Advice on updating hardware

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
Mighty said:
@ano As I said in my original post, if given a choice, I'd prefer to support Zigbee.  But, I haven't been able to find many actual products.
 
I'll try to check out those sites you mentioned.
 
@Dean Oh, since you recommended RA2 I had assumed you had direct experience with it.  What is it that leads you to recommend it?
 
I do have an RA2 system. But, being an automation system vendor, Lutron provided me with a development system and didn't require me to take any courses or anything (just assumed I'd figure it out I guess, and it took half a day of messing around or thereabouts.) Of course my experience is as a developer, not as a user since it's just a development system. But we have a fair number of CQC users with RA2 and they have nothing but good to say about it. And it's just well known to be a solid system. And, as a developer, the RA2 integration protocol, though not elaborate, is sufficient, easy to support and solid.
 

Mighty

Member
I want to thank everyone for patiently educating me on some of the challenges I'm facing with my wiring setup.  I haven't had a chance to look over those sellers, yet.  I may have some more questions once I do.  In any case, I'll report back with what I end up with.
 

Dean Roddey

Senior Member
BTW, when I said above that it took me a half a day to figure it out, I meant to the degree required to set up a simple test system and figure out how to use the Lutron software to register the modules and such. Obviously there would be more involved in understanding it enough to really install a system and be sure it's right when everything is closed up. Going through the training would likely be a good thing if you were really doing that. 
 
But learning to use the setup software isn't too difficult. 
 

Mighty

Member
Thanks, Dean.  I understand.  With your experience, I'm sure learning a new system like that is probably mostly just learning their terminology.
 
Their website sure makes it look like a fully-formed system, designed by people with experience.
 

pete_c

Guru
Personally I would take it a piece at a time (baby steps) and not assume that one automation protocal or methodology can do it all just the way you want it.
 
IE:  You are now looking at what means are available relating to lighting  / lighting automation.
 
You currently utilize X10.  You see issues with LED lighting and your HV lighting infrastructure.  IE: what specifically you have in use today.  You do have a choice to update it to work or just remove and replace the infrastructure.  It is up to you what you want to do.  It is your money and your time and your home.
 
You have seen posts here now relating to X10, Insteon, UPB, Z-Wave, Zigbee and Lutron (Lutron Radio RA2).
 
Basically you are looking at power line control, powerline and wireless hybrid control and wireless control.
 
You have mentioned that you do not want to upgrade your HV infrastructure wiring as it would be cost prohibitive for you.
 
Just this piece itself is a major undertaking.  You do want something that you will not have to play with for the next few years.
 
It appears that you want to DIY this.  That said choose the methodology of use, time of implementation and cost for your efforts and hardware.  Note too that you can start very slowly with whatever methodology you decide on and what is easy for you after getting a knowledge base on implementation.
 
Software will offer (Dean's stuff) a mechanism to manage your lighting.  It is easy if you are familiar with the use of Wintel and get to testing and playing with Dean's software.  Well that and you can interface Dean's software with other methodogies of automation very easily. 
 
IE: here one software automation box (IE: my automation mothership) talks to 16 serial hardware connections, 7 USB hardware connections and a few network based hardware connections providing me with means of a variety of hardware control from one piece of software. 
 
Plan it on a piece of paper; make yourself a punchlist relating to raw hardware/software costs and your DIY time.  There is no cost involved doing this; it is just your time and getting familiar with what it is you want to do. (keep asking question here on Cocoontech).
 

Mighty

Member
I've been mulling this over, and I've decided to punt.  It's just too hard to get info on running a no-neutral system.  I'm just too far in the minority, and few people are interested in devoting any effort to this.  And, I'd probably end up so limited on hardware that I'd never be happy with it, anyway.
 
So, I'm going to go with the flow and get smart bulbs, appliance and lamp modules, and the like, instead.  Those are completely generic, and should work fine in my house.
 
