March 04, 2021

Is Insteon Compatible with X10?

This is a questions often asked but seldom fully answered.  The short answer: Yes and No

In order to give you the full answer, I need to provide some background.

X10 is an automation technology that was originally developed in 1975.  It primarily communicates over the power line using a digital signal encoded onto a 120 kHz carrier which is transmitted as bursts during the relatively quiet zero crossings of the 50 or 60 Hz AC alternating current waveform. X10 was cutting edge technology in its day, but in more recent years, has lost favor to newer, more technologies like Z-Wave and Insteon.

Insteon technology was first launched in 2005 as a much more modern automation design.  For example, while an X10 network is limited in size to 256 possible addresses, an Insteon network's size can be virtually unlimited.  Insteon also uses a digital signal but encoded onto a 131.65 kHz carrier, also transmitted as bursts during the  zero crossings of the alternating current waveform.  Many Insteon modules also use a 915Mhz radio signal to communicate between devices.  This "dual band" communication method increases reliability by provide an alternate communication path should either experience degraded performance.  Unlike x10, all Insteon modules are both transmitters and receivers creating a peer to peer relationship.  This means that most Insteon modules have the ability to control other Insteon modules directly without the need for a hub or central controller.  Insteon modules also receive and re-transmit all Insteon commands within "hearing" range whether that command was addressed to it or not.  This boosts the signal level and further improves Insteon reliability but can have detrimental effects on X10.  More about this in a minute. The Insteon communication protocol is also much smarter than X10.  If a module detects other Insteon communication, it will back off and retransmit the Insteon command when the coast is clear.

With all these differences between X10 and Insteon, you may be thinking the two technologies would be completely incompatible, and you would be correct.  However, when the early Insteon chip sets were developed, the engineers also included the ability to understand and act on X10 commands making them bi-lingual.  This allowed a gradual transition to Insteon by changing out one module at a time.  Some Insteon devices like wall switches still retain the ability to act on X10 commands even today, making many people believe the two technologies are compatible.  They are not.

That brings us to the question of if the two technologies can coexist in the same home. 

Unlike Insteon modules, X10 modules are either transmitters or receivers.  X10 transmitters all have the effect of loading down the signal level on the power line. This phenomena is sometimes referred to as a signal sucking.  The more X10 transmitters in you home, the more overall signal levels are reduced until problems occur.  Luckily, most X10 installations usually include only one or two transmitters.

Enter Insteon.  With communication frequencies relatively close to those used by X10, (131.65 kHz vs 120 kHz) signal sent from one technology are interpreted as noise by the other.  If an X10 command interferes with an Insteon command, the Insteon transmitter will just retransmit the command, no harm, no foul.  However, X10 has no such capability so the command will be lost.  Additionally, since most Insteon modules are transmitters operating at similar frequencies as explained previously, each Insteon module tends to load down the signal level.  This is not an issue for Insteon since other Insteon modules will retransmit all commands to boost the overall signal level rather that weaken it.  X10 has no such capability.

So the long answer to whether X10 and Insteon can coexist is yes, up to a point.  That breaking point will depend on your home's wiring, the amount of Insteon modules installed and the amount of Insteon communication traffic.  Gradually, as more Insteon Modules are added, the X10 modules will become more unreliable due to signal level degradation and Insteon communication interfering with x10 messages.  At that point, you will most likely need to replace the remainder of your X10 modules with Insteon.

Please post your experience with using X10 and Insteon modules in the same home.

July 10, 2019

Insteon Troubleshooting Revisited (Switching Power Supplies)

As we discussed in a previous post, power line noise is known to create problems with Insteon and other technologies that communicate over the power line.  Experience tells us that devices called switching power supplies are by far the most common source power line noise.

Switching Power Supplies

Most modern electronic devices actually operate on low voltage DC electricity.  A converter is required to power these low voltage DC devices from the 120-240 volt AC wall outlets in your home.  These converters, usually referred to as power supplies, may be built-in as is common with most television receivers and desktop computers, or may take the form of an outboard "brick" often found with laptop computers and  small printers, a plug-in "wall wart' used with cable modems, set top boxes, routers, etc., or small battery chargers used to charge cell phones and other portable electronics.  

There are two basic types of voltage converters, linear power supplies and switching power supplies.  In general, linear power supplies require a relatively large and heavy transformer while a switching power supply uses a much smaller transformer that makes it more efficient, smaller, lighter and cheaper to build.  For these reasons switching power supplies have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Switching power supplies employ a "chopper" circuit that produces high frequencies that can feed back into your homes power lines and may interfere with the normal operation of other electronic devices. 

