal indicating the fault code and other information about the fireplace.
  • 8. When the transmission of information is completed, the fireplace controller will then wait until it hears the received successfully code from the receiving computer system. If the sequence makes it to this point but the fireplace controller does not hear the received successfully code, it must wait a predetermined time period and continue the sequence until the information is received successfully at the remote location.
  • 9. After the fireplace controller receives the proper indication that the information has been transmitted, the lines on both ends are hung up.
  • 10. The receiving computer system logs the information on, for example, a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet for viewing at the remote location.
  • 11. The remote located computer system can automatically generate responsive signals to be sent to the fireplace controller, maintenance personnel, or the fireplace owner via, for example, a telephone transmission, an e-mail message, etc.

Table 1 (see below) lists some possible detectable faults along with their intended purpose, whether or not the fault should result in a forced shut down of a system, whether or not new sensors are needed over time, and an example hardware for use in detecting the fault. These example faults can be determined using one or more of the example sensors described with reference to FIG. 5.

TABLE I
Possible Detectable Faults
ForcedNew Sensor
FaultPurposeShut downNeededDetection
Main FlameSafetyyesyesUV sensor or 2-3 probes
Detectionsimilar to pilot circuit
MalfunctioningSafetyyesnoCircuit using FETs
Pilot Circuitconnected to IPI sensing
probe - white wire
Ignition Time OutSafetyyesnoInductive switch on spark
line - orange wire
Soot DetectionAppearancenoyesTwo leads in a finger
weaved layout to detect
voltage transferred
between them
Hour MeterMaintenancenonoUses clock inside
microcontroller and
fireplace switch - brown
wire
OverheatingSafetyyesyesThermistor used to detect
heat outside of box
Tamper DetectionSafetynonoWatch lines and sensors
already connected for
unexpected activity
Non-Use HourMaintenancenonoSeparate internal counter
Meterto count hours between
uses
Gas DetectionSafetyyesyesSensor on bottom of
fireplace (more useful for
LP but maybe not
practical)

FIGS. 8 and 9 illustrate some example method steps related to monitoring and controlling operation of a fireplace. FIG. 8 illustrates the steps of monitoring with sensors the condition of a burner flame, a pilot flame, and a spark generation in the fireplace. The method also includes communicating information about the monitored conditions to remotely located computer and shutting off a gas supply to the fireplace when a predetermined monitored condition exists. The method still further includes generating control signals and alarms/reports with the remotely located computer system.

FIG. 9 relates to a method that includes providing a heating appliance having a combustion chamber, a burner, a pilot flame system, an ignition system, a valve, a controller, and a plurality of sensors. The method also includes a status of the burner, the pilot flame system, the ignition system, and the valve with the plurality of sensors. The method also includes controlling the burner, the pilot flame system, the ignition system and the valve in response to the monitored status, and communicating between the controller and a remotely located computer system in response to a predetermined monitored status.

Functional Options

The monitoring and control system described herein can provide a more definite safety/worry free fireplace operation. The following potential options, some of which are discussed above, can further enhance the overall functionality of the system.

  • 1. Set hour Service Call. This feature could provide a service call when the fireplace reaches a certain number of hours of operation logged, it makes a call to get a “check-up.”
  • 2. Wireless Phone Jack. This feature could be provided in order to make retrofitting easier, a wireless system could be used either to modulate the signal over the AC power lines, or to transmit the signal via radio frequencies (RF) to a module that is located at a phone jack.
  • 3. Glass Temperature Sensor. This feature could be used to detect whether there is a higher temperature on the glass than it's rating.
  • 4. Gas Line Pressure Sensor. This feature could be used to ensure that the gas line has a high enough pressure for the fireplace to operate properly.
  • 5. Multiple Call/Contact Option. This feature could be used to place multiple calls concurrently (e.g., a dealer/manufacturer, the fireplace owner, or maintenance personnel). As an added feature, additional numbers or contact instructions could be added (cell number, email, text message, etc.).
  • 6. Combustible Gas Detector. This feature could be used to detect no gas before sparking on a fireplace.
  • 7. Tamper Detection. This feature could provide additional sensors or switches to indicate whether the glass has been off the fireplace, phone line has been disconnected, or any other areas to watch that would indicate the system has been changed by someone who does not have the ability to reset the history.

The system may include a connector for future “add-on sensors” that can go to different ports of the microcontroller such as I/O's, A/D or D/A converter lines. The system may also include the capability (e.g., via a serial port) for a service technician to retrieve the history of the fireplaces actions and/or problems from the microcontroller or communication transmission. Such capability may also include the possibility for future upgrades in code and a possibility of talking with another microcontroller that could be in an “added-on” device in the future.

The system may use LEDs as status indicators on the fireplace, at other locations in close proximity to the fireplace, or at the remote computer location. These visual indicators may be turned off or removed according to user preferences.

The examples provided above with reference to the attached Figures focus on gas burning decorative heating appliances such as fireplaces, stove, and fireplace inserts. The systems and methods described above could be modified to provide the same or similar functions for other types of decorative heating appliances such as, for example, electric, wood burner, and pellet fireplaces, stove and fireplace inserts. While such alternative heating appliances may not include a valve or the type of ignition system required for ignition of a gaseous fuel, such alternative heating appliances may include different types of ignition systems and heat sources that can be monitored and controlled with the assistance of sensors, as well as blowers, light fixtures, air filters, scent generating devices and other features that can be monitored and controlled.

In other example embodiments, the system may include sensors that monitor the fuel supply associated with the decorative heating appliance. For example, a sensor or other monitoring device may be used to monitor a pellet supply level for a pellet stove or fireplace, or a liquid propane (LP) supply level for a LP gas fireplace.

The present invention should not be considered limited to the particular examples or materials described above, but rather should be understood to cover all aspects of the invention as fairly set out in the attached claims. Various modifications, equivalent processes, as well as numerous structures to which the present invention may be applicable will be readily apparent to those of skill in the art to which the present invention is directed upon review of the instant specification.





 
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