I'm intrigued by the inexpensive Cree Zigbee bulbs.  As I've said before, I have a slight preference for Zigbee, if it can be made to work.  For a smart thermostat, I think I'd have more options if I went Z-Wave, though.  But, that's a one-shot purchase, that doesn't have to pay the Z-Wave licensing fee over and over.  Albeit, possibly, Z-Wave wireless wall controllers might make sense.  I've recently stumbled onto the existence of cheap Android tablets that I'd like to stash around the house as extra remote displays and controllers.
 
I have some circa-2005 PC hardware I'd be inclined to dedicate to act as the central controller.  Currently running XP, but I could be talked into installing Linux.
 
The wall I'm currently bumping up against is what hardware I need to get the PC onto the Zigbee network.  And then, what software I need to run to act as the center of everything.  I looked briefly at openHAB.  But, they don't officially support Zigbee, yet.  I asked over there and didn't get any advice on hardware.  It sounds like most of them use one of the smart hubs and then talk to the hub's interface from openHAB.  That just strikes me as cumbersome.  Especially since most of the hubs try pretty hard to lock you in to their proprietary system, and only begrudgingly work with anyone else.
 
But, maybe that's currently the least painful way to get started, and I'm just being bull-headed.
 
And, maybe I'm conceptualizing this all wrong.
 
Does anyone have any advice on this kind of system?
 
Thanks,
Drake
 
P.S.  Is anyone aware of a smart G25 bulb?  That's the 40w globe that is often used on the sides of vanity mirrors.
 

picta

Active Member
So you chose the first 2 out of cheap,easy,good for your system. It is a good choice as long as you are fully aware of the fact that you should not expect much in terms of reliability, flexibility and integration. But it will work as a starting system, and many newcomers to HA settle on that option to get their "feet wet".
 
I cannot even find decent LED version of G25 bulbs, never mention the "smart" ;-)
 
My friend recently decided to get some HA, and I have recommended the Homekit with Lutron Caseta, Ecobee thermostat, Schlage lock, Chamberlain garage door opener and Ring video doorbell. It was very easy to get working and is not that expensive. It has also so far being very reliable.
 

cobra

Active Member
picta said:
I cannot even find decent LED version of G25 bulbs, never mention the "smart" ;-)
 
If you plug G25 LED in to Amazon, you may find a surprise like I did.  They have a number of decently rated G25 bulbs (none of which I have tried yet...)  The only challenge may be if you have high wattage installations (I think my kitchen table fixture uses 100W domes like that, these are hard to find in LED equivalent.)
 

Mighty

Member
Yes, I'm choosing cheap and easy to start.  I'd like to do a piece at a time and see how it turns out.
 
I know that you really, really like that Lutron system.  But, my research keeps telling me that no-neutral is a big issue.  Smart bulbs works around that issue.
 
I also realize that by going with smart bulbs, I'm not really saving all that much money.  Since buying multiple bulbs ends up approaching the price of a smart switch.
 
I concede that there is actually a fairly good chance that I will be dissatisfied with these and end up with the Caseta or something like it.
 
But, for now, what I'd really like is advice on a beginner Zigbee + Z-Wave system that has an XP- or Linux-based controller at its heart.  As non-proprietary as possible.  If I do have to go with a smart hub, then one that is easily controlled from other software.
 
Can anyone help me with that?
 
As for the G25s, I think it was you, picta, who pointed me at a list of Lutron-approved LEDs, which is what I'm using right now.  At least, I'm pretty sure that's where the list was posted.  I was hoping that those would clean up the noise on the line enough to allow my current X-10 switch to work.  Turns out, they didn't.  If I can get my new system off the ground, then I may just put A19s in there, for now.  I don't have a woman living with me who will object :)  Or, possibly, since it has eight bulbs, I can get smart switch for that one location.  One that doesn't mind the noise of the LEDs because it's communicating wirelessly.
 
Drake
 

picta

Active Member
Mighty said:
I know that you really, really like that Lutron system.  But, my research keeps telling me that no-neutral is a big issue.  Smart bulbs works around that issue.
 
