Newbie Advice needed

[I am posting this on USENET as well as YAHOO GROUPS - so if you monitor both, please bear with me.]

I have been scouring the web for info for a couple of weeks, but there are some fundamental questions I cannot seem to resolve to my satisfaction. I would appreciate any advice I can get. I have a

2-story house with about 2000 sf per floor. I want to start with some simple automation, but quickly move to more complex capabilities.

I don't see any of the newer technologies coming anwhere close to X-10 prices; and also they mostly don't have the wide selection of supported devices as X-10. So, I think I am going to start with X-10, if reliability is anything close to tolerable. Comments?

X10.com seems to have excellent pricing. SmartHome is pretty close. Is X-10 technology implementation any better with either one of these? Any reason not to mix-and-match? Does either have an edge in software robustness? ActiveHomePro has a plug-in for conditional macros - does SmartHome have similar capability?

I would prefer a stand-alone programmable controller (i.e. set it up with a USB-linked computer and then let it run alone), but I could dedicate an old W98-capable laptop to the task if that gave me a lot more flexibility. How does computer control compare to the standalone X-10 (CM1xA or PowerLinc controllers)?

Is there any difference between X10 and "X10 Pro" besides a longer warranty?

I don't get X-10 "2 way". If all devices are 2-way and support a report back of status, and if the controller can understand this status, it would seem that would solve intermittent transmission issues and X-10 would be near 100% reliable. Apparently, it does not have "five 9's" reliability so I am left wondering what "2-way" does and why the controller cannot sense when a command has failed and retry until it works. (Obviously, if a transmission is never able to be received, this wouldn't work but I would expect intermittent problems to be solvable.) What am I missing?

Thanks to you wise men!

Reply to
Free
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First thing to do is start off with a little light reading of the links I've listed which will just scratch the surface.

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X-10 is a great way to get started and can be made very reliable. There are new competitors entering the market with interesting technologies that may eclipse X10 as they mature. X-10 is 30 year old technology but it does a more than credible job in most applications. It is sensitive to power line noise and maintaining signal integrity can be an ongoing challenge. Two way operation is a bit "kludgy" and can cause more problems than it solves. That said, I've been using X-10 products from X10, X10 Pro, Leviton, ACT, Smarthome and others for over 20 years. There are a number of standalone controllers available, with the X10 ActiveHome taking a well deserved place at the bottom of most people's list. Look at JDS Stargate (what I use), Omni, Elk, HomeVision and Ocelet for worthwhile alternatives. (Aploogies to any I've missed). Welcome to the world of HA!

From:Free snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com

Reply to
BruceR

As you have found, X-10 pricing is unbeatable.

X-10's patent on the basic PLC technology expired a few years ago so there are now several manufacturers that use X-10 PLC technology - Leviton, Lightolier, PCS, SmartHome's *Linc, and others. Mixing and matching is usually OK but you do need to be aware of some 'gotchas' (see below).

While it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain reliability of an X-10 based system, it is possible as long as you understand the fundamentals. I've tried to cover the essentials on a web page at

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I always write my own software so I cannot comment on what might be available from the manufacturers.

Two-way devices must incorporate both a PLC receiver and a PLC transmitter. Most PLC transmitters load the system (It's possible to design ones that do not but that adds cost.) and attenuate the signal. The more transmitters you have, the lower the signal strength. Two-way functionality varies. Devices do not respond with an ACK or NAK but some respond to a STATUS REQUEST poll although their response may not actually reflect the condition of the load. Some report local control changes. It is probably best to limit two-way modules to areas/situations where they may be most useful.

Terminolgy can be confusing as marketing departments try to differentiate what are essentially near identical technologies. Leviton's DHC line uses X-10 PLC technology. Lightolier's Compose line uses X-10 PLC technology. Most of SmartHome's *Linc line uses X-10 PLC technology. Etc., etc., etc.

There are two "preset dim" methods. One, X-10 defined in the original PLC protocol but never used and have 'undefined' it in later documentation of the PLC protocol. SmartHome and PCS use it. It has 32 levels. It can have strange interactions with other devices. The other, 'extended dim', was defined by X-10 about 7-8 years ago. It has 64 levels. X-10 uses it in the LM14A and similar European devices. Leviton uses it in some of their devices.

Most of the more useful stand-alone controllers are not USB but you can usually use a USB-to-RS232 adapter with them.

I think the Ocelot still gives the most bang for the buck. It is expandable but you can start with the basic unit for about $150. I do not recommend the higher priced controllers for beginners as I think there may soon be developments that will make them obsolete.

HomePlug has c>[I am posting this on USENET as well as YAHOO GROUPS - so if you

Reply to
Dave Houston

Thanks for the links. I will check them all out.

It sounds like I want to avoid "2-way" - good info about the extra load.

