Geek Bleg – Home Automation

A few weeks ago, I used a part of my interest-free loan to the government tax refund to purchase an X10 ActiveHome Pro home automation system. For about $120 (including shipping) I got the control/transceiver unit with windows software, 3 remote controls, 3 lamp plug-in units, 3 non-dimming light switches, and 1 dimming light switch.

The X10 system works by using your home’s existing electrical system to send and receive commands. This means you can set it up without any significant modifications, and without having to run new cables or electrical wires to your existing fixtures  – you just plug the receiver units into your regular outlets (or replace the standard light switch or outlet with an X10 unit), select the address, and you’re good to go. The control unit just plugs into the wall, and can operate with our without being connected to a computer. You can use the computer to create macros and timers, load them into the controller, and then unplug from the computer. The remotes use RF to talk to the controller, and macros can be assigned their own addresses so they can be triggered by the remotes.

It can also act as a security system. Door and window sensors, motion sensors, and cameras are all available. Software plug-ins (that were included with my package) allow for remote monitoring and control through the internet, and even allow viewing the security camera feeds online.

Like any system, there are trade-offs. In exchange for not having to run dedicated wiring to each fixture, you have to deal with the potential for signal interference from appliances and other sources. Filters and amplifiers are available. Another issue is that the signal doesn’t always cross from one branch to the other well, but there are various solutions for that as well, including a simple unit that goes in the plug for your dryer.

After a little fiddling, I’ve got the basic setup working just about how I want. I probably need either a signal booster or filter, since I have one outlet that I can’t get working, but everything else is just fine. So, what do I do with it?

Well, to start, I have a timer set up to turn on my bedroom light when it’s time to get up. This is great, since I sleep like the dead – or at least like Roberta X. Having the light come on while my various alarms are alarming speeds the awakening process up. I have a macro set so that when it’s time for bed I can hit just one button to turn off all the lights in the house, with a timed delay for the bedroom light. Another macro lets me turn on the porch light and the hall light when I come home (I keep one remote in my car – there are also various keychain remotes available).

Phase 2 will be to get the sensors so I have an alarm system. I cameras may be in the plan for the future, too, though I have enough old computers that I may go with a locally-streaming webcam solution instead, considering how inexpensive decent resolution webcams have gotten.

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