Discussion of my X10 solution has come up on a couple of threads here, when discussing the night-time breakin, home invasion or other scenario that requires quick action in a home that's shut down for the evening. I'm going to take this opportunity to outline my home automation system, with an overview of capability, to show how home automation can be used not just for the convenience minded, but also the defensive minded family.
Why I did it in the first place.
My experimentation with X-10 started with an attempt to solve a simple problem. I had just built a dedicated home theater in my basement, and I wanted to be able to control the lights using my universal remote control. After poking around online, I found the X-10 solution. Using an IR543 (Infrared Mini Controller - IR543) and a heavy duty X-10 Controllable dimmer switch. I used a phillips pronto programmable remote and was able to create lighting scenes. One button to dim the lights slowly, and another button to VERY slowly ramp up the lights so as not to blind the viewers.
Doing this simple project with X-10 kicked off some thinking. I was about to start a major house remodel and I thought, "what can I do to add more automation to my home". It started as an automation project. It ended up being an energy saving, automation and security project.
A note on family acceptance/ease of use.
As with anything technologically oriented, or safety oriented, one has to consider the "WAF," or "Wife Acceptance Factor". As it turns out, my wife was lukewarm to X-10 until it became something she depended on. Since then, the WAF has soared. The kids picked it up and got used to it right away (which has a good side and a bad side), and the wife came to really appreciate the home automation features, especially since I've agreed to build a method to automatically water her outdoor plants, and fill the dogs water dish.
So the short story here is that stacks of remote controls have a very low WAF. X-10 has a very low WAF if poorly implemented, but if made "invisible" and VERY simply, it has a very high WAF.
X-10 as a solution; dimming vs. non-dimming (or lamp vs. appliance).
X-10 started as a technology in 1974. It is an international and open standard for communication between electrical devices. The basic concept is very simple. A device is connected to an X-10 receiver (either plug in, or built-in) and assigned both a house code and a unit code. For example for my first light, I chose house code B (a random choice) and set it to Unit code 1. That device is henceforth known as device "B1" in the X-10 world. Using a controller to turn on the light is as simple as setting the House code of the controller to "B". Button 1, then turns on, or off or dims the light. The signals are sent from the controller to the device itself through the power lines. When I'm turning on a light "B1" the controller sends the signal "B1 On" over the power lines of my home. That signal is received by the controlling module and turns on power to whatever device is plugged in.
It's important to note that there are two types of control modules. So called "lamp" modules and "appliance" modules. As a general rule of thumb, I avoid "lamp" modules except for my home theater lights. The primary difference is that lamp modules are typically designed for smaller loads and that they are dimmable. Appliance modules are not dimmable. The easy way to remember this is that an incandescant light can be dimmed and is suitable for use with a lamp or dimmable module. A microwave oven, on the other hand, cannot be dimmed and requires an appliance module. I do not much care for the terms "lamp" and "appliance" to describe the modules, since appliance modules can also control lamps (you just can't remotely dim them). I almost always use appliance modules. I have one lamp module, and that's my built-in home theater switch. Almost all my other lights are compact flourescent (which can't be dimmed) and I default to using appliance modules everywhere else.
For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to devices as being either "dimming" (lamp module) or "non-dimming" (appliance module).
Other solutions and why I chose X-10
There are many other home automation options out there other than X-10. Control4 is one which integrates home automation, audio, environmental controls and more. The starting cost is significant, as a basic installation starts at well over $1000.
X-10, on the other hand, is cheap. Sometimes you get what you pay for, and there are junk X-10 controllers out there, but that's one area where hopefully this document can help you. What I have implemented works, works reliably, and contains what I consider to be good quality devices. A basic, simple install of X-10 for controlling a few lights in your house can be implemented in 10 minutes and for less than $50.
X-10, having been around since 1974, also has more control options than any other solution. I will talk about some of them later on.
