My new love/hate relationship with UPB


Senior Member
Well, today was a very interesting and frustrating day. Wife wakes me up this morning to tell me the lights on the switches are out and the lights don't work - and adds that she checked the breakers and they were fine. Little did I know that I was going to find that 10 of my current 15 UPB devices were stone cold DEAD.

I did some investigation and concluded that there was no power outage. Also, the switches were on circuits from both phases and scattered all around the panel. Also, nothing else in the house was affected - tv's, stereo, pc's, electronics fans and appliances - everything in the house was fine except these 10 switches. And they were not just 'stuck' as power resets even for extended periods did not restore life.

The only conclusion I can come up with is some sort of surge but it is curious that absolutely nothing else in the house was affected (including the 5 remaining UPB devices). The inlines and outlets fared better than the switches. I thought time of failure was between 11PM and 6AM but later found out from my son who was playing playstation with a friend sleeping over that he saw the LED on the light in his room go out around 11:15PM. He said it was not raining and didn't 'hear' any storm. The TV and playstation did not skip a beat. So while it really does not sound like a surge or brownout, what else would take out 10 switches all over the panel? Could this be a new type of powerline warfare? Could this have been a targeted attack on my switches - a UPB trojan horse?

Only thing I know for sure is that is is VERY frustrating. Even though Martin confirmed they would be replaced at no charge (some of them were only weeks old), it is still alot of work to replace them. Most of them are in multigang boxes and neutrals and grounds are buried, necessitating moving several other switches.

And what better a day - then a holiday weekend and supposed to take the family to a ballgame. I actually do have 10 additional switches waiting here for my sisters install, so I replaced 2 critical ones already. Its bad enough losing power in hurricanes, I don't need to drag out the flashlights because my switches failed and I have no means of lighting. What if I did not happen to have other ones on hand - it would be at least 2 days to get replacements, plus almost a day of labor. This really makes me think about this whole scenario.

So I replaced 2 already, both of which were no fun. As much as I like the SAI removable faceplates, they can be a real pain too - especially the older (pre Rev D) plates. The only bright side to this whole story is Upstart! All I needed to do is pop the switch in setup mode, right click my switch and choose Replace. The switch is instantly regrogrammed with the programmed settings. If it were not for that I would have started cursing in additional languages besides English.

I can say one thing for sure after this experience. If I ever wind up building a house again there is not a single doubt in my mind it will have a hardwired lighting system like Centralite where the switches are nothing but low voltage triggers, regardless of the cost. I can only imagine if I had 100 devices like Upstatemike and lost 2/3's of them! I would have invented new curse words!

I guess I am lucky and grateful that there are places like Automated Outlet around that will work with SAI to honor the warranty and replace the devices. If not, it would have been a $600 event and most likely would put me out of HA for a while. The ironic part is that I was preparing to put in a whole house surge arrestor, but after reading about the problems with wired ones and needing VERY short wires (which there is no way I can do), I have to get a breaker mounted one for SquareD. I was about to order this and rearrange the panel to accomodate it. Its ironic and really makes me wonder if that were in if things would be any different. But since I'm going with the UPB trojan theory, I'm not convinced it would have made a difference.

Hopefully in the next day or two I'll be back in business. I may have been knocked down, but I'm not out - my momma didn't raise no quitter...
You are right that I would be using colorful language if a power surge ever took out more than half of my switches! Interestingly we just had a serious storm a few hours ago. Roadrunner is down (this is why I have a DSL backup line) and some of my PC UPS units shut down rather than go on standby (at least they removed the PC from the powerline) so I am very sensitive to what might have been.

Now that you mention it, I'm going to go down and check the LED on my Square_D surge unit to see if it survived all the trash on the powerline but the main thing is that all my Insteon switches came through just fine! (No need for extreme language tonight)
I had my APC BX1000 UPS go to battery a few times and the lights where not dim. A look at the log files showed a Overvoltage. I did then did notice the lights where extra bright and my meter showd over 130VAC on each phase ;)

Where do you live that you saw an Overvoltage? I thought these were rare nowadays. I know undervoltage is quite common.

A few years ago all 3 CFL's in highhats over the kitchen counter were out and my wife called me at work about it. Since all 3 lights were out I figured the switch went bad. So when I got home I replaced the switch and they still didnt work. Turns out all 3 CFL's died at the same time. I guessed it was a surge but it may have been an overvoltage also.

Had I bothered to check the bulbs I would have saved the time replacing the switch.
BLH said:
I had my APC BX1000 UPS go to battery a few times and the lights where not dim. A look at the log files showed a Overvoltage. I did then did notice the lights where extra bright and my meter showd over 130VAC on each phase ;)
Thats interesting. I was looking for some way to explain what happened but keep coming up empty. I have an APC SmartUPS 1400 but it is not hooked up to pc. I wonder if it has some sort of internal log I can look at???

Does anyone know of a device something maybe similar to a kill-a-watt that can just get plugged in in some unobtrusive place and log powerline conditions. I twould be real helpful to have for documentation if you need to prove or disprove a surge or similar event...
Martin is the man when it comes to things like this. I just had a ACT Z-wave switch fail on me. This is the second one in the same location. So I can feel your pain. The good news is that I have not had an Intermatic one fail as of now and thats what I am replacing my ACT switches with. I wish I could go with a hard wired system as well.
Steve said:
Does anyone know of a device something maybe similar to a kill-a-watt that can just get plugged in in some unobtrusive place and log powerline conditions.
Not unobtrusive, but the APC SmartUPS series of UPSs (hooked up to a computer) provide very good power system analysis & logging.
In south Florida I often saw overvoltage (but what's OVER?) on my powerline all the time. I use an APC SmartUPS 1400 with a SMNP module in it and graph the data from that every 5 minutes using MRTG (an event called by Homeseer) and my network management package. I would constantly see 130VAC on it. I even called Florida Power and Light and they checked the local transformers and voltage autocompensators, and all it did was go down to 126V for a while and slowly back up. It averaged about 128VAC. But that's not really a serious issue since most equipment and power supplies can easily handle a 10% +/- range without any issues.

Since I'm interested in finding a new technology to switch my HA stuff to, I'm really interested in finding out what happened here, too!
Well it turns out my PC stuff is on a SmartUPS 1400 also but unfortunately I never connected the UPS so I have no data log of what happened. Too bad the UPS does not have that info stored in it. I'm not sure we'll ever know what happend unless SAI can identify something.

I'm still new but I've been reading the forum (backwards from page 115 and now am on page 34) for about a month now. I was just wondering if you ever found out anything about the switches and what caused them to go out.

Hi Faust and Welcome to CocoonTech!

Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer just some evidence and speculation. I did learn there is indeed a MOV across line and neutral. But there are some surges that are not large, but fast. If it is a very fast surge it could be faster than the MOV clip time and get through.

They did find that there was a diode in the power supply that was in various states of failure on all the switches. These diodes supposedly were specifically chosen for their robustness in this application. I was told that in a 3 month period, 24 other switches in 3 houses failed the same way, but that was it. So the conclusion was that it was a bad batch of diodes, and as insurance there was going to be an engineering change to spec a newer more robust diode anyway.

In any case, the switches were replaced with no issue under warranty and the new ones have been perfect. I did notice the new ones were 1 rev newer. I compliment SAI and Automated Outlet on how they handled this and am at peace chalking this up to a weird fluke with no concern that it will be a common occurrence.

If you are contemplating going with UPB and SAI, they still get my full recommendation.

Note: I still recommend a whole house surge suppressor, and would not rely soley on the built in suppression capability of the switch. I would consider the on board stuff primarily for internal surges and backup for a decent sized hit.