To prevent this, switching power supplies should include an Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) filter who's sole purpose is to block these high frequencies from entering the power line.  If this portion of the switching power supply is not included in the design (for cost saving) or becomes defective, the power supply will continue to operate but can produce extreme levels of high frequency noise on the input power lines thereby blocking reliable Insteon, X10, or UPB power line communication.  Modules that utilize Insteon Dual Band technology perform better under these circumstances but very high noise levels can adversely effect even these.

Small, cube shaped, USB cell phone chargers seem to be the most common noise producing switching power supplies followed by "wall wart" type plug-in power supplies and then the "brick" type power supplies used with laptop computers and small printers.

If you are having problems linking to or communicating with any of your Insteon, X10, or UPB devices, start by temporarily unplugging all devices similar to the ones described above and retest for proper communication.  If unplugging all switching power supplies resolves your communication issues, you can isolate the defective device by plugging each power supply back into its outlet, one and a time, testing your Insteon, X10, or UPB device before applying power to the next power supply.  When the automation device fails you've found the defective power supply.  Keep in mind, you may have more than one defective power supply.

It is generally cheaper to simply replace any defective power supplies you may find.  If replacing the power supply is not practical, the noise can also be filtered out using an Insteon FilterLinc 1626-10 Plug-In Noise Filter

Good luck and contact us if we can help.

December 12, 2017

INSTEON Water Shutoff Valve Questions

"My valve starts to open then immediately closes again!"

November 01, 2017

Insteon Leak Sensor Information

We often receive questions concerning Insteon Leak Sensor operation like "My leak sensor isn't working" or "My leak sensor working once but now it isn't working". Very often, the problem can be resolved by simply tapping the leak sensor's Set button.  This is because the the leak sensor has already been triggered. This may have occurred while testing or it may have occurred by coming in contact with a damp hand or other electrically conductive surface.  When the sensor is triggered it sends out a single WET command to linked Responder(s) or Insteon controller and will stay in that condition until it is reset by tapping the Set button.  No additional commands will be sent until the Leak Sensor has been reset.

If you are using the Leak Sensor with an Insteon Hub, the Insteon app will indicate the following:

Red - Wet

White - Dry

Amber - No Communication Received

The amber indication will display if the Leak Sensor's heartbeat signal has not received by the Hub for over the previous 24 hours.

Finally, if you are using your Leak Sensor to automatically shut off the water using one of our Insteon water shutoff valves, linking can be accomplished in a couple ways:

1. Create a Scene in the Insteon Hub using the Leak Sensor(s) as Controllers and the I/OLinc associated with the valve as a Responder.

2. Link the Leak Sensor(s) directly to the I/OLinc associated with the valve.

We generally recommend the later.  You can still link the Leak Sensor(s) to the Hub for monitoring and notification, but also linking them directly to the I/OLinc is more reliable.  The Leak Sensors will still turn the water off even if the Hub fails or it's Internet connection is lost.

By the way, unlike other valves on the market, our water shutoff valves provide feedback to your automation controller to let you know when the valve has reached the fully closed position.  No more wondering if the valve is really closed!



April 25, 2015

My #%&@!$ INSTEON stuff doesn't work!

I received a call the other day from an INSTEON user who had made a sizable investment in INSTEON automation devices and had started the installation process.  He had installed a KeypadLinc in a central location to control lighting circuits throughout his home.  He then installed a ToggleLinc switch in a remote location and was attempting to link it to one of the KeypadLinc buttons.  He had repeated the process numerous times, following the manufacturer's instructions "to the letter" with no success.  Why wasn't anything working?

Linking problems and unreliable operation can most often be traced to a defective plug-in battery charger/power supply somewhere in the home.  These devices, used to charge cell phones, laptop computers, tablets, and rechargeable batteries as well as power small electronic devices like cable TV boxes, modems, and routers have been known to generate high levels of power line noise that can prevent communication between INSTEON power line devices.  The offending battery charger/power supply may be working perfectly for its intended purpose, but a defective component or poor design may still be causing a previously unknown high noise levels on the power line.

He unplugged his cell phone charger and everything started working.  Problem solved! 

To permanently resolve the issue (and continue to use his cell phone) we recommend replacing the defective charger.  If the charger cannot be easily replaced, a filter can be added to isolate the noise from the power line.

See my News blog post titled "What makes INSTEON more reliable than other automation technologies".

April 03, 2015

Finding power line noise or attenuation

We occasionally receive a call or email from an INSTEON user who is having problems with their installation.  When problems occur with power line communication devices, the source is typically one of two conditions: signal attenuation or power line noise.  These problems are often discovered during initial installation, but can also occur spontaneously after many years of trouble free service.  If you have a problem, don't panic, call or email us even if you didn't buy it from us.  We'll help!

