Insteon, and how it works
Okay, you’ve heard about SmartGrids, Home Automation, RF frequency this, and powerline that… But how does this stuff really work?
Insteon is a dual mesh network. That’s a fancy way to say that the network works over two different mediums, through a low power radio signal, and through the electrical circuits in your house.
One massive improvement over older powerline devices (eg. X10), is that each Insteon device acts as a signal repeater & booster. So as the signal is sent through the powerline, each device strengthens and helps ensure that the signal reaches the device you are attempting to control. The other reason that Insteon is more reliable than X10 is due to the dual mesh network, the Access points (& dual band devices) receive the initial transmission allowing devices to receive the command faster than the power line network can transmit it.
Take a look at this Flash Video from Insteon Smart Grid, it demonstrates how the Insteon signals, are repeated from device to device, and how that makes the system more reliable.
Please keep in mind, the new Dual Band modules from SmartHome should help improve the reliability, speed, and lower the cost of entry for the Insteon products. Why lower the cost of entry? Because now a new installation may not need dedicated Access Point modules. Speed? Because now the signal needs to propagate out through the powerline network, and then “hop” onto the RF network, and then propagate out from the Access point back onto the powerline network. With the Insteon USB Dual Band module (2413), the signal will immediately be placed onto both the RF & Powerline network (assuming that the RF portion is integrated)…This will reduce the number of hops that will be needed to reach devices, there will be less signal loss on it’s way to the access point, and potentially speed up response time.
But what happens when it just doesn’t work?
Here are some things to try when the INSTEON devices do not always respond to commands and some things to know when purchasing INSTEON devices.
- Smarthome has a wiki page devoted to device specific issues, here….If you are seeing an issue that is specific to a device, you may want to review that web page, to see if it is addressed.
- If the module is flashing for several seconds, that is it’s way to visually tell you that it can’t reach a module that it was linked with. Check in your application to see that the unit is linked properly, and check to ensure that any modules it is trying to communicate with are plugged in and active. If everything appears to be good, you may have to perform a factory reset of the module, and re-sync the module.
- Every house has two 110V power legs that are electrically connected only at the street or alley transformer. Properly installing two INSTEON AccessPoint RFs (or SignaLinc RFs) will bridge all INSTEON signals across both power legs. These are required to have a complete and reliable INSTEON home network. Be sure and follow the instructions that come with the AccessPoint RFs to make sure that they are plugged into outlets on opposite power legs. The dual band modules actually can replace and/or supplement the Access points, so where possible, purchase Dual band devices.
- If you’re having issues, try plugging an extra Access Point into your Powerline controller (assuming that your plm/plc is not a 2413). That will allow the signal to skip a hop or two, when reaching the RF Network.
- If you are unable to see the PowerLine Controller / Modem, check System Profiler in the Utilities folder. Check under USB, The 2412U and 2413U will show up with a Vendor ID of 0x0403 (FTDI), and a Product ID of 0x6001.
- Try a different outlet. If that doesn’t work, try plugging directly into the Insteon Controller, and see if you can control the device from there. If not, the device maybe defective.
- Enable “Report error on all NAKs” in Indigo PowerLinc 2414U Interface Options. It will help find problem modules that are responding intermittently to Indigo commands.
- Enable “Always send group/scene cleanup messages” in Interface Options to help troubleshoot intermittent INSTEON devices. Cleanup messages dramatically slow down the INSTEON process so it should be turned off if there are no problems.
- [2414U/S Only] If your Stand-Alone timers do not seem to be working, Go into Preferences -> Interface options -> Advanced Powerlinc Options -> Sync Interface Time, wait a few moments, and Show Interface Time. If that works properly, unplug the Controller for a few moments, plug it back in. Reconnect in Indigo, and Show the Interface Time again. If it’s the wrong time, you probably have a bad battery in the controller. Indigo will have issues, and may not be able to connect to it. The 2413/2412 controller doesn’t have a built-in clock, so there is no stand-alone mode.
