Installing X-10 is initially simple, but there are things that you learn only after
a lot of frustration and pain. Here are some insights that may help you.
Problem: Installation of newer X10, UPB and Insteon devices needs 3 wires, but I
have only 2. What do I do?Solution: This is the classic problem facing older homeowners.
My house was built in the late 60's. Electrical standards and practices from those
days seem to have been much different than the wiring expectations for these new
devices. Often there is no neutral, but the line to the light is just "interrupted"
on one line with a simple wall switch. Consequently, the only way to install an advanced
device is to run an extra line to the power panel. In most homes, this can only happen
during a major renovation (e.g. wallboard has been torn off). The costs are significant.
Older homebuyers are caught in a catch-22. They may wish to use more modern devices,
but may not be able to due to the design of their house wiring. They may be limited
to using these devices where wiring can be easily accessed and replaced (maybe the
basement). Sorry - wish it wasn't so, but I'm living that dream too.
Problem: Why don't X-10 commands, remotes and macros operate reliably?Solution: This
is the real root of many problems with X-10 home automation. All devices share the
same single AC line phase. For systems with couplers or amplifier/repeaters, they
share both phases. Since it takes 1-2 seconds for any X-10 command to be transmitted,
there is a possibility that a macro, motion detector or another person may activate
a second command before the first is complete. This results in a "collision" which
can corrupt the data. This happens on computer LAN's too, but the slow data rate
of X-10 and no retransmission scheme makes the results very visible (as in "why didn't
that light turn off?"). The secret is to plan your installation so that macro events
are spaced out as much as possible to minimize the collisions. Sites with amplifier/repeaters
could find collisions more chronic.
Problem: Sellers of X-10 products are not equal. When dealing with problems, it is
necessary to work with some technically experienced people. Solution: X10Pro provides
a network of X-10 qualified electrical people. I've used them, and the results have
been good. When it comes to doing your own diagnosis, I've found SmartHome.com to
be good to work with. Naturally, they expect you to order product from the, but when
dealing with exotic parts such as repeater/amplifiers and noise blockers, it is a
good thing to have knowledgeable folks to talk with. There are good deal from other
places, and in particular X-10 USA so don't be afraid to go for those opportunities
Problem: Lights turn on/off when you least expect it.Solution: This can be caused
by noise from internal devices. I have a garage door opener that turned on the lights
when my kids came home late. A local noise filter fixed that up. There have also
been cases where lights go berserk. I suspect an aquarium heater right now and have
a noise filter on it as a test. A weird one to experience is when you are doing nothing
at all in your home. I discovered that my neighbor was using a table saw. The noise
from the brushes messed up my system because we were on the same transformer. The
only solution here is a Signal Blocker that blocks noise coming in and X-10 going
out. I've got one, but getting it installed will require an X10Pro electrician to
rip apart my complete meter/power entry and install it to current code. Well, we'll
see if a few other things can fix this up instead of that kind of adventure and cost!
Look at the web page on X-10 Secrets. It can help you with this.
Problem: Some lights are rogues and just can't be controlled. They work locally when
you push the button, but that's it.Solution: This is often caused by signal loss
(attenuation) over long wiring runs. Sometimes using a capacitor across the two phases,
or a Phase Bridge will help, but not always. If your house has a large foot-print,
you will be faced with calling in an electrician and getting a Cross-Phase Amplifier/Repeater.
This device takes signals on one phase of the panel, amplifies it, and sends it out
on the other phase. X10 Signal Meters will indicate very low signal levels when this
is needed. It is the ultimate last step. After this, you need some new wiring.
Problem: Some lines have a lot of noise when the X-10 device is turned on.Solution:
This is nasty. In part, these devices are like the rogues above, but in effect they
seem to generate their own interference. I've got one like that and have done everything
I can think of. I've changed the X-10 switch, re-seated all the wire connections
I can get to with new Marrette connectors (those screw-on plastic things that have
springs to ensure a good contact when you connect switches to wiring). It is not
on the whole circuit - only on this one part. In this particular case, it took about
2 years to identify that an ultrasonic tooth brush with proximity charger was inducing
noise into a line common with the uncontrollable light. Slip in a filter and the
Problem: Sometimes my lights can't be controlled at all within the same room.Solution:
The question to ask is, do you have a new energy saving florescent light in an incandescent
socket? These lights, while energy saving, create a lot of AC line-noise. This is
well known in ham-radio circles. I've got a lamp like this, and I leave the lampstand
unplugged. To fix this, get rid of the energy saving light or put a filter on the
line. The light is not easily controlled using X-10 in any case.
Problem: I have florescent lights, but most X-10 products are for incandescent only.Solution:
You will need to get a florescent switch like the ones made by Leviton and they cost
about $40 US. The biggest problem with these switches is that should you have an
old house with only 2-wires to the switchbox, you are either out of luck or you will
have to get a neutral (3rd) line pulled. Guess who learned this the hard way? This
applies to nearly ALL the new X10, UPB and Insteon products now being produced.
Problem: I put on WS467 standard incandescent light switch on a bathroom lamp/fan
combo, but the switch won't work once the fan is turned on.Solution: Even though
the switch controls an incandescent light, the motor from the fan can generate a
lot noise. Perhaps a noise filter will work, but from experience I've had no luck
with that. You can force the unit off using the master switch, but that should only
be a temporary solution. Please note - the WS467 and similar switches NEED the light
to provide a continuous circuit in order to operate. If you turn on the switch and
the light is burned out, you could damage or destroy the switch. Be careful ! ! This
is really an installation scenario for a "relay" class of switch
Problem: I put on WS467 standard incandescent light switch on a bathroom lamp, with
a daisy-chained exhaust fan on a mechanical timer switch. It works fine, but the
fan sounds crazy like its having trouble running once in a while.Solution: The incandescent
light switch isn't designed for the fan. In my case, I have 4 bulbs so there is always
a way for current to flow and the switch to work. When the fan is turned on, every
once in a while it sounds like the voltage is causing the fan to act haltingly. It
sounds like its start/stopping very fast. What causes this is the transmission of
X-10 signals on the line. The lights handle it fine, but it messes up the voltage
levels for the fan electric motor. Its something you'll have to put up with, but
the upside is that every time you hear it, you will find it is usually caused by
a motion detector being activated, or a program executing. That way, you know when
people are up and you are in the shower!!
Problem: I put two WS467's in series - one being the master and the other a sub-controlled
circuit. The first switch turns on all power in a room, while the second turns on
a specific light within that circuit. The second cannot be controlled by my computer
interface.Solution: X-10 devices do not daisy-chain signals. The first to encounter
the signal will consume it, and nothing gets through to the next device. By design,
the second device is 100% UN-controllable remotely. You are out of luck with this
kind of installation. The sub-circuit needs to be hooked into the lines prior to
the first WS467.
Problem: I use a repeater/amplifier, but my system locks up with uncontrollable retransmissions.Solution:
The first assumption is that this is from a cross-phase coupler (capacitor, 220 VAC
dryer, etc.) taking the repeated signal, passing it across the phases, and the amplifier/repeater
re-sending it again, and again. The vicious circle problem this evokes can be very
concerning since there are no devices in the market to block cross-phase coupling.
In investigating this problem, I learned that the repeater shouldn't be doing this
so it may be defective. However, there is a second possible culprit. Look at any
TM751-class devices. These RF Transceivers can go crazy and sometimes lockup. I have
found that the infinite repeating follows one of the RF Transceivers in my home.
With 4 transceivers, there is a lot of traffic, and when one goes wonky, then you
are in big trouble. Use an X-10 meter to diagnose the high traffic levels, then trace
it using your PC software. The repeated "letter"-zone is the key pointer to the offending
Problem: SR227 Sockets start going clickitty-click, then fail to turn on/off the
controlled light or appliance.Solution: Sorry, but the truth is that part of the
relay is broken. You will have to replace the socket. Hopefully its under warranty.
I suspect that many sub-standard SR227's were dumped on the market at bargain basement
prices and they just don't hold up.
Problem: I use several MS13A Hawkeye motion detectors to control lights using macros,
but the lights go a bit crazy and sometimes they respond very slowly.Solution: The
first problem is that each of these motion detectors has 2 addresses - one for motion,
and one for dusk/dawn detection. There is no way to disable the dusk/dawn, so if
the detector activates a light that is bright enough for dawn to be detected, the
traffic is maximized. Unpleasant but true, and nothing can be done about it. However,
traffic can be reduced in ActiveHome by avoiding the use of long macros. Keep one
motion event to one macro (ON or OFF). I have found it generates less traffic to
instruct lights to increase brightness to 100% rather than just say ON. An OFF is
still ok. When multiple events are on a macro, be sure to space them out 1 minute
apart to minimize collisions and those nasty weird light events.
Problem: The system uses a W800RF32 all-zone RF receiver. A DM10A is not being received.Solution:
This turned out to be one of the weirdest things I've run into. The supplier of the
home automation system and wireless device both claimed they were working perfectly,
but it was evident that the signals were being generated but not received. When you
get vendors who don't believe they have a problem, then it's work-around time. In
this case, I had to add a wireless receiver on a dedicated zone and configure the
DM10A onto it. Once a standard X10 receiver was in place the signals came in just
fine. From my experience, the DM10A is the only X10 device I've ever had that didn't
provide compatible data. I suspect that there is something not quite right with it,
and my intention is the phase out it's use.
Problem: High traffic levels from DM10A motion detector.Solution: The only DM10A
that is in use detects driveway motion. It is particularly sensitive to morning light
and driveway heat, generating signals ever second or less. Frankly, there is no real
solution as outdoor detectors are heat activated and just susceptible to this kind
of thing. The solution that I have to consider is replacement of the DM11A overall
so that traffic levels are suitable, and the AC lines don't get overloaded by spurious