Joe Levi:
a cross-discipline, multi-dimensional problem solver who thinks outside the box – but within reality™

Home Automation Tips and Tricks

First I want to mention that this is NOT a paid advertisement for any product, brand, service, company, or anything. I’m writing this because I’m impressed and wanted to share my experiences with you.

X10, The Beginning

Years back I fell in love with the idea of home automation and X10.

No, I’m not talking about the spy camera that we’ll never be able to forget.

I’m talking about the home automation technology and hardware that let light switches, dimmers, times, and various other gizmos and gadgets talk to each other over your home’s electrical system.

Unfortunately, after spending a couple hundred bucks on a “starter kit,” some “lamp modules,” and trying it out, it didn’t really work as advertised.

Let me clarify: homes have a lot of wring in them, and sometimes a lot of “noise” on the power lines. This introduces a distance issue (signals degrade over distance), and a signal corruption issue (the more “noise” on the line, the weaker the signal is).

There’s one other problem: homes in the USA are typically wired up to two “trunk lines” or “legs” of power, basically, you have 240V that comes in to your house (your dryer and oven probably run on 240V if they’re electric). Your outlets are 120V, so the 240V is split in two (or 2 * 120V combined into one, however you want to look at it), effectively diving your house into two zones. Signals from one zone can’t cross over to the other zone. They have devices you can put in your breaker box or on your oven/dryer outlet that will bridge the two legs, but they’re expensive and then you’re right back to the distance problem mentioned above (the signals have to go from one leg to the bridge and through the other leg, which means more distance).

Some people and some applications worked great with X10. If X10 works for you, great! It didn’t for me. So my initial investment sat on a shelf and collected dust.


Introducing Insteon

Insteon picks up the baton where X10 left off.

No longer do you have to manually set an ID for each device on your home automation network (it’s got one assigned at the factory, similar to a MAC in computer networking).

No longer do you have to worry about distance: the more Insteon devices you have, the better, they all act as repeaters.

No longer do you have to worry about “did my request to turn on the lights/close the blinds/etc. get to there?”: the devices report back an acknowledgement and their state (on/off, percentage of dim, etc.).

Both technologies, when used in switches, for example, don’t function as a normal switch. Well, they do, and they don’t. They sill turn the light on or off (or dim to a certain percentage), but they’re wired a little differently.

Each switch has a ground, black, white, and red wires. Ground obviously goes to ground, black goes to black, and white goes to white. The red wire goes to the load; it’s your switching wire and controls the state of the circuit (open/close, percentage, etc.). Typical switches just have two wires (usually black) and serve to open or close the circuit. White and ground are handled by the load (the light, for example).

Multi-Way Circuits

I’m not an expert in home wiring, so don’t take anything I say as scripture (or “code”). 2-way and 3-way (and more-way) circuits have always confused me. Ground, black, and white are hard enough for me to follow, throw in a couple reds and a blue and I’m totally confused. Insteon makes multi-way “virtual" circuits” easy.

Simply put, you have one device that controls the switch, that’s it. The other device(s) that you want to control the lights just get hooked up to ground, black, and white (no red, cap it off). Once it’s getting power, you can pair the device to the switch pretty easily. Then when you press the device, it signals the switch to turn on/off/dim, and that device takes care of it. It doesn’t matter if you have one “virtual switch” or a hundred, they are simply telling the one switch what to do, and it does it. That also means you need to run fewer wires (no more travelers!). The caveat here is that you MUST have power to each switch, in some cases you won’t have a “hot” box for a pre-existing switch box, just a traveler, so you might have to run power to the remote switch box (or wire up your traveler wires to be power wires instead of travelers). If that just confused you, best consult an expert or a professional.

The Plan

I plan to replace most of my light switches with Insteon switches, some will have Insteon timers, and I have a couple power outlets that I think I’ll replace with Insteon outlets.

Once that’s all done I’ll hook the whole thing up to my computer at home (and likely open some ports on the firewall/router) so I can view the state of the lights and be able to turn them on and off remotely. Yeah, I’m a geek.

Progress so far

I order my first dozen switches and replacement box covers (I’m going from toggle-style switches to paddle-style).

Phase one was proof of concept. So far I’ve wired up two “virtual” 2-way circuits and 10 or so direct control switches. Nice and easy.

Phase two is completing the few more direct controls and adding in the four timers and outlets.

Phase three entails replacing my 2-way and 3-way switches that control the core of my home (exterior, entry, front room, stair well, kitchen, dining, and front room lighting). That’s a total of 9 switches, 8 of which are multi-way.

Once phase three is done, then it’s on to phase four: automation. Automation comes in two types: buttons and computer stuff.

The computer software will tell the exterior lighting to turn on at dusk for 3 hours, then turn off; and turn on 3 hours before dawn and off at dawn.

The buttons will let me be lazy and with one button push I’ll be able to turn off all the lights in the house before bedtime. I won’t have to go hunting down where the lights are that have been left on and take care of them one by one.

I’ll keep you posted.

Technorati Tags: home automation,lighting,insteon,x10

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1 Response

  1. Sam Clark says:

    I’m new here landed up searching blogs on resources on Home Automation . cool blog you have here, keep it up. and its nice to be here. i’ll be back some time later for more updates.Thanks for sharing with us….

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