View Full Version : Home automation systems: Insteon vs. Zwave?

2010-08-15, 15:20
New house, new opportunities for gadgets.

I've been looking into/lusting after home automation systems for years, and had waited for us to have a place we could deploy it, and now I'm all conflustered. Insteon is a hybrid RF/electrical wiring protocol that I've tracked for quite some time. The best Mac software for programming the system seems by far to be Indigo. They have an iPhone app as well, for remote control. Base units and device controllers are pretty darned cheap, considering, and run a wide array of electrical and sensor applications. I've been planning on an Insteon system, until...

And then I start seeing Zwave... same basic idea, but a different set of manufacturers, control systems, etc. Mac software is severely lacking, and the remote access capabilities are more limited. Different set of manufacturers for this. Bigger ones, like GE, Schlage, etc. Pricier units, but a slightly wider array of applications (like locks - not sure how I feel about that, but...) and those big names add a certain amount of expected longevity.

So - anyone have any experience with these systems? Recommendations?

2010-08-15, 15:45
This is something I find interesting too, but I have not looked into it for a long time. Last time I lokked, x10 was a name that I recall, cant remember of they were a system maker, or just a reseller.

And for the lazy ones out there, here are some cheeky links...

Zwave (http://lmgtfy.com/?q=zwave%20home%20automation)
Insteon (http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Insteon home automation)
Indigo (http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Indigo home automation)

2010-08-15, 16:35
D'oh, thanks. I forgot to put the links in.

X10 is an old old system, Insteon is the next-gen version of it, Zwave is not intended to interact with it.

I've seen a wide gamut of compatibility reports with both Insteon and Zwave, units that don't play well with other units, etc...

At this point I'm 90% sure of going with Insteon, due to Indigo software, but I ran across Houseport http://www.smarthomeusa.com/ShopByManufacturer/wayne-dalton/Item/WDUSB-10MAC/ which doesn't look horrible for Zwave control.

Dammit, this was easy two years ago, but Zwave has gotten the big guns behind it. :P

2010-08-15, 16:55
I'm sort of interested in this as well. I can't tell yet whether this will be in my budget any time soon, but home automation is among my wet geek dreams.

2010-08-15, 17:36
I'm starting small - light switches, a couple of outlets. HVAC, sprinklers, and weather triggers come later. :) And yet I still can't decide which makes more sense!

Edit: Good comparison page: http://misterhouse.wikispaces.com/Insteon

Misterhouse is an open source software solution.

2010-08-15, 20:17
I'm glad I'm not the only one looking now. I started a thread a year ago asking the same thing but never did move on it. (Look at the related threads.)

Even then it looked like Insteon was the best answer.

I mean, how cool would it be to turn on your exterior lights from your iPod Touch/iPhone?

2010-08-15, 21:32
This technology is so far from being solidified into something permanent, I'd go with the smaller, more tinker/programmer friendly version of Insteon.

The reality is the "big guns" so to speak are just as likely to decide one quarter that it's not profitable enough and drop development entirely, or sell off that branch etc.

Until something is at least borderline mainstream the big guns backing a tech can be as much harm as help, I'd go with the people who've been doing it longer and pay their mortgages with their sales, they're in it for the long haul.

I don't think we'll see this tech become standard for another 5+ years.

2010-08-15, 22:33
Agreed. My biggest problem with Insteon at the moment is that the light controllers require a neutral wire in the switch box, unless you're going to go with pricier units. I checked a couple of switches tonight - guess what I don't have. :P

Yeah, still leaning towards Insteon though. There are enough bridges between systems that it looks like future proofing isn't a huge problem, as long as it works *now*.

2010-08-17, 17:47
Well crud. Asked a housing contractor we're considering going with, which one he'd suggest, and he said "Zwave, no question." When I pressed him for more details, though, it all centered around a touchpanel system that they use that he really likes.


2010-08-17, 18:17
To me, iOS support would be the deal-breaker. I'd use that more than any touchpanel.

I wonder, could the same system be controlled with multiple iPods? Like, if you wanted to put an iPod touch in each guest room, so that guests could control audio and stuff? While allowing one "master control" iPod, so that guests couldn't flood the plants?

One of you people with programming smarts could make a killing building that sort of system for rich people, seriously. It's such a wide open area. But the devices are there now -- iPods and iPads are perfect for this sort of thing. It's just too complicated for mainstreamers to set up, but if you know what you're doing...you could make at the very least a nice little side business, I reckon.

