Thursday, September 30, 2004

X10 problems x10 :-) (Part I)

First allow me to apologize for the lack of anything written (almost 3 weeks). Work, weather and a really long and fast bike rides have conspired against me to delay the next installment (see I had nothing to do with it it's all a conspiracy! ;-). At least it has allowed me to add ZigBee and A10 to the mix (more to follow on those 2 subjects).

OK, you've got your X10 module and your X10 computer interface (i.e. CM11A) and you've tested out the setup near you computer. It works great! Now you move your X10 module out the living room (to impress your spouse) and nada, nothing, zilch! Hey what's going on here?

Well X10 has a few problems that need to be overcome. For US homes, one of them is that there are 2 110v AC phases brought into the home. Together they deliver 220v AC, apart they each deliver 110v AC. If your CM11A is on one phase and your X10 module is on another phase then you'll need a way to get the signals from one phase to the other. The first thing you don't do is connect one phase to the other with an extension cord, effectively shorting out 240V AC! Bad things happen when you let the magic (smoke) out. The proper way to 'bridge' the phases is with an X10 passive phase coupler. ACT Solutions (A10 & X10) makes one that is very good. Some folks with larger homes may want to get a repeater. A repeater will couple the phases and boost the signal.

Some people find that X10 works intermittently or that it works when certain appliances are on. This is also a phase problem. What is happening is a 240v appliance is performing the bridge function while it's on. When it's off there is no bridge. Of course other things may also be causing these problems.

Another problem is that some common home devices are 'signal suckers'. A signal sucker is a device which is a low impedance path for the frequencies that X10 uses. Said another way, X10 finds it easier to travel through those paths than going straight to end device (and X10 module). Some common 'signal suckers' are TV's, Stereo systems, PC power supplies, backup power supplies and filtering power strips. A way to fix this is to purchase a good, quality X10 type signal filter such as those made by ACT and Leviton (?). There has been some question as to the rated load an X10 (the company) made filter can handle.

There are a few more things to be wary of such as the Super Socket (an X10 controlled AC outlet). The Super Socket is notorious for breaking after a few months use. Seems a cheap plastic part can't handle the switching on and off duty. Mine break after 3 months. On and off once a day

Another product to be careful of is the Socket Rocket. It's OK to use it in a lamp where the bulb is on top but don't use it in a ceiling outlet (where the bulb hangs down). Seems some folks tried it and found that the heat from the bulb was enough to melt whatever was used to hold the product together.

The last product is the X10 wall switch. While it does work as advertised it is very cheap looking. Not something you want in the foyer of your home. There are other wall switches (such as ACT & Leviton) that are made better and the quality &feel are much better.

Now I know that doesn't leave us with much more than the X10 Lamp and Appliance modules but there are other devices such as the inline modules, the ACT A10 devices (wall switches, keypads and inline modules) and other devices I'll get to. So there is plenty to work with and I'll show you how to get it to work.

OK, In a few days I'll have more on this subject. Sorry to rush this out but if I don't I'll never get it out. I held this section back because I was investigating the problems with the CM11A, the RR501 and the TM751. Unfortunately this requires googling the comp.home.automation newsgroup. Some of threads go back to 1996 (maybe further) and you need to read a good portion of them to get the facts (wheat from the chaff so to say). In future entries I'll introduce the tools that help us work around these problems and the product that seem to work pretty well. In the mean time here are Uncle Phil's X10 articles written for Home Toys

Well that's all for now. More to follow.


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