Are PLC Gremlins Causing Problems?

SmartHome | SmartHome

Are PLC Gremlins Causing Problems?
Here's How to Send Them Packing!


SmartHome Manufacturing Tech Tip


You don't need an extensive PLC/X-10 system to encounter gremlins - those seemingly inexplicable little glitches that keep certain signals from successfully arriving at certain receivers. Fortunately, giving X-10 gremlins the pink slip is easy when you have the right tools, including BoosterLinc Plug-In Signal Boosters, SignaLinc Plug-In Phase Couplers, FilterLinc Plug-In Filters and the newest addition to the Smarthome Design tools family: SignaLinc Coupler-Repeaters.

Gremlin 1: Phase Problems

Most homes in North America have two lines of 120 volts coming into the home from the utility company pole transformer. Both of these lines are split out at your home's breaker box into the circuits that feed your light switches, electrical outlets, and appliances. Half of your electricity outlets and wall switches are fed by one of the 120-volt lines, phase A, and the second 120-volt line, phase B, feeds the other half.

But the phase problem species of PLC/X-10 gremlins usually rear their heads when the transmitter is plugged into an outlet on phase A and the receiver module is plugged into an outlet on phase B. For the signal to cross between the two lines, it must leave your home, travel to the utility company transformer (usually buried in the ground or on a utility pole behind the home), then come back in on the other AC line.

By the time the signal gets back to your home, travels through the electrical meter and circuit breaker box, there may not be enough signal left to trigger the module.

Fortunately, fixing the problem is now easier than it's ever thanks to the SignaLinc Plug-In Phase Coupler! Just plug one of these units into the 240V outlet found in many homes (usually the one your all-electric clothes dryer is plugged into), and it essentially builds a bridge between the two legs of power. And thanks to its pass-through outlet, you can still keep your dryer plugged in. We offer three models for the most commonly used 240V outlets.

Don't know if you need a phase coupler? Here's a quick and easy test: Turn on any 240V device (stove, oven, air conditioner, etc) and transmit the signal. If the signal goes through just fine when the device is on, but doesn't go through when the device is off, you need a signal bridge.

Gremlin 2: Attenuation

Sure, the SignaLinc Plug-In Phase Coupler is great at building bridges between the two phases of power in your home. But there's a whole other breed of gremlins called "Attenuation." This is where the signal gets weakened along the way, especially if there's a long distance between the transmitter and receiver. Sometimes, by the time the signal arrives, it's so weak; the receiver will barely even recognize it. If this is the gremlin that's giving you trouble, then you need something a little more powerful, like the SignaLinc Plug-In Coupler-Repeater.

This powerful tool not only builds a bridge between the two phases of power, it also boosts the signal in the process. It's that additional boost that ensures that the signal arrives at the receiver loud and clear enough so that your command is successfully completed.

If it's attenuation that's your main problem, and not the phase-coupling aspect, then the best gremlin exterminator is the BoosterLinc Plug-In Signal Booster. The BoosterLinc detects all powerline signals on the line and amplifies them in real time, with absolutely no delay. And since the BoosterLinc plugs into any standard outlet in your home, rather than 240V outlets, it's a solution that virtually every North American home can use.

Gremlin 3: Absorption

Another common gremlin is "Absorption". Some devices are made with power supplies that are designed to alleviate noise on the AC line. And since they often mistake PLC signals for noise, these devices absorb some or all of the signal, thus defeating it before it arrives at the receiving module. Additionally, every PLC transmitter (including 2-way modules) will also absorb some of the signals. Common sources of signal absorption include:

  • Computer Equipment
  • Televisions (especially big-screen TVs)
  • Audio/Video Gear (cable boxes, satellite receivers, VCRs, etc.)
  • Uninterruptible Power Supplies and Power Strips
  • Power Supplies for Laptops and Wireless Phones

But by using FilterLinc Plug-In Noise Filters at the outlet where the signal-absorbing device is plugged in, you'll prevent this problem from affecting your PLC/X-10 system.

Gremlin 4: Noise

Another common gremlin is "Noise." When we talk about appliances being "noisy," we mean they introduce interference, or "noise," on your home's electrical wiring - not "noisy" in the audible way (although in many instances, appliances can be noisy both ways).

The more "noise" there is on the electrical lines, the more difficult it is for receivers to detect signals from controllers. It's kind of like having a conversation in a room when the music is playing too loud. Common sources of line "noise" include refrigerators, freezers, plug-in fluorescent fixtures, aquarium filters, fountains, low-voltage lighting, fans, or anything with a motor.

Fortunately, the problem is easy to correct with FilterLinc Plug-In Noise Filters. Simply plug a FilterLinc into the wall outlet, and plug the "noisy" device into the outlet on the bottom of the module, and it will block the interference from traveling on the electrical wiring. Because FilterLinc have a pass-through outlet, you can plug anything you wish into the "face" of the module - even a lamp or appliance module!

Note: A quick way to test if an electrical device is adding interference on the powerline is to unplug the "noisy" device and test the signal. If you have a signal tester, you can do this directly. If not, and you are having difficulty getting a receiver to work properly, check to see if the receiver doesn't respond when the "noisy" appliance is plugged in, but begins responding when the offending appliance is unplugged. If so, you need a plug-in filter.

Here are the Rules!

  • If the home is less than 2,000 sq. ft., start with a SignaLinc Plug-In Phase Coupler.
  • If the home is larger than 2,500 sq. ft., start with a SignaLinc Plug-In Coupler Repeater.
  • Install one BoosterLinc Plug-In Signal Booster for every 1,000 sq ft of living space in the parts of the house where you're having issues.
  • Install a FilterLinc Plug-In Noise Filter on each device that could be absorbing signals (TVs, A/V gear, computers, etc.).

With these powerful tools, we have complete confidence that you'll be able to exterminate any gremlins for good.


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