Automation hardware - X-10 devices in use and reasons for choosing them.
Because of timing, I was lucky to be able to do a bit of planning of my X-10 implementation. Although any of this can be retrofitted easily, I took advantage of a major home remodel to set up my X-10 solution the way I wanted. As a result, I used X-10 outlets in a new addition on my home. These are more permenant than plug-in modules, but also more reliable. In doing so, I picked the outlets, lights and devices that I wanted to be controllable:
I chose 5 outlets, four of which were being used for lighting. The 5th is used seasonally and resides in my garage. It's used to power christmas lights and other outdoor decorations. I replaced the outlets at those sites with an SR227 "Supersocket". This is a replacement outlet that includes one plug that's a regular on-all-the-time plug, and one that is X-10 controllable. At the time, I purchased two three packs of sockets, leaving one spare.
Supersocket Qty: 6 SR227 - X10Wiki -- $40
I wanted several of the switches in the home that were on pre-existing ceiling lights to be controlled as well. To do this, I replaced the switches with X-10 XPS3 switches, which are non-dimming regular wall switches with X-10 control. NOTE: These require a neutral line to be connected at the switch box. Neutral is usually a group of white wires that are capped off. It requires you to uncap those, connect a new wire to the white wires and connect it to the neutral on the switch. Most regular switches don't require neutral, and some switches in your home may not have a neutral wire. Check that first! There are switches that will connect without a neutral, and the aforementioned switch in my theater is one of those, but it's a dimming module. For simplicity sake, these are only single pole switches. Two way, or three way switches are more complicated and require replacing more switches. The XPS3 is suitable for 2-way and 3-way switching.
WS13A/XPS3 Qty: 3 WS13A - X10Wiki -- $20
As part of my remodel, I added two lamp-posts in my backyard. I wanted these to be remote controllable, and timed to go off and on at certain times. These lights have no switch other than the inline X-10 module, which is an XPFM. They are hardwired inline, and the black box with the controller resides inside my hollow lamp posts.
XPFM Qty: 2 XPFM - X10Wiki -- $20
I needed several ways to control these lights. I wanted handheld wireless remotes, infra-red remotes, and tabletop controllers. I'm discussing the computer control in a different section. I will consider these to be manual controllers. They simply plug in and allow you to turn devices off or on (or to dim). I do have one controller that's a bit more advanced, but I will omit it for the time being. I use several IR543 controllers, wherever I found it nice to have a switch to turn lights off and on. These units also have IR receivers which will let you program an IR remote to control your X-10 lights.
IR543 Qty: 3 IR543 Command Center - X10Wiki -- $30
I also wanted wireless control. Adding the wireless was a bit more expensive than what I've listed thus far. But adding the wireless in this method allowed computer control at the same time. I accomplished this by getting the ActiveHome Pro bundle. This includes the software and the smart interface that connects to your computer. It also includes the wireless receiver that allows wireless remotes to talk to the X-10 system. The interface does NOT need to be connected full time to a computer. More about the activehome software under the computer control section:
ActiveHome Pro w/ Hardware interface: Qty: 1 ActiveHome Pro: Home automation made easy! -- $60
HR12A Palmpad Wireless Remote: Qty: 3 HR12A - X10Wiki - $10
KeyFOB Remote KR19A: Qty: 3 KR19A - X10Wiki - $10
As stated previously, the ActiveHome software is the software used to computer control the lighting. Some of this is very simple control and some of it is more advanced. Starting with simple, ActiveHome in conjunction with the Hardware interface, tells three of my lights in my home to turn on at sunset and stay on until 11:00pm. These are in the heavily used portion of the home, and so these lights are automated. The circuit that controls christmas lights on the outside of the house is configured similarly. We also have teenagers who are terrible at remembering to turn off lights. Three lights in the basement (where they tend to lurk) are configured to receive "OFF" codes after midnight. So if a teenager wanders off and leaves the lights on, they will be shut off automatically at midnight. This is overridden by remote or by flipping the switch as you would to turn on a normal light.
