Over the past 15 years I’ve tried countless ways to improve my X10 reliability and signal. In this post I’ll give you a little of my journey to full X10 obsession. I’ll also detail what I have found to avoid, what I found to work somewhat, and what I have found to work reliably. As with most anything electronics related, you get what you pay for, in terms of quality and usefulness. If you want, you can jump to my TLDR; Big 3 Conclusion.
X10 – My Journey : )
My wife and I share an affinity for Christmas decorations, so when we built our home we were so excited to decorate for Christmas. I could not wait to put up some outdoor lights and decorations. Here is a picture of our first Christmas in our home. When we bought the decorations, I picked up a bunch of dial timers to “automate” the lights to come on. Each window had a candle, so I got a dial timer for each window (or set of windows if practical). Man did that suck! Running around trying to get all the dial timers to turn on somewhat near the same time. Even when you get them nearly the same, in a few days they were many minutes apart. I didn’t care for that, the retentive part of me wanted synchronization! I had worked many years in a hardware store growing up, they decorated for Christmas with extensive window displays and animatronics, the whole nine yards! They used breaker box dial timers to turn stuff on and off. This was my first inclination, but I would need to install a sub-panel(s), run Romex to all my windows, install new outlets, and run extra outlets outside as well. This method would also not satisfy my desire to dim the lights. I wanted my window candles to progressively dim as it got darker outside. I needed automation, not timers!
X10 Problem 1 – Phase Coupling?
When I bought my first X10 controller (CM11A) and modules (LM465’s) I thought this is going to be great! When I installed my modules and fired up the X10 Home Control software, then Problem 1 became clearly evident – Phase Coupling. I currently work as a Training Specialist for Atlantic City Electric, the electric utility for South Jersey. At the time of my first X10 purchase I worked as a Power System Controller for Atlantic City Electric. (In a nut shell, I controlled the bulk electric system; power flow and voltage control). I immediately knew that one phase in my home was not getting signal.
Typical US homes have two 120 volt phases, providing 120/240 volt service. Without a device to “couple” the X10 signal, it has to “couple” through your home’s pole/pad service transformer – horrible results! I used a capacitor to “bridge” my phases. I installed a 0.1 microfarad (0.1F), 600VDC capacitor across two phases in my breaker panel. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS, AGAINST CODE, UNSAFE!!! This worked well, but did nothing to increase reliability.
I later found X10’s XPCR coupler repeater, which I too installed in my breaker panel. DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS, AGAINST CODE, requires a separate panel. This “worked” for many years for me, but it isn’t the best option now.
The XPCR does two things well:
- Couples the phases
- Repeats the signal multiple times to increase reliability
The XPCR does other things poorly:
- Life longevity is short, I had 2 in 6 years
- Creates signal clashing when repeating extended X10 signals
- Signal delays and bright/dim issues
- Does not increase the X10 signal strength well
I now use an Insteon SignaLinc 2406H to couple my phases. It is installed in a sub panel with it’s own dedicated 220 volt breaker. It’s only job is to couple my phases and it does it well. I have enjoyed greater phase reliability with this unit, and it does not create any signal clashing. I highly recommend this device for increased X10 reliability, along with the other devices detailed below. Yes, keep reading…I know, I know TLDR; you can jump to my TLDR; Big 3 Conclusion.
X10 Problem 2 – Signal Suckers!
When I first started using X10, I found there were certain electronics that if I unplugged, my X10 reliability increased. My computer and home stereo were the largest X10 Signal Sucking offenders at the time. They use power line conditioning to remove “noise”, so that the device enjoys “clean” power. Most decent home stereos still use this technique, you’ll know when the stereo is heavy, it has a good power transformer with power conditioning. Newer home owner level PC’s no longer use quality power transformers, so they typically do not Signal Suck. Plasma and LCD TVs are also huge Signal Sucking offenders. I found the newer LED and OLED TVs don’t seem to Signal Suck as much. I also found that (when running) microwaves, dryers and washing machines degrade my X10 signal. My cheap wireless home printer is also a Signal Sucker. Do you have a Signal Sucker in your home? How do you find out? Unplug your electronics! It’s that easy, unplug all devices and methodically plug them in one at a time, repeating X10 signal testing each time.
When I identified my Signal Suckers, the first device I tried was X10’s XPPF plug in noise filter. DO NOT USE THEM!!! If you have them in your home go remove them NOW, I’ll wait…they are proven fire hazards. I had one melt off the wall with an LCD TV plugged into it. I immediately removed all my XPPF plug in noise filters and read online that this was a common issue with them.
So what should you use to stop the Signal Suckers you ask? I recommend and use the Smarthome 1626-10 FilterLinc. I have one on every TV, my home theater and my cheap wireless Epson printer. It plugs into one outlet and provides 2 outlets. One outlet is filtered, stopping the Signal Sucker from offending. One outlet is pass through, convientent to plug in electronics that don’t require filtering. These are great for increased X10 signal reliability, along with the other devices I recommend above and below. You still reading!?? Yes it’s a long post, but it’s well worth the read, but you can jump to my TLDR; Big 3 Conclusion if you’re starting to nod off!
X10 Problem 3 – Signal can’t get there from here!
We’ve covered Phase Coupling and Signal Suckers, now how do I get my CM11A’s 2.5 volt signal to all my devices, out to my garage, shed, outbuilding, etc? The CM11A works good on smaller homes and small X10 installations. It lacks the power to drive a large home’s X10 system that includes many X10 modules and devices. My X10 system hits 50+ devices come Christmas, I had problems getting a strong signal to all those devices.
I found the solution with the Smarthome 4827 BoosterLinc. It “blasts” X10 signals out at 10 volts, more than enough power to reach every one of my X10 modules.
A few recommendations:
- BoosterLinc works best when installed in a location where the signals are weak but not totally gone. If a Smarthome Design receiver won’t respond to the signals in a certain outlet, BoosterLinc won’t be able to detect the signals either.
- For homes with widespread signal strength problems, plug the BoosterLinc into the outlet closest to the electrical panel. When combined with a passive phase coupler, the two units will effectively become the equal of a coupler-repeater (sometimes called an amplifier) without the delays and bright/dim issues.
- Plug BoosterLinc into an outlet without other PLC transmitters, computers, or televisions. When two transmitters, are plugged into the same outlet, the signal strength sent from each unit can be reduced by up to 40%.
- Plugging a PLC transmitter directly into BoosterLinc will not (in most cases) significantly increase the transmitter’s signal strength.
- Every home is different, so a little trial and error in the placement of the BoosterLinc is required to determine the best location in your home.
X10 – TLDR; Big 3 Conclusion:
To sum it all up, here are my Big 3 recommendations to increase your X10 signal reliability:
- Phase Coupling: use the Insteon SignaLinc 2406H
- Signal Suckers: use the Smarthome 1626-10 FilterLinc
- Signal Strength: use the Smarthome 4827 BoosterLinc
My 2015 Christmas display:
Thoughts or Questions
Do you have thoughts or questions about this topic? Please feel free to comment below!