If I buy any x10.com products, I am still wondering whether the "Pro" line provides any real benefit. Also, am I correct to believe that ActiveHome, ActiveHomePro, x10.com and x10pro are all the same company?

snipped-for-privacy@whocares.com (Dave Houst>As you have found, X-10 pricing is unbeatable.

Reply to
Free

Reply to
Dave Houston

SmartHome in general has the highest prices around.

X10.com has gret deals when you buy Sale or Packages deals.

Remember you get what you pay for. I yanked all my X10 stuff out for better reliability.

Plan on buying Filters and a Coupler /Repeater.

With new technologies X10 isn't my choice it is obviously the cheapest but its for a reason.

Brian

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Reply to
Tech-Home

I am wavering between an Ocelot controller (with PLC interface, about $175) and the SmartHome 1132CUP ($100). I expect to go through a trial phase and eventually end up with something like HomeSeer running on a dedicated PC, so I want something economical to start with that won't be too much of a waste to throw away when I move up.

When I began looking, UPB was the most attractive technology, but the price discouraged me, so I think X10 is best for now. I recognize the need for filters and a coupler/repeater. The coupler is a small problem - my only 220v outlet is for my dryer and there is no room for one of the plug-in modules; so I need a hard-wired unit at the breaker box. The problem is I can't find one that is both a coupler/repeater. Any suggestions?

The SmartHome switches and outlets are much higher (2-3x) than x10.com. If I went with either the Ocelot or 1132CUP, should I stay with SmartHome devices or would x10.com receivers work nearly as well? Is there another brand that gives better price/performance?

Thanks to all.

"Tech-Home" wrote:

Reply to
Free

I think most people would recommend against using any of the X10 Inc switches. Personally, I've had nothing but bad experiences with them.

One friend of mine does use them. He buys them in bulk so he can replace them when they die.

My guess is if you look at total cost of ownership, the Leviton or Smarthome switches aren't as expensive as they seem based on purchase price.

Also, the "click" on the leviton and smarthome switches is very nice compared to the "squish" you feel when you hit an X10 inc switch.

I've used all of them in different installations.

My current favorite is the Smarthome stuff. Their first generation switches had a few problems, but I just finished a house with 30+ switches and everything works great.

I put in a couple of the "booster" switches in distant locations (from the panel with the coupler/repeater) and reliability has been excellent.

I'm also using their 8-key keypads in a number of locations. I had bad luck with an older 6-key unit. But, all the "new" ones are working just fine.

Be sure to get a "maxi controller" from X10 though. It makes programming much easier.

Mitch

Free wrote:

Reply to
Mitch

I agree with what Mitch stated.

I wouldn't install X10 standard switches and buy something better. I started with these got my hooked. I actually have 5 of these used. Several appliance modules, cm11a, etc... I'll give you a great deal on these if your interested something to get you started cheap. My email is posted. I also do packages deals for bigger orders.

Leviton and Smarthome both have better switches. If money is a issue buy a couple at a time. For appliance/lamp modules x10 are fine.

Ocelot is a great choice ( I have one) but it's a learning curve to learn to program. But you will need a PSC05 to send commands.

ACT coupler/Repeater

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Have you looked at Zwave?

Reply to
Brian

Free:

My HA setup is rather simple at the moment, and is comprised of several X10 and RadioShack lamp and appliance modules. These are currently controlling lighting in each room, my front and back yard low voltage lighting, and some decorative outside lighting. During the Christmas season, they also serve to control my outdoor and indoor Christmas lights. All told, only about 15 receivers so far. I originally purchased the X10 ActiveHome kit, so I also have the RF receiver from that kit installed in the house. This turns out to be fairly handy, since you can control everything from the remote unit. In the ActiveHome kit, there was also the CM11A controller, which connects via a serial cable to the PC for programming. This unit stores various timers and macros and overall worked fairly well during the three years I was using it. However, I noticed degradation in performance over time with this setup. Eventually, there were fewer and fewer receivers working in my house, to the point that I nearly gave up on HA. But, I discovered that Smarthome released their own programmable USB controller and I had to check it out. So, off to the Smarthome store I went (which, luckily, is nearby for me). I mentioned some of my problems, and they recommended an active coupler that fit into my unused electric dryer 220V outlet. I also noticed their Powerlink Controller USB kit. This kit includes the controller itself, which connects via standard USB 1.1 connection, as well as the Smarthome Manager software.