Additionally, I've purchased an add-on module for ActiveHome called SmartMacros. This allows me to configure some of the security settings that I use. As a basic example, I can program some code that when an X-10 event is received, it responds with some logic. This might be like, "If code B13 is received, flash all the lights off and on repeatedly unless the coffee pot is on." It's a more advanced type of logic than just "turn on at dusk" or "turn off at 8pm" and it can take into account the status of other modules. Another example might be, "if the burglar alarm goes off, turn on all lights and the sprinkler system."
Smart Macros ActiveHome AddOn: Qty: 1 ActiveHome Pro: Smart Macros Software Module -- $50
With just the above, you would have control over 6 outlets, and three lights, with 3 remotes, a keyfob, 3 tabletop controllers and computerized automation for around $250. This is actually more than you may think in terms of control, and it may be wise to start smaller for testing. Removing the computer, and instead using a simple transceiver (TM751 - X10Wiki), you get all the manual control of the remotes for around $150.
How to test it with less than $100
Given $100 dollars, if I wanted to recommend a simple way to test, I would recommend one of the following approaches. X10.com offers a starter kit that includes, One PalmPad, one wireless transceiver, one dimmable plug-in module (no rewiring required) and one non-dimmable appliance module (again, no rewiring) for $40 at X10 Palm Pad Wireless Remote Control for X10 Lamp and Appliance Control - Only $19.99.
Going this route gives you a chance to test, but will almost assuredly cost you more in the long run. There are also ActiveHome Pro starter kits at $100 that include a lot of accessories at ActiveHome Professional. Although I prefer the hardwired approach, it may not be the best way for everyone and certainly the items included in that starter kit could do some pretty neat things.
I have done a number of advanced control items with my X-10 system. The costs of interfacing your X-10 with other systems, like low voltage yard lighting, burglar alarms and sprinkler systems can rise dramatically. But I have several advanced controls that I use the X-10 system for. In addition to my furnace, I also have a pellet stove that has thermostat control on it. Instead of wiring it to a thermostat, I've wired it to an X-10 relay panel which can be found at: 16 Channel X-10 Relay Card at Creative Control Concepts. I use an X-10 based Temperature sensor, which sends a signal to the relay panel, which closes the relay and starts the stove. The relay panel is also what controls outdoor low voltage lighting and sprinkler systems. Once you get into a solution like that, you're spending more money and using multiple house codes. Your sprinkler system and furnace can be controlled through the smarthome software just like anything else, making it easy to set up a sprinkler zone of drip lines for watering patio plants and such or setting schedules for watering or lighting, and even getting wireless remote control over your sprinklers (which can be fun during bbq's)
Some people use X-10 to do home security and video monitoring. It's relatively simple to use motion sensors to send an X-10 code in order to, say, turn on lights when a person enters a room. I experimented with this a bit, but have abandoned it for the time being because of the poor quality of the motion sensors that one finds on the various X-10 sites.
In addition, there are web-based interfaces that let you control devices over the web, and telephone interface devices that let you control devices over the phone. I have yet to mess with any of that stuff. For reference sake, here's the hardware I use for my low voltage and contact closure devices.
16 channel X-10 relay card: Qty: 1 16 Channel X-10 Relay Card at Creative Control Concepts $200
TW-523 interface for relay panel: Qty 1 Two-way Powerline Interface (TW523) $10
Defensive possibilities, or how to make your house do half the work
The defensive possibilities of a system like this are many. Beyond integration into a burglar alarm. When going on vacation, I can set a schedule or set of schedules to randomly cycle through lights in my house, giving the impression that someone is in the house and moving around. I can even open and close the garage door randomly (although I don't).
Using the tabletop controllers, or one of the key-fob's I have configured "panic buttons" of differing flavors. Here's some of the things I've messed with:
- All lights on (an easy function, since many tabletop controllers have an "all on" button already.
