Any one using insteon technology?

andyhutch1947December 1, 2010

I am currently building a home and very interested in home automation. As I am old X10 user, I am very interested in the newer Insteon technology.

Is there any one here using this technology?

I am also interested in pre-wiring my home so it will be ready for all home automation projects. I understand that Cat5E or 6 is being used. I have been to the SmartHome website and find it a very good source for information but I am constantly looking for new information and those willing to discuss their good and bad experiences.



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Ron Natalie

I don't have Insteon, but I have the older Switchlinc, KeypadLinc X.10 stuff it is based on. It's essentially just X.10 with a RF bridge built into each unit to get around some of the goofiness inherent with X.10 that you are probably aware of. In that aspect it works well. My neighbor has the Insteon versions and that worked well for him.

HOWEVER...this isn't a problem with the Insteon protocol itself, but frankly the quality of the SmartHome stuff is terrible. Nearly every unit I've got installed has failed. There were firmware issues out of the box (admittedly SmartHome did handle well when under warranty). However a bunch of my switches have failed mechanically (they still respond to X.10) and a number of them seem to have lost their little mind and come on and off at random. Frankly I've given up on the brand because of that. At the prices these things go for, they should last more than a few years.

I've switched over to ZWave in the new house (and am just about to rip out the SwitchLinc stuff in the old house and just put conventional switches and dimmers back). Of course, I don't have a lot of history with Zwave (it's pretty new) but it's supported by a bunch of manufacturers (Insteon is not).

I'm confused about your other comment. THere's no wiring (cat 5 or otherwise) involved. The thing is a combo of power line control (identical to X.10) and RF for Insteon. ZWave is all RF (each unit acts as a node in the network, so if you get a place you can't reach you just plop in another unit like a lamp module and it bridges the gap). I

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 5:25AM
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I looked at Insteon too and read about poor quality. Wiring in my house (1912) is pretty bad too). I went z-wave. Using Cooper Apsire dimmers (look great), Leviton and Cooper lamp modules and DSC Alarm. Just about to add thermostat.

I use HomeSeer Pro to control from iPad/iPhone/iPod, Logitech Harmony (IR).

Just about to rewire house and will install some scene controllers too.

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 8:17AM
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Ref "I'm confused about your other comment. THere's no wiring (cat 5 or otherwise) involved. "

Ron thanks for your information but I am confused by the above statement and where I made it.

In ref to cat 5e or 6 I plan on running it to locations for data and control ie IR, telephone, intranet, etc. Your information about lighting and electric control is very informative and I will research the Zwave technology. I don't want to waste my money on this and have a part time job down the road of replacing insteon modules.

How does the insteon compare to the Zwave in cost for similar products?

It appears your post was cut off at the word "I"....

I love your home and did fly fixed wing and helicopters.

Mark thanks for your post. It seems that Zwave is a good option.


    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 1:35PM
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Ron Natalie

The prices run about the same. There is a much broader selection of things available in Z-WAVE than Insteon. There are a few things that I wish were available (a multibutton controller that also contained a dimmer like the KeypadLinc) but things are starting to come along. On the other hand one other neat thing about Z_WAVE is that the "radio" part is very low power. This means you can have wireless remotes (like motion sensors on the wall or portable keypads/remotes) that talk DIRECTLY to the system.

Right now I have a handful of the Schlage doorlocks on the house and am just getting the thermostats hooked up. There are a box of random controllers and stuff for me to test bed. I've purchased HomeSeer pro but haven't really done anything with it yet because I haven't got the USB ZWave interface that it supports (should be here any day).

    Bookmark   December 1, 2010 at 4:51PM
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Ron I saw that Schlage charges a monthly fee if you use their electric door locks. Kwikset doesn't charge a fee. Are your Schlages the electric ones? If so have you run into the fee issue?

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 1:37AM
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Ron Natalie

It really has nothing to do with using the locks. The fee is to use their web service to manage the locks (and other ZWAVE devices via their bridge). I'm currently using it as I put these in way before I figured out what I was going to do with regard to HA control systems (I've only recently settled on HS). If you use HomeSeer to control the locks you don't have to deal with Schlagelink at all.

