X10 Issues - Motion Sensor Transmission Range, Dimmer Question, GFCI

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I installed some X10 components today and have some issues.
First, it's interesting that the specs for the MS16A Wireless Motion Sensor given on the X10 site make no mention of the transmission range. Wouldn't you think that that is a pretty important number to know?
http://www.x10.com/products/x10_ms16a.htm
However, you can find them here and they state the transmission range is 100'.
http://kbase.x10.com/wiki/MS16A
Using the test buttons on the sensor, I can trigger an RR501 receiver consistently within 40', intermittently within 40' - 50' and not at all above 50' - and that's with nothing obstructing the line of site between the two units.
Put a garage wall between them, and I'm limited to a max of about 25', less than 15' in some locations.
I've tried 2 different MS16A units and 2 different RR501's and got the same results. Yes, they were brand new batteries. I even tested them to eliminate the batteries as the problem.
Next issue: When using the dimmer feature of the WS4777 3-way switch or WS467 single switch, the bulbs do not dim to nothing. You can still see the light in a 65W outdoor spot even when the sun is up. I don't know how often I'd want to dim them to nothing, but I'm just wondering if that is normal.
Lastly (for now) I seemed to get inconsistant operation of the system when the RR501 were plugged into GFCI outlets. They seemed to work about 90% of the time, but every now and then the test buttons on the sensors wouldn't do anything even if I was standing right in front of the RR501. If I move the RR501 to a standard receptacle it starts working again. I tried two different GFCI's and got the same result. What's up with that?
If this is normal operation, then I'm going to be very limited as to where I place my sensors since I appear to be restricted by both distance and receptacle type.
My new toys aren't making me happy!
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"Toys" being the optimum word
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<description of several common X-10 issue snipped>

That's only partly true. X-10 gear has the "potential" to be the backbone of a highly reliably, very powerful (and best yet, surprisingly inexpensive) home automation system. Many people use it quite successfully. But not the way it comes from the factory.
Straight out of the box it's often a confusing, bedeviling, exasperating experience in: "WHY!!!?" Depending on what you bought, it can be: Why doesn't it work like they say? Why doesn't it work like I expect it to? Why doesn't it work at all? Or, the worst of all, why is it smoking like that?
With a little help, you can almost alway find a way to use it out of the box to turn on or off ONE problem light. X-10, however, scales badly and the more devices you add, the dicier things get for a number of different reasons, too detailed to go into here.
The X-10 concept is great. You can turn OFF or ON all the lights in the house or flash them. There's no faster way for the cops or EMS to find you when they're running down a street that to look for the house that's flashing all its lights. It's an attention getter.
Better still, it's cheap because the patent expired and it's managed to become a standard, with units built by many makers and robust price and feature competition.
But (and it's a Neicy Nash sized but) it was designed for the electrical "grid" found in the houses of 1970 when you might not find a single switch mode power supply outside of a laboratory. Now, every little battery charger made is a switch mode power supply.
X-10 RF was designed a little later, but essentially for the RF environment of those days and a lot has changed. They've always lied about their 100 ft range. Between two perfectly tuned devices, out in the middle of the ocean away from the radio noise of the big city -- maybe, but X-10 is mass-manufactured, not hand-tuned. The frequency match between devices is often quite poor and you can get RF failure in a plaster/lath house in as little as 10 feet. Hence the name X-10. <sarcasm alert - not true fact>
To make it a workable solution, as George has suggested, you need to "boost" the basic specs of X-10. I believe he's using the WGL All Housecode transceiver.
http://www.wgldesigns.com /
Specifically:
http://www.wgldesigns.com/v572.html
This unit has a far superior RF receiver, compared to stock X-10 gear, and most importantly allows for connection to an external antenna. X-10's designs, IIRC, use capacitance-coupled antennas and present a serious shock hazard if standard attempts are made to improve its (pitiful) range.
Stock X-10 may be enough for a lot of people, but to turn X-10 into a "when I push the button, I know the light will go out 99% of the time (or better)" then you also need Jeff Volp's product, the XTB-IIR.
http://jvde.us/xtb_index.htm
This is a repeating amplifier (among many other things) that takes the average 5V output of the X-10 signal over the powerline and boosts it up to around 25V. Hence the name XTB (X-10 Transmission Booster - true fact). No X-10 installation larger than "toy" or "one attic light on a pull chain" should be without it, but I'm guessing maybe half a million are. With all the cheap plug-in chargers in the world that leak RF onto the powerlines (or worse, block it AND the X-10 signal from propagating), it's only a matter of time before stock X-10 users begin experiencing intermittent "ghost" failures: those annoying, middle of the night activations that are so incredibly annoying and have very low SAF. Or it will come in the form of lights that just refuse to be controlled remotely. Or at all.
With the XTB gear, "I press the button and the light goes on." Anyone with a twitchy X-10 system knows what a serious endorsement that is. I can find fault with almost any product, but this one's only fault is that it needs to be installed in a box next to the main circuit panel and wired to each phase of the 240VAC service via a tandem breaker. For about 90% of the people here, though, that's probably not a problem. He's even got gear that can help without needing serious changes to the main circuit panel.
Disclaimer: No financial interest in either company, just a deliriously happy user of both. I figure they've saved me over $3,000 in not having to change over to a more expensive, more limited AND proprietary protocol like Insteon or Z-wave.
-- Bobby G.
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wrote:

