Home automation

I've been redoing my house and I'm thinking this is a good time to consider some home automation. I notice that there is a slew of options, upb, Insteon, Z Wave, among others.
The price per switch, from what I can tell, seems high. What is reasonable and doable? Or is this not quite there yet?
Jeff
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I had X10, and moved to Insteon, so I can comment here on those two. X10 is neat and cheap, and you can get controllers to do almost anything. Unfortunately, it suffers from reliability issues -- the more you put in, the less reliable it gets. I've since moved to Insteon. As far as that goes, it seems to work quite a bit better, though there's still some glitches in the key-pad-lincs that I wish they would fix (for example, if I turn on a light downstairs, the keypadlinc upstairs doesn't detect that I did it. So to turn off the light from upstairs, I have to press the button once to turn the light on again, and a second time to turn it off; not a huge deal, but annoying. Also, certain buttons are always dedicated so you can't set it up exactly how you'd like).
I will say that my products (bought from Smarthome), while expensive do have a quality feel to them. With the cheap X10 products, you turn on a lamp and get this loud clunking sound, and the light turns on abruptly. Whereas with the smarthome device, I press the button, and the light gently fades on, and has a very rich appearance. It does give you some nice features as well, like being able to dim the lights to any level, so when we're putting the kids to bed for example, we can keep the light slightly dim, and then turn them off completely using a remote later. You can also control lamps easily via a light switch, or turn off all the lights in the house with a push of a button, so it does have some nice value.
Now, Smarthome/Insteon is VERY expensive, and they nickle and dime you when they can. You have to pay for all the features you want, especially the more advanced ones (like control from a computer)
Out of all the products I bought from them, only the keypadlinc's gave me any trouble (one arrived defective, one died after a year, and one had a button I couldn't reprogram... and that's out of seven I bought...). Outside of that they're all still running. Overall, I like the having the controls in the house, and it definitely has a value plus for the home, but after considering the amount I've spent, I'd be on the fence as to whether I would do it again. I would suggest looking at the other technologies before diving into any of them, and make sure they have what YOU want (how much money do you have, how big of a system are you building, what kind of final appearance/quality are you after?)
John

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On 10/25/2010 11:26 AM, John wrote:

I looked at that group and saw 3 threads for October and was thinking it didn't get much traffic. I'll give it another look.
This question has been

That is a big plus.
Unfortunately, it suffers from reliability issues -- the

I see what you mean. It would seem like this would be the time for automation and I can find a lot of oddball uses from controlling audio to monitoring my solar stuff. But, I think I'll do the little bit of stuff I want (kitchen overhead light controls) and leave the rest for later.
I'm thinking all this could be interfaced with a smart phone or laptop or iPAD. Apparently not quite yet.

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Jeff Thies wrote:

That's for gadget freaks. Totally unnecessary and waste of money.
--
LSMFT

Simple job, assist the assistant of the physicist.
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I and many others use X-10 successfully but with important caveats. Out of the box, the signals aren't strong enough to cope with today's noisy environments. But there are fixes that when all is totalled are still less $ than Insteon. X-10's patent has expired, so many people are making X-10 gear. Who would support the proprietary Insteon line if Smarthome went bankrupt? I've found that the much cheaper, license free, non-single source X-10 protocol gear is more than up to the task of automating most homes but only *with* addition of Jeff Volp's XTB line of X-10 signal boosters.
http://jvde.us/xtb/xtb_reports.htm
After I purchased the XTB-IIR I went from having X-10 issues every day to maybe one every two months or even longer. I have X-10 gear from 10 different manufacturers and the standard's an open one so there's no proprietary BS to deal with. With the XTB-IIR, I press the buttons and the lights do what they should. The only really bothersome problem left is the CFL issue: lights turning back on by themselves or flashing even when turned off. Other protocols don't suffer from that problem because they don't even offer the option to turn equipment on and off via local control, a feature I find quite useful. That means that you can control a device remotely, but you don't have to. Anyone who's had a lamp on a 24 hour "peg" type timer and had to reach behind a table to turn it on manually knows what a pain a lack of local control can be.
I found it interesting that instead of fixing what was broken with X-10, vendors all developed new (and mostly proprietary) protocols that cost two to ten times as much as X-10 without offering anywhere near the flexibility or functionality of the X-10/XTB combo. Even better still, as more and more people encounter X-10 issues related to power switching supplies, they simply give up. That means I can find great deals on Ebay for X-10 gear, new and in the box, for pennies on the dollar. Recently I bought a bunch of switches and modules that would have cost $200 retail for $30. No one else even bid. My kinda auction. (-:
It took me nearly ten years and near total breakdown of my X-10 setup to build the courage (and learn the basics) of installing a 220VAC single handle breaker to connect it to the XTB-IIR. Phase coupling is definitely required with X-10. The XTB-IIR takes a signal from one phase, amplifies it to 25V (X-10's repeater/coupler devices only amp the signal to 5V) and passes it to all the outlets on the other phase.
The upside to getting into the breaker box had much higher SAF than I thought. I thought my box had no more space for new breakers until Jeff clued me into the existence of tandem breakers. I was able to add the XTB's 220VAC breaker and a new circuit to the kitchen (after my wife got over the fear of my getting killed). Now we can use all the major kitchen appliances at once and the X-10 signals punch through most interference. When they don't, a $5 filter will usually solve the problem. Plus, X-10 has at least 5 different types of troubleshooting tools, from the cheap to the highly expensive pro gear.
This is a 1940 house, designed with what I am sure people thought was an absolute excess of outlets at the time. Taking into account all the power strips I have, a modern home needs about 25 outlets per room! If you are going to do the whole house, and want to do it for half to one third the price of any other protocol with 10 times the amount of equipment to choose from, X-10 is still a very good choice. If you're going to use the RF part of the X-10 protocol, you'll need a "souped up" transceiver from WGL. It's under 100 bucks and it puts the X-10 offerings to shame. I can turn on my porch light from 300' away using it. Without it, I can't get more than 25' in the open air. Quite a difference.
If you're going to do it big time, X-10 makes sense and costs less. Automating a single porch light is something I wouldn't recommend X-10 for because without the XTB the signal can get stepped on by UPS's, CFL's and any number of line noise generators. Plus, Jeff's technical support is "Best in class"
-- Bobby G.
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On 10/25/2010 2:31 PM, Robert Green wrote:

