HomeToys Tips and Tricks Contest

Entry 1 – Self sufficient xcam
Entry 2 – The cheapest 16 digitals INPUTs card
Entry 3 – Whole House Audio for WELL Under $50
Entry 4 – Coordinating X10 Switches With Home Automation Systems
Entry 5 – Mailbox sensor out of wireless doorbell
Entry 6 – Laundry Room Washer & Dryer Automation
Entry 7 – Improving the X10 signal at low to no additional cost
Entry 8 – Bedside Atomic Clock
Entry 1 – Self sufficient xcam Brian Stanga  Ponchatoula, LA

I live at the end of a long dead end road in the country. We get a lot of cars that come down our road. Since the county paved the road I could not hear the cars coming, I would look out the window and people would be sitting in my drive way. So I bought an xcam from x-10 and put it down the road about 400′ from the house on a power pole. I hooked it up to a small 12 volt gell cell battery. I attached to the pole a solor cell that charges the battery during the day. I installed a driveway annunciator about 600′ down the road. Now when the drive way annunciator rings I can see who’s driving (or walking) towards my house … and you never have to change the battery on the camera.

x-10 xcam
solar cell
12 volt battery
drive way annunciator

total cost less that $300

Entry 2 – The cheapest 16 digitals INPUTs card Geo – Amiga

The cheapest 16 digitals INPUTs card with only 1 PowerFlash module.

If you want to connect standard open detector (like ISL) to the X10 security console, there is only one solution : connect the detector directly to a PowerFlash module … so expensive if you have more than 3 windows / doors !!!


With ONE PowerFlash module, you can wired 16 detectors. As you can see on the schematic drawing … it’s so simple.

Wired a relay (2 circuits) by unit number and you can have until 16 open detectors … I’ve draw the schematic only for 2 detectors, but you can extend it.

In fact, you can connect all appliants which don’t have an X10 compatibility.

ATTENTION : the inputs MUST be DIGITAL, and connected to a switch, without any power, otherwise, you can burn the input relay !!

max Cost :
1 * PowerFlash module = 60 euro
16 * relays 2 circuits = 16*2 euro

Entry 3 – Whole House Audio for WELL Under $50 John Panicci

I use a program called “Home Seer”, which many of you reading this probably already have or at least something similar.  Home seer can be set to report a number of things via it’s ‘text to speech’ interface. This can range from announcements that someone is coming up the sidewalk, motion has been detected in the backyard, caller id information when the phone rings, weather alerts, breaking news announcements etc. This is all well and good if you happen to be by the computer when one of these events takes place and you are in the room to hear it.  If you are using another software package, it’s audio can also be transmitted easily throughout the home.  Heck, even if you are not using  any type of  ‘text to speech” system, this is a great way to pipe those MP3’s you have been stockpiling to any room in your home easily!

Thus, I was looking for a way to put audio throughout my house easily and making it affordable at the same time. There are quite a few options to do this, but this is what I have settled on, and it was well within my budget.

First, I purchased a few sets of cheap AMPLIFIED computer speakers from Tiger Direct.  These speakers are stylish, and also produce very good quality sound for music playback! The first thing I had to decide is how to get the audio into other rooms in my home. Luckily, I have a single phone line in my house and this was easily solved. There are 4 wires in a standard telephone wire that travels throughout your home. 99.9% of the time the red and green wires are used for the first line of the telephone. This leaves the black and yellow wires unused.  If you are unsure, when you remove the jack you can disconnect the red and green wires and test to see if you have a dialtone, if not then those are the wires used by your phone line.  I currently have DSL access in my home and that also just uses the first 2 wires (the read and green ones) and this setup will not interfere with DLS in any way.

IF you are using both phone lines, don’t throw in the towel yet! You can still run the wire manually to the rooms you wish to have audio in and still be able to control which speakers are on. Read on, just skipping the steps to install the 1/8 jacks.