.
My cfls blink when off with x10 modules but not the x 10 exterior motion lights that use a relay, [ I use 12 cfls outside on 3 motion sensors] can I use Insteon modules and mix them into an x10 set up for cfls. I just got an iphone and downloaded the Free Insteon app, the x10 app is 10 bucks. But X10 told me I need their remote controller to go through the computer, but I think from what I read the Insteon controller will run without a computer. I would like to upgrade my x10 stuff to run off my iphone without leaving my computer on, It goes into standby when im not using it. Do you have any suggestions on this, where can I read up on and learn about what you have posted about x10 and insteon. I like x10, ive had 3 exterior motion sensors communicating whith each other and interior control pads since maybe 1986, I like the stuff but its not 100% reliable. After reading what you said about Insteon, maybe I could integrate a few of their modules. The iphone idea as a controller is what I really like.
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<stuff snipped>
<My cfls blink when off with x10 modules but not the x 10 exterior motion lights that use a relay, [ I use 12 cfls outside on 3 motion sensors] can I use Insteon modules and mix them into an x10 set up for cfls. I just got an iphone and downloaded the Free Insteon app, the x10 app is 10 bucks. But X10 told me I need their remote controller to go through the computer, but I think from what I read the Insteon controller will run without a computer. I would like to upgrade my x10 stuff to run off my iphone without leaving my computer on, It goes into standby when im not using it. Do you have any suggestions on this, where can I read up on and learn about what you have posted about x10 and insteon. I like x10, ive had 3 exterior motion sensors communicating whith each other and interior control pads since maybe 1986, I like the stuff but its not 100% reliable. After reading what you said about Insteon, maybe I could integrate a few of their modules. The iphone idea as a controller is what I really like.>
I'm sorry I don't have anywhere to point you. I believe HomeVision will do what you want via X-10, but realistically, new apps like Iphone control are likely to be supported most by newer technology like Insteon. Can't say for sure though, since I have not been really looking for Iphone control apps. There are a couple out there, but I don't know anyone who uses them personally, so I can't do more than list them:
http://www.appsafari.com/utilities/6542/x10-commander /
The above app requires an X10 CM15A device and a running PC to act as a server and only controls 15 devices throughout the house. A smart remote like the IconRF can control 256, so there's strong competition. I can understand wanting Iphone control since you've much more likely to have your phone in your pocket than your remote . . .
http://www.appsafari.com/remote/3522/x10-home-control /
Seems to be a better app, and has given me a great idea - they use actual pictures of the devices being controlled instead of generalized icons. I didn't realize how much easier that makes the system for non-geeks and I may have to steal, ahem, borrow their idea for my own setup. (-:
There's a close-up simulation here:
http://www.ayefon.com/x10/x10sim.html
and the developer's website talks about standalone controllers (namely the Smartlinc from Smarthome, the Insteon people). But it seems for now the only X-10 apps I could find require a webserver running on an old PC.
There's the interesting PixieLinc:
http://www.ayefon.com/pixielinc/index.cfm
that uses that $130 Smartlinc controller that works without having a PC on and acting as a server:
http://www.smarthome.com/2412N/SmartLinc-INSTEON-Central-Controller/p.aspx
Which seems to be a pretty capable unit, able to support X-10 and Insteon control. Here are some features (some apply only to Insteon and X-10 support seems to be waaaaay down the list which would make me worry about how good their X-10 support really is):
Status/Feedback Get confirmation that a device or scene has been activated.
Sunrise/Sunset Support for Timers Turn your lights on and off automatically based on local sunrise/sunset. Select city/state or latitude/longitude.
Enhanced Thermostat Status and Control A dedicated page for controlling and reading status on your INSTEON-compatible thermostat.
Start/Stop Dimming Select between incremental or start/stop dimming and brightening of lights. By enabling start/stop dimming, SmartLinc sends out a continuous Bright or Dim command when first pressed. Press a second time to stop when the lights get to a desired level.
Advanced Custom Control Power users rejoice. Now you can get down to the command code and modify commands. Some of the things you can do include at the device or scene level:
Copy a scene from one room to another room
Change Group ON to Group Fast On
Create an All On or All Off for all devices linked to SmartLinc without having to re-link devices
Incorporate X10 devices
Create On Off macros with delay ---------------------------------------------------------------------------- ---------
Again, I have not used ANY of the above devices, so I can't endorse them one way or the other but it does seem that the Iphone is emerging as a popular interface for remote home control. I know that many people set up home control servers using Linux that serve up webpages that can be used by any device with a built-in browser to control. I've looked into various, similar setups and have yet to find one that appears to be as simple as the Smartlinc standalone device.
If I were in your shoes, I'd use an old laptop as a webserver (for power conservation reasons) and I would turn off all the power saving "sleep mode" stuff (they ought to call it "brain dead" mode because there are still hiccups in lots of apps and HW when you wake them up from sleep.)
The unit I use as an audio server use to continually lose its USB connections after waking up before I "jammed it open" so that none of the powersaving features kick in. They're there mostly to conserve battery power which is irrelevant when running off AC. At 17W total current draw for the whole setup, I am not willing to spend hours debug funky USB drivers to save a few more watts when I can just turn all the powersaving junk off.
-- Bobby G.
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On 9/18/2010 11:54 PM, Robert Green wrote:

If I were doing anything more than simple or simply wanted it to work without tinkering I would just go with insteon. Some friends tried whole house automation with X-10 and it does take a huge amount of TLC.

That is it. I forgot what it was because I simply plugged it in and never had to look back because it works so well.

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On Sun, 19 Sep 2010 09:04:04 -0400, George wrote:

Yes, it does.
That's why I tried Insteon. It was worse. Much worse than not working at all. It was extremely erratic. I returned the stuff to where I ordered it (Smarthome). That's been a couple of years, and they still owe me $90 for returned stuff they didn't credit.
--
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--

That's why I suggested to DerbyDad that he go with a dedicated motion sensor
flood. I've got a housefull of X-10, but the side porch light is on a
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news:d15743c6-7dca-4152-9d4b-
<stuff snipped>

And ruin the fun? The PlusOne demon will put hair on your chest! It will cause you to utter swear words you didn't even know you knew!

This is probably one of the most important reasons I chose to use a standalone fixture. IIRC, it was $10 for the whole shebang and it included a sensor on a stalk that you could aim right at the walkway. The X-10 sensors tend to take in too much, no matter where you place them and the "stock" mounting arrangement is very limited (flat against the wall, basically).
I've been most successful with them in the bathroom and outside, positioned looking across the basement stairs from one side to another so that only a person walking right by would trigger it. Aiming it at a blank wall also reduces squirrel, bird and wind activation. Mount yours on a swivel joint (shouldn't be hard for a soapbox racer builder!) so you can point it just where you need it. Be prepared for it to miss sensing anything when the outside temps are in the 90's. Not enough difference between warm living bodies and the background, I guess.
If you're in a cold neck of the woods, use lithium AAA's to make sure they work below zero degrees. I have taken one or two of the hard to reach ones and soldered in "D" cell battery holders remotely located from the sensor. Another thing I dislike about the sensors is that when you change the batteries, you lose the settings. A remote battery pack allows me to clip in two AA's in a holder into the circuit to keep the memory settings alive while I change the D cells. For the sensors located high up, that's a real help. FWIW, I've had one unit running off 2 D cells for over 5 years. The sensors are pretty low-drain affairs.

Oh, what the hey. I'll spill. The X-10 motion sensors have, in addition to the PIR motion sensor, a cadmium sulfide (CDS) cell to detect light. When they sense that it's gotten dark, they will turn on the lamp that has a unit setting ONE higher than the code it is set to. If it's controlling lamp A1 then at dusk it will turn unit A2 ON and at dawn it will turn A2 OFF again.
You can't imagine how badly this has bewildered many new users of X-10. Even the really smart guys get taken in, and worse yet, those who think they've gotten around the problem by choosing unit code 16 (the highest allowed) find that the PlusOne demon "wraps" around and will use unit code 1 as the dawn/dusk unit.