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 3:24AM
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I built a new home in 2007 and have a pretty large Insteon deployment. Prior to that I used X10 in my other home to some poor switch location issues. Insteon is a huge improvement over X10.

The good news for you is that Insteon is now on it's second generation of switches and contollers and many of the prior issues (e.g. switches failing) are gone. If you want more info - do a search on "Smarthome Forums Insteon" and that will take you to a forum that regularly discusses Insteon and is a great resource to get information and get questions answered.

I have a very open floor plan in my house with many rooms having 2 -3 ways of enetering/leaving them. When I looked at the cost to put 3 and 4 way switches eveywhere, and then considered the asthetics of having many multi-gang boxes on the walls, I decided that a radio controlled switch solution was needed. I also wanted the ability to hit one button and have all the lights I needed turn on - and Insteon offered that. So I have one location with the switches and then single gang boxes with contollers scattered throughout the house.

I use the Houselinc 2 software which allows all of the Insteon devices to be programmed from my PC. If you want to schedule events and timers, the HL2 software lets you do that too but you need to leave the computer running all the time. I don't use the events and timers right now - maybe someday in the future.

Most of the issues with Insteon usually comes from noise on the power line and/or a bad deployment - and Insteon is no exception. Here are a few tidbits that you need to know:

1) Assuming your house is standard 240/120V service, all of your main boxes and subpanels must have a dual pol circuit added to accomodate an Insteon phase coupler device which can be housed right near the panels. The phase coupler device bridges the two sides of the panel so that any Insteon device sending a command on one 120V phase will make it to any devices located on the other 120V phase. I have a 600 amp service with 3 x 200 Amp panels and 1 subpanel for my backup generator - so I needed to install 4 phase couplers. Have your electricians add a single gang box near each panel with a dual pol circuit breaker to accomodate the phase couplers.

2) Once the phase coulers are in, you now need to add a few Insteon access points into the house. This device is a reapeater/amplifier for both over wire and wireless commands and just plugs into any outlet. For my setup, I had to make sure that each main panel had 1 access point tied to it AND had to make sure that I had 1 access point in the middle of the house and one each on the ends. This provided total wireless coverage through the space and also ensured that any commands tranmitted/received over the wireless part of the network made it to the panels to spread over the wires and cross the phase couplers. This ensures that all wireless commands make it to the the wired part of the network and vice versa. If you read up on Insteon, all commands are sent over wire and wireless networks (dual mesh) which is why it is much more reliable than X10. Each Insteon device (switch, keypad) is also a repeater too - and that is how commands spread throughout the house.

The Houselinc Powerlic Modem is how the commands are sent from your PC to the Insteon network. The PLM device is also an access point. Since my PC is located at the center of the house, I only needed to buy 3 additional acces point plug in modules.

3) Any PC's or HDTV's plugged into your house are going to need an Insteon Filterlinc module to filter out any noise. TV's and PC's tend to eat (attenuate) Insteon commands sent over the wires and that contibutes to the many of the poor reliability stories you may read about.

The biggest complaint with Insteon is that the documentation really doesn't address how to prep your house for a large Insteon deployment. Unfortuantely this is why many people have had issues. Hopefully I can save you some grief if you decide to go this route.

If you set the network up right, the system will work great and provide you with a lot of functionality. I would say that to go the Insteon route and to stay sane, you need to be a computer tinkerer - or have one handy (like a kid). I have a computer and electrical wiring background as a DIYer and like to tinker. I have had my issues with Insteon but have always solved them by either calling Smarthome or going to the forum. If you expect an out-of-the-box solution then I would recommend against it.

I guess the ultimate test was that my wife abosolutely loves having her push buttons to turn scene's on. Her favorites include: the dimmed path to the toilet for early AM trips, the dimmed path to get the dogs, and the kitchen and family room scene's.

I went the Insteon route becuase I knew X10 was not going to handle what i wanted and I did not want to fork out huge bucks for a home automation company to install a proprietary system and then hold me hostage to program or fix it.

If you want some more details on the specific things I did in my deployment and lessons learned, let me know and I will post them. The way i did my Insteon is not typical and did require some extra wiring in the house.