 
Drake
 
Well, I don't "really like" that Lutron system as I am using Centralite Elegance :) But for someone who is just starting out, imo Lutron is the best bang for the buck. My friend's house is a Victorian, no neutral.
 
The G25 bulbs from the Lutron list do work with RadioRA system, because that system was specifically tuned to work with them. The chances that they will work with X10 in a generic set-up are not that high. I am no longer utilizing any X10 in my house.
 
The smart bulbs are mostly zigbee based. I am not aware of any open zigbee controller that you can just use with your software out of the box. The majority of zigbee controllers on the market today are proprietary, which mean you'll need to invest to a specific zigbee system to accesses a very limited array of bulbs that this system supports. Examples of such systems are HAI, wink, peq, smartient, centralite, almond etc and they all have their own limitations. If you find a generic zigbee controller that you can interface with from Linux, please do post, as many people on this board have been asking the same question.
 

Mighty

Member
What issues has your friend run into?  Is there anything he's wanted to do and couldn't, because of the lack of a neutral?  Is there anything he's wished for that's not conveniently supported by the Caseta system, so he feels locked in?
 
Tonight, a guy on the openHAB forum says that he has been working on a binding for some Zigbee USB dongles.  Said he plans on getting back to actively working on it in a few weeks.  I'm trying to get more info from him on whether some of the specific examples I've seen on Amazon will work.
 

CRRC

Member
Coming into this thread late and skimming the posts I did not see any mention of using "in-box" modules located at the lamp location (where the neutral is) and then a wired wall controller at the switch location. It's relatively simple to rewire the lamp so the local, in-box module does the load switching, which allows you to repurpose the cable running to the switch location hot/neutral to power a keypad. Insteon devices naturally lend themselves to this sort of installation (In-Line Lincs and KeypadLincs). It wouldn't be as cheap as ZWave but it's MUCH less expensive than RadioRA2. Honestly, I've never had much of a problem with Insteon "message reliability" and that's even improved now since nearly every Insteon module is now "dual band" (powerline + RF). As far as Inseon "hardware reliability" I know their have been some well-documented issues of modules failiing but they seem to have resolved that as well. I had several modules with the bad paddles and a couple that outright died about 2-3 years ago but no failures since replacing them. I also have many modules that are pushing 8+ years old and still working fine.
 
My main complaint with Insteon is the setup/linking process using the Elk M1XSP+PLM interfacing method sucks, but that isn't an issue if you use an ISY994 to interface and manage them instead. Since the ISY994 can also be upgraded/purchased with ZWave connectivity you have many choices of modules mixing and matching Insteon and ZWave.
 
I think of all the "wireless" lighting control systems out there RadioRA2 is great, possibly the best, BUT the modules are VERY expensive and while the selection of modules is very broad relative to Caseta, UPB, etc it doesn't compare to the breadth of Insteon and ZWave modules available. When I compared UPB with Insteon specifically, I came to the conclusion that they each had pros and cons and neither one was clearly better than the other. Insteon is very fast and has RF capability, while UPB is a slightly better "powerline only" technology. Both systems have quirks. ZWave seems more hit-and-miss and I don't like that 2-way communication (status updates) are the exception rather than the rule with ZWave. The quality of the modules vary greatly as does the success of installations.
 
As for smart bulbs, I'm not too keen on having to reconfigure my HA system every time I change a light bulb. Regardless of the "advertised life" I'm willing to bet you will find yourself replacing at least a few a year. It's so much simpler to unscrew the old bulb, screw in the new one and be done.
 

Mighty

Member
CRRC said:
Coming into this thread late and skimming the posts I did not see any mention of using "in-box" modules located at the lamp location (where the neutral is) and then a wired wall controller at the switch location. It's relatively simple to rewire the lamp so the local, in-box module does the load switching, which allows you to repurpose the cable running to the switch location hot/neutral to power a keypad
I'm afraid you've gone over my head with that.  Currently, I restrict myself to just swapping out switches.  I could follow a cookbook on what you've described.  But, I'd really like to understand it better before I did that.  For example, to understand the ramifications of doing that, if someone came across this in the future without being warned about it ahead of time.
 
