My X10 switches are flaky
February 22, 2005 8:54 AM   Subscribe

I have a number of X10 switches controlling lights throughout my apartment. I have a number of problems with them...

1) Sometimes they work. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes, they'll work fine for a few months, then stop, but other times, whether they work from one day to the next is a crap shoot. Then they mysteriously start working again.
2) Sometimes they go on and off by themselves.
3) Sometimes, the lights on one adapter with a unit number will go on and off by themselves, but the other lights on the same unit number won't.

I'm looking for explanations on, particularly #1 and #3. #2 could be easily explained by errant signals, and I'm going to try to change the house code and see if that helps.

Is is possible that the switches themselves are wearing out and failing? Do they wear out?

My experiences with X10 in two previous apartments have been "they worked just fine" and "they didn't work at all". This unreliability is new.

Any suggestions for increasing X10 reliability in general would be very appreciated.
posted by Caviar to Technology (9 answers total)
Some possibilities (among others):

1) Noise created by various appliances and related.
2) Receiver and xmitter are on isolated branches of your house's wiring. However, when a 220v appliance is running, the signal can bridge across and stuff works. When not running, stuff doesn't work.
3) It's an apartment and your circuit isn't isolated from your neighbors'. They have an X10 system. You have the same house code.
4) You have repeaters or multiple wireless receivers and there are "collisions" as a result.

Finally (in my experience):

5) This technology is very flaky.

Diagnostic equpiment is available but not worth the investment just to get your particular system working.

Home automation is extremely popular these days and there's likely some kind of home theater or similar shop near you that specializes in these systems. Someone there may have good answers (hopefully for free) or lead you to someplace that does.

X10 is extremely popular because it's so cheap, and there are quite a few web-based resources as well as mailing lists and USENET newsgroups that are resources. I bet you there's an unofficial X10 FAQ out there somewhere.

I have had equipment fail for whatever reason. These things are cheap, I replace them. (I had a wall light switch fail in the "overheat and melt something and burn insulation of the wiring" manner that was working within its rated range. This concerned me. But only once has this happened.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:08 AM on February 22, 2005

Mostly what Ethereal Bligh said. Especially point #5.

Things you can try:
Get another transmitter.
Move the transmitter.
Change the house code.
Make sure nothing is connected to a surge protector. They often block the signals.

X10 is good as a gimmick, but I don't even trust it to switch the lights on my fishtank anymore. It is handy for lamps and such, that's about it.
posted by bh at 9:22 AM on February 22, 2005

I think the biggest challenge is that you are in an apartment. If you were in your own isolated, standalone house, it'd be really easy to track down the problem on a small electrical system. Once you start sharing walls, wires, and breakers with many other folks, things start to get iffy for x10.
posted by mathowie at 9:32 AM on February 22, 2005

Good suggestions - I'll try moving stuff around and adding another transmitter. I think I have another one.

I'm most confused by #3, and the one that turns on and off by itself (when the other one on the same unit code doesn't) is behind a surge suppressor. It's possible that that receiver is just bad.

There are a number of companies that make X10-compatible products. Most of the ones I have are actual X10 brand. Any opinions on the other brands, or is the problem in the protocol itself?

Are there any Zigbee products available yet?

I keep hearing about how it's supposed to replace X10, but the site is conspiciously absent of any actual information.
posted by Caviar at 9:43 AM on February 22, 2005

#3 Is probably due to a faulty receiver. I've had that happen.

I have X10 branded and Radio Shack branded hardware. They are identical. I assume that everyone just rebrands the gear, but I could be wrong.

Also, Matt has a very good point. I've had better luck in houses than apartments.
posted by bh at 9:51 AM on February 22, 2005

x10 devices use the 2.4 Ghz frequency which can cause problems if you're using a 2.4 Ghz wireless phone, or wireless networking at home (of the 802.11b and 802.11g variety). I've done a lot of work setting up home wireless network environments, and the x10 cameras seem to throw everything out of whack. With all that interference, i wouldn't be suprised if they started randomly working. If you are in an apartment complex, the probability of you or your neighbors having a cordless phone and/or wireless networking is pretty high.
posted by escher at 10:29 AM on February 22, 2005

escher - I think you are correct about the cameras, but I'm fairly sure that the X10 devices that hook up to the power lines use 120kHz.
posted by bh at 10:45 AM on February 22, 2005

I think he meant the radio xmitters and recievers that are used with some X10 stuff. I could be wrong, I have no reliable recall of the relevant information.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:00 PM on February 22, 2005

FWIW I first discovered this "X10" stuff in a Sears catalog in 1978. The spam-happy X10 people like to act like its new, but its not. In 1980, the computer company "Ohio Scientific" offered this stuff computer controlled.
posted by Goofyy at 12:08 AM on February 23, 2005

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