Goodluck with your build

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 8:34AM
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Ron Natalie

Actually, the phase-to-phase bridge, the line filters on the TV's are same thing that you have to do for X.10 (in fact, Insteon's PLC side is just X.10. It sounds like the RF side still has design problems if you have to install phase couplers, it was supposed to take care of that.

Z-wave on the other hand is a breeze to set up (especially if you've got Homeseer's little graphical tool it's quite fun).

    Bookmark   December 2, 2010 at 4:06PM
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I am interested in your project. Can you provide me with any more information?

I appreciate it.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 12:05AM
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LONG POST respinding to andy

Prior to planning the Insteon deployment
1) First design your electrical plan for the entrie house - a detailed plan with cans, lights, Low voltage lighting, switch & outlet locations. It will also be wise to map out the loads ��" how many can lights will be on a circuit, what type of wattage load for a chandelier, etc.

2) Keep in mind that a single Switchlinc dimmer can handle 600 watts of load when installed in a single gang box. Smarthome also sells a Switchlinc that can handle 1000 watt in a single gang box. But wait - if you plan on putting multiple Insteon dimmers into a multi-gang box the dimmers must be de-rated due to heat load. Example: 2 Insteon 600 watts dimmers side by side in a 2 gang box can only handle 400 watts each. Pay attention to the load limits on the dimmers.

3) Consider using Halogen bulbs to fit within the wattage de-rating on the dimmers and get the light output you need. I am using Halogena recessed lighting bulbs in our kitchen because I get the lumens I need and stay within the 400 watt load limit. If that won’t work for you put the Insteon dimmers in separate gang boxes.

4) Know what type of electrical service you will be getting - 200, 400, 600 AMPS so you know how many panels you will have.

5) Thinking about a backup generator? If the generator will not be whole house (just select circuits) add in a sub-panel as close as you can get to the area where the generator would be located. In my house, the main panels are in the northwest corner of the basement. Sub-panel is in the southeast corner.

6) Once you have your electrical plan, now you can now overlay where you want Insteon

7) Make sure you think about where your access points are going to be needed. In general, you will need 1 access point per 1000 square feet of house. Make sure that when they wire the house that you have outlet circuits in each all the main breaker panels.

8) As I mentioned before, you need one phase coupler per breaker panel box.

9) Insist the electricians identify descriptively what each circuit is (e.g. “light/plugs” is not descriptive enough - “Master Bed lights/plugs” is).

  1. If they don’t do 7 above (even after you plead with them), buy a outlet finder device and do you own marking before you do any Insteon installs. You must know what circuits you are dealing with before you plug stuff in.

My Insteon deployment approach

1) I wanted all light switches to function even if the controllers (Insteon keypadlincs) are not operating. If you read up on the Keypadlinc device, it can operate as both a dimmer/switch and a button controller for scene’s. I chose to never use a keypadlinc to dim lights ��" they are only there to provide push button scene controls (either 6 or 8 buttons). To disable the keypadlinc from operating as a dimmer, you simply cap off the read “Load” lead and only provide power and neutral to the switch (Black and White wires). This approach means that I needed more dimmer switches but I thought it was worth the extra expense.

2) I found that in many cases I needed a dimmer switch with a higher wattage load than the keypadlincs could handle (see Insteon 1000 watt Switchlinc). So instead of having a hodgepodge look with some keypadlincs working dually as a On/Off dimmer switch and a button controller and some only working as a controller, I decided to standardize my install and settled on Keypadlincs working only as scene push buttons.

3) Your installation might lend itself using both functions in the keypadlincs. Once you have your electrical plan you can decide what you want to do. Insteon dimmer switches (Switchlincs) work right out the box as a normal dimmer switch. If you hold the downside of the paddle the lights dim down, hold the upside of the paddle the lights dim up. So we moved in and all of the light switches worked. Then I installed and programmed the keypadlincs over time without impacting the light switch functionality.