Are you saying that even though there's no neutral at my switch, that there is one at the fixtures?  I had looked at in-line relays, but dismissed them because they all require a neutral, which I didn't think I had available.  I've been thinking for a while that the smarts should really be at the fixture, and not in the switch.
 

cobra

Active Member
Mighty said:
Are you saying that even though there's no neutral at my switch, that there is one at the fixtures?  I had looked at in-line relays, but dismissed them because they all require a neutral, which I didn't think I had available.  I've been thinking for a while that the smarts should really be at the fixture, and not in the switch.
 
I went back to your original post and I'm not entirely clear on the wiring.  You mention 2 wire, so what you see in switch boxes is two wire only (no ground, usually green or bare) and in the light fixtures is the same (no ground), as well?
 
Some very old circuits can be wired that way, 2 conductor with paper or cloth wrap.  Sometimes if you are lucky there will be a metal, normally grounded, conduit.
 
Either of these types is a hot and neutral 2 wire setup.  Newer code normally requires 3 wires, hot-neutral-ground, and this would normally go to the switch, with the hot being switched.
 

CRRC

Member
By definition, at the lamp fixture location (or whatever the load is) there will be a neutral present. The hot (black wire usually) is the power feed so to speak and the neutral (white wire) is the return path. So there HAS to be a neutral present at the load location. The issue that develops is when they wire a fixture with the power going to the fixture first and then a separate run to the switch. In this case, they only extend the hot to the switch and then back to the load (2 wires) and omit the neutral to the switch since it generally isn't needed by the switch. Note that when wired this way, one of the wires at the switch is white but its really a hot wire now (and should be coded as such with black or red tape on it). This was a very common way to wire overhead lights in residential. Sometimes they will use 3 conductor back to the switch and carry the neutral back but it is unlikely unless they had a specfic reason to do it. Newer homes generally bring the power source at the switch location first, then on to the lamp fixture which means the neutral is also present at the switch location.
 
The Inline Modules are basically wall switch modules without the physical switch, shunk down to fit INSIDE the electrical box behind the fixture. Since they have no physical switch and generally cant be controlled by a conventional switch (although the InlineLincs actually CAN, they have a special input for this purpose) you need another controller to command them on/off. The KeypadLinc modules act as both as switch AND a controller for up to 8 devices, however you don't have to use the switch portion you can use them just as a controller for other modules as any of the buttons can be programmed to control any other Insteon devices. The associations can be set up manually or using a HA controller like ISY994 (which greatly simplifies the process).
 
So you put the InlineLinc in the box behind the lamp fixture and reconfigure the White wire to the wall switch from the hot (load side) back to being neutral (ie you connect it with the other white wires). At the switch location, you remove the old switch and wire in the KeypadLinc, ignoring the KeypadLincs output wire (red). Broken down individually it looks like this:
 
at the fixure...
1. the incoming hot (black) connects to the InlineLinc black and the switch location black,
2. the incoming neutral (white) connects to the Inline Linc white, switch location white and the fixture white,
3. the InlineLinc output (red) connects to the fixture hot (black),
4, the remaining InlineLink wires are unused (capped off),
at the switch...
5. the incoming hot (black) connects to the KeypadLinc black,
6. the (now reassigned) incoming neutral (white) connects to the KeypadLinc white,
7. the KeypadLinc output (red) is unused (capped off).
(I did not explicitly list all the ground connections, they are assumed to be connected as required.)
 
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you read a basic wiring book (or online equivalent) to familiarize yourself with basic lighting and outlet circuits. This will make a lot more sense to you afterwards.
 
UPDATE: I guess they don't call them "InlineLincs" anymore. They are now "Micro ON/off" and "Micro Dimmer" modules:
Insteon 2443-222 Micro On/Off Module 
Insteon 2442-222 Micro Dimmer Module
 
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