I removed the phone jack nearest to my computer and drilled a small hole allowing me to mount the 1/8 jack into the phone plate. This was very simple and has a professional installation look when you screw on the nut to hold the jack in place. I then attached the black and the yellow wires to the jack and replaced the wall plate. In rooms where I wanted to place the speakers, I also drilled and mounted the the 1/8 jacks and replaced the plates.

That done, now comes the easy part!

Take a 1/8 to 1/8 cable and plug one end into the audio output on your sound card. The other goes into the phone you prepared close to the computer earlier. You now have audio going to every jack that you installed in other rooms in your home.

Now to automate the speakers, simply plug in the lamp module close to the phone jack and plug the amplified speakers into the module. Attach the speaker cord to the phone jack. After you have your speakers all plugged into your phone jacks, and into the controlling modules, you are ready to go!

Grab a handy palm pad or other controller, and you can now switch the speakers on and off in any room of your choice! Being the speakers are amplified, you can run all of the speakers in all rooms at the same time if you wish!

To automate even further, I have motion detectors set up in each room with the speakers so the computer “knows” what rooms are occupied, and if a call comes in, the computer turns on the speakers in the room that is occupied and announces the caller. This can off course all be programmed in Home Seer as to announce only between certain hours, on certain callers etc. I have also set the last button on the palm pad to tell Home Seer to ignore the motion detectors, and take commands from the palm pad only. This is great when there is motion in the kitchen, and I want to listen to the MP3’s on the living room stereo system.

On another note, I also wired this into my downstairs stereo. Using a simple 1/8 to dual RCA plugs, I was able to play MP3’s from my computer  upstairs through the stereo downstairs. Yes, it is in mono, but still comes through with excellent sound quality on the “simulated surround sound” setting on my stereo system. Of course I had to carry it a step further by using another palm pad to send play/pause/skip to the next song commands etc. to the server.

NOTE: You probably have most of the following items already

List of Components:

* Some form of X-10 Transceiver
* Lamp  Module
* Palm Pad or other controller
* 1/8 jacks and plugs
* Amplified Speakers

Approximate Total Cost of Components

* Amplified speakers  10.99  Tiger Direct Cat# B500-2034 (These are the speakers that I am using and actually provide GOOD quality music playback)
* Lamp Module  $12.99  X-10 Cat# LM465
* 1/8″ Female Jacks(2 per package) $2.49  Radio Shack Cat.#: 274-251  
* 1/8″ phone to 1/8″ phone (6 Ft.) $2.69  Radio Shack Cat.#: 42-2420

Entry 4 – Coordinating X10 Switches With Home Automation Systems – Larry Gomes larry@canvaslink.com Westborough, MA

One of the biggest problems with X10 lighting is coordination. I wanted certain lights in my house to come on automatically (ie: hallways) and others to come on only when I turned them on (ie: bedrooms).  In either case, I wanted all lights to automatically shut off after a certain period of inactivity.  I also wanted the flexibility of controlling lights from the switch, an X10 keypad or from the home automation (HA) system.

If you use your HA system to exclusively turn all of your lights on or off, then you have solve part of the problem by eliminating local switch control.  But what if you want to have local switch control AND home automation system control? 

There are some high priced solutions just coming on the market that address this problem (ie:Lightolear Compose System), but they require specialized back planes to be installed into your electrical panel and you can only purchase their switches at about $100 each.  Now what if you want your lights to automatically turn off after there has been no activity for a certain period of time?  Even the high priced lighting systems don’t address that problem.

The Solution

The good news is that all of these objectives can be achieved for less than $100 per room in parts (plus your existing home automation system).  You will need to purchase a motion sensor for each of the areas you want to monitor (usually one per room or hallway).  Also you will need a simple electromagnet that senses when power is turned on or off to your lighting circuit.  The positive wire for your lighting circuit must be placed through the electromagnet.  This can be done at the switch box location or in the termination box at the light itself.  If there is insufficient room in these locations, you can bring the circuit into a 4” square box and break the circuit inside the box to install the electromagnet over the positive wire.  The electromagnet is then wired to a digital sensor port on your home automation system and energized with +5 volts of power. 

Light Sensing Logic

When the lighting circuit turns on (either manually by the switch or automatically by the HA system), the electromagnet senses the 120 volt current in the lighting circuit and the low voltage sensor circuit in the electromagnet is broken. This triggers a “low event” in the home automation controller, which use to turn on a “light is on” variable and then set a timer to turn that light off, say in 5 minutes.  If the light is turned off manually at the switch before the timeout occurs, then the electromagnet no longer has power from the 120 volt circuit.  This completes the low voltage sensor circuit, which triggers a “high event” in the HA controller.  At this point, you can turn the timer off and change the variable to “light is off” status.  Note: Polarity is important!  The electromagnet will only work if you connect the +5 volts on your HA controller to the positive side of the electromagnet.

Motion Sensing Logic

Install the motion detector so it has the best chance of seeing activity within the room or hallway you are monitoring.  You can use a corner sensing unit to cover an entire room from a corner location or a ceiling mounted unit mounted in the center of a room to detect motion in a downward cone shaped area.  Most of these sensors complete a sensor circuit when motion is detected and cut the sensor circuit when motion is no longer detected.  Most of these sensors also are 4 wire sensors, with 2 wires needed for power (usually 12-24 volts) and 2 wires used for the sensor signal.  Connect the sensor signal leads to a digital port on your home automation controller.  When motion is detected, it will complete the sensor circuit and trigger a “high event”.  Check the light variable to find out if the light is off or on.  If the light is off, you have several choices.  Depending on the time of day and the room location, you may want to automatically turn the light on, or you can ignore the motion event completely.  (In my house, I only turn lights on automatically one hour before sunset to one hour after sunrise.  Also I only turn on lights automatically in common areas such as hallways, doorways, etc.  Individual rooms are controlled manually.)  If the light is already on, then turn off the timer for that light.  When motion ceases, it breaks the sensor circuit, which triggers a “low event” at the HA controller.  At this point, restart the timer for that light.

Advanced Scene Control

We have also programmed an additional lighting mode into the HA controller called “scene mode”.  In this mode, a series of individual lights are logically grouped together and set at various brightness levels.  When a lighting switch is part of a scene, it looks at a scene timer instead of the individual light switch timer.  In our case, we set the scene timeout to one hour instead of 5 minutes.  Also motion from any sensor within the scene area resets the scene timer, which is used for all of the light switches within that scene.  As an example, we have a scene where the living room and dining room are part of a single scene.  When motion is detected in just one room, it will reset the scene timer so that all of the lights in both rooms will remain on.  This is especially useful when you are entertaining and you want the lights to stay on regardless of activity levels in an individual room.


The downside of this system is the additional low voltage wiring that you must run to install the solution.  However, using low-cost, off-the-shelf components, and some simple programming, you can attain a level of sophistication that can only be found in proprietary high-end home automation systems.

List of Components:
Homevision system: (or any other HA system with digital sensors)

X10 Light switches: (any brand)

Electromagnet switch: – CR Magnetics (CR9321-LC-PNP)  List price $19.00/ea from www.crmagnetics.com  or volume prices (<$17.00/ea) from www.davis.com Davis Instruments, Inc., 4701 Mount Hope Drive, Baltimore, MD 21215, Phone: (800) 368-2516, FAX: (800) 433-9971 or email sales@davis.com

Motion Sensors: (IS150 Corner Mount Sensor $19.95/ea or DISC ceiling motion sensor $52.95/ea available from www.hometech.com)

Wire: 18/2 for electromagnetic switches and 22/4 for motion sensors

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Entry 5 – Mailbox sensor out of wireless doorbellReynold Leong rleong1@yahoo.com San Jose, CA

Using a wireless doorbell from Home Depot, open the button unit. Solder a pair of wires onto each of the button contacts (so that if you touch the other ends of the wires together, it rings the doorbell). Mount the button unit around/under your mailbox (not inside it if it’s metal – that will cut down the range). Stick a normally open magnetic reed switch to the door (or flap) of your mailbox so that opening the door/flap closes the switch. Connect the 2 wires you added from the button unit to the reed switch. Plug the chime unit in somewhere in your house. Now every time the mailbox opens, the chime unit will play.

You can also wire across the speaker outputs (or some other point that creates a voltage when the doorbell rings) and run that into your controller (Stargate, etc) so that your controller can know if the mailbox was opened and perform actions on that input.

List Of Components:
Wireless doorbell and normally open magnetic reed switch

Wireless doorbell from Home Depot – $15,
Normally open reed switch from Radio Shack – $6.

Entry 6 – Laundry Room Washer & Dryer AutomationSteve Rodgers srodgers@the-i.net  Ingleside, TX, USA

I had a request from the spouse to see if I could monitor the Washer & Dryer so she got notification when they were done with the wash/dry cycle. The laundry room is a ways from the living room and no way to hear the washer end or the dryer buzzer. Here is my project.

First the Dryer. It is a Sear Kenmore Model 110.86874800. I connected the 120VAC input of a 9VDC wall wart to the end of cycle buzzer. This buzzer has 120VAC applied for a brief moment at the end of the dry cycle or periodically during the Permanent Press cycle. I just soldered 2 wires from this buzzer to the input plug of the wall wart. The 9VDC output is routed out of the dryer housing via a small rubber grommet and the wall wart is secured to the dryer control panel via zip ties. The 9VDC is connected to a Power Flash module Input-A Mode-3. Monitor the generated X10 signal with your favorite software, have it activated a chime module or universal module set to chime only or just have a lamp module turn on a lamp in the house when the dryer is finished. Alternate wiring would be to connect a 120VAC relay instead of 9VDC wall wart that was NO and connected to a Power Flash Input-B Mode-3.

Next the Washer. This one was a lot harder than the simple dryer mod. It is a Sears Kenmore Heavy Duty 70 series Model 110.82874820. It has a schematic on the inside of the control panel but was very worn and faded. Also has decal showing the timer sequence. Again faded. Lots of observation with voltmeter to various points trying to find one signal that was 120VAC anytime the washer was on. Could not find one signal that was always on during every cycle/temp/water level setting. Finally found 2 different ones that were on during each cycle. 1 was on at a time, sometimes both, but always at least 1 during each wash cycle.

Ok now if you a lucky enough to own this exact same model Sears washer the wiring is as follows: The two wires with at least 1 always on at 120VAC when the washer is on are the grey wire leading from the timer to the lid switch and the purple wire going to the water level switch from the timer. Each of these wires was connected to a separate 120VAC relay and the neutral input to the washer. This way I always had at least 1 relay energized when the washer is running. The NO contacts of these 2 relays were connected in parallel to a Power Flash module Input-B Mode-3. You would have to figure this out for other make/model washing machines but the same basic idea would work. Find a 120VAC signal and use a relay to get this status to a power flash module. I used Rat Shack cat number 275-217C but any 120VAC relay with a NO output would work.

X10 module PF284 or X10 Pro PSC01 $18.74 each x 2 = $37.48
Rat Shack relay cat 275-217C $7.99 each x 2 = $15.98
9VDC wall wart = free. Have a few laying around the junk box.
Total $53.46. Probably done cheaper if you shop around.

Entry 7 – Improving the X10 signal at low to no additional costDennis Tremblay  Dennis.Tremblay@eacemr.com Geneva, IL

One of the biggest problems most X10 users face today is loss of signal. Devices do not work in some locations of the home because the X10 signal must travel quite a distance, and even “hop” across the line phase. Although solutions exist today, they are often expensive, and in many cases require getting into the breaker box to remedy.

A solution that I have proven to be successful is simple in comparison, and in many cases will require almost no investment, other than a few telephone jacks, and possibly a .01 uF capacitor, rated for 300VAC.

The intent of this solution is to relocate the TW523 or CM11 as close as practical to the breaker box. Usually, there is an available outlet right next to the breaker box. This is an ideal location for the interface because there is no line loss in signal from the normal location to the box. The loss is many times compounded by the power strip in the computer room that often times has a filter inside.

In order to connect the serial port to the new location, you will need to run telephone wire from the old location to the new location. In many new homes, CAT3 wire is used, or at least there are eight wires in the bundle to the phone jack. By using the Leviton 6 wire jack, or a standard 4 wire jack, connect the wires and make note of the colors used for each connection. At the other end, reverse the order, interchanging the green and red, and the yellow and black. Your colors may vary. What you are doing is extending the serial interface and because the wiring order is important, be careful to get them right. If it doesn’t work, check the wiring. You will usually get a warning about this because the computer will not find the device if it is improperly wired. Nothing should break. Just check the wiring and make it right.

In most cases, this is all one would need to do. However, some homes may be far enough from the transformer that a signal coupler will be needed. Rather than using an expensive coupler, connect a .01 uF capacitor rated at 300VAC (or two .01uF rated 150VAC in series) from one phase to the other. Most homes have a 220 volt plug next to the breaker, and again this is an ideal location to do this. Certainly it is possible to connect a capacitor inside the breaker box but local building regulations may prevent this.

I have used this solution with 100% success for quite some time now. Before, I was unable to get about 30% of my lights to work, even with a capacitor across the phases. Locating the Two Way Line Interface at the breaker was the best solution, and because I already had CAT3 wires, it only cost me two telephone connectors.

Entry 8 – Bedside Atomic ClockZac DeLesDernier
Well, almost.  With your PC, a few parts, an alarm clock you probably already have and an X10 universal module, you can have just that.  Many LED display alarm clocks are based on the LM8560 chip.  The LM8560 implements pretty much all of the clock functions with a minimum of external components.  Being kind of a “black box”, there’s no way to set the time to something arbitrary.  There is a way to reset the time to midnight, though.  So I added a few parts to enable my PC to reset the time every night at midnight.  Since my PC is already running software (xntpd) to keep its clock in sync with the atomic clock, my bedside clock winds up being pretty close.Alarm Clock – $9.96
X10 Universal Module – $18.99
4 Diodes & Perfboard – Cheap from RS
Total Cost – About $30
Many brands and models of alarm clock are based on the LM8560 chip.  A quick way to see if yours is is to do the following:In order, press and hold the ‘Alarm’, ‘Sleep’, ‘Hour’ and ‘Minute’ buttons.  Your clock should read 0:00 and stay that way as long as you hold down all 4 buttons.
Here’s the alarm clock I modified.  The brand is “Lennox Sound”.  I paid $9.96 for it at Wal-Mart.  This is the second alarm clock I’ve successfully modified. The first was a Sony that I retired at about age 10 when it one of its LED segments burned out.
A close-up view of the LM8560.
A close-up view of the LM8560.
Here’s all I added.  A small bit of perfboard with 4 diodes, a 2-conductor 3.5mm jack (normally used for mono earphones) and a bit of wire to hook it all up.  I wrapped the perfboard with a bit of electrical tape just in case.  If I had it to do over, I’d dispense with the 3.5mm jack.  After all, there’s already a power wire just sticking out the back of the case.
Here’s the schematic of the modifications.  Very simple, really.  You may notice that my wires don’t seem to be directly connected to the LM8560.  In this case it was easier to solder closer to the control buttons than to the chip.
Attach a 3.5mm plug to an X10 universal module with a bit of wire.  Set the module to “Relay Only” and “Momentary”.  I set the house/unit code of mine to B12.  (Get it? Be Twelve!)  I don’t use housecode B for anything else, which will minimize the chances of me messing up the clock with other X10 traffic.  I set up my PC to send a B12 ON command out at midnight.  I didn’t program this command directly into my CM11a (because my clock would only be as accurate as the CM11a’s clock).  Personally, I use cron and heyu on linux.