X10, Insteon, and Z-Wave – If I Knew Then What I Know Now

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The Short Version: X10 is considerably less expensive and more compatible with various wiring schemes, Insteon is very reliable and relatively secure but requires a neutral wire for in-wall modules, Z-Wave is more compatible with various wiring schemes and far more reliable than X10. X10 modules are usually around $5 each. Insteon and Z-Wave typically run from $35-$50 each but they both rebroadcast signals and verify device status. X10 is good for beginners but anyone considering a whole-house automation scheme should probably invest in Insteon or Z-Wave instead.

I’ve learned quite a bit about some of the more popular home automation devices and protocols. When I first became interested in home automation I started dumping cash into X10 modules. X10 is typically much less expensive and compatible with most wiring.

Over time, and after much experience troubleshooting my own X10 woes, I eventually started switching over to Insteon modules.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave dimmer switch.

X10 was very inexpensive (read “cheap”). Unfortunately it’s not reliable. X10 equipment doesn’t (usually) support any kind of device status or confirmation. In short, if you turn a light on from a remote, and for some reason it doesn’t turn on, the remote can’t check to verify whether or not the command was received.  Granted, our wiring is a mix of new and old (including knob and tube) so it’s not exactly an ideal environment for X10 but even with a signal phase bridge (on the clothes dryer) I still experienced frequent signal loss or interference.

I started using Insteon but so far I’m limited to only using plug-in modules since most of wiring doesn’t have the required neutral wire (at least not at the switches). It does work great with these modules. I’ve almost never pushed a button and not had a device respond.

Recently, I installed my first Z-Wave device on our back porch light. The light was controlled with an X10 wall-switch but it frequently did not receive commands from the computer. Since I’ve installed the Z-Wave dimmer it seems to turn on and off every time it should. This is very impressive considering the distance between the dimmer switch and the controller – at the moment there aren’t any other Z-Wave devices in the house to repeat the signal.

Eventually I will eliminate all X10 devices. I’ll probably keep my Insteon devices, at least until I’ve determined how reliable Z-Wave really is in our home. In the end I’ll probably have a mix of Insteon and Z-Wave, though it’s possible that one day I’ll only be using Z-Wave.

Updated 07/18/2013: I’ve completely eliminate all X10 devices from my house by replacing them with Z-Wave devices. Eventually, I’ll also replace the handful of Insteon devices with Z-Wave modules.

Insteon 2-Wire Dimmer or Switch Not As Easy As X10

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About a year ago I started swapping out some X10 dimmer and appliance modules with new Insteon modules. They’re much more reliable and more secure than X10 gear. However, the in-wall modules have one requirement that prevents me from using them. Specifically, they require a neutral wire.

Since our home has a mix of older wiring, or the neutral wire wasn’t brought down to the switch, I can’t install most Insteon modules. I am able to use plug-in modules, which work well so I still have a mixed environment of Insteon and X10.

There are some 2-wire Insteon modules available. However, the wiring requirements aren’t as simple as those for X10 devices. I’m probably not going to purchase any of these. I may just continue using plug-in modules until we can afford to have our electrical wiring upgraded throughout the house.

The issue is that the 2-wire modules actually use two components. One component is installed at the switch and the other is installed in the electrical box at the light fixture. According to the documentation it creates a neutral wire between the two devices using the existing two wires.

This just isn’t as simple as what I’d prefer. I’m not stating that the 2-wire Insteon modules are faulty or not good. The purpose of this post is just to help others learn that using these won’t be as simple as replacing a light fixture switch.