DIY Applications
 
AUTOMATE THE EASY WAY
12/01/2010 at 11:43
X10-compatible products can provide an inexpensive path to home automation.

Are the electronic devices in your home connected, or are they a collection of isolated electronic islands? To save energy, does your security system adjust the thermostat when you leave the house? Can your home tell you when a visitor is approaching, then automatically turn on the porch lights? Can you use your TV remote to turn off the lights in another room? If you answered "no" to these questions but you\'d like to say "yes," you need to learn about home automation technology.

The most common and well-established home automation technology is X10. Since its appearance in the 1970s, X10 has become more refined, more reliable, and less expensive. X10 defines a protocol and electrical specification for sending commands over household AC power lines. In addition to power-line signals, many X10 appliances also support wireless transmission through radio frequencies. X10 doesn\'t transmit data quickly, but that\'s not a problem. Transmitting commands such as "turn on the upstairs hall light" or "the outside motion detector is detecting motion" doesn\'t take many bits. On average about 2 devices can be controlled per second.

The X10 protocol can control up to 256 devices in your house, divided into 16 house codes (denoted by the letters A through P) and 16 device codes (numbered 1 through 16). You set each X10 receiver (e.g., a plug-in lamp module or appliance module) to a particular house code and device code, such as A5 or C14. Each electrical device you want to control requires a separate X10 receiver. If you want to control multiple lamps simultaneously, you can set each lamp\'s receiver to the same house and device code. In most cases, a piece of equipment that transmits X10 signals (e.g., wireless transceiver, remote control, wired keypad) is set to a particular house code and isn\'t changed. You have plenty of flexibility when using device codes. For example, if you want to control 16 or fewer devices, you can use one house code and a single transceiver with multiple remotes. Or you can set a transceiver and a remote to a separate house code, one for each room of your house.

Getting Started with X10
You can get started with X10 for about R1000. For that price, you can set up a system to control a few lights with a remote control or your PC. If you like your initial X10 experience, you can expand the number of X10 devices and build a customized automated home system for R10 000 or R30 000. When you compare an X10 implementation with a professional installation of high-end automation equipment, which might cost R200,000 or more, X10 is very price competitive.

The most common and economical X10 modules are the ones that plug into the wall. To use them, you set the house and device codes by using the selector wheels on the module, plug the module into the wall, then plug the device to be controlled into the module. A limitation of using plug-in modules is that you can\'t control lights or equipment built directly into your home\'s wiring. Also, the modules can be unsightly if you use a lot of them.

As an alternative to plug-in modules, you can use X10 controls that replace or fit behind existing light switches and outlets. These controls are inexpensive—R200 to R800 per switch (depending on the load Wattage and Load type {Resistive or Inductive})—but they provide a built-in natural look to the installation and offer the most flexibility. This enables you to do what NO OTHER PRODUCT can offer you! - The FLEXIBILITY to use whatever commercially available wall switch YOU like. All you need to do is to make sure that the X10 module you choose will be adequately rated for the job. (It is no use using a 250W module to control a 300W load). A good place to start is with an X10 combination package that offers a remote control, receiver, PC interface, and one or more modules to control lights and appliances. www.x10-sa.co.za sells the Active Home kit for about R1500. You can use the handheld universal remote that comes with any of these packages to operate up to 16 X10 devices, as well as most TVs, VCRs, and cable boxes. You might also want to add a wireless motion detector; UltiMation sells one under the name Hawkeye (MS13E2). When Hawkeye detects motion, it sends a signal to a wireless transceiver, which transmits an X10 signal over the power line. You can use the X10 signal to control a device directly or have the signal trigger other actions through a PC interface.

Enter the PC
Using a PC increases your home automation options. For example, with a PC as an interface to your X10 controls, you can turn on the lights even if you aren\'t home. PCs are relatively inexpensive and plentiful, and they offer a variety of flexible hardware and software options. A 200MHz PC can handle most home automation chores; this is a great way to use an otherwise-obsolete system. The X10 PC Interface box, often known by its www.x10-sa.co.za part number (CM11SA), plugs into a wall outlet and connects to a PC serial port. The interface lets the PC send and receive X10 commands through the power line. The Active Home kits include software that provides basic functionality for controlling the devices in your home. An option lets you download a limited set of instructions into the PC Interface so that the PC doesn\'t always need to be running.

You\'ll get the most functionality from X10 devices if you use a program such as Home Seer Technologies\' Home Seer and HAL (Voice activated www.automatedliving.com) home automation software, which runs on the PC and uses the X10 PC Interface only for sending and receiving X10 commands. Home Seer uses an event-driven model that lets you specify a particular event and the action you want to take when that event occurs. The event can be an incoming X10 signal, a particular time of day, or a recurring schedule of times. The action can be to send another X10 command, trigger a sequence of commands, or even run a program on the PC. Using the X10 remote control, for example, you could run an MP3 player on the PC and play your favorite music. If you like to program and want even more control than the event model allows, you can write scripts to perform any action. Home Seer comes with useful sample scripts—for example, scripts that will retrieve the weather forecast from the Internet and announce the forecast over your PC\'s speakers.