- Try re-uploading the SALad application to the Insteon Controller from Indigo (Preferences -> Interface Options -> Advanced PowerLinc Options -> Upload Internal Application & Reset).
- Know what side of the 240VAC power system the INSTEON devices are on. It’s a good idea to have a panel schedule and mark it for ready reference when troubleshooting. It helps to quickly look and see if the troublesome device is on the same or opposite leg from Indigo or the device sending the command.
- Use a 50 foot extension cord to try modules and controllers on other circuits to solve the problem.
- When linking a RemoteLinc from Indigo, put it in listen mode by holding the Bright and Dim buttons for 10 seconds. Do not put it in program mode by holding down a key for 10 seconds.
- You may need to configure triggers to listen for “On” and for “Instant On”. It’s common for the on paddle to bounce on a SwitchLinc relay causing it to send an instant on instead of a plain on.
- New high frequency energy-saving lighting ballasts will require a low pass filter otherwise these type of products can wipe out your complete home automation system. (Source – http://xlobby.com/news/2009/09/01/xlobby-insteon-setup-facts-and-information/). In my experience I have not needed a filterlinc, but your mileage will vary.
Troubleshooting Communication Problems
Could there be a device somewhere that’s going crazy and tying up the powerline? if so, how would one ever find it with 70+ devices on three levels of the house and 3 in the attic?
If you are having a significant communications issue:
- Review the changes in your house. Did you change a light bulb? Maybe change from an old style” bulb to a high-efficiency bulb? If so, then try removing the bulb and see if that makes any difference.
- Review through your Indigo log, and see if you see any spurious devices, or Spurious X10 commands coming in. If so, that may help diagnose what device(s) could be jamming the network.
Insteon Health Check
If that does not help, then let’s start with the Insteon Health Check application…
The first troubleshooting step, is to baseline your current configuration. We need to know that the changes we are making will actually help your automation system, so we need the baseline configuration.
Since we are trying to improve the stability of our Power Line network, temporarily remove all For the Access Points, but leave your dual-band devices plugged in. Start the Insteon Health Check application, and generate a baseline report, so that we can compare & contrast your system after making changes.
Why did we remove the Access points? Simply that the Access points can hide imperfections in the powerline network, since they retransmit the signal they strengthen the Powerline signal, and speed up the signal by skipping powerline hops. We want to attempt to make the network as robust as possible, without the access points. Then add the access points, and make the system even more robust.
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There were 25 Insteon devices to test using /dev/cu.usbserial-A60089Ye
The “harder” (room by room) method…
- Are there any flourescent lights? Any LED lights?
- Are there any transformers (eg. Power bricks)?
- Are there any UPS (Uninterrupted Power Supplies)?
- Are there any refrigerators, or freezers?
- Are there any air conditioners? Fans? etc?
- Are there any power strips?
- Only purchase the V5.2 or later SwitchLinc Relay wall switches. They just work better.
- Don’t purchase the 2414U, that will eventually (I assume) be phased out. The 2413U, that is the first Dual Band controller, and there is a noticable improvement between the 2412 & 2413… Purchase the 2413U if you can.
- Purchase only the 6 button KeypadLinc Relay (no dimmer). They can handle the extended command set and it is assumed they have the improved circuits that the SwitchLinc Relays have. The 6 button KeypadLinc can be converted to 8 button with a button kit.
For follow up
- Older SwitchLinc Relays may have an signal issue, somewhere around firmware 3.7, and v5.2 or later hardware there was a change that seems to have improved their reliablity.
- Smarthome has a wiki page that lists device specific issues & work arounds.
- The SignaLincTM V2 Hardwired (#2406H) does not negate the need for Access Points, or Dual Band hardware. That is simply a signal bridge, it will bridge the two 110 branches in the house, to allow the Insteon / X10 signal to flow between the phases. It does not strengthen the signal, or repeat the signal, unlike the Access points. The Access points rebroadcast the signal at full strength.