In my previous two articles I talked about my experience with the X10 home automation protocol. After having been burned by X10, one might rightly assume that I would have to be a glutton for abuse to move on to an even more expensive and less time-tested protocol like Insteon. But that’s in fact what I did.
X10 is a very old protocol. It was developed in 1975, the same year that the first personal computer, the Altair 8800, was born. But unlike the PC, X10 didn’t evolve very much. Since then, there have been huge advances in home automation — most of it on the very expensive high end. Over the past few years, several new products and protocols have arrived in the X10 price class and, like X10, they work with your existing household wiring (except as noted before) and don’t require any special control wiring or a central server. Among them are Zigbee, Z-Wave, UPB and Insteon.
Insteon was the obvious choice for me because it’s the only new HA protocol that’s also backwards compatible with X10. That meant that I could upgrade my installation a piece at a time and my Insteon switches could control my X10 ceiling light fixtures. Since my flaky X10 devices were failing at an alarming rate, I figured it wouldn’t take more than seven years to upgrade the whole house.
Technically, Insteon features “dual mesh” protocol. What that means is that it communicates with other Insteon devices both wirelessly and via PLC (encoded over the power line, like X10). Another powerful feature of Insteon which is missing in X10 is that every device is a repeater. In other words, if you hit Button A in the basement, it can reach Device Z in the garage even if it’s hundreds of feet away because every other Insteon device in the network will repeat Button A’s command. The result is that the more Insteon devices you have in your house the more reliable the communications become.
Insteon is also the best supported protocol. There are dozens of different types of Insteon devices, from electronic door locks to thermostats to motion sensors to homebrew/hobbyist kits that will let you automate almost anything in your home. Just scanning the Insteon product list on SmartHome.com is enough to get the imagination cranking.
For instance, a friend of mine has a weekend home deep in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York. From his car phone, he can “call his home” from the highway and tell it to turn up the thermostats on his furnace and hot water heater. His house is several hundred yards up a dirt road so when he arrives he calls his house again and tells it to turn on the outside flood lights. His house will also call him if the security system in triggered, the inside temperature drops below 45 degrees or water is sensed in the basement, indicating a sump pump failure.
My Insteon installation is nowhere near as sophisticated as his. I’ll talk about that next time.