Beyond Lights and Appliances
You can do even more with home automation if you integrate your system with existing home electronics (e.g., a security system). A typical home security system knows when doors or windows are opened, whether motion is detected in various areas of the house, and whether the system is armed. Many security systems differentiate between arming the system when you\'re leaving the home and when you\'re at home, which is another important piece of information you\'ll want to know when automating your house. For example, the home automation system could set back the thermostat 5 degrees whenever the security alarm is armed and you\'re leaving the house, saving energy when nobody is home.

One way you can integrate alarm information into home automation is by linking a PC to the alarm panel through a serial port. Or you can have the security system control X10 devices directly through their own power-line interface; both Spectrum Communication’s Magellan, HAI\'s Omni series, Comfort Series (to mention a few) offer this capability. The Omni also integrates thermostat control, which makes it an all-in-one solution for most home automation work.

As you think about automating other devices around the house, you\'ll probably encounter devices that you can\'t automate or monitor by turning their AC power on or off. Fortunately, X10 offers several solutions for these situations. One option is the Powerflash (SM10E) module, which has two terminals that you can connect to a switch or a set of magnetic contacts like the ones used in security systems. When the circuit is closed or a low-voltage signal is applied, the Powerflash module sends an X10 ON signal. When the circuit opens again, the Powerflash module sends an OFF signal. For example, by using a magnetic contact on a door, a Powerflash module could send an X10 signal whenever the door was opened or closed.

Another option is the Universal Module (UM7206) , which acts the opposite of a Powerflash module. The Universal Module is a switch X10 signals control. When the Universal Module receives an X10 ON signal, the switch closes and the controlled device operates. When the module receives an OFF signal, the switch opens. You also can use the Universal Module in a "momentary" mode; that is, the module closes the switch for only 2 seconds each time it receives an ON signal. You can use the Universal Module for any type of low-voltage switching application, for example, to control an outdoor sprinkler system or operate low-voltage lighting. You also can use the Universal Module to interface X10 functions to a security system by wiring the module into one of the alarm zones.

Troubleshooting Problems
The most common X10 problem is phase bridging and noisy appliances. Very few homes in South Africa have three phase power, if your home does have 3 phase power you would require a device or repeater such as the CAT6272 (for large homes >500m2, otherwise using the FD10’s for a smaller home would work beautifully.

But if you plan to get serious with X10, your best solution is to install an X10 signal bridge or repeater (CAT6272) at the electrical circuit breaker box. These devices are readily available from us, and you should have a licensed electrician install them unless you\'re comfortable doing your own electrical work.

A common mistake is that people sometimes use an X10 lamp module when they should use an appliance module. Here\'s my rule: Use a lamp module only for light bulbs. Lamp modules use an electronic switch called a triac, which lets you use X10 signals to dim a light or turn it on or off. However, a lamp module\'s electronic switch isn\'t compatible with devices that have motors, transformers, or most other electronics. You can permanently damage some equipment if you plug it into a lamp module. Appliance modules use a mechanical relay to switch the power, so they\'ll work with anything, including light bulbs. But you\'ll hear a clicking sound whenever an appliance module switches on or off.

In the unlikely event that you encounter devices that turn on and off on their own—or your neighbors complain about out-of-control X10 devices—try changing the house codes or device codes you\'re using, by installing an FD10 in the incoming mains electrical circuit, this eliminates stray X10 signals entering or leaving your premises.

Also, some devices might generate noise that blocks X10 signals. You can troubleshoot this problem by unplugging most of your electronics to see whether the X10 device works . If the device works, plug in your electronics one at a time until you find the one that\'s causing the problem. You can get noise filters such as the FM10SA to solve the problem. Works just like a simple double adaptor, except it has a few fancy electronic components which filter out any noise on the particular plug

In the spirit of being prepared, I\'ve described several things which you may need to consider. However, 70 - 90% of the time you would not require any of the filters or Couplers we have described - just install - and be free..

It\'s amazing, we get new products almost every month, and what\'s great is that you never have to throw out your old X10 as it is all COMPATIBLE!

The world has been using X10 extensively for many decades and has millions of happy customers. - We would like to make you one too!

Safety First
As you think about all the things you can automate around the house, plan for fail-safe operation. Think about what could go wrong and what effect it would have. For example, let\'s say you wanted to automatically turn on a coffee pot every weekday morning at 8:00 a.m. and turn it off at 10:00 a.m. What happens if you forget to put water in the coffeepot and it catches on fire? What if noise on the power line causes an appliance module to switch on in the middle of the night? Or what if an appliance module fails to turn off because your PC crashes and doesn\'t send the "off" command? Think through these situations and make sure you\'re comfortable with what happens when the system fails.

And don\'t forget the safety of all the equipment you\'ve installed. Power surges or lightning strikes can wipe out thousands of Rands worth of electronic equipment in an automated home. Consider having an electrician install a whole-house surge protector in the breaker box. This approach provides protection for any permanently wired electronic equipment. You might also want to obtain a UPS for your PC; smaller models that provide 10 or 20 minutes of backup power cost less than R400.

One thing is certain. After you start automating your home, you\'re never finished. You can always find something else to automate, tweak, or upgrade. That\'s what makes home automation so much fun! X10 just keeps on going!