X10 Compatible Decora-Style Dimmers

Carson

Member
I am an X10 novice and I am curious to know peoples' opinions on X10-compatible Decora-style dimmers. What gives you the most bang for the buck?

I understand that X10 branded dimmers leave much to be desired in terms of operational design and feel. At the same time I haven't read many complaints about reliability, and none about price. Indeed, the X10 dimmer (while not decora-style) that has been in my parents' dining room since I can remember still works (I am now 28, so conservatively, the switch has been operating for at least 15, if not 20, years).

I've read that Smarthome dimmers are very nice in terms of operation, look and feel, but are prone to reliabilty problems. I certainly like the indicator leds, but don't want to pay significantly more than X10 branded dimmers for a device that isn't as durable.

I've heard little about Leviton and other manufacturers and am also curious to know about peoples' experiences with them.

The locations where I am wanting to install dimmers are realatively high profile. Thus, aesthitics are relatively important. At the same time, as might be surmised by my X10 implementation, my household budget has limits, so I can't exactly write a blank check. I realize that you generally get what you pay for, but also have seen that paying more doesn't always equate to paying for better quality. Reliability/durabilty is very important to me. Presumably, some of the switches in my 45 year old house match it in age. I wouldn't mind a PLC dimmer that has such a long life.

Currently, the Smarthome 2384 has my eye, but the rumored reliability problems concern me. If these are just rumors I'd sure like to know.

Thanks,
Carson
 

Rupp

Senior Member
Carson,
Trust me on this. The Smarthome 2384 is a far superior light switch than anything that X10 manufactures. Don't get me wrong, for areas where aesthetics are not important like in the garage I have used the old push button X10 switches for years and have only had one failure. It boils down to how much you really want to spend. Don't overlook the ZWave switches either. Although they do not have the fancy LEDs up the side they are a high quality paddle style switch as well.
 

electron

Administrator
Staff member
I personally feel that the Lightolier switches are the best X-10 compatible switches you can buy, but you also pay top dollar, so it isn't an option for most people. The SmartHome switches are usually the most preferred as they are more affordable. As for the quality of the X10.com switches, they are pure junk, I have lost many of them, and I still have 4 of them brand new in the box, I refuse to install them, they feel cheap, don't always work right and tend to blow up pretty fast. I just gave in and got some Lightolier switches, and they haven't screwed up once, they even seem to be able to ignore most of my x10 noise right now, they haven't come on on their own at all.

Martin is probably the best guy to ask about reliability as he would get many returns if there are some serious issues with the SmartHome switches. I know there 'used' to be a problem, but this was 2 years ago, I hope they have fixed it by now.
 

Carson

Member
Thanks for all of the feedback! I am glad to have found an active home automation forum.

The Lightoliers look like nice units, with lots of extra features. However, these are extra features that I don't foresee using. The level of features offered by the 2384 seems to be right for my application: basic X10 dimmable lighting control of three circuits, one being a 3-way requiring a companion.

Based upon the pricing offered at Martin's store, it would cost me just under twice as much to use Lightolier over Smarthome. Reliability is important. So it comes down to the question of if the Lightoliers are two times as reliable as the SwitchLincs.

With regard to reliability of SwitchLincs, I remember reading that the units failed after power failures. Does this mean that the units were inoperable or that they were operable but had lost their programming? Is this a problem after brief power failures or only following extended outages? Power to my home has been very reliable for the three years that I’ve been in it. I recall less than a handful of outages (mostly during the completion of an adjacent road construction project) and I can’t remember the last time that we experienced an outage. Do the SwitchLincs require reprogramming after power failures?

How long has Lightolier been on the scene? In terms of durability, how does the long-term track record of their products compare to that of Smarthome’s, or other manufacturers?

Many questions, I know. I have one more regarding non-X10 dimmers. How does something like the Lutron Maestro compare to the SwitchLinc 2387? At Home Depot’s going rate, a Maestro master/slave combo goes for quite a bit more than a 2387/2382 pairing from Automated Outlet.
 

electron

Administrator
Staff member
The nice thing about the Lightolier switches is that they are made in the USA, and have a great Quality Control system in place. Martin also personally knows these people (as he is one of the biggest dealers on the market), so you know you can get in touch with them for sure. However, as much as I love the lightolier stuff, if you even have a tiny bit of interest in all the new protocols that are coming out (Z-wave, UPB, Insteon, control4, ...) then I would recommend going the SwitchLinc route and save some of the money for the future. I am hoping Martin will spot this thread so he can confirm if these switches still have issues.
 

WayneW

Senior Member
When I first discovered/reported the issues I had seen with the LampLinc & AppLinc modules, neither Martin at AO or SmartHome were aware of any issues. Maybe that has changed by now. I only have one KeypadLinc (a pretty new addition) and no SwitchLincs, so I have not seen any issues with those devices, but I could speculate that whatever was affecting the modules would affect the hardwired stuff if it had the same hardware and/or firmware at the core of the issue.

I do not know if my power sensitivity issues are due to short term outages, medium term outages or surges. So far I have not been able to recreate the problem with a simulated outage, so it might be surge related. The issue is that the modules still function, but they are reset to unit A1. The only recovery is to go to each module, press/hold the program button and send the new unit ID. This is painful if the modules are in a hard-to-get-to location. And it is a real issue when human intervention is not timely and/or convenient. Having a bunch of lights/devices running for no reason when no body is home could ruin your electric bill. And there is no way for software to cover for this by polling and/or sending extra "off" commands, other than sending "A1 off" just in case a module switched to that address. What a bad kludge...
 

WayneW

Senior Member
Skibum said:
I went with the Leviton Green line. These switches are not pollable.
And they don't transmit, so the HA system (HomeSeer) doesn't know the light is on or off or changed, right?