Perhaps the worst case scenario is a situation where a PlusOne sensor is in range of another and the codes are set so that one sensor turns out the lights and the other sensor, thinking it's dusk, turns them back on. The potential for insanity is very, very high.
The light detection circuitry is actually quite handy when you know it's there and how to deal with. Most times, though, it's more trouble than help so I open the motion detectors, find the CDS cell (the silver can with the red squiggly lines on the glass top), and cover it in black shrink tubing to defeat PlusOne completely. Some people cut the leads, but the shrink tubing method is more easily reversible with a quick touch of an X-acto knife. Advanced users have created many "mods" that allow you to clip out the CDS sensor and replace it with other detectors for a wide range of purposes. I have about 40 of them because when I was acquiring X-10 gear, they always threw in a couple of "Hawkeyes" for free.
I've had some success in eliminating squirrel-caused activations by using strips of black masking tape on the smoked plastic "lens" of the motion sensor. Even so, I much prefer my $10 standalone motion detection fixture just to keep all the extra X-10 signals that come from detecting rabbits, squirrels, cats, dogs, birds, bats and passing cars from cluttering up the powerline. The X-10 motion sensors are perhaps the number one cause of lost transmissions due to collisions. X-10's error checking protocol is unfortunately not the best so when two valid commands appear on the line at the same time, they often create a third command that may or may not effect other modules in the house.
I discovered collisions when the motion controlled light in the bathroom would come on when you entered the room and then it would suddenly kick off at pretty much the worst possible moment. That had SUCH low SAF I pulled ALL the X-10 motion sensors from the first floor except for the bathroom one. Since I've started using the HomeVision controller, I've been able to set it up so that at night, the bathroom light comes on at 25% dim and goes out when no motion is detected for 16 minutes. There's still some arm waving on the can from time to time, but no more lights out in mid-stream!
Welcome to the wild and wacky world of X-10, Derby. Despite the horror stories, I can't imagine living without it and when I visit other people's homes, I feel like I am in the stone age. I used to be evangelical about pushing X-10, but now I've turned 180 degrees and mostly warn people off unless they are prepared to get deep into the details. It's not as easy as X-10 makes it seem, but it's also not as bad as its detractors would have you believe. Like many other things, it takes patience, learning and skill to master.
-- Bobby G.
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Good grief. What a total crock. The X10 motion sensor has to be programmed when you set it up. One of those settings is whether the dawn/dusk feature is turned on or off. Reading the directions and doing that was too much for you?
And even if it's left on, it would then activate only the any X10s that have a unit number one higher. So, just don't use that X10 unit number.
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On 9/18/2010 5:39 PM, DerbyDad03 wrote:

Those receivers are pretty much a novelty item. I responded in your earlier thread that I experienced the same thing. I installed the extended range receiver or whatever it is called and it can hear the little key fob unit from 250' away.

