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For Want of an X-10 Switch…

July 4, 2008

The failure of two-year old X-10 switch proved to be a major hassle to address. It led to a chain of events that reminded of the rhyme that begins "For want of a nail" and illustrates some of the time often wasted with time saving technology. The broad though this inspires is that most investments in home technology don’t save that much time, but they can bring capabilities that can enhance your life in ways that were impossible before.

We had an X-10 Smarthome KeypadLinc X-10 dimmer that was installed with two other switches to control a set of seven can lights in the main seating area of our family room.

That switch failed (Several other switches just like it have failed as well lending credence to the questionable reputation for quality of Smarthome products.) and the result was that we could not operate the can lights in the family room and many other X-10 devices thoughout the house ceased to operate (because without the builtin X-10 amplifier, the signal going to those devices was not strong enough).

My first thought was to replace it the successor Insteon keypad switch (cost: $70), which can be programmed to respond to X-10 signals, but there were several problems that led me to abandon this solution: (i) Insteon switched lack X-10 amplifiers; (ii) the wiring scheme for the Insteon switch was different and my electrical skills are limited to replacing one device with another similarly wired device; and (iii) the Insteon switch would have required replacing the two other X-10 switches connected to this one as well (with new Insteon switches that cost about $50 each). I would have to add a SignaLinc amplifier/repeater (hooked into a dryer outlet to bridge the two 110 volt AC legs in the house) easily for another $120. So this one failed switch would potentially cost about $400 in parts to replace, plus potentially having to use an electrician.

As it turned out I was able to replace another KeypadLinc X-10 dimmer that we have connected as the only switch for a light with a new KeypadLinc Insteon switch and then use that old KeypadLinc X-10 dimmer to replace the failed switch. Part cost: $70; and about an hour of wrangling with wires in electrical boxes.

I kept the SignaLinc amplifier I had ordered because it actually improved some X-10 signal issues I had been having elsewhere in the house. This is a nice device, but it will ultimately require us to get a new exhaust hose for our dryer because of the unique configuration of our laundry room.

Solving these problems consumed a fair amount of time and left us without some key lights for about two weeks as I ordered parts and worked through these issues. To make matters worse, we seldom use the X-10 capabilities of the family room switch in question.

But here are some ways the X-10 system really improves our lives:

  • The picture lights in our living room and the outside lights turn on automatically at sundown and off at midnight. This lets us come home to a nicely lit house instead of a depressingly dark house.
  • A wireless remote can turn on seven lights in the living room and four lights in our media room on and off with one button press. This makes us more likely to use the living room and more likely to use all of our preferred lights in the media room.
  • When we leave the house for a trip a couple of clicks in HomeSeer set up a lighting scheme for the house in our absence, making travel alternatively less of a hassle or increasing our sense of security while doing so.

These have far more to do with a better quality of life than with saving time.

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