I like using the Leviton 16400 transmitter keypads and hidden modules so that HomeSeer is aware of everything, but that may require some rewiring of existing fixtures. This also avoids Z-wave's lack of a three way switch, but they don't have transmitter keypads yet either, so z-wave doesn't do it for me.
 

Skibum

Senior Member
That is correct. If you operate the switch locally, HS does not know.

Personally I do not see this as an issue.
 

Carson

Member
Skibum said:
I went with the Leviton Green line.
These are part of the Leviton DHC product line? Is DHC essentially Leviton's term for X10? I.e. can I control Leviton DHC receivers with my X10 controllers?

It looks as if the Leviton DHC dimmers can be used in both applications with neutral wiring and those without (wire differently for each). This is as oppossed to the SwitchLinc product line which has distinct products for each scenario.

It appears that quite a bit of my 47 year old house had been rewired, prior to my purchasing it, with grounded receptacles and lighting. I am not sure what the case is in the locations where I want to add PLC dimmers. It'd be nice to know I can buy one product and use it regardless of the available wiring. This would also be desirable if I should decide to move a dimmer from a location with neutral wiring to one without, or vice versa. Is this even a concern with a house of my age? I.e. should all of the wiring provide neutral even if it is not all grounded?

In addition to being an home automation neophyte, I'm also a bit of a home electrical novice.
 

Skibum

Senior Member
Carson said:
These are part of the Leviton DHC product line? Is DHC essentially Leviton's term for X10? I.e. can I control Leviton DHC receivers with my X10 controllers?

It looks as if the Leviton DHC dimmers can be used in both applications with neutral wiring and those without (wire differently for each). This is as oppossed to the SwitchLinc product line which has distinct products for each scenario.

It appears that quite a bit of my 47 year old house had been rewired, prior to my purchasing it, with grounded receptacles and lighting. I am not sure what the case is in the locations where I want to add PLC dimmers. It'd be nice to know I can buy one product and use it regardless of the available wiring. This would also be desirable if I should decide to move a dimmer from a location with neutral wiring to one without, or vice versa. Is this even a concern with a house of my age? I.e. should all of the wiring provide neutral even if it is not all grounded?

In addition to being an home automation neophyte, I'm also a bit of a home electrical novice.
Yes Leviton DHC

DHC is Levitons X-10

Neutral, and No Neutral are both OK

They have 3 ways, that are dimmable from both locations.

All wiring will have a neutral. It may not make it to the switch location, but all wiring has neutral.
 

Carson

Member
Maybe I should dust off my wiring texts for this, but what is the best way to determine which wire is neutral in existing wiring? What is the proper method? What tools will I need? Doesn't the neutral generally run directly to the load?

I know which one is neutral in all of the circuits that I have run as I personally ran them from the box - so white. However, some of the wiring in my house is older and does not make it evident which is wire is which. I'd hate to make assumptions as I've seen some strange things done by the previous resident(s). I.e. fans run through light dimmers (fixed that right away), a chandelier with a 3-way switch on one side and a non 3-way dimmer on the other (to be addressed as part of an upcoming automation project). It seems that they hired an electrician for some projects and a jack-of-all-trade (master-of-none) for others. I have had all but the most inconsequential issues resolved and now it's time to do add some presentable, but affordable, automation.
 

huggy59

Active Member
I use the X-10 wall switches here and the only problem I've run into is the physical problem of the buttons. That is, they stick out a bit too far in places and catch clothing and items when people walk by, which eventually break the switch physically.

I apparently have heavy-handed users here, too. They break the pushbuttons off, and if I can't glue it back together, the switch has to be replaced. I've also got 2 or 3 switches that are difficult to turn on locally, requiring a lot of force for the local button to actually turn the switch on or off. Those 2 or 3 were like that from the box. And finally, guests have a hard time with figuring out how to work them, as they aren't standard.

I've moved to the Decora-style Switchlink units in a couple places, and they have worked great. I have not seen the problems mentioned above, but I only have two of them in service at the moment. Guests have no problem with them, either.

Regarding the neutral wire question, yes, all circuits must have a neutral or return wire - otherwise the electrons have no return path and the circuit cannot work. Older homes may not have a ground wire, typically green in the US. A "switch leg" may not run the neutral wire from the fixture to the switch location, using a standard two wires (plus possibly ground) instead to simply extend the hot side to the switch and then back to the fixture. It is this type of install that concerns us with whether the switch location has a neutral wire or not.

Chances are if the power feed from the panel goes through the switch box on its way to the fixture, it has the neutral available, often connected together and tucked back behind the switch. If the power feed goes to the fixture first, chances are the switch leg doesn't contain the neutral wire (this was typcially a retrofit to add a switch to replace the old pull-chain light fixtures in the center of the ceiling). Depending on location and age, either passes code, I believe.
 

Carson

Member
After doing some more research, I am starting to lean even more heavily toward the SwitchLincs for several reasons.
  • There is an availability of different models with features to suit individual applications.
  • Excellent pricing is available through Automated Outlet.
  • A look around Smarthome's website revelaed a history page indicating that they actually contracted Lightolier to manufacture the devices.
  • Furthermore, while they don't explicitly admit to quality issues with the original SwitchLincs, they do make a point to say that, in 2002, they released Version II:
    A significantly upgraded version... improved, higher-quality mechanicals and firmware.
A question for those who have utilized SwitchLincs: How does the physical size of the unit compare to other devices, such as a standard ($2.50) Leviton Decora Single-Pole Switch or a standard Leviton Dimmer? They will all be going into relatively deep double-gang boxes (a couple with standard non-X10 devices), but I am still curious.

Thanks to all who provided feedback to this inquisitive Newbie.

Carson
 
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