The X-10 Group manufactures and markets a wide variety of home automation products which are inexpensive and easily installed by consumers. The product line consists of “controllers” which instantly or automatically send signals over existing AC wiring to receiver “modules,” which in turn control lights, appliances, central heating, air conditioning, etc. Controllers range in price from $12.99 to $79.99 at retail. Modules cost from $14.99 to $24.99 at retail. Therefore, it is possible for a homeowner to control several lights and appliances for under $100.00.

X-10 also manufactures compatible products which are installed in commercial buildings and private homes by professional contractors and electricians. The commercial applications are primarily for energy savings. The residential products are often used by builders who want to offer home automation as an additional selling feature. It should also be noted that the X-10® technology inherently saves labor and copper, since the ability to send control signals from point “A” to point “B” does not require additional wiring.

Prior to July 1, 1984, X-10 products were marketed by BSR (USA) Ltd., as a result of a joint venture between the X-10 developers and BSR International PLC, parent of BSR (USA) Ltd. On July 1, 1984, X-10 (USA) Inc. was established to take over all North American business activities formerly conducted by the X-10 division of BSR (USA) Ltd. In November 1987, X-10 Ltd. acquired BSR’s interest in the joint venture. X-10 Ltd. is the original joint venture company, and is also X-10 (USA)’s parent company.

For many years, X-10 used various independent manufacturers in Hong Kong which were supervised by X-10’s Hong Kong administrative, quality control, and engineering staffs. In 1987, X-10 set up its own factory in Shenzhen, province of Guangdong, China. In 1993 X-10 moved to a larger factory (still in Shenzhen) which more than tripled its production capacity. X-10 now employs more than 2500 people worldwide. Today, X-10 Ltd. and its various subsidiaries employ more people in the design, development, manufacture and marketing of Home Automation products than any other company in the world.

Marketing Activities

The first X-10 products were announced in the U.S. on September 22, 1978. Prior to this introduction, two private label agreements had already been concluded, one with Sears Roebuck and the other with Radio Shack. Significant shipments to Radio Shack and Sears began in 1979. Today, Radio Shack is one of X-10 Ltd.’s best customers in both product and dollar volume. In addition to consumer product companies, X-10 Ltd. also ships to industrial customers. These include Leviton Manufacturing Co. Inc., a privately held company considered to be the largest manufacturer of wiring devices in the U.S., and Advanced Control Technologies Inc., a supplier of control products for industrial and commercial applications.

To date, more than 70 million X-10 units have been shipped to customers world-wide. There are over 4 million homes in the U.S. and Canada which use X-10 products. Since X-10 products employ carrier current transmission technology, no group in the world has an equivalent experience in this technology. X-10 (USA) also markets under its own brand name, X-10 POWERHOUSE.™ All X-10 products are Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approved, Canadian Standard Association (CSA) approved, and where applicable meet Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requirements.

The Home Computer Market

In early 1983, a new X-10 product strategy evolved as a result of trends in the U.S. consumer electronics market. The home computer “price wars” drove retail prices down sharply. Volume exploded and many consumers bought computers with nothing more significant to do than play video games. In just three months, X-10 designed, developed, and tooled a $70.00 retail package of hardware and software that gave a personal computer the power to control anything electrical in the home using X-10 technology.

This Home Automation Interface allows a personal computer to control lights, appliances, heating and cooling, thus providing convenience, security and energy savings. Furthermore, the X-10 computer interface is actually a self-contained microcomputer that does not continuously tie up a personal computer performing home automation functions. Home Automation software has been developed for the most popular personal computers, including the IBM PC and compatible systems (and the Windows® operating system), and the Apple Macintosh.

The only hardware changes from one machine to another are related to the connecting data cable. The key differences are in the specific software supplied with the interface.

O.E.M. activities

Just as the Home Automation Interface enhances the value of a personal computer, X-10 technology is enhancing other familiar products. For example, for added safety and security, a garage door opener can now transmit an X-10 signal to turn on lights anywhere in a house, not just in the garage (available under private label from Stanley). Another example is an X-10 interface specifically designed for the security industry which connects to burglar alarm systems. When an alarm is tripped, the interface flashes lights controlled by X-10 modules. This dramatically pinpoints the home being burglarized.

More recently, X-10 has combined its technology with other technologies to develop and manufacture products with unique and powerful capabilities. Now it is possible to gain access to X-10 modules using Radio Frequency (RF) transmitters, passive Infrared (PIR) motion detectors, and active infrared universal remote controls (including the One-For-All™ brand by Universal Electronics Inc.). In addition, X-10 has introduced various consumer-installed Home Security Systems; the most popular of which include either a built-in voice dialer or digital communicator, both of which represent a major breakthrough in low-cost home protection.