2010-11-09, 09:58
Hi All ...
I too have the home automation bug. I spent many months trying to decide which brand to go with . I finally settled on Insteon. First thing is first ...Insteon support is amazing. I am a programmer and I wanted to write my own applications to suit my needs (Z-Wave is very lacking for a programmer, first, to buy the C or C++ Developers kit you are looking at I believe 2000 or 12000 US dollars either way it was too much for me and the languages do not support fast development IMHO). I have never waited more then 12 hours for Insteon to reply to my questions. The great thing about the Insteon SDK (developers kit) is that it is language agnostic. So far my application spans java and php to interface with the powerlink modem. I use the php side of it to create an web application that supports html5 which makes the web app look like a native Iphone app using the IWeb kit. I have written a blackberry app for it in just java. the core of it is written in java.
The protocols (the languages the hardware speaks) work like this:
X10 - This is only works in one direction, meaning that when you send a command to an X10 device it does not send back a reply. so you cant tell for sure if the light or appliance really turned on. this was a deal breaker for me. X10 is fairly in-expensive, but I think its days are numbered.
Zwave - This works both ways interacting with the controller to let you know status. Very reliable. Proprietary Protocol. C or C++ development only as of the last time I checked. Hardware is expensive. Supported by multiple vendors.
Insteon - This works both ways interacting with the controller to let you know status. Hardware is not too awful expensive ..Like Z-wave is supports thermostats, door locks, and a large range of sensors and appliances.

As far as the hardware ...I can really only comment on Insteon. I had some issues at first with switches responding. If you live in North America chances are you have a a 220V inlet to your home which means that half of your circuit board is connected to one phase of power and the other to the other phase of power (this is what they mean when they say 2 phase ...like what an oven or dryer is ) so some of the Insteon hardware is dual band ..this means that it uses both powerline and RF to transmit signals to the hardware from the controller. While some of the hardware only utilizes powerline . The problem is messages are only heard over powerline if you are on the same phase or side of the circiut breaker. This can be overcome with a phase bridge which sits on both sides of the circuit board. You can also get past this hurdle with the Insteon dual band hardware that transmits and received on both RF and powerline. since all Insteon hardware are also signal repeaters the dual band guys can help get messages to any other Insteon products.

I know this is an old thread ...hope this helps someone make a decision!

If you need any help or want to try out my open source packages for Iphone and Blackberry (web app as well ) feel free to reply to this post .

PS --- for whom ever said that you could make a fortune writing an suit for Home automation ...From your keyboard to G-d's ears :D

Cheers All!


2011-08-05, 21:55
So I've been looking into home automation again and figured I'd check in to see what you ended up going with Kickaha. Did you ever settle on one over the other?

What about ZigBee?

2011-08-06, 00:58
My only point of reference was x10, which Kick referred to as an old old system.

I'm intrigued as well.
I assume that this means that I need a linux/winders box to use as the head unit?


2011-08-06, 01:31
No decisions on this front, decided to punt for now, and go with a bog standard monitored security system for the moment. I *did* make sure, however, that the brain box has an X10 output capability with a rich enough set of triggers that I can use an X10 bridge to get the signals to whatever more advanced setup I decide to go with. :)

It's pretty obvious that no one system is going to rise to the top at the moment, like X10 did 20 years ago.

2011-08-06, 08:22
Well, something like this (http://news.cnet.com/8301-27080_3-20088947-245/attacking-home-automation-networks-over-power-lines/?part=rss&subj=news&tag=2547-1_3-0-20) makes me less interested in X10. I'm sure you can get a power isolator, but that seems like it would be pretty expensive for a home.

X10 certainly has some nice features but still feels so limiting. What I really want is the ability to turn off the lights in my house when my kids left them on, from an iOS device or my computer.

The thing I've been seeing in ZigBee is more energy management systems. I run a load control in my house so things like my water heater turn off during peak periods, but I would love to be able to actually monitor my current load and such via a computer on the network or iOS device. (VPN on the network is fine too.)

2011-08-06, 22:58
I'm thinking the next decade will bring Energy Monitoring into the forefront. Today I think it's just a confusing selection of technologies and products but
it's easy to see that tablet computing along with standards for control and displaying data is going spur the market on.

