Home Automation with X10

On November 15, 2013, in Automation, Home Automation, X10, by LuCuS

X10 Home AutomationI’ve been doing a lot of home automation lately and have had several people ask for me to post some articles about what I’m doing along with some links to the products I’m using. So, today I will be posting the first of multiple articles I will be writing over the next few weeks. Each article will outline a different part of the home automation I am currently implementing. For the first few articles, I will be introducing you to some off-the-shelf products that you can install easily in your own home. Many of the products I will be showing don’t require much effort at all while some will require an electrician if you aren’t comfortable with doing the installations yourself. Towards the end of the home automation series, I will take you deeper by showing you some of the custom things I have built and will even share with you the source code that makes it all possible. For now, let’s keep it simple.

To do that, I want to introduce you to a home automation technology that has been around for 35+ years. It’s called “X10”. According to Wikipedia, X10 is an industry standard protocol used for communication among electronic devices. It primarily uses power line wiring for signaling and control where the signals involve brief radio frequency bursts representing digital information. Unlike many of the more modern home automation technologies, X10 works by broadcasting radio frequencies into the existing power lines in your home or office. X10 devices can communicate with each other without the need for new wiring to be installed. Instead, X10 devices push messages into the very power outlets using your existing wiring to transmit data to and from other X10 devices.

To get started with X10, you will need purchase an X10 transceiver. The transceiver I used is called the X10 Powerhouse Transceiver and is available on Amazon for around $20.00. X10 TransceiverIt is a small box that plugs directly into any power outlet in your home. On the side of the device is a small antenna that is used to communicate with X10 devices that use wireless technology instead of wired such as any of the wireless control pads and keychains. When devices such as those want to communicate with any of the X10 devices in your home, they will wireless broadcast a message which is picked up by the transceiver where it will be replayed over the wires in your walls and received by the corresponding X10 device such as a lamp or appliance. The the transceiver uses a power outlet to get messages into your wiring, it also includes a power outlet on the bottom of the device that can be used to power other devices which can also be controlled from the same transceiver.

The next thing you will need for an X10 based home automation system is something you will use to pick up the X10 messages from the X10 Appliance Moduletransceiver and interact with your devices based on the messages sent. The easiest thing you can do for things such as turning off and on devices such as lamps is to use the X10 appliance module which you can get from Amazon for about $18.50. Just like the transceiver, the appliance module plugs into your power outlet and provides another power outlet on the bottom of the module for you to plug your other devices into. On the front of the appliance module you will see 2 sets of dials.

The red dial is known as the “house code”. Since you can use multiple X10’s to create different networks within your home and to keep your X10 devices from interfering with your neighbors’ X10 networks, you will need to set the house code to something that you think will not be affected by others. Most people tend to set the house code to the initial of their first or last name as long as it is A-P. However, I would strongly discourage this practice as it makes it easy for passersby to mess with your devices simply by driving past your house or from a nearby house or apartment. Also, depending on how extensive you build your network, this would also open up the possible security issues if you decide to implement digital door locks and / or security cameras. Whatever you decide to set the house code to, you will need to make sure you set this same code on your transceiver so that the 2 can talk to each other.

The black dial on the appliance module is for setting the “unit code”. This is the number of the device that you are controlling from the current appliance module and will be the same button number you will push from one of the keypads to interact with your device. For example, if you were plugging a lamp into this appliance module and want to turn it on or off using the remote, you will press the number on the keypad that corresponds with the unit code you set on the appliance module.

Once you have set the house code on both the transceiver & appliance module and have set the unit code on the appliance module, you are ready to plug them into the wall and plug your device into the appliance module. Keep in mind that you can also control a device from the transceiver itself allowing you control over 2 devices with the combination of the transceiver and 1 appliance module.

After you have everything configured and connected, you will need something to control these devices. For that, there are all kinds of options to choose from. X10 Wireless RemoteThe simplest (and one of my favorite options) is the X10 wireless handheld remote which you can get from Amazon for about $15.00. This device allows you to control your X10 devices with the press of a button. It allows control of 16 devices per house code. If you have more than one transceiver and house code used in your home, you can easily change the house code on the remote to match the house code in use by the devices you want to control. That means you can actually control 256 devices with this one remote.

The only thing you are required to do with it is to set the house code that you used for your transceiver. After that, you can toggle the grey button to select between unit codes 1-8 or 9-16. Once you have the range of unit codes selected, you can press the on or off buttons for the devices you want to control. If your device supports it, such as in the case of lights, you can dim those devices by pressing the ON button once and then holding down the blue up / down buttons until you have reached the dimness you desire. One thing that is worth mentioning is that this does not work with florescent lightbulbs. It’s also worth pointing out that X10 units turn on and off devices by ramping up the power to the device and gradually taking it away. So, in the case of fluorescent lightbulbs, one minute the light will be off and the next minute it will be on. In the case of incondescent lightbulbs, you will see the blub gradually get brighter or dimmer when turning the device on and off.

Another easy to use device that allows you to control lights is the X10 socket-rocket screw-in lamp module which is available from Amazon for about $18.00. The socket-rocket can be screwed into any lamp and the bulb is screwed into the socket-rocket making it hidden from view, X10 Socket-Rocket Screw-in Lamp Modulebut still providing you with the ability to turn on and off your lamp. Unlike the other devices that contain dials for setting the house & unit codes, this device is configured using an on / off / on again method that is explained in the instruction guide that accompanies the product. Once you have the socket-rocket installed, you can control the lamp just like you would if you used the appliance module. Unlike the appliance module, the socket-rocket requires you to turn the lamp to the on position and leave it there. As signals are sent to the socket-rocket, it will toggle the power to the bulb and can also be used for dimming if wanted. However, you can still use your lamp as you normally would by toggling the lamp off and back on again. The socket-rocket will interpret this as you want the lamp to be on. Once you have done this, you can still use the remote to turn it off again when you’re done with it, preventing the need to reconfigure it using the transceiver method mentioned before.

Throughout this article I have mentioned several times that the X10 products support dimming of lights. The reason for this is because one major reason for home automation is to cut down on your energy usage. By setting one light in your home to 90% brightness instead of the full 100%, this can reduce your carbon footprint as much as not driving your car for one whole month. That’s a lot of money savings over a period of time and it’s good for the planet. Another nice thing about the dimming feature is that it allows you to set the lighting based on the mood of the room. For example, if you are having a romantic moment, you can easily dim your lights to a low level making it even more intimate. It’s also nice if you want to dim the lights before bed but still have enough light if you get up in the middle of the night. This is especially helpful in hallways, kitchens, and bathrooms.

Well, that’s all for today. If you used the products I mentioned here, you should now be able to do simple things including turning on and off devices such as lights or other appliances. In my next article, I will introduce you to some X10 products that can be installed directly in your walls just like the existing light switches and power outlets your house already has. This is nice because unlike the appliance module mentioned here, you won’t have some bulgy device plugged into your power outlets. However, these products are more permanent than the appliance module which can be unplugged and moved from room to room if needed. So, until next time, see what kinds of cool things you can do with the products I’ve shown you so far and be sure tell us about your projects in the comments below.

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