32 years using x-10

(I posted this in alt.home.automation yesterday. I thought I would
try this group today. Any input?)
I've been successfully using X-10 for 32 years now. Like many of you,
I have had my share of issues but always managed to use filters and
phase couplers to solve them. Again, like many of you, the last five
years have seen the level of intermittent operation increase. Every
new piece of electronics brought into the house usually requires
another day of troubleshooting. I managed to swap circuits around in
the breaker box such that all X-10 equipment is on one side of the box
thereby eliminating the need for a phase coupler, but problems still
occur. Of the 16 modules in use (all on one house code), 14 work all
the time while the other 2 work most of the time. It's that "most of
time" that drives me nuts. (By the way, our house is a little over
1300 sq ft in size plus a basement so I don't think my issues are
caused by excessively long runs).
The question:
Is it time to upgrade to a new technology? Insteon, Z-Wave, Zigbee,
etc all sound promising, but I have no real experience with them.
What, in your opinion, is the right choice if I were to decide to
start over? Which, if any, of the above has a chance to be around
decades from now such that spare parts will still be available?
Secondary question:
Why is the new stuff so expensive? I have typically paid $10 - $15
for X-10 modules. (Although I have to admit that has been true all
these years in spite of inflation). The new stuff seems to cost $50
to $70 per module. I just retired so I'm watching my spending... $69
is a lot of money for a wall switch. Multiply that by 16 or so
modules and add a few controllers (manual controllers and a computer
interface) and we are talking a lot of money. Maybe I should just buy
a few more X-10 filters ;-)
Final question:
If I stay with X-10, do the signal boosters I see discussed here
really work? Many of the devices are designed to solve the
cross-phase issue which I don't have (as stated above, all my X-10
equipment is on one phase). While I do believe my problems are
caused by low signal levels rather than noise, I believe the low
signals are caused by each new electronic appliance cutting the signal
just a little more. There isn't any one thing I can unplug which
solves all the issues. Filters have solved the big issues (eg, Sony
TV's), but I'm guessing that many minor issues are now adding up to an
overall marginal situation.
What would you do? Thanks in advance for your opinions!
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Hey Pat--
I've "only" been using X-10 for around 28 years... A friend who is in the high-end AV residential design/install business was visiting a few weeks ago, looked at what was on one wall, and told me I really should move off of X-10. My response? Why? It works, it's paid for, and the new stuff is a whole lot more expensive. Yes, the new stuff offers more capabilities -- capabilities I don't use. Turn the lights on around dusk; turn them off at bedtime. Turn them off a few more times during the night for kids who leave things on. Turn on outside lights during the holiday season. During weekdays in the school year, turn on some lights for a period in the morning.
I've had the intermittent problem as well. Borrowing signal strength equipment shows that it's low signal strength, rather than hash-generating gremlins.
My experience has been that most of my problems have been caused by the (EMI) filtering built into gadgets with switching power supplies -- which is just about everything these days.
If you think about a gadget that generates noise, and about putting a filter between the gadget and the power line, there are two things you can do (singly or in combination). You can introduce a high impedance between the line and the gadget at everything other than the power line frequency. Or, you can introduce a low impedance across the gadget at everything but the power line frequency. The first approach doesn't let the noise pass to the line. The second approach shorts out the noise at the gadget.
The problem (for us) is when a filter in a gadget also places a low impedance across the line at other than the power line frequency -- snuffing out our X-10 signals as well as any other noise on the line.
The cure, for me, is to identify those devices and put them behind a plug-in filter (it's a Leviton part) that provides some isolation at X-10 frequencies.
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I'm also a 28 year user of X10 and have had the same experiences. I swapped most of my X10 stuff to Insteon and it is indeed very reliable but far more difficult to administer. Shortly after I did that Jeff Volp came out with his XTB line of X10 coupler/repeaters. Since the Insteon stuff works with X10 I installed the XTB-IIR and had excellent results - X10 signals reached parts of the house that had previously been "X10 sterile" even with ACT repeaters! I recently bought a very good Insteon controller so now I use a combination of the two tecnologies.
In my new second home I am installing all X10 hardware (the stuff I took out from the other house) and an XTB-IIR with perfect results so far.
For your case, you have a choice. Since everything is on one leg you could use the XTB which simply plugs in to any outlet and your controller plugs into it. However, for not too much more money, you can use the XTB-IIR which installs to both legs of the powerline and will give you ultimate flexibility. The key to this equipment is that it puts out an X10 signal that is 25 times greater than a standard controller and 4 times greater than any other repeater. That will blast through almost any noise and it eliminates the need to constantly add more repeaters.
If you go with the XTB then you should also install a coupler just in case you want something on another leg. But if you can access both legs to make a 220 volt outlet that's the best choice. See it here:
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greenpjs wrote:
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Unfortunately, you're at the point where you need to spend money on a meter like the ESM1 to have even an inkling of what's happening on the powerline. Trying to diagnose X-10 problems via a binary "works/does't work" method is occasionally successful, but more often not. A meter will tell you whether you have a noise problem, a signal sucker problem, a bad transmitter, collision problems, etc. It should pay for itself in short order if you put any reasonable value on your time.