I like that.
Who would support the proprietary Insteon line if Smarthome went

I'll look into that.

I had written off X10 but I think it is worth another look, if for no other reason that I can't afford the other gear!
I'm putting in some overhead lights in the kitchen and wanted to control some of them individually. The option being running multiple power down to a bank of switches, which didn't make sense. At $50+/switch for the others, that didn't make sense either.
Do you know where I can find just the module without the plug and outlet? I haven't seen it yet, but it would seem like it has to exist. I can think of more uses...
Jeff

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Me too. I've been screwed a number of times by companies going south and taking their patents with them.

I firmly believe that X-10 is not "doable" without it, although some lucky folks seem to be able to make it work with stock equipment. The XTB is the nitromethane fuel of the X-10 world.

It's almost sinful how much you can buy from Ebay for pennies on the dollar. There isn't an HA protocol that has anywhere near the choice of gear and manufacturers that X-10 has. And now it's off patent so anyone can dive in and make compatible equipment.

Search for X-10 in-line modules - they come in lamp and appliance mode (dimmable thyristor control and relay only). If you're not a stickler for NEC rules, you can always make an inline module by cutting an extension cord in half and attaching the ends to the plug and outlet of the module you're converting.
-- Bobby G.
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On 10/26/2010 3:35 AM, Robert Green wrote:

OK, this sounds like the trick. I take it this hooks up to the breaker box and feeds both phases.
The kit is cool...
<snip>

I've been looking and it is all cheap. I found the RF remotes that handle 12 devices for $7, at that price I can afford to lose them!

Got it. $11 looks like the magic price for almost anything x10. Now if I can just find an x10 volume control I can get my multizone home audio going.
Jeff

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<stuff snipped>

Yes, you can either buy it fully assembled or in kit form. It sits next to the circuit panel and both amplifies the original signal and "copies" it to the other phase. The technical terms are "repeated" and "coupled" but "amplifies" and "copies" are somewhat more descriptive for the average Joe. <stuff snipped>
> > It's almost sinful how much you can buy from Ebay for pennies on the dollar.

The low prices are sometimes a mixed blessing (some of the gear is less well-made than others) but all things considered, I'm happy with the low cost of items like remotes because of the occasional mishap like the dog deciding it's a new chew toy of some kind. I also can't see paying $50 just to switch a device on and off, and some of the newer protocols charge that (and more) per controlled load. I'm happy with X-10 and the fact that there are many sources of X-10 gear, not just one vendor that may or may not survive the Great Recession that we are allegedly now out of. Uh huh.
<stuff snipped>

That's handled with a device called a Powermid - it's an IR extender that allows you to control devices that use IR remotes from any room in the house. I recall someone using the DIM/BRIGHT controls for such an application, but the best way to accomplish AV control is with the Powermids (which change IR to RF so that the signal can pass through walls).
Good luck!
-- Bobby G.
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