After having trouble with one of their units (which they promptly swapped out for me), I've been running smoothly ever since. I like their software better than the Activehome software from X10 (which had not been updated for

3 years). It seems more useful, though not quite up to software like HomeSeer. But, I understand that Homeseer is compatible with this unit. In any event, all works great now. I also really like the Smarthome dimmers. Their basic Smartlink dimmer is pretty cheap relative to others on the market, and works very well. In fact, previously I'd picked up other electronic (but non-X10 compatible) dimmers from a local "big-box" store for nearly the same price. I love these dimmers. If you need scene programming, they have an intermediate priced unit called the Smarlink Plus dimmer that also works very nicely. These are much more solidly built than the X10 dimmers.

I'd definitely check out the Smarthome website (smarthome.com). I'm happy with them so far, at least for my very limited use of HA thus far.

Craig

Reply to
ceedub

Thanks, Brian. I am laying out my system now and will contact you about mixing-and-matching a few x10.com switches with other switches and a controller (still debating between 1132CUP and Oceolot).

Your site shows the ACT c/r at $144.99. But there is also a Levit>I agree with what Mitch stated.

Reply to
Free

There are two basic ways to wire a simple lamp and switch circuit.

1) Run the power from the source (breaker panel, or other circuit) directly to the lamp fixture. This would then bring both a line and neutral to the lamp. Another two-conductor cable (not counting the ground) would then be run from the lamp fixture to the switch. This cable would bring the line only to the switch and return it to the lamp through the switch. No neutral would be at the switch. 2) Run the power from the source directly to the Switch. This would then bring both a line and neutral to the switch. Another two-conductor cable would then be run from the switch to the lamp fixture. This cable would bring the neutral and a switched line to the lamp.

Usually the electrician will use the shortest route requiring the least amount of cable and labour. Many houses are wired with both methods. More and more electricians today are realizing the benefit of bringing the neutral to the switch and are now wiring it that way.

No, the code does not allow you to use the ground as a neutral.

Reply to
Paul

Question about switches: My house is about 15 years old. From replacing regular switches over the years, I only see (and expect to see) two wires at a switch - one from the line and one to the load. I don't know why you would ever need to see a neutral wire for a simple switch. SmartHome has the "SwitchLinc RX" series, which does not need a neutral wire. Implying that the regular SwitchLinc and, the ones I want to use, all ToggleLincs do have to have a neutral wire. I am confused.

Do new houses really have a neutral wire? If so, why? Can I use the grounding wire for neutral? Thanks again.

Reply to
Free

Thanks for the description. Please clarify #2. Where the line and neutral wire go to the switch, would the neutral be switched, or does it just splice into the neutral wire going to the lamp?

Practically speak>There are two basic ways to wire a simple lamp and switch circuit. >

Reply to
Free

It (the neutral wire in the switch box) just connects directly to the load.

Generally, you'll have either NM 14-2, 14-3, 12-2 or 12-3 (guage-number of conductors excluding bare wire ground). Usually/almost always, the white wire in the roamex is white. Sometimes in three-way circuits you'll see the white being used for a hot line. Some electricians are nice and put black tape around it then. Some aren't ;-)

Invest in a voltmeter. Test each line vs. the bare ground wire.

BTW, in my experience, not many electricians wire in scheme "1" below since it rarely saves wire (which is relatively cheap anyway for normal

14-2). (What's the diff if you run from the panel to the switch and then run a 2-conductor cable from the switch to the load?) Also, if you've got a string of lights or plan to do any 3-way switches "2" makes more sense. Finally, if you want to use the same run from another load to that switch box (say to from an upstream electrical outlet), wiring in scheme "2" generally makes things easier. m

Free wrote:

Reply to
Mitch

Careful, please. The wire "tucked in the back" is usually a ground. It appears to be electrically the same as neutral but you should never use it for neutral. In a worst case scenario doing so can electrocute someone.

Reply to
Robert L. Bass

Now I have a question on where is best to install the coupler/repeater. There are three places in my house where the three phases are readily accessible: 1) the main breaker panel, 2) the kitchen stove, 3) an upstair "auxiliary" breaker panel.

One concern I have is whether the circuits off the auxiliary panel are somehow isolated from the main panel and its circuits. Will PLC signals traverse the main and auxilary circuits?

If the best signal propogation would come from installing the coupler/repeater at the main breaker, then I will do that. But, I would prefer putting it at the stove (just for reasons of convenience

- simpler to kill just the stove power vs. the whole house and I d>I've never had a problem with the leviton coupler/repeater (I've

Reply to
Free

To my surprise, I pulled a couple of switches and did find a neutral wire tucked in the back. Even though I replaced most all of my switches several years ago, I didn't remember seeing the neutral - I guess because I just ignored it.

However, since SmartHome RX (no neutral needed) switches are the same price as the normal switches (neutral needed), it would be easier to just use the RX switches and avoid fishing out that heavy gauge neutral wire and stuffing it all in the outlet box. Is there a signal reliability issue with using the non-neutral switches vs. standard switches?

Mitch wrote:

Reply to
Free

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