Here are some helpful hints to help you find and resolve most INSTEON problems.  See my other INSTEON Troubleshooting blog posts for more information.

Isolating the source of the problem:

  1. Power line communications problems with plug-in modules can often be easily resolved by simply moving the INSTEON Module to a different outlet.  Alternately, you can identify the offending appliance and relocate it to a different outlet. See "Hints for locating the sources of signal attenuation and power line noise" (below).
  2. If neither moving the INSTEON Module or offending appliance is practical, the problem can be resolved by adding a noise filter or INSTEON Range Extenders.  Contact support for additional information.

Hints for locating sources of signal attenuation and power line noise:

The following represents a partial list of appliances which, under certain circumstances, have been known to generate power line noise or cause signal attenuation: 
  • Small battery and cell phone chargers
  • Certain brands of television receivers
  • Computer printers
  • Defective fluorescent lighting fixtures
  • Dimmer switches
  • Ionizing air cleaners
  • Laptop computer power supplies
  • Defective florescent lighting
  • Uninterruptible Power Systems (UPS)

Often, the offending device will appear to be functioning normally, however, a component failure or poor design will create interference that will overpower the INSTEON signals and prevent your automation network from functioning as it should.

Power line noise problems can usually be isolated by turning off circuit breakers one at a time until the
INSTEON FilterLinc
problem is isolated to a particular circuit. After restoring power, portable appliance problems can be identified by unplugging them, one at a time, until the problem is resolved. Be sure to unplug each appliance; simply turning them off may not identify the problem. When the offending appliance has been located, the problem can usually be easily remedied with the use of a filter.

Signal attenuation can be more difficult to locate, but can be easily remedied through the use of INSTEON Range Extenders.  If your INSTEON devices work fine in some locations in your home, but not in other locations, you may have an attenuation problem.  This type of problem is typically caused by one of two things.

  1. Lack of signal coupling between phase legs used in US residential wiring
  2. "Signal Suckers" (i.e. Appliances that draw down INSTEON signal levels causing weak signals to INSTEON devices in their proximity)

If you have an electric oven in your kitchen, you can easily test for lack of signal coupling between phase legs.  Turn on your oven, if the INSTEON devices start working correctly, you have a phase coupling issue.  (When turned on, the 240 volt oven heating element connects between the two phase legs and couples the INSTEON signals.)

If you don't want to leave your oven on all the time, phase coupling and signal attenuation issues can usually be easily resolved by adding INSTEON Range Extenders or other INSTEON Dual Band devices.

Tip: Dual Band devices like SwitchLinc or LampLinc Dimmers and INSTEON LED Bulbs are only a few dollars more that Range Extenders.  When installed on different phase legs, they provide the same coupling function as Range Extenders with the added bonus of receiving an INSTEON enable dimmer.

Finally, unlike some other automation technologies, the more INSTEON devices you add to your network, the more reliable it becomes.  This is because all INSTEON devices repeat every INSTEON signal making the entire network more immune to noise and attenuation.  For more information about how INSTEON works, see my blog post titled "What makes INSTEON more reliable than other automation technologies (and what can make it fail)".

Contact us if you have any questions concerning any INSTEON application.  We're here to help!

Also, please let us know if you found this helpful or if you have any favorite hints or tricks others could use.

September 22, 2014

INSTEON Problems

INSTEON is arguably the most reliable home automation technology ever created.  However, problems can sometimes still occur and can be a challenge to isolate due in part to the self-healing nature of the technology itself.  Let us know if you have experienced a problem with your INSTEON network and what was done to resolve the issue.  If you are currently experiencing a problem, you're not alone.  Please describe the problem to the best of your ability and there is probably someone out there with a suggestion on how to deal with it.

September 19, 2014

INSTEON Leak Sensor 2852-222 Problem

We recently discovered a problem with the INSTEON Water Leak Sensor 2852-222.  Water Leak Sensors with Firmware Version 41 can report a "Dry" condition instead of "Wet" when exposed to water.   The problem has been reported to INSTEON and has been resolved with a new firmware load, however, the new firmware is not user upgradeable. We recommend that all 2852 Leak Sensors be tested immediately to assure proper operation. 

To test for proper operation, place the Leak Sensor on a wet sponge, or towel.  Your automation controller should report a wet condition.  Remove the Leak Sensor from the wet surface and tap the SET Buttons to reset the sensor.  If your 2852 Leak Sensor fails to perform as indicated, contact INSTEON Support at 1-800-762-7846 or your INSTEON Dealer for further instructions.

For additional information concerning INSTEON Leak Sensor operation, check out INSTEON Leak Sensor Troubleshooting.

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