When we returned from holiday at the end of summer last year, we found that someone had attempted to break into our property. I am unsure whether it was the internal security system that caused the thief to abort his attempt or whether it was that our windows were securely locked and that the physically security in itself was sufficient. Anyway, this got me thinking on how we could use X-10 modules to further improve our security system.
OpenHouse Wiring Solutions
In this article we will examine how standard PIR motion detectors with floodlights can be interfaced to your X-10 computer system with these modified Powerflashes. We will also review HomeSeer, a sophisticated alternative to the Activehome software.
Mods and Rockers!
We decided to use a combination of Stanley X-10 motion detectors, which I imported from the US as they are not normally available in the UK and which I modified for 240 volt operation, and some standard PIR floodlights that can be purchased from any DIY or electrical store for around Â£10 for the 150W version.
The US motion detectors we used are manufactured by Stanley and I purchased three from Smarthome. I did not have modification instructions for this module and so I had to develop the procedure myself and this is published on our site at http://www.redoak.co.uk. I must however again warn any potential “Modders” that great care must be taken when performing these modifications since if mistakes are made, the modified modules could become lethal. Please therefore read in full the X-10 section on our site before attempting any 115 volt to 240 volt conversions.
As luck would have it, I modified the three units, but one has failed to operate, and I have neither investigated nor found the cause of this failure. This brings me on to the second point that modifying modules renders any warranty useless too. However, of the twenty modules I have modified so far this has been the only failure. Full instructions for modifying a range of US X-10 modules are on our site too and so you can realise substantial savings by importing and modifying the US modules.
Stanley Motion Detectors
Here can see a picture of a Stanley that monitors the approach to our property. But first, let us review the specifications of the Stanley. It has a low 5W power consumption and the sensor has a range of up to 12 metres. There are two versions of the Stanley: one version comes with 115V flood lights and the second version is just a motion detector. If you purchase the floodlight version, you do not need to use the floodlights and the modification instructions on my web site call for the floodlight function to be disabled.
Opening up the cover of the module will reveal the control settings. The principal settings are:
Range – The range of the module can be adjusted to up to 12 metres.
Dusk – It can be set to generate X-10 signals between dusk and dawn or it can be used to send X-10 signals 24 hours a day.
House Code – The module can produce X-10 signals on any of the usual 16 House Codes that range for “A” to “P”.
Start Code – The module can be set to send signals starting from any “Unit” Code. This allows you to keep all your motion detectors on one House Code, but have the signals sent out on different Unit Codes. Signals can be sent out on up to 4 unit codes
Time delay – The time that the motion detector remains in the triggered state can be set to between 6 seconds and 30 minutes.
This Unit – This should be set to the Sensor position so that X-10 signals are sent 24 hours/day.
Sensor and Dusk – These switches determine what X-10 signals are transmitted. Looking at the picture, the start code is set to L1. As all the Sensor and Dusk sliders are set “in”, when motion is detected L2, L3, L4 and L5 would be sent with the “This Unit” switch in the Sensor Position and L6, L7, L8 and L9 would be sent with the “This Unit” switch in the dusk position.
This vast array of options gives us great flexibility in defining which X-10 signals are produced, and by what cause.
Our two working units (three when I have repaired the defective one) are placed at the corners of our property and they are all connected together with three core mains wiring. They terminate in a single 13 Amp plug (fitted with a 3 Amp fuse) which is plugged into an Appliance Module. We can therefore easily switch on and off the motion detectors by remotely controlling the Appliance Module.
Standard Motion Detectors
We have also fitted three standard PIR sensors with built-in 150 watt floodlights outside our bungalow. These standard motion detectors are normally wired with just the mains live, neutral and earth. However, there is also an undocumented “sensor” connector inside the PIR sensors and this sensor wire is connected to 240V by the PIR when motion is detected and the floodlights are lit. We have used four core mains cable to wire each of the PIRs back to a central point, and at this central point we can make use of the sensor signal.
What I have done is to connect the neutral and sensor wire to the primary of a 240V to 12V transformer. The secondary of the transformer has a 820 ohm half watt resistor in series with it, and it is connected to the input connectors of an X-10 Powerflash. We have used the resistor to protect the transformer in case the secondary windings are short circuited.
All this wiring in inside a standard black box which I purchased from Maplins into which I have fitted four USA 3 pin mains sockets. These are rated at 115 Volts, though I am operating them at 240 volts, so again, care must be exercised in keeping this box in a secure dry place well away from children. A picture of the interior wiring of the front cover is shown here. Note that the top cable is used for the three sensor wires; the lower cable is the mains supply to the top of the box. If you look carefully, you will see the 820 ohm resistors with the grey-red-brown-gold bands.
This picture on the right shows the base of the box mounted close to our fuse box; note the mains cable at the bottom of the box. At the bottom there are three yellow wires; these are the sensor wires and they are connected to the sensor cable from the previous picture.
And on the left is the completed installation. The plug going into the top Appliance module comes direct from the Stanley motion detectors. The red plug supplies power to the “black box”. You can see the three Powerflashes. There is one spare USA socket on this box that is not used at the moment. The three leads going into the top of the box are 4-core mains cable coming from each of the motion detectors. A circuit diagram for the installation of one unit is shown below.
Let us remind ourselves that the picture above shows one of the standard motion detectors that can be purchased from any DIY or electrical store for around Â£10. These standard motion detector lights have been set to operate between dusk and dawn, as we see no value in the lights being triggered during the day.
So, how do this set-up work? If motion is detected during the day, nothing happens. However, if motion is detected at night, the PIR triggers a relay inside the PIR unit; the floodlight lights up and 240 volts is put on the sensor wire. 240 volts then appears across the primary of the transformer in the “black box” and 12 volts AC appears across the secondary of the transformer. The Powerflash is set to Mode 3, and so as soon as the 12 V appears across the low voltage terminals, the Powerflash starts sending X-10 signals to the House Code and Unit Code to which it is set. As the Mode is 3, the X-10 signals are transmitted all the time the floodlights are on.
The X-10 signal from the Powerflash is then detected by the CM-12U Computer Interface and this interfaces to our X-10 computer which triggers events in our HomeSeer software. HomeSeer then announces through the attached loudspeakers that movement is detected by a specific motion detector at that time. HomeSeer can do very much more, and we will come onto HomeSeer later on in this article.
This extension to our X-10 system has now been running reliably for over two years, and it has the added advantage of giving us advance warning when visitors are coming and when the boys get back from school.
Compare and Contrast
We have examined two different ways of detecting potential intruders: we can use the US motion detectors modified for 240 volt operation or we can use standard PIR floodlights connected to a Powerflash. The key differences are:
Range: The PIRs have a greater sensitivity than the Stanleys and we have found that they can even be triggered by the resident foxes. In both cases, the range of the units can be adjusted.
Night/Day: The PIRs should really only be used to operate at night time, so the central computer would not be triggered by daytime movement. However, the Stanleys detects motion 24 hours a day, and this too is useful.
Cost: The wiring requirements are much easier for the Stanleys, but, they require tricky modification and are relatively expensive. The PIRs each require a separate 4 core mains cable run and they each require an additional Powerflash. The summarise, the costs are similar.
Replacement: If you need to replace a Stanley, it is less easy and expensive; replacing either the PIR or Powerflash is relatively easy and cheap.
Recommendation: You should decide on a PIR or Stanley approach based on the function that you need; it may be appropriate to use both options as we have. Also, you do not need to use the Stanley brand, you could use the X-10 or Leviton models. We used the Stanley because I purchased them on “Special Offer”.
If your X-10 installation starts with a few Lamp and Appliance Modules, then a simple Mini Controller or Maxi Controller could be used to switch the modules on and off manually. However, as more X-10 modules are added, an automated program controlled solution becomes a necessity.
A prerequisite for inexpensive program control is the CM-12U Computer interface. The Activehome software allows for regular events and macros to be programmed into the CM-12U using a PC; the PC may then be switched off as the CM-12U retains the event and macro settings. Macros stored in the CM-12U are called “fast macros”.
However, the CM-12U has a very limited amount of amount of memory for use by “fast macros”, and so as your installation expands, you may find the CM-12U memory is insufficient. If the memory requirements of your macros and events exceeds the CM-12U space available, then provided you leave your PC switched on and running Activehome, you can use “standard macros” and have an almost limitless number of them.
So, as we reached the CM-12U fast macro limit, we explored other options and came across the HomeSeer application with its interesting features.
The HomeSeer application has been developed by Keware in the USA and it is designed to run on the Windows 95, 98, NT and 2000 platforms. It will neither run under DOS nor Windows 3.1. While HomeSeer will perform on a 75MHz 486 with 24MB memory, ideally it needs at least a Pentium 166 with 32MB memory. Hard disk requirements are 20MB and the current version of the HomeSeer software is 1.4.
We use a combination of both the X-10 Activehome and Keware HomeSeer software on our X-10 computer. Activehome is used to download events and fast macros into the CM-12U, and HomeSeer is used for sophisticated events, macros, logging, emailing and remote control. Let us now have a look at what HomeSeer offers us.
The main menu of HomeSeer gives the option to choose one of three views: for Devices, Events and Log. The Devices view allows X-10 devices to be identified to HomeSeer. The Events view shows all the programmed events or macros that you have on your system. The Log view allows you to see what X-10 events have been logged and when the occurred.
The Devices View shows a few of our devices and the events associated with the “Hall Xmas Lights” on A7. See how the Christmas Tree Lights were programmed to come on at 6:15am at 65% brightness and go off at 9:30am. These lights then come on again at 4:30pm at 75% brightness and then go off at 11:50pm. Since Christmas is now long past, the events have been “stopped” as highlighted by the red stop sign to the left of them, but it is all ready for later this year! A useful feature of the HomeSeer menus is that all the columns can be sorted on. While this function can be obtained using the Activehome software, an X-10 installation is much easier to set up using HomeSeer.
Devices are very easily added using the add device option shown here. If you have a new X-10 device that is not listed, you can not only define your own type of device, but also specify the properties of it too. The House Code (in red) and Unit Code (in black) settings of the devices can easily be set by their drop down menus.
The Log View shown below shows all X-10 transmissions on the CM-12U interface that have been requested to be logged. Note how the Garage Stanley Motion detectors sends M5, M4, M3 and M2 signals which HomeSeer converts via a macro to J1 which then sounds a “Chime Module”.
HomeSeer has a rich list of functions and one of the most useful is the email capability. Events can be set up to send out an email. As more and more properties become connected to 24/7 ADSL lines and cable modems the usefulness of this feature will increase. Below is the e-mail set up screen in which I have blanked the secure areas.
Within our bungalow we run a 100MBit Ethernet network for Internet access; distributed music from our mp3 server; file sharing and back-up and a local Intranet for the HomeSeer application. HomeSeer comes complete with a built in webserver, and provided the permissions are set up correctly, any X-10 appliance can be controlled remotely through the network. Below is an example of the HomeSeer application being accessed through my main computer. Note the IP address of the X-10 (HomeSeer) computer is 192.168.0.31; this is powered by an AMD K5-166 with 64MB memory.
Another unique feature is the voice recognition and voice output capabilities provided by the Microsoft Agent software. Events can be used to trigger voice messages through and loudspeakers connected to the machine running HomeSeer. We use the voice announcement facility to detect the boys coming back from school and the imminent arrival of the postman!
For the technical readers amongst us, you can specify Windows Scripting Host (WSH) scripts to run when specific events occur. These WSH scripts can also use ActiveX components and can intelligently and conditionally control X-10 devices. We have not so far used these advanced features.
In this issue we have covered how you can extend your X-10 system using motion detectors and the relative advantages and disadvantages of X-10 motion detectors and ordinary PIR motion detectors with an X-10 interface. We have also looked at HomeSeer and the easy to use and sophisticated control options that it provides. HomeSeer runs a web server program and X-10 devices can also be controlled by a web browser on another networked computer.
Useful X-10 site links are:
Our site at Redoak: http://www.redoak.co.uk
Where you can read about our X-10 installation; get instructions on how to modify US X-10 modules for 240 volt operation; and read about how we have used computers to have a fully integrated entertainment system with Internet access in all rooms.
Where you can get further information on the HomeSeer software and the latest release.
Dave’s X10 Site http://www.homeautomationindex.com/
Probably one, if not the best site on X-10 technology; this is a US site where X-10 is endemic, but the content is very relevant to us in the UK
The US supplier of modules that I have used to convert to 240V operation. Smarthome also have an extensive downloadable PDF catalogue of all kinds of gadgets! This site is worth a browse anyway to see what is available – look out for the “barking dog” which eats no food!
And of course there are the UK suppliers on the Internet:
Let’s Automate at http://www.letsautomate.com
LBS at http://www.laser.com
X10UK at http://www.x10uk.com
Comfort at http://www.comfort.org.uk
Though they can also be purchased from Maplins and Homebase too.
The principle newsgroup on the Internet for home automation and X-10 is: Comp.home.automation.
While the newsgroup has an American bias, over 90 percent of the postings are relevant to the UK.