Home Automation has been a hobby of mine for almost eleven years. The technology has existed in various forms, for far longer; there are many other individuals that have been experimenting with home automation for far longer than I have.
Using Indigo 7 for Home Automation with a MacStandard
Back in 2013 I moved from using a very good Windows program called mControl for home automation control over to Indigo for Mac OS. mControl worked great for my needs then but I didn’t want to dedicate an additional computer to the home automation and video recording tasks since I usually left my iMac running anyway.
Indigo looked like an excellent choice and over the years and it has indeed proven to be a great software package for home automation control from a Mac. I realized that even though I’ve blogged about some of the things that I’ve done with Indigo I haven’t really mentioned my overall experience with the software.
It’s now on version 7 and though the cost has risen this is largely due to improved software support and the inclusion of the required licensed technology needed to control Z-Wave compatible door locks. Indigo is very extensible; one can find a number of community-built plugins and it also supports scripting via Python.
I wouldn’t recommend it for someone that isn’t very tech savvy; there are other consumer appliances more suitable for basic home usage, but if you want to do anything more than have a few automated tasks (for example, anything that requires a good bit of logic and virtual devices or variables) you’ll need something like Indigo.
At our house I do use a Wink system and it works fine there but it’s not capable of doing much more than running a few automated tasks; consumer appliances (usually cloud-connected) currently don’t offer very much in this realm. But at the apartment I’m still using Indigo and have moved into some more advanced home automation interactions.
With Indigo I now have several actions that are dependent on the status of other devices, virtual devices and variables. I’m also using some Bluetooth proximity detectors to provide additional enhancements and in the past I’ve done some more interesting things that I currently don’t have setup.
I highly encourage anyone with more than a passing interest in home automation, and a Mac that you’re willing to leave powered on all of the time, to look into Indigo. The initial cost may seem high but when you consider the basic cost just to purchase a consumer appliance hub such as Wink or SmartThings, and then potential issues with any of your existing equipment, you may find that the savings aren’t really there in the long run. Indigo works with X10, Insteaon and Z-Wave devices as well as some other devices that don’t use those protocols.
GE 45603 Z-Wave Technology Wireless Lighting Control Fluorescent Light and Appliance ModuleStandard
Earlier this week I replaced two X10 modules in my Man Cave. I replaced an X10 slimline wall remote with a Z-Wave remote. As part of this replacement I also swapped out an X10 appliance module with a new GE 45603 Z-Wave Technology Wireless Lighting Control Fluorescent Light and Appliance Module. The appliance module was in the typical cost range for a Z-Wave module of about $40.
The two modules work great together and I haven’t had any problems since I installed them. I can reliably control the connected lamp for the first time since I added home automation modules to this room.
The module includes two outlets. One is for Z-Wave control and the other is a pass-through to power another non-controlled device. It includes a manual on-/off button as well. In the photo you may notice that the power outlet is installed sideways. This is another side effect of owning an older home. Typically, in a house with a power outlet aligned vertically, both outlets on the module would be perpendicular to the floor. This is intended to free up the other outlet but whether or not this actually happens will depend on the size of the power plug used by another device in the other outlet.
Moving from mControl 3 (Windows) to Indigo 6 (OS X) for Home AutomationStandard
The Short Version: I moved VPN, home automation control, and video recording from an ASUS eeeBox PC (Windows) to my iMac (OS X Mountain Lion). VPN was changed from PPTP to L2TP using iVPN to control the server. Video recording is with the same program (Vitamin D Video Pro) using the same license. mControl was dropped and I’m now using Indigo 6 to control everything.
For home automation control I’ve been running mControl over the past few years. The development team rarely updated the software but rather than invest in a different package I went ahead and upgraded to version 3 when it was released. The software was running on an ASUS system I had setup at the house for managing home automation and security video recording.
X10, Insteon, and Z-Wave – If I Knew Then What I Know NowStandard
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.
Loss of X10 Control Using a SmartHome 2413U PowerLinc with mControl 3 (Build 4346)Standard
The Short Version: mControl 3 Build 4346 caused problems with controlling X10 devices. Rolling back to a previous build restored functionality.
I recently upgraded my version of mControl 3 to Build 4346. Unfortunately, I soon noticed that I was no longer able to control my X10 devices, including the virtual X10 switches I use to control some macros, from mControl. The log showed mControl was sending the commands but it was apparent that they weren’t actually reaching the controller.
I’m still working on shifting away from using X10 devices. At the moment I have a mix of Insteon and X10 in the house and the 2413U works well since it controls both Insteon and X10.
I started looking for a solution and it didn’t take long to find a new post in the Embedded Automation forums in which other users of this build were experiencing the same problem. Over the weekend I tried a few tricks (disabling unused drivers, updating other software) but finally concluded that until a new release that addresses this problem is available I’d simply have to roll-back to a previous version.
Going back to the previous build that I was using (the first non-beta version of mControl 3) solved the X10 communication problem. mControl is back to managing both Insteon and X10 devices properly.
Replacing X10 Motion Sensors (MS14A) with Insteon Motion Sensors (2420M)Standard
The Short Version: The Insteon motion sensors cost nearly ten times more than the X10 motion sensors but they are very reliable (as long as you have the necessary APs to send the signals over a reasonable distance or through several walls).
Ever since I started using home automation devices I’ve relied on X10 motion sensors for several different tasks. Unfortunately, I’ve noticed consistent communication problems between the X10 devices and the computer. Due to the manner in which Insteon devices communicate I haven’t noticed issues with those devices. Some of the X10 light switches don’t respond from time-to-time. That’s not as big of a concern as having problems with the motion sensors.
Reluctantly (because of the cost), I ordered Insteon motion sensors to replace the X10 sensors. I paired the sensors with the PLC and then added them to the device information in mControl. Communication problems seemed non-existent. Sure, they cost considerably more than X10 sensors, but what good are X10 sensors if they don’t work as needed?
The Insteon motion sensors also have a red LED that pulses at a regular interval. However, unlike as with the X10 sensors, it’s very noticeable. Fortunately, it can be disabled, which I did with one of the sensors.
Updated 12/12/2011: Don’t forget to link your motion sensors to an AP or the controller itself.
Insteon 2-Wire Dimmer or Switch Not As Easy As X10Standard
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.
mControl v3 UpgradeStandard
Embedded Automation has officially released version 3 of mControl. There are several changes including new modules that can be purchased individually to additional features. Based on what I’ve seen it appears that the Base version, available for $170, includes almost everything that version 2 came with.
I wasn’t thrilled about the price until I learned that owners of previous versions of mControl can get an upgrade discount of $150, cutting the price down to only $20! Tonight I submitted my request and mControl 2 license and plan to purchase the upgrade as soon as the discount is available under my account.
For more information about upgrading there is a guide available on their store product page.
Updated 10/04/2011: Last night I purchased my upgrade license, which was only $20 after the discount. The only problem I had was applying the new license. I had to delete the license key file that I used with the beta version before I could re-install mControl 3 and apply the new license.
Foscam Wireless/Wired IP Camera (FI8918W)Standard
In September of last year I decided to remove an X10 camera that underperformed beyond my expectations (the same can be said of the software that came with it). I replaced it with a Foscam IP Camera (FI8918W), which is a much better device. The Foscam is a good, all-around IP camera for general use and may work well as a security camera in certain situations. At about $90 it’s a good price for a reliable IP camera.