4) When wiring the house, I had the electricians add outlets in places where I wanted to install the Keypadlinc controllers. Some of these outlets are in multi-gang boxes alongside Insteon switches (when this was possible & practical) and others are in single gang boxes by where I needed light controls. Note that these outlets are installed at switch height ��" roughly 48 inches up. I got a lot of funny looks when the electricians were installing outlets that high up since they look a out of place until the keypadlincs go in. I also get a lot of questions from guests about why a switch box has an outlet in it - because I haven’t installed all my keypadlincs yet.

5) Here is an example install: my 2 story Library has 3 entrance/exits (one from master suite, one from foyer, one from study). There are also catwalks, which are accessible from upstairs, on each end of the library. I have two large chandelier lights hanging from the library ceiling. 2 can lights below each catwalk (4 total), 2 can lights above each catwalk (4 total). Chandelier switches are Insteon dimmers located in a 2 gang box on the inside wall coming from the foyer. Right next to that 2 gang box is a single gang box with a 6 button Keypadlinc . They were installed in separate boxes due to multi-switch dimmer load which I discuss below. The wall near the master suite has a single gang box with a Keypadlic, same near the study entraance. Catwalks have light switches on walls close to those lights - two Insteon dimmer switches on main level under each catwalks, two Insteon dimmer switches upstairs. So the library has a total of 6 Insteon switches and 3 keypadlincs for that one room. Entering the library from any direction, I can turn on all of the lights in the library with the push of 1 button. Had I not had insteaon, turning all the lights on would rewuire me to go switches on 3 walls downstairs AND go upstairs to get to catwalk switches.

6) As I mentioned above, you need to watch the load de-rating on the Insteon dimmers. If you have more than one Insteon dimmer in a multi-gang box, the maximum wattage rating is de-rated depending on how many dimmers you have. In many cases it might make more sense to use multiple multi gang boxes rather than 1 big one. This is why you need the electrical plan and need to know what type of lights you will be controlling. Also, getting a 4 gang box plate to fit when you have 4 Insteon dimmers in the box is hard. My suggestion would be to stick with 3 or 2 multi gang boxes.

7) Have the electricians use the largest volume gang boxes they can ��" pay for the upgrade. The Insteon dimmers have a large volume and you will need the extra space.

8) Note that any low voltage or fluorescent lights cannot be dimmed using an Insteon dimmer even though some of the Insteon product descriptions might sound like you can. I did extensive research on this and talked directly with the designers of the circuits. If you have LV lights, use the Insteon Switchlinc NON dimming switch which only allows ON/Off operations. Do not try to dim a fan or fluorescent lights with Insteon Switchlincs.

9) Final suggestion is that you walk-crawl-run with Insteon. Initially only install what you feel is a must have in the house when you move in. Open floor plans have some rooms that without something like Insteon, you would be running all over the place to turn lights on and off. Start with Insteon in these rooms. Once you get the hang of the using and programming the system expand as money and time permit.

  1. When Installing the Insteon devices, write down the IP address for each device and note what room it is in.

Insteon programming

1) You will need a PC (Mac not supported) and the Houselinc2 software sold by Smarthome. Buy the kit that comes with a Powerlinc Modem (PLM) that plugs into a wall and also doubles as an access point. There is a USB connector that runs from the PLM to the computer. If you want to have events and timers (e.g. at 6PM, all lights come on in the house), you will have to leave the computer running all the time.. If that is what you want, buy yourself a cheap standalone computer for the Insteon system. It isn’t worth having your main computer disk crash because Houselinc was running.

2) Once you get the Insteon system programmed, back up the system files. If you have a large deployment with a lot of links you want the ability to recover from a computer hardware failure and not have to re-program your network.

3) Before you program any scenes you must use the HL2 software to find the devices in the house. This is a very easy function ��" you click the add tool, enter the IP address, enter a name and the system will search for the device. Develop a good naming convention for your devices. You can click on the device name column to list the devices in order ��" so I like to have all devices for a room show up next to each other in the list.

