X-10 First Impressions

I received my first shipment of X-10 home automation goodies from Smarthome today. Started installing some of it in my bedroom after work. I’ve formulated a few first impressions.

First, I’m a little disappointed in Leviton and Advanced Control Technologies. Of the X-10 wall-switches I ordered, four were Leviton Dimmer with AGC switches. The other was an ACT RD161 [Smarthome] dimmer switch for inductive loads (I’m using it on some halogen track-lighting in my bedroom).

Both the Leviton and ACT switches seem to work ok, but I’m disappointed with the mechanical design. They both appear to be the same cheesy old-style wall-switch design that the X-10 Company first introduced in like 1978. It seems like every X-10 manufacturer in the world is, for some incomprehensible reason, still basing their products on these stone-age designs. They’ve been dressed up in modern Decora style face-plates, but they’re just connected to the old-style innards by a cheesy mechanical linkage.

What is this crap? They look like Decora, but they don’t feel like it. There’s no real distinction between pushing the “on” side of the rocker and the “off” side. They both link to the same push-button innards, and toggle the light state. I knew some Decora-style switches from the X-10 Company were built this way, but I expected better from Leviton.

All this complicated and unnecessary mechanical linkage just makes the switch feel cheap, and takes up valuable space in an electrical box that is already overcrowded with wires and Marette connectors. Switches designed from the start for Decora styling would probably be much smaller and much more ergonomic.

And why is that X-10 modules from every manufacturer in the world always look exactly the same? The same form-factor, the same construction, the same plastics, everything the same. It’s as if they’re all the just fronts for the same manufacturer, selling the same product under different names. The electronics inside the modules are supposedly different (Leviton’s modules supposedly being very sensitive to weak signals), but are they really? I hope so. For the premium you pay for Leviton, you’d better be getting something for the money.

The ACT inductive-load dimmer supports slave switches (for three-way applications), but I don’t need that. It does not appear to have the “resume dim” feature. When I turn it on, it always goes to full brightness, and then must be dimmed manually. I don’t like that very much, but the options out there for inductive loads (such as my low-voltage halogen track lights) are rather more limited.

Anyway, I’ve finished installing the X-10 switches for the lights in my bedroom. Plugged in the Mini Controller, and it all works like a dream. No more getting out of bed to turn off the lights when I’m finished reading and ready to sleep.

As for my driveway lights, I unfortunately wasn’t thinking very clearly when I placed the order. I didn’t account for the total wattage of the lighting out there. Now, I’m afraid it is too much for the 500W Leviton dimmer switches I ordered. I never even wanted dimming anyway (why would I want to dim my driveway lights?). I only got dimmer switches because they’re cheaper than the relay switches. But the relay swiches seem to be the correct solution here.

I will soon place another order for a couple relay switches to handle the driveway lighting, plus the Universal Module I need to control the bedroom fireplace. I also remembered, too late, that one of the bedroom lights I just X-10-ified today is on a three-way circuit, and should be handled differently. So, I’ll need a different three-way-capable X-10 switch to handle that.

As for the 500W dimmer switches I mistakenly bought for the driveway, I’m thinking they might be real nice in my living room. There are always places to use X-10 switches, if you just look for them.

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