You'll need a crystal ball to answer that question, but consider this. The 110VAC network has changed little in 100 years. I have table lamps from the '30s that work quite well today. X-10 has been around for 30+ years but none of the contenders has that sort of track record. When you eliminate the known problems, there's no reason for it not to last another 30 years. One thing to consider about low power RF controls is that in this ever more wireless world, your RF controls are more and more likely to get stepped on by a higher powered radio signal. This has already happened to one of the most expensive HA protocols on the market, Lutron RadioRA. They were forced to provide users with special gear (they refer to it as channel B) when users in NYC reported their systems no longer functioned.
Nearly *ANY* RF protocol can get squashed like that and there's not a thing you can do to stop it except moving into a Faraday cage. X-10's powerline protocol, though saddled with its own issues, can be isolated from glitches or legit transmissions on the power grid by a "firewall" far more easily. With all the new RF spectrum sales and realignments along with the anti-terrorism efforts to thwart RF controlled devices, I've become very dubious of any RF system working well into the future, especially the low-powered unlicensed devices.
The X-10 cost is low because the patent has expired, the designs are already out there and the components used are incredibly cheap compared to the custom IC's found in the newer gear. Buying filters, an XTB and an X-10 meter is still way cheaper than upgrading even a modest system. With the big downturn in housing, I would expect one of the current players not to survive very much longer. Do you want to replace all your X-10 gear with "Zigwaveon" only to find you've been orphaned when they go out of business? I've seen that happen in the PC world and it makes the remaining spare parts as precious as gold because of their scarcity. Not a position I want to be in if a meter, some filters and an XTB could set things straight.
You'd have to describe your installation in much greater detail for us to make a guess at what's ailing your setup, but I am guessing you've missed several signal suckers or noise generators. Got any CFL's or fluorescents running unfiltered? My first step would be to see if completely disconnecting them from the power cures your ills. Then I would buy a meter. There used to be a vendor who lent or rented them, but since I own a meter and an analyzer, I never needed that service. Maybe someone here remembers who has them.
As for the XTB's working or not. The answer is emphatically "yes!" I suffered from all sorts of X-10 maladies before installing the XTB-IIR and now they've just vanished back into the blue hell they came from. I wish all problems had a similar magic bullet.
-- Bobby G.
Reply to
Robert Green
Bobby, From one Mr. Green to another, thanks for your reply. I received a total of four replies (one via private email) and all of them recommended the XTB-IIR as the closest thing to a silver bullet there is. I think I will order one. (It will be fun building a kit again. Heathkit used to get a lot of business from me back in the day - stereo, TVs, ham radio.)
Regarding a meter, I do have an ESM1, but it hasn't been very useful solving the latest round of problems. I am wondering if there isn't some sort of issue with frequency rather than strength. For example, I have two different RF transceivers. One is an older RR501. The other is a TM751. One works better than the other even though they provide similar signal strengths (according to the ESM1) when plugged in the same outlet. Could one be a little off the 120 kHz frequency? Perhaps some receivers are more sensitive to that than others. I wish I had an oscilloscope.
Anyway, thanks to all who replied. You have been very helpful.
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Pat, Glad to hear you decided on the XTB-IIR. You're making the right choice.
greenpjs wrote:
Reply to
That's good. It will save you a few bucks to build your own. I think you'll find Jeff's assembly instructions quite thorough and if you buy the parts kit, that it's quite well-marked.
That already tells me something. The ESM1's biggest weakness, compared to something like the Monterey Powerline Signal Analyzer, is the noise readout at low levels. The LED bars just can't compare to the PLSA's digital readout of the noise level in millivolts. The PLSA also takes noise readings at two different points on the AC cycle. It's how I was able to find the most recent noisemaker in my house, a shoplite whose bulbs were just about burned out. By moving the PLSA down each outlet in the circuit, it was easy to determine whether I was moving toward or away from the noise source.
The ESM1 display was not precise enough to perform that task. It might give you a good enough estimate to find the noise source, though. Check a few outlets with everything turned on to see if you can detect noise on the line. Even half a bar indicates a potential problem. It's important to have everything turned on at once because devices that are fine operating alone can cause trouble when operating together on the same circuit. Fluorescents are particularly problematic in this regard. If you're anywhere near the nation's capital, I'd be happy to drop by and scope things out with the Monterey for you. I've not yet found a problem it couldn't solve or at least shed some light on.
The RR has collision detection, but the TM doesn't. If the RR starts transmitting on a clear line, the TM751 can very easily begin transmitting as well, and collisions result. Collisions reveal themselves by working *eventually* if you keep pressing the buttons long enough. A noise or signal sucker problem usually won't work at all, no matter how long you press the buttons. One other thing I did was to remove all transceivers from the line except a single WGL all housecode unit:
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That step removed so many demons from the X-10 RF side of things that I was amazed. With more than one transceiver, line collisions become a real issue. They could easily account for the intermittent problems you're seeing. Do your intermittent issues disappear if you use only one transceiver or would removing one unit make it impossible to tell because of range limitations?