4) Before you try to add any links, use the HL2 diagnostics tool to test all of your devices. I set the number of tests for each device to 10 (it defaults to 100) because it can run long depending on how many devices you have. This tool will ping all of your devices and keep track of how many packets are sent and acknowledged. You should see a high rate of success ��" 80 to 100%. If the success rate is low, you probably have a noise issue on the line or may need additional access points. Note that the computer you are using could be the source of the noise (this happened to me) so I wound up using a very long extension cord and plugging the computer into an outlet that was not tied to the same outlet that my Powerlinc Modem was plugged in ��" and that fixed the issue. I mentioned the Filterlinc devices that Smarthome sells, use those to remove the noise. HDTVs, PC’s and battery chargers tend to eat Insteon commands

5) Once you are able to reliably communicate between your PC and the Insteon devices, then proceed to building the scene’s. Note that I spent many many hours tweaking my scene programming so don’t expect this to be done in an hour. Program a few keypadlinc buttons and then test it (after the software synchronizes with the devices). Crawl-walk-run on the programming because loading the insteon devices takes time and the last thing you want to do is put a pile of links into the Insteon devices and then have to delete them because you changed your mind. The software lets you add and delete easily enough but it is a time sink thing.

6) On programming buttons: each button can be programmed to transmit ON, OFF or toggle commands. The commands (called links) can be for one or a group of lights, and each Insteon light switch can be independently programmed to dim to a certain level (e.g. 10%, 20%…90% or ON or OFF).

7) You must think ahead about how you want the scene buttons to work and how you (and the wife) will be using the buttons. The ON and OFF commands are pretty intuitive. You can program a button (say Kitchen ON) and pressing that button will turn on all the kitchen lights to your desired dim levels. If you press the Kitchen ON button again (and you had set the button to be in the ON mode) - it just resends ON commands. OFF works the same way.

8) Toggle is the tricky button to program but is awesome. If you program the Kitchen ON button and program that button to be in toggle mode, then pressing the button once turns the lights ON, pressing that same button again turns them OFF. Toggle mode is a great way to conserve buttons since one button can do both ON and OFF. If you don’t use toggle mode, then you will need 2 buttons: one for ON and one for OFF.

9) The decision to use ON, OFF, or toggle mode isn’t as simple as it might seem. Think about people who come into your house and don’t know about Insteon. Would they know that you need to press a button twice to turn lights on and off? Also, if you have multiple keypadlincs that have the same button (say you have 3 Kitchen ON buttons scattered around an open area like I do), then how complicate do you want the controls to be?

  1. For toggle mode to work right with multiple buttons in separate controllers that provide the same scene control you must not only program all 3 buttons to turn the lights on to the desired levels, you must also make sure that each button is programmed as a responder to the other 2 buttons so that all the keypadlincs stay in sync. Imagine pressing a Kitchen ON button over at the fridge but then you go to the family room and you want to turn the kitchen lights off with a different controller using the Kitchen ON button over there. The family room controller has to know that you turned the lights on with the fridge controller so it can issue the OFF command instead of the ON command. This type of arrangement is easy to setup in Houslinc2 BUT it is a lot of programming and links to keep track of. So I use Toggle mode sparingly but I can say it works like a champ for controlling lights from multiple places in an open floor plan.

  2. The keypadlinc devices come with a removable faceplate. You need a very small philips head screwdriver to get the 4 little screws out and the faceplate just pops off. The new keypadlincs come with the buttons pre-etched using generic button names like ON, Scene A… etc ��" pretty useless. Smarthome offers a service where you can get custom etching but it isn’t cheap. I prefer to purchase the clear faceplates (which they sell as an accessory for 6 bucks) and use a laser printer to make my own labels. It took a little playing around but I found s nice color combination using a translucent color and white font (printed on standard stock paper using a laser printer) that allows the backlighting of the dimmer to shine through the label. By making my own labels I can change button functions without having to pay for another custom etched button. It takes a little work but looks very professional and cost a lot less than having 6 or 8 custom etched buttons made PER keypadlinc. At one time the keypadlincs were shipped with the clear faceplate but Smarthome changed that and now you have to pay for the clear faceplate ��" but it isn’t that much more.

  3. I try to use the keypadlincs in 6 button mode where possible. There are some rooms where I needed all 8, but I think the 6 button faceplate looks better.

I hope this is helpful

    Bookmark   December 3, 2010 at 12:47PM
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