The Pros and Cons of X10 Home Automation
X10 is a protocol for communication among electronic devices used for home automation (domotics). It primarily uses power line wiring for signaling and control, where the signals involve brief radio frequency bursts representing digital information. A wireless radio based protocol transport is also defined.
You can check our other post about Z-Wave, which is a direct competitor to X10.
Pros of X10
X10 excels in home automation because it is so accessible. It’s easy to find, easy to buy, and easy to install – you can’t find a marketing strategy better than that.
But we’re not interested in how good the product is for the company; we’re here to talk about how X10 works for you.
The overwhelming advantage of X10 is its low price. Comparably sized home automation devices of other protocols are typically at least double the price, if not more. If you want a simple lighting control system with perhaps a timer controller or remote control, X10 will do just fine.
X10 is highly diverse in the application; it can be fitted and programmed to control lighting, home security, climate control, and some basic home entertainment functions. And because X10 is so well established, you can integrate tons of devices and software into a fully compatible system that does just about anything – which is something that competing home automation protocols can’t always boast.
X10 is open source, and there are many programs across all platforms (Windows, MacOS, Linux) that allow you to customize your control over your home from your computer. Linux users are especially happy because it’s one of the few open-source home automation protocols.
Other smart home devices are becoming easier and easier to install, so these days, X10′s simple installation process is more of an expected feature a genuine advantage. It is incredibly easy to install, as advertised – you just plug it in – but that’s assuming that the notorious bugs don’t come to rear their ugly heads…
Cons of X10
The system is not without its faults, mainly due to the fact that it was designed over 30 years ago – and also because of the way x10 works with the power line.
The most dominant problem is signal noise. We use all sorts of newfangled power-sucking toys like computers and plasma TVs and laundry machines on a regular basis. Every time you turn a heavy-load appliance (usually the ones that require a three-pronged plug, if you’re in the US) you introduce noise to the power line. That noise may either interrupt signals or create false on/off signals. You can fix this with noise filters.
Signal strength diminishes over distance and is drastically reduced over different phases. You might find that X10 works well on one side of the house, but you can’t get signals to the other side. This is most common in North American homes, where there are both 110V and 220V circuits. The transformer between these two conductor lines often eats the signal, and there is simply no reliable path to cross phases (though, ironically, this problem seems to disappear when a large appliance is turned on.) Installing a phase coupler can usually solve this, and sometimes a signal amplifier/repeater is also needed.
Home design has evolved significantly in the last few decades, which has caused reliability issues with X10. System reliability is especially important if you want to install security, so if it is acting up and causes false alarms – or worse, doesn’t go off when it should – you lose peace of mind.
X10 is a slow, low-bandwidth system, and this is limiting for some applications. It takes around one second for a command to be transmitted and executed, and commands can only be issued one at a time. This may not matter for some applications like lighting, but if you want to carry multi-room audio or video intercom, you simply don’t have the bandwidth capacity to support that.
Because of all these potential problems, if something doesn’t work, it needs to be properly and extensively diagnosed and debugged. Troubleshooting is often tedious and time-consuming and can be difficult, defeating the hands-off and easy-to-use aspect of X10.
Also, the solutions can be quite expensive. Phase couplers and noise filters are often $30-$50, depending on what kind you get and from where, which can cancel out the benefit of the low-cost installation.
Keep in mind that these problems aren’t necessarily common, and most homeowners install X10 without a hitch. For the unlucky few, though, when problems arise – they can be a royal pain in the ass.
Should I get it?
You get what you pay for: X10 is 2-3 times less expensive than Insteon, and 4-6 times less costly than UPB. Both alternatives are much more reliable, faster, and carry greater bandwidth, but if you’re looking to automate a few basic functions in your home and you’re on a budget, X10 is a solid consideration.
Also, if what you want to achieve with your home automation system isn’t likely to be affected – say, for example, you’re in Europe, where the electrical power system is different, and you just want to put a switch on the wall – then these cons don’t apply to you anyway, and you can be sure that X10 will work beautifully for you.
For better reliability, wireless automation via radio frequency is taking foot, with Z-Wave and Insteon leading the curve. However, you may find that some of the less common home functions you want to automate are not supported by these new technologies. In that case, only X10 can do the job.
Underneath you can see some of the examples from eBay of X-10 powered home automation accessories.