Mister Eclectic (howeird) wrote,
Mister Eclectic

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Fun with electrons

My apartment is rigged for wireless remote switching of lights. It's not such a big project, I only have 4 lamps. I like to be able to turn off lights from anywhere in the apartment, but more importantly my bedroom light is part of my alarm clock, it needs to come on at wakie-wakie time. That way I'm awake enough to turn off the clock radio and the TV (which has a built-in wake-up timer).

For the last month or so, one of the lights downstairs in the livingroom has not been responding to the timer, or to most of the remotes. Last week the bedroom light joined the rebellion. The timer is a plug-in unit, no batteries (ditto the lamp modules) so I'm guessing that the timer was on the blink.

Last night I went through the house replacing all the RF modules with X-10 modules which I used to use, but pulled them out because the wiring in the apartment is screwy, and X-10 transmits its signals over the power lines. RF is through the air.

I figured I could beat the problem with some planning - I have an X-10 repeater and also a signal sensor, I figured if I scoped out where the signals were, I could position the lamps and outlets where they would all work from any controller in the apartment. The X-10 has a module which is loaded from a PC software program, and has a lot more flexibility than the RF system. For instance, it can turn lamps on at dusk (it has a calendar which keeps track of when dusk is in my longitude/lattitude).

When the midnight train came rumbling past, I was reminded why I'd pulled the X-10 stuff out. Whenever the train goes by, all the lights come on. And the two lamps in the livingroom feed back to each other, so when you turn one off, the other goes on. And when my cell phone syncs with the cell system, it makes the bedroom lamp come on.

After work I went to Fry's and found a new RF system, called Zwave (new to me, that is) and spent way too much on a controller, a remote and three lamp modules. Their prices seemed high, but a web search shows they are $10 per unit less than everyone else.

These work beautifully. Instead of being frequency-based like the X-10 and RF units, they train to the controller, and then the controller in turn programs the remote to match. No dip switches to set. You can also set "scenes" - for each scene tell the controller how bright the lamp should be. The lamp modules have very nice granularity to their dimmers. One thing I don't like is the lights fade up and fade down instead of snapping on and off. Not as good for an alarm clock system. Another bad thing all three systems have in common is they only support incandescent lamps, which costs a lot more to run than fluorescents.

There's software to control Zwave units, but it looks like it requires the PC to be on all the time, which defeats the power-saving point of having a timer. The PC uses 5x as much juice as the lamps.


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