I know you're on a budget, but if you depend on RF X-10 controllers, the WGL unit is an important upgrade. I assume that you are using two transceivers because of the abysmal range of the X-10 stock units. The WGL unit allows me to control the X-10 lights from my driveway (about three time the range of the TM751) even though the antenna is in the middle of the house. It also plugs directly into the XTB unit's digital input port. I'm working on a detailed article about their latest transceiver that should appear in the next month or so. Although some people operate multiple transceivers without issue, I was not able to. My PLSA used to show collisions for nearly every RF transmission until I removed the TM751's and RR501's from the mix. Now the line is remarkably free of signs of signal collisions. If you indeed have filtered all the suckers and noisemakers, this is one place I would look.
Let us know how it all works out!
-- Bobby G.
Reply to
Robert Green
I decided to order the fully assembled unit. The extra cost was minimal and I'll be able to try it the day it arrives.
I have a basement full of cheap shoplite's (6 of them). When they are on, I definitely have issues, but they aren't typically on.
Thanks for the kind offer, but you would have an 8 hour drive to northeastern Ohio.
I oversimplified my original description of my system. I have a few modules performing a special function on a 2nd housecode. The TM is on the other house code. The RR works best on the main house code, but both work. The TM only rarely receives RF commands so it should only rarely send X-10 commands. Please correct me if that is wrong.
The WGL would let me eliminate the 2nd transceiver, but for the reason I stated above, I doubt that is the problem.
Will do. Jeff emailed me and said the XTB-IIR will ship next week. Thanks, again. Pat
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"greenpjs" wrote
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Even better choice. You'll be impressed by the quality of his assembly work and I think you'll end up with a better product because even if you're a super-solderer, he's already built 100's of them and knows all the tricks.
They really have to be behind filters. A lamp that had checked out as "X-10 safe" when the bulbs were new began emitting interference in the X-10 band at nearly 2 volts as the bulbs aged. Since I had previously checked it for X-10 issues and it passed, it was the last place that I looked. You can get a 20A in-line filter to cover entire light string or buy some more filters for each lamp. eBay usually has them for 1/3 of what you'd pay from even the cheapest places like Worthington.
It's a sad but true fact of life that more and more electronics have to placed behind X-10 filters, especially some of the really inexpensive Chez Chinois stuff. As much as I hate spending $ on filters, I realize that I can get quite a few for the price of one of the newer protocol modules. What I dislike more is having yet another box hanging from the outlet, although most modules, except for the basement, are out of sight. One of the pending "honey do" projects is to conceal both a module and a filter in the lamp my wife just brought home. Fortunately, it's got a huge ceramic base. The big issue there is going to be how to keep local control working while insuring that the lamp does not relight itself or flash every few seconds.
Oh well. Worth a shot since X-10 debugging goes faster with two people. I'll bet we can fix you up remotely, though. Your system seems to have evolved rather typically and it's not the largest nor most complex sounding one we've encountered.
Yes, that's correct. The TM is deaf to PLC commands. The TM acts as a signal sucker, though, and in the wrong place can adversely effect PLC traffic. When I removed the whole shebang of RR's and TM's I had, the overall signal strength went back up from millivolts to tenths of a volt and more all over the house. Probably not the issue in your case, though. I'm using nearly every housecode so I had a few more transceivers on line than most people! For a while around 2000 X-10 was giving TM-751's away with everything they sold and whenever I buy an entire lot of X-10 gear from eBay, there are a few more.
I doubt it, too. If you ever need a range boost for the RF in the future, it's certainly something to consider. My bet is on the shoplites for now, and overall signal attenuation in general. I'm still of the opinion that there's a signal sucker/noisemaker or two that's running unfiltered only because even with my practice of vetting every new thing I buy with the Monterey analyzer, some sneak by. Before the shoplite's aging turned to the Dark Side, it was two surge suppressor power strips that tested fine by themselves but dropped the signal significantly if one was plugged into the other one.
That's slow for him! He must have been away. (-:
In the meantime, I'd search eBay or somewhere for some more filters. Every time I buy, I buy in quantity and wonder: "Am I buying too many?" But that's never been the case. )-: It will soon be time to buy more, I'm afraid, as I convert everything over to CFLs.
-- Bobby G.
Reply to
Robert Green
Jeff shipped by XTB-IIR early this week as promised and it arrived Wednesday. I did a quick single phase install using a power cord since all my X-10 is on one phase. I am happy to report that it appears to be working perfectly. I haven't encountered a single missed X-10 command since. Of course, it will take a while for me to be *sure* all the intermittent problems are gone, but so far the XTB-IIR seems to be the silver bullet I was hoping it would be.
Thanks to Jeff for offering such a great product and for all the others who recommended it and helped me to diagnose the problem.
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Thanks for the update... we knew you'd like it!
greenpjs wrote:
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That's great news. Thanks for the followup. I guess if your X-10 stuff is all on one phase, installing it just on that phase makes sense since all a coupler would do is expose you to more possible sources of noise.
It was quite a boon for me since I didn't have to spend 3 or $4K to switch to a different protocol. It's just sooooo nice to have stuff work all the time now.
-- Bobby G.
Reply to
Robert Green

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