See above.

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They stretch specs a bit, like a mile stretched. Im suprised it works at all with a gfi, I would not use it with a gfi. Internal wiring makes a big difference even a different socket in the same room can often fix an issue. Their stuf works "most" of the time, I would never want an x10 alarm system.
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On Sat, 18 Sep 2010 14:39:50 -0700, DerbyDad03 wrote:

[snip]
X10 is like that. Very useful in some situations. Very annoying in others.
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X10 is 1970's technology literally, there are many other far superior powerline and RF based mesh network devices available these days. X10 is a toy. Smarthome Insteon or the Lutron devices are very reliable, especially the ones that are dual band, sending the commands simultaneously over RF and the powerline, and every device in these mesh networks becomes a repeater making it even more reliable. Not much cost difference either over X10, but you get what you pay for. I remember doing the X10 experiment board projects from Popular Electronics magazine around 1973 or so, it was impressive then, but by todays standard it is a toy. X10 signals are easily sucked off the powerline by the filters in all the electronic devices on the powerline in standby mode, TV's, receivers, UPS backups, computers, X10 has a hard time competing with those as they filter noise, including your X10 signal. Then you have the perpetual issue of bridging tthe signal to devices on the other phase without an amp, repeater or passive bridge.
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On Sat, 18 Sep 2010 21:16:35 -0700 (PDT), RickH wrote:
<snip>

Really? I have been using X10 since the 70's and have about 20 receivers on multiple house codes (various switches, modules, etc) and 5 transmitters (RF based as well as older controllers and computer interfaces). As others have said, I have done a lot of TLC to keep it all going. A few years ago, I invested in an XTB which worked wonders.
When new ads arrive from Smarthome, I think about converting to Insteon, but the cost is a major factor. X10 devices are still available in the $10 to $15 range while Insteon is usually $40 to $50. That strikes me as a lot of cost difference. (Although, converting the 1970's X10 module price to today's dollars yields prices greater than today's Insteon prices). I may yet convert one of these days, but with the XTB and a few filters in the system, the X10 system gets the job done. I might even consider spending the money to convert, but how to I know Insteon won't go away tomorrow? I took that risk with X10 in the 70's and it clearly hasn't been a problem! Will Insteon still be around in 40 years? I doubt it, but I would settle for a guarantee of 10 years.
Sorry for the rambling response. I started out to just disagree with your "not much of a cost difference" statement.
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On Sep 19, 8:53am, snipped-for-privacy@neo.rr.com wrote:

You are comparing the China X10 prices. I avoid the China X10 stuff and used the ACT models made in Indiana, they cost more but are better. But I weened everything off X10 to Insteon with a computerless 24/7 ISY controller:
http://www.smarthome.com/12231DB/ISY-99i-INSTEON-Compatible-Automation-Controller-with-Dual-Band-PLM/p.aspx
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wrote:

<You are comparing the China X10 prices. I avoid the China X10 stuff and used the ACT models made in Indiana, they cost more but are better. But I weened everything off X10 to Insteon with a computerless 24/7 ISY controller:>
Your statement about ACT is another reason I prefer X-10. If you want high quality gear, you can opt for it, but I find that now I have the XTB, the mass produced Chinese stuff is good for most applications. I imagine the changeover wasn't cheap. Do you recall how much it cost, or was it such a slow switchover you didn't notice. To Insteon's credit, they did make it easy to run both protocols so that you could switch over manually.
< http://www.smarthome.com/12231DB/ISY-99i-INSTEON-Compatible-Automation-Controller-with-Dual-Band-PLM/p.aspx >
I recall a lot of people having serious issues with the first control units that came out and IIRC, they abandoned one of their controller models in midstream, but I could easily be mistaken.
Insteon's big advantage (AFAIK) is that it's inherently two-way and that it can transmit a lot more data per second than X-10. That gets to be important when you have a lot of control traffic on the powerline. X-10 has collision problems, especially if you use a lot of X-10 motion sensors. They put so much traffic on the line that they frequently "step on" transmissions from other modules.
-- Bobby G.
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I was also going to take exception about the equal cost statement. If you know where to look, you can get appliance and lamp modules and plug in filters for as low as $5. I use a lot of "doubled up" modules (piggybacked so that it takes two A1 ON commands to turn on a light so equipped) and that doubles the cost per control point. With X-10 it's still reasonable. With X-10, not so much.
Doubling up serves two purposes. I put a single fixture in a room on a single module, so that one press of A1 turns on enough light to move through the room. I put the rest of the fixtures on doubled up modules, so if I want more light in the room, I just press A1 on a second time and the piggyback modules all activate. It's a great way to save house/unit address "slots." Better still, the lights that are piggybacked rarely come up by themselves when the power blips. I probably wouldn't be able to do that with other protocols because the price per control point is so much higher.