The enhancement of familiar products, and the addition of X-10 technology to other companies’ new products, are key elements of X-10’s marketing strategy. Accordingly, X-10 offers a comprehensive choice of interfaces which allow third parties to incorporate X-10 light and appliance control technology into a wide variety of exciting new home automation products.

Utility Company Activities

Brazilian Utility Project (for CEMIG)

This project was initiated by a Brazilian company, Sistron, who as well as being a long-standing customer of X-10, are also sub-contractors for Companhia Energetica de Minas Gerais (CEMIG), a State Electric Utility Company in Brazil. CEMIG identified three problem areas. These were: electricity generation and distribution, remote meter reading, and control of street lighting.

The basic problem that the utility company has is insufficient investment to generate and distribute enough power to satisfy increasing demand for electricity, a problem also common to many utilities in the USA today. In Brazil, these problems are particularly severe where single high voltage transmission lines are used to supply areas which are experiencing rapid population growth. In these cases, the cost of providing both extra generating capacity and additional transmission lines is prohibitive. Brazilian electricity supply, in common with most countries, follows a pattern of peak and low consumption periods. CEMIG have identified that they actually already have the capacity to support a larger customer base, provided they can spread demand more evenly. This can be achieved using dual-rate incentives or load-shedding.

In Brazil there are many low income households which have only a 40A breaker panel. For these types of home it was decided to split the panel into two main 20A breakers, one of which is turned off during peak demand periods. One heavy load (typically an electric shower, widely used in Brazil) is therefore capable of being switched off under CEMIG’s control during peak periods. An X-10 control unit is installed at the distribution pole transformer (which in Brazil typically supplies between 15 and 50 households).

This control unit holds the data needed to instruct a 20A X-10 switch in each household to turn on or off at the desired times. This unit incorporates a battery backed-up clock. Its function is to switch off the load each day during part of the peak period. The instructions for when the X-10 switch is to turn off and on are downloaded by an engineer, from a portable computer to the pole mounted control unit. The control unit then uses X-10 powerline signaling to download the current date and time along with the on/off times to each X-10 switch.

The on/off times may be different for each house or group of houses, and are determined either by the utility, or chosen by the householder when the utility contract is signed. The pole mounted controller supervises the switch units to confirm that they have not been tampered with and to ensure that the time and dates are set correctly. The controller interrogates the switches at regular intervals, usually once each day. The pole mounted controller has a battery back-up system to retain all stored information in the event of a power outage.

For middle to upper income households, the homeowner is offered incentives in the form of a low tariff period to use electricity during periods of low demand, and disincentives in the form of a high tariff period to dissuade consumption during peak periods. This is described as the “Yellow Tariff” dual-rate system. For this system a dual-rate meter is used. The meter is switched between the two rates by the same pole mounted controller used for the load shedding application.

A second application is meter reading: Meter reading has proven to be difficult in some areas due to a range of problems, including a reluctance by apartment owners to allow meter readers into the home, due to the number of bogus calls apparently made by burglars, and safety issues (for the meter readers) in some particularly sensitive districts. An additional consideration is the added complexity of meter reading resulting from proposed incentive schemes to redistribute electricity demand, which introduces two different tariff periods.

CEMIG wanted to be able to read meters using a system to download meter readings into a portable computer without having to enter a home. A trial system using X-10 components was set up by Sistron to evaluate this approach and this proved to be successful. This feature was subsequently incorporated into the main control system. An X-10 unit is installed in each household and is designed to read a pulsed signal derived from a modified conventional electric meter. The modification to the meter consists of drilling one or more small holes in the rotating disk and using an opto-coupler to generate a pulse each time the disk completes one revolution. The pulses are counted and the cumulative value stored in an E-RAM. This retains the data indefinitely in the event of a power outage. A solid state electronic dual-rate meter is also under development by X-10.

At a regular interval, usually once each day, the meter readings (recorded in 15 minute increments to provide data for variable rate strategies) are downloaded from each of the homes via the powerline to the pole mounted controller described earlier. Once a month, an engineer reads the meter values stored in the pole mounted controller using a portable computer. The clock in the pole mounted controller is updated at the same time that the meters in each household are read. Daylight savings time can also be adjusted at this time.

