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X10 is a protocol - a language - to speak to the various bits.
It runs over the AC wire when the AC wire is at 0 volts (120 times a second it spits out little bits of instruction). BIC came up with it (the turntable folks) if I recall. Many manufacturers make things that speak this protocol. Stanley, X10 Inc, leviton, etc, etc.
The cheap ones (radio shack) died because the triac (the "electricity valve" were rated for just what they needed to be - 200V. When they died, I put a 400VAC replacement triac in and those ones still work after 12 years.
A problem is traffic - a motion sensor I aimed at the driveway
would just spew signal on windy days keeping any other signal
from getting through. I replaced it with a hardwired one and a little tiny computer I use can see it, but nothing else can.
Neat hack for the 70's.
You never run X10 on critical systems. E.g. if you turn on the
heater with it, make sure you have a failsafe - like a thermostat
that will never let it fall below 40 degrees. Presume it will fail and you'll be safe.
I've lived in places where a neighbor got X10 - my lights go on and off - or sporadic signals messed things up. I moved codes around until it wsan't a problem.
A friend, before entering my house, will turn off lights from my driveway. He's amused, it's usually not annoying.
I'm starting to see switches that will "talk" to each other for scenes (hit a switch and, say, 4 lights come up to pre-set levels). They require one extra wire running from outlet to outlet. This looks sensible.
My hope would be to find reasonably priced switches (e.g. not $80 or $150 light the leviton RF things) that could take a wire.
A phone wire (2 conductors is all I really would need) into the switch for out of band signalling. Hell, serial at 300 baud is
fast enough (x10 ends up being around 300 "characters"/second tops and sends all signals twice.)
The stuff I've seen that I liked was stupidly expensive. Annoying.
Home automation remains in the realm of those with excess money as long as leviton charges $600 for stuff to start, then $150-$250 per controlled device.
So how might I wire for the future?
If you can find home-auto boards ([url]news:comp.home.automation[url]home automation) and talk to the geeky electricians you might know. It's my fervent hope that reasonably priced, non proprietary stuff might come along. I've worked with computers the size of light switches. X10 is LARGE compared. Lose the AC signalling and most of the problems go away.