Yes, it takes some tweaking and learning to get it to work seamlessly. The key pieces to my X-10 puzzle were Jeff's XTB and Wayne's WGL transceiver for X-10 RF. No amount of filters could compensate for the issues switch mode power supplies caused my system. With plaster and lath, I couldn't get X-10 RF to go from room to room with reliability. The XTB makes it all work.
The WGL unit is nice, but its output needs boosting to reach all corners of the house. I connected 4 antennas, a splitter combiner and an antenna amp to my WGL unit and I can turn on the house lights from nearly 250' when I am in the car, approaching home. I once tried installing multiple TM751's (X-10's stock RF unit) all over the house before I got the WGL. That's when I learned what X-10 collisions are and how low X-10's SAF could be! (0:

I am tempted as well, especially because some new and interesting devices are starting to appear for Insteon systems (still nowhere near the variety of X-10 gear available). X-10 is cheap and robust. I still have a number of 20+ year old brown BSR and Sears modules that I bought in the early 80's - and a GE Homeminder control that you operated via your TV. Still working.

I am sure you know what it means to say (about the XTB): "When you push the button, the light just goes on. Every time." For years, I would push the button and a) nothing would happen or worse, b) the wrong device would activate. For that, I bought I Monterey Protocol Analyzer for $300 because I was having so much trouble. (Jeff makes a much cheaper one, the XTBM, that surpasses the Monterey in a number of categories
The range of potential issues, particularly using stock X-10 gear, is the reason I warned DerbyDad to stick with a dedicated motion detector flood fixture. His application touched on some of the weakest links in the X-10 chain. However, the "thrill" of remote controlling things in the house is intoxicating. If he decides to stick with it, he's certainly smart enough to be able to make it work reliably. It does take some effort, and the prices for the XTB and WGL units are steep compared to other X-10 gear, but that's the trade off you get with it being so relatively inexpensive compared to other HA protocols. Jeff's units are all handbuilt and meticulously tested, so there's a very valid reason for the price.

Ah, yes. The sole source conundrum. Smarthome rushed their new line to market and had some serious issues with terrible light flicker. Apparently they had adopted the MicroSoft strategy of getting people to buy the beta version of their products and do field testing for them. Well, when Smarthome had to recall a whole bunch of gear (and they got sued, as well), the "let the customer pay to beta test" strategy turned out to be less than optimal.
A frequent contributor in Comp.Home.Automation, Bruce Robin, builds high-end houses in Hawaii and elsewhere. He installed Insteon in one of his new homes just before the XTB came out and he said that he would not have made the switch had he known how much the XTB improves X-10 reliability.
Unfortunately, so many people have had so many different startup problems with X-10 stock equipment that it's got the "toy" rap. With the right gear, it can do some incredibly powerful things. One thing that keeps it from going obsolete is the highly regulated and standardized 110VAC wiring in most homes. There will be X-10 gear humming away somewhere 30 years from now.

It's hard not to get going about X-10. (-: Anyone with even a medium sized installation has had a love-hate relationship with it for years. I was just about to rip it all out (or get divorced) when the XTB came out. Saved me the cost of conversion and maybe even my marriage. Now *those* are some serious features.
-- Bobby G.
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