A third application for the X-10 control system is street lighting control. Low pressure sodium street lights are widely used in Brazil, with an estimated 1.5 million fitted in CEMIG’s region. Two problems were identified with these lamps – consumption, and unreliability of automatic switching at dusk and dawn. CEMIG wanted a way to operate street lamps at around 70% capacity at certain periods late at night and early in the morning when few people are around. Additionally, they wanted to find a more reliable dusk/dawn switching mechanism, since present mechanisms have a high failure rate, and typically fail permanently on. The pole mounted controller is capable of switching the street lamps on and off using powerline commands. This unit also incorporates the necessary ballast and switching components needed to drive low or high pressure sodium lamps. The pole mounted controller incorporates a light sensor for dusk/dawn control. Dimming to 70% is carried out over a pre-defined period each night, such as 1:00 AM to 4:00 AM.


The North West Electricity Board (NORWEB) is a utility company in the united Kingdom. They approached X-10 to develop a control system for night storage heaters. Night storage heaters are relatively unheard of in the USA but they are very popular in the U.K. X-10 developed a heating management system that controls up to 32 night storage heaters, water heaters and other AC operated electrical equipment by sending X-10 signals over the existing AC wiring. The complete system consists of a main console, an interface/power supply slave unit, an outdoor temperature/light level sensor, and a number of X-10 switching modules.

The switching modules are designed to fit into a standard U.K. wall box, and are configured to accept either a plug-in heater or a wired-in heater. Storage heaters connected to switching modules are operated under programmed time control, with automatic compensation for variations in weather conditions. Standard X-10 appliance modules can be added to control washers, dryers, dish washers, etc. during “economy rate” periods or under timed control. A security light feature allows X-10 controlled outside lighting to be switched on automatically at dusk.

The console is installed on the supplier side of the main breaker panel to avoid loss of data if the homeowner turns off electrical power when going on vacation. Although this is not something that the average US homeowner would think of doing, it is quite common in the U.K. for homeowners to turn off the main power at the breaker panel when they leave on vacation. A backup battery allows the unit to retain programmed data for up to 20 hours in the event of a power outage, but power is always supplied to the unit even if the main breaker panel is turned off.

A numeric keypad and a menu driven Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) is used to set on/off times for the units. Features include individual setting of comfort levels in different rooms, overriding of timed settings to turn units on or off manually, setting vacation periods, and adjustment of brightness levels for activation of dusk/dawn control. On/off commands are sent in both standard X-10 format, and in a special format using X-10’s extended code format. Switch units connected to night storage heaters only respond to these special extended code commands. This prevents users from accidentally operating night storage heaters using an ordinary X-10 controller.

The slave unit provides the interface between the console and the AC powerline. Commands from the console are injected onto the AC wiring as 120 KHz pulses timed to coincide with the zero crossing points of the 50 Hz AC cycle (60 Hz in the USA). Commands consist of an address to identify which unit is to be operated, and an instruction such as “on” or “off.” The slave unit also accepts a water temperature signal from a water heater and “economy rate” time signals from the electric meter. Other inputs are also provided for future expansion. The slave unit also provides the power supply for the console.

Switching modules are installed into a standard wall box. The wall box may be fitted with either a commercially available UK three pin socket or a spur termination for connection to a wired-in night storage heater. When correctly addressed, switching modules respond to on or off commands from the console to switch unrestricted loads of up to 13A (20A in the USA). Switching modules for connection to night storage heaters respond only to special X-10 extended code commands, and cannot be operated by a standard X-10 controller. Rotary dials are provided at the back of the unit to set the housecode and unit codes for the switch. The dials are adjusted using a small screwdriver.

The console receives data from the outside temperature/light detector, which uses a special X-10 extended code sequence to send its status when requested. The outside temperature is used by the console when calculating the required charge for the night storage heaters (i.e. the amount of heat to be stored). The light level indication is used to automatically switch on outside security lighting at dusk and off at dawn.

A line blocking filter is installed in the line at the customer supply entry point to prevent any X-10 signals from crossing to other houses which may also be fitted with X-10 products. The U.K. filter is rated at 60A (a UL approved 200A version is available for the US marketplace).

The X-10 group develops and manufactures a wide variety of Home Automation products and systems which are marketed both under its own X-10 POWERHOUSE brand name, and under private label for many large consumer electronics retailers. X-10 also develops and manufactures many products and systems specifically for large O.E.M.s, and is actively pursuing the US Demand Side Management marketplace.

For more information, please contact:

X-10 (USA) Inc., 91 Ruckman Rd., Closter NJ 07624
Tel (201) 784-9700, Fax (201) 784-9464.

Dave Rye is a leading authority on Home Automation. He has been actively involved in the business for over 20 years and has written many articles on the subject.