My house "blue screened", or The Confessions of a House Geek

Posted by Steve on Sat, 01/24/2009 - 8:27pm

I had my first Insteon home automation device failure this week. Unfortunately, it happened to the brains of the "automation" part -- the software/hardware combination that executes the timers that turn the lights on and off. Specifically, the culprit was the PowerLinc device that bridges my house to the USB port on my computer which runs the timers.

2414u Here's the little sucker. At 70 bucks, it's not like changing a lightbulb. Okay, I was pissed about it, especially as it's only a little over two years old. But, fact is, I was never happy with this automation set up. For one thing, it requires leaving a Windows box on 24/7 for the timers to work. And the HouseLinc software I was using must have some memory leaks in it because once I removed it from my computer it seemed to gain an extra half a processor.

What I really want is an Insteon driver for Linux/FreeBSD that would let me build my own timers in Perl, which I could run under Unix cron. That's what I did with my former X10 automation layout, which was decidedly more hobbyist-friendly than Insteon but decidedly more flaky as well, which is why I got rid of it. I spent a couple of hours Googling for open source alternatives to no avail before winding up back at the SmartHome web site.

It was there I noticed a couple of new Insteon products. One was a relatively inexpensive home automation controller that runs from a smart phone. It got 4 out of 6 on my Coolness Meter but it was functionally less than I had with HouseLinc. True Geeks don't downgrade.

12231p Then I saw the ISY99-i controller. Now THIS is what I've been looking for: a stand-alone controller that works like a web server and plugs into an UPnP router (hey, I've got one of those!)

With this device you can not only program all the devices in your system, you can have them appear on a protected web site. That means it will run on any smart phone too, not just the iPhone. From your cell phone you can program your Insteon house devices from your office, the bus or from Moscow. That's almost 6 for 6 on the Geek-o-Meter.

So, sure, you can turn your lights on and off from a hundred miles away but what practical use is that? Almost none, but Insteon devices aren't limited to light switches. You can also use it to control air conditioners, boilers, your DVR, the irrigation for your tomato plants, video cameras, the coffee pot and in fact control anything that works with an IR remote.

So I could (if I had kids), log into my password-protected web server, turn on some lights and watch the rug rats over net video. Or override the setback timer on my thermostat if I have to work late. Or reboot my servers. I'll probably never use it for that but it's fun knowing that I could.

One thing I do love about Insteon timers is that my "house" knows the time of day and my latitude and longitude so it takes care of turning on and off the lights for me. I didn't realize how dependent I was on that until my PowerLinc failed, I looked out of my office door one night and saw that the house was completely dark. The next morning, I found the garage and basement lights still burning. I was used to having Houselinc do a precautionary kill of those lights every evening at midnight.

When the ISY99-i gets here I'll post more about it, including I'm sure a good dose of complaining.


Posted by Steve on
There some Insteon to X10 related posts on the site.

For X10, there are some automation ideas here.

Insteon devices are faster, better constructed and more reliable that X10. Even though I had a failure with a device here, that's the first one. In the same time I would have replaced at least four X10 devices by now.

Even better, Insteon also does X10 so you can start replacing defective X10 devices with Insteon now. I still have a half dozen X10 devices in the house which Insteon handles fine.

Posted by webrey227 (not verified) on

A relatively inexpensive home automation controller that runs from a smart phone. The home automation layout, which was decidedly more hobbyist-friendly than Insteon but decidedly more flaky.

Ain't technology grand until it melts down! I wish we had put more automation in our new home but the budget fixed that! The only thing we ended up with was some radio controlled switches so we can turn on lights from the car.

Posted by Steve on

With electric rates climbing, automation offers a certain degree of money savings too. Something I always tend to do is leave the basement shop and garage lights on. When those were incandescent lights that was 1100 watts which were sometimes left on overnight. Same with the front porch, landing and garage door exterior lights, another 120 watts. It's much less of an issue now with CFLs but, still...

I've also got a bunch of accent lighting in the house which I tend to forget to turn off at night. Maybe I'm only saving fifteen bucks a month having Insteon kill those lights after midnight but at the end of the year that's three or four Insteon devices paid for.

Security is another feature. Next to my bed is a scene controller that lets me turn on/off groups of lights in the house. During a recent rash of house burglaries in the neighborhood, it came in handy when I heard a noise in the middle of the night or the dogs suddenly went into alert mode. The "ALL ON" button turns on every Insteon lighting device in the house, including all the outside lights. Instant ball park.