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 @innovativehomesys.com 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.

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