X10 Home Automation: Upgrading and Alternatives

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X10 Home Automation

X10 Home Automation is known for its ease of installation and the comparatively low cost to install a complete system. The X10 protocol has several limitations that can be eliminated by updating or choosing X10 alternatives, but some users have been reluctant to update their systems. It’s important to realize that budget-friendly upgrades and alternatives to the X10 protocol do exist.

X10 History

First developed in the middle of the 1970s, X10 automation is named for the X10 protocol, which allows users to transmit signals across the power line wiring in their home or office. Components utilizing this protocol enable users to have remote control of a wide range of home automation products, such as lighting, temperature, blinds, doors, various types of sensors, and even security products.

X10 Benefits

Systems using the X10 protocol can control up to 256 devices.

X10 components utilize the existing wiring in the home, so users save the expense and hassle of installing separate wiring for the installation.

Since it’s been around so long, there are literally dozens of manufacturers and millions of compatible components and devices on the market that use the X10 protocol, which lowers overall cost.

Disadvantages of X10 Home Automation

Appliances that generate line noise, such as vacuum cleaners, dishwashers and other electronics, can interfere with signaling, causing delays in transmission. Installing a noise filter can decrease delays and dropped signals.

There are noticeable lag times when sending commands to multiple devices. The lag time increases as the number of devices and/or the number of commands or signals that are being sent increase.

Bandwidth limitations also cause a noticeable lag in the transmission of video and streaming files.

Most X10 modules only react to commands; they do not transmit back a status, which limits flexibility in system design. There are a few X10 devices that utilize two-way controls, but each costs anywhere from 2 to 4 times as much as the basic one-way modules.

X10 components that utilize solid state switches are known to leak small amounts of current. This may result in CFLs “blinking” as they are switched off. Some components will also not work well with devices that are registered below 50 watts, which can cause issues if one wishes to maximize energy savings throughout the design of the system.

Signals from X10 systems are known to “bleed” out into surrounding areas, and can cause issues with X10 systems installed in surrounding buildings and properties unless filters are installed to prevent this from occurring.

X10 protocol uses 4-bit security, which means there is a very real possibility that your X10 automation or security system could be easily attacked or hacked.

Updates and Alternatives to X10

In 2011, over 10 million homes worldwide still had X10 components. The disadvantages associated with the X10 protocol have provided ample reason for users to consider alternatives, but since X10 components have a relatively low cost to acquire and are easy to install, many have been reluctant to update their systems. The following is a brief overview of the top alternatives to the X10 protocol, as well as a few tips to keep in mind if you are considering an update of your X10 Home Automation system.

Insteon

Even though this system is a bit more expensive than X10, if you have been a previous user of the X10 protocol, Insteon may provide your best option to upgrade your system. This is especially true if you wish to add components to your system over time, as Insteon is compatible with most X10 components.

Insteon uses 24 bit security, which makes it more secure than the X10 protocol, and the system uses signals transmitted over both power line and RF (Radio Frequency) making it a dual mesh network. Components receive signals and retransmit the signal to other devices, and if a command is dropped, devices will repeat the signal until the command is received.

Users can also control up to 417 devices with the system, and the system has bridges that allow communications over the Internet, smartphones, computers, and tablets which expands a user’s control over the system and its devices.

The main drawback to this home automation system is that like X10, there are delays if the automation tasks involve devices with high bandwidth requirements. Streaming from security cameras, for example, often produces choppy images or other delays in the feed.

Zig-Bee and Z-Wave

Both use RF technology only to transmit signals, which can create range and line of site issues. Both utilize mesh networks, so devices seek out other devices in the home or office, and repeat signals, so commands are not lost.

Z-wave boasts over a thousand devices, but Zig-Bee has a limited product offering and is several times more expensive than Z-wave, Insteon, or X-10. Z-Wave also requires users to have a dedicated network controller as well as “enroll” every device that users want to control, raising the cost. These two technologies are also incompatible with most other automation protocols.

This makes either a good choice for a completely new home automation system, but not for users who wish to continue to use some of their existing X10 home automation devices.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

An increasing number of automation products utilize either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth protocols, and they are often compatible with popular smartphone apps that allow one to easily control their home automation and security from their phone. Sadly, these automation products suffer from some of the same drawbacks as the Z-Wave and Zig-Bee technologies as far as cost, the limited number of products and/or manufacturers, and their inability to communicate with device that use other protocols, so they are best for users installing a completely new system.

Digital Landing has additional articles that can help you learn more about alternatives to X10 home automation and home security. We even have a helpful comparison tool to help you shop for bundles from providers that offer home automation and security, such as Verizon Home, as well as ADT and Brinks.

Photo Credit: Nathan Chantrell

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