I wrote this article 19 years ago but many of the principles of Home Automation Systems are still relevant today --- and X-10 products are still around too.


Bob Hetherington for | HomeToys

Reprinted from HTI Home Toys - X-10 for Beginners
Bob Hetherington

Let me try to clear up some confusion about home automation. It doesn't have to be complicated and expensive to get started automating some of your existing home's systems. X-10 has been around for many years and provides an inexpensive way to get started. If you're worried about obsolescence then consider this. Compare X-10 for home automation to DOS for computing. X-10 is established as the standard and is widely used and supported in the industry. As new technology arrives (i.e. CEBUS / WINDOWS) it will create new markets for products which can interface with X-10 and just as DOS has remained as the backbone of computing so will X-10 remain as the simplest form of home automation. The beauty of X-10 is that you can start with the basics and expand at your own pace by adding equipment without having to backtrack and replace what you've already installed. Re-wiring isn't necessary since you don't have to wire in the first place (X-10 operates via your existing house wiring).

Let's break down a home automation system into it's components to better understand how it works and how an X-10 system can be built up using basic skills.


As the name implies, these components receive the X-10 signals over your house wiring and do whatever the signal tells them to do (i.e. Turn ON / OFF or DIM in the case of lights). In order for the receiver to work it must simply be connected to the house wiring system. This is accomplished either by plugging the receiver into an electrical outlet or replacing an existing switch with an X-10 receiver (i.e. Wall Switch). The wall switches can still be operated manually and come in 2 main styles (Push-button and Decora). In fact some of the Decora switches give you manual dimming as well as X-10 capabilities. In order for the receiver to understand which X-10 signal to respond to you simply set the ADDRESS CODE on the device by adjusting the built in dials. Here are some of the basic receivers:

Appliance Module Plug In ON/OFF Turn electrical appliances, stereo, TV, Hot Water Tank, Hot Tub etc. ON/OFF.
Lamp Module Plug In ON/OFF/DIM Turn lamps ON/OFF and DIM/BRIGHT
Wall Switch Replace Existing ON/OFF/DIM Turn lights on the existing circuit ON/OFF and DIM/BRIGHT. 3 way switches also available.
Wall Receptacle (Electrical Outlet) Replace Existing ON/OFF Control whatever is plugged into the outlet ON/OFF.
Universal Module Plug In OPEN/CLOSE

Dry Contacts

Control low voltage systems such as sprinkler valves, drapery controls, garage door opener etc.
Chime Module Plug In CHIME Chimes when ON signal received.
Siren Modules Plug In SIREN Security alarm horn activated by X-10 security system.

Of course there are other types of receivers available but these are the basics. So, let's assume you've installed a few receivers in your home and are anxious to get them working. For that you need a controller.


Controllers are the remote devices which allow you to control the equipment which has been connected to the receivers installed. There is a wide range of controllers available from simple plug in devices to remote controls, security panels, telephone controllers and computer programmable panels. Most controllers have pushbuttons which allow you to turn devices ON/OFF and DIM/BRIGHT. In addition you may wish to add timers and sensors which automatically control certain devices. Computer controllers allow you to program sequences of events to occur in response to time, sensor or pushbutton signals. The following is a list of the most common controllers:

Mini / Maxi Controller Plug In ON/OFF/DIM & All ON/OFF Simple ON/OFF/DIM control of lights and appliances from fixed remote location.
Mini Timer Plug In Manual & Timed ON/OFF/DIM Schedule ON/OFF times for various lights and appliances (Security Mode controls lights at random times)
Wireless Remote Control Plug In Receiver ON/OFF/DIM Remote control sends radio signals to plugged in receiver which triggers X-10 equipment. Range 75'
Wireless Wall Switch Plug In Receiver ON/OFF/DIM Velcro mounted keypad sends radio signals to plugged in receiver which triggers X-10 equipment.
Telephone Responder Plug - Tel Line & Electrical Outlet ON/OFF & All ON/OFF Dial In from anywhere in the world and use touch tone buttons to control X-10 devices.
Computer Controllers Plug - Serial Port & Electrical Outlet Programmable events Program sequences of events to occur in response to remote signals and times.

One simple controller and a few receivers are all you need to begin automating your home. As you "get hooked" by the convenience of Home Automation you simply add more receivers and controllers to provide more control functions. Now lets talk about some of the other "Fun Stuff" you can add like light and motion sensors, security sensors, infra red interfaces (control TV and Stereo) etc.


Now let's look at some of the other home automation equipment which can enhance your system. With the addition of a few sensors you can have hands free control of much of your system and add security, HVAC and entertainment system control as well. Sensors are available to detect motion, light and door/window closure. Some of these are wireless devices which communicate with your X-10 system by radio signals. Others are simple plug in devices. If you add an Infra Red interface you can control your X-10 system as well as your Stereo and TV with one remote control. An X-10 Security system can provide full security functions (including dial-in alarm). Here is a list of a few of these devices:

Sundowner Plug In ON/OFF Turn lights ON/OFF at sunrise & sunset.
Motion Detectors Various ON/OFF Turn lights ON/OFF when motion detected
Temperature Sensors & Thermostats Various ON/OFF Control HVAC Equipment including temperature setback and occupancy schedules
Door/Window Sensor Various OPEN/CLOSED Security system sensors
Security Panel Plug In (Tel & Electrical) ALARM & DIAL OUT Full security functions including Alarm Dial Out and Siren (Also controls X-10 lights etc.)
One for All Remote Plug In Interface Programmable Control X-10 as well as TV, Stereo, VCR etc.
Powermid IR Extend Plug In All IR Signals Control TV, Stereo etc. from another room
The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of HomeToys

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