Here's an interesting patent from Apple that deals with Energy Monitoring


Apple surprises us with a peek at their coming Smart Home Energy Management Dashboard System that packs a punch. Apple's patent reviews technology related to this system that many simply know as HomePlug Powerline Networking. HomePlug Powerline Networking turns every power outlet in your home or office into a conduit for audio, video and data. Wireless technologies could be prone to dead-spots and fading - but with HomePlug certified adapters you just plug them in and within minutes you have high speed internet coming out of every plug in the house. You could do the same thing for HDTV and iTunes. Get ready folks, because this looks like Apple is ramping this up for sometime in the near future. And, let it be said, could be yet another tablet application.

So now there's work on ratifying an ieee standard (1901) which should help for interoperability and supports HomePlug and another competing technology.


So it appears that work is well underway to create the hardware infrastructure and the next step is seeing where Insteon, Zwave, Zigbee and fit in.

I'm starting to believe these Apple HDTV rumors to be true. If Apple is indeed working on energy technology which may include HomePlug support it's conceivable that they view the future HDTV as being more than just entertainment display. It could encompass a full on computing environment which manages home monitoring, energy monitoring, AV and more.

Another interesting subplot is the migration to Bluetooth 4.0. The new Macbook Air and Mac mini support this new low power profile. Might it be possible to utilize an array of BT 4.0 powered devices as control points?

2011-08-07, 23:31
I admit, if Apple releases a home management software I'm going to drink that Kool-aide.

2011-08-08, 03:54
I admit, if Apple releases a home management software I'm going to drink that Kool-aide.

Hehe, yeah me too, unless I've already got a serious investment in another system. I suppose I need to get a house first though.

2011-08-08, 05:41
This thread is tickling my fancy but to be honest after reading the Insteon website i found myself at odds with their philosophy. Their view is that you have a home computer network running your ADSL/Cable, multimedia, games etc and then a separate one for your home automation.

I can see the advantages on the security front as people are somewhat lacking in their home network security and i guess the Insteon devices use and existing network, electrical cabling and come with a built in RF system.

But after to me this seems an odd separation. I would like to think that the day will come where everything sits on a home network and then your broadband connection makes it accessible from the outside world.

I mean some TVs and AV Receivers are already wi-fi/ethernet enabled so you have got a starting point. Insteons website says people wouldn't want to connect a microwave to an ethernet cable. That maybe true but what about a fridge?? Essentially it sits in one place for 10+ years. That would be simple to wire up or use wi-fi.

Maybe i am mad but it seems a more sensible approach??

2011-08-08, 11:22
If you can control your house from afar, so can anyone else. Don't kid yourself.

I had the same impulse. "But... but... what if I *want* to turn off the bathroom light when I'm 400 miles away?!?" I got over it. If you can access the controlling computer, that's more than good enough. Putting home devices directly on your network is daft, IMO.

Also, remember that X10 pre-dates WiFi. It pre-dates home LANs. Hell, it almost pre-dates Ethernet itself! It's a nasty horrible little serial RF connection, but it works, it's cheap to implement, and it is now ubiquitous. Insteon is specifically a next-gen X10, designed to work with the same basic idea, but in more robust and complex ways. It's not 'philosophy', it's providing a solution that works with an existing legacy system that many people have used for a couple of decades now.

Also, it exists now, and X10 was the closest thing I've seen to a standard in this area. There's no clear successor yet. While some use cases would benefit from IPv6-based networking, many won't.

BTW, I got over my 'put it all on the net' urge the day a contractor told me he could install one of the new ZWave locks on my front door, and I could unlock it from anywhere, as well as disarming the home security system. He was very, very proud of this feature. When I asked him about the security used to make sure *only* I could do so... he just got a blank look on his face. "Oh, uh, that's too techie for me..."

I'll stick with the key on my keychain, thanks.

2011-08-08, 18:01
Just bought a house. So I look forward to reading about everybody's real-life experiences.

I'm hoping to wire the house for 1 Gig Ethernet as part of the renovations. But I wasn't planning on anything beyond that. Will have to find out to what degree I need to take home automation into account during construction.

2011-08-08, 18:12
I'll stick with the key on my keychain, thanks.

I think Kick's quote says it all!

Home automation is tempting. But in the end, we're just opening more loopholes. I just invested in a simple set of four keyed-alike padlocks to secure access to our new house's yard. Super-easy. