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Copyright © 2008, P. Lutus

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On this page I will describe the procedures — and some of the risks and problems — you will need to know while installing an Insteon system.

WARNING: First and foremost, if you are not handy with tools and electrical systems, please ... hire an electrician instead of trying to undertake this task yourself. And have the electrician read this page for specific cautions and advice. I offer this advice because a house electrical system can kill the unwary. You've been warned.

Okay, warning given. From this point onward, I will make the assumption that my readers are (1) homeowners skilled with electrical systems, (2) professional electricians, or (3) curious people who just want to read the article but who aren't planning to self-administer shock therapy.

Scope and Limitations

My Insteon system is limited in scope — I have only relay controls (primarily 2466SW units) and no dimmers because my system is almost entirely compact fluorescents. This means these instructions won't cover all possibilities — a typical installer will need to include some things I don't use. But this article will educate you in the basics and get you started. Also, in a later section, I describe in detail what I regard as the heart of a sophisticated Insteon system — a system controller with enough brain power to make the entire system modestly intelligent.


Typical Insteon System Diagram

The first step in this process is to acquire a mental picture of a normal Insteon system. It typically consists of:

  • Some light controls, normally mounted in place of wall switches. An example would be the one I have dozens of — the 2466SW wall-mounted relay control that works with fluorescent lights. There are many other options for this element, including dimmable controls for those who have incandescent lights and want to be able to control the light level in a room (example: 2466DW). A caution — only buy dimmable controls for ordinary, old-fashioned incandescent light bulbs. For all other purposes, get a relay control.
  • Optionally, some appliance modules (2456S3) to control either lights that plug in, or appliances like coffee makers or electronic equipment.
  • Two access points / wireless phase couplers (2443PR) that serve multiple purposes — they accept signals from Insteon wireless remote controls (2440BK), and they bridge the two sides of a typical house wiring system, a new solution to the problem discussed earlier with respect to X-10 systems.
  • A powerlink modem (2412S), used to link the installed controllers to a system controller (below) and/or a computer.
  • A system controller (ISY-26). This device allows you to automate your house, make it look lived in while you are away, schedule activities, and it also allows you to accept and translate any older X-10 wireless or wired controls such as motion sensors and remote controls, and use those controls with the Insteon system.

Here are some points about the above list:

  • The Insteon controls listed above will work just fine with a pre-existing X-10 system, because Insteon controls are essentially bilingual. So one can buy some of these controls for use in an X-10 system as the first step in an Insteon upgrade plan.
  • The list above contains much more than a minimal Insteon system. A minimal system would be a handful of light switch controls, the two wireless phase couplers, and a remote control.
  • The very smallest meaningful Insteon system would be two or three light switch controls, installed in a way that allows you to control an entire room of lights by turning on any one of them. This can be accomplished without a system controller or a remote control.

I want to emphasize these points to avoid creating the impression that you must have a modem and a system controller to use an Insteon system — you don't. I think a system controller is a very nice addition, but it's not a requirement.

Installing a switch

WARNING: Again, unless you are handy with tools and are familiar with home electrical systems and their risks, don't undertake this kind of work — hire an electrician.

This section will show the simplest installation activity, that of wiring an Insteon switch into place. You will be performing many repetitions of this activity, and for a number of reasons it is essential to learn how to do it properly.

Some readers may wonder why I go into such detail about this — after all, isn't it true that if you get it wrong, if you don't connect it just so, or if you don't tighten the wire nuts snugly, the switch simply won't work, and you can try again? Well, no, as it happens, with three-wire Insteon (and X-10) controls, it's a bit more complicated than that — you can very easily destroy the control, in particular if the neutral (white) connection is not made securely and correctly.

Insteon Switch Wiring Diagram
Typical installation

Here is a step-by-step installation procedure:

  • Disable the power to the area of interest. And when you return to the work area, don't assume the power is off, test with a meter.
  • Remove the old switch, being careful not to allow any multiple connections to become unraveled as you remove the wire nuts. You may want to put the wire nuts back in place temporarily to assure that the original wire bundles don't become disorganized.
  • Notice about the Insteon control that the wires are color-coded and labeled as well — "Line" (black), "Load" (red) and "Neutral" (white).
  • Locate and pull the Insteon control's clear plastic "set" button out, so it protrudes from the switch. This disables the control and offers additional security against damage.
  • Connect the Insteon control:
    • Connect the "Neutral" (white) Insteon control wire to the bundle of white wires using a suitably-sized wire nut. Don't necessarily use the original wire nut — it may never have been adequately sized, and the new wire sizes may not fit properly into the original nut. And remember — if this specific connection is not made securely, the control may be destroyed. Pay very careful attention to this connection.
    • Connect the "Line" (black) Insteon control wire to the bundle of black wires using a suitably sized wire nut, as above.
    • Connect the "Load" (red) Insteon control wire to the remaining single black wire, the wire leading to the lamp.
  • Obviously there is some possibility for confusion here, because in typical U.S. domestic wiring practice, the line wires are black and the load wire may also be black. So be very careful to keep the wires grouped as they were originally — this is another area where a mistake could easily destroy the Insteon control.
  • Before replacing the switch plate, make a note of the Insteon control's address, which is printed at the front lower left of the control. The address will consist of six characters, grouped in pairs, separated by periods. Take this step for each Insteon control you install, and include the control's location. This step is especially important for large installations, where the possibility for confusion is greater.
  • Push the clear plastic "set" button back into its normal position.
  • Reconnect the power and test the control.

Repeat the above procedure for as may Insteon controls as you intend to install, but remember that you may move from an electrically disabled location to an enabled location without realizing it. Not all of us have the luxury of shutting the entire house down — remember to test before touching.

Paired Controls

Nearly all houses have light switches that are expected to operate in tandem, such as at each end of a long hallway, or on a staircase, where each end of the passage has an independent light switch. The older X-10 controls had a special satellite switch for this case, but Insteon controls handle this in a different (better) way — they have just one kind of control, and the connection between two ends of a passage or staircase is made using computer logic rather than wires. The advantages should be obvious — you only have to buy one kind of control for all locations, and better, if you want more than two controls to operate together (such as a large room with three or more light switches), this is easily accomplished.

If you have a location where two separate switches operate in tandem on the same load, simply wire one of two Insteon controls into whichever electrical box contains the load wire as shown above, then install a second Insteon controller in the other box, connecting the "Line" (black) and "Neutral" (white) leads, but with no load connection (put a wire nut over the red "Load" wire to prevent an inadvertent short-circuit).

Yes, I know this sounds crazy at first glance — how can the second switch do its job without being connected to the load? Well, Insteon controls are pretty clever — you can make one control act in concert with another, even if only one of them is actually connected to the intended load. The only requirement is that both controls need to be powered — they should both have their "Line" (black) and "Neutral" (white) wires connected. Only one of them needs to have a "Load" connection.

Later on I will explain how to tell two or more controls to work as a team.

Access Point / Wireless Phase Coupler

This page deals with hardware installation issues, and the placement of two wireless access points is one of the last physical installation issues (most of the remaining activities involve configuration and software activities).

As explained above, the wireless access points (2443PR) serve two purposes — they open a communication pathway between the two house wiring legs, and they grant Insteon remote controls access to the house system.

Access point installation is relatively simple:

  1. Plug one of the two access points into a convenient unused electrical outlet.
  2. Press the access point's "set" button four times rapidly. If all is well, the access point's LED will respond by burning bright and steady.
  3. Go to another location for the second access point and plug it in. If its LED is flashing or dim, move to a different outlet until you find one where the LED burns bright and steady (the point of this step is to allow the access points to automatically detect outlets that are on separate legs of the house's electrical system).
  4. Return to the location of the first access point and press its "set" button. This should make the LEDs on both access points glow dim and steady, indicating a successful configuration.
  5. If any of these steps fails, return to step (1) above, move the first access point to a different outlet, then repeat the procedure for the second.

Now we can turn to configuration issues and programming.


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