- All lights off.
- Individual light controls on a per-device basis
- Complete Chaos. Lights flashing, garage door opening and closing, sprinklers running, yard lights flashing, while triggering the alarm and calling police, etc.
The possibilities are endless. Strobes, sirens and other security devices can be easily implemented.
Integration with Audio System
I do use a whole home audio system, with different "zones" for music. Inside and outside zones and up to 32 are possible, and each can play independantly. The product I used for this does not integrate with X-10 easily and it's expensive. I use the Sonos system to accomplish the music. However, using the Sonos API (for those familiar with programming) I'm able to do basic music control based on events. In other words, I may make a panic button that causes the sound of voices to play in different zones, giving the impression that someone is in the house or moving through the house. Since the Sonos system is computerized, it can play any computerized media. Even mp3's of gunshots, or a police raid, or police cars with screeching tires.
The overall intent is to use the system during a breakin or invasion to sow absolute chaos and wage psychological warfare on an intruder. I would hope to make the place so confusing and disorienting that it goes from being a quiet sleeping home to seemingly haunted madhouse instantly. I know what to expect from this, but an intruder does not. The hope would be to force a flight response as a result of overwhelming confusion. Obviously, this is not easily tested, and I really hope I never have to test it.
My ultimate goal is to have a system that gives the impression of someone home when I'm gone (voices moving through the house, lights going off and on, etc) and to go completely insane when the system has determined there's an intruder.
Sources for hardware
The best place to get the hardware above, at the prices I've outlined, is without a doubt E-Bay. You will spend far less by knowing precisely what you want and getting it from major sellers who sell new-in-the-box items on ebay. As an example, the three wireless remotes I mentioned can be had for $10 on ebay, but will cost you three times that amount on X10.com. The key is knowing exactly what you need.
The ActiveHome software should be purchased directly from X10.com, since they produce the software and handle support and downloads and such. The only item that's hard to find on Ebay is the Relay Panel. Those come along once in a blue moon and are usually used.
Reliability and creeping costs
There are several reliability enhancing products that I have added to my system. Most residential homes have a split bus panel, and X-10 signals do not travel across two phases well. Frequently people will add X-10 bridges to bridge the two phases and solve this problem. I was able to add two X-10 amplifiers on either side of my two phase system and resolve all problems. Problems are easy to locate, since the device simply won't work. I chose a place for the wireless receiver that was central to my house so that I had good control over the widest area. The amps I used were "BoosterLinc" and I got them on Ebay for approximately $70ea. The "SignaLinc" is the plug in Coupler-Repeater that plugs into a 220 outlet and accomplishes the same thing. I didn't have a 220v outlet (at all) or that's the route I would have gone. The signalinc runs about $70, as well. You can try it with just a coupler -- the "SignaLinc Phase Coupler" for around $20. Each house is different, so it just depends on your house whether or not you need them at all.
A short note about video applications
I have been very unhappy with the quality of video cameras sold by x10.com. I think it's a very poor way of going about video surveillance. I am currently shopping for a solution to the video problem, but do not have one yet.
Since X-10 is transmit via the powerlines, it IS possible that a neighbors X-10 devices could activate your X-10 devices. This is the purpose of the "House Code". If a neighbor is interfering, you can simply change house codes. I use several housecodes however, and that could be an issue. The ActiveHomePro Software will show you if a neighbor is using X-10 or not and if those signals are reaching your home. For total security and reliability, there is a phase coupler/house filter available for around $60 that serves the dual purpose of coupling phases and blocking your signals from going out and someone elses from coming in. You can see it here: X10 PRO 200Amp Coupler/Blocking Filter - PZZ01 - SmartHomeUSA.com
Lastly, if anyone has any questions, or wants advice or feedback... or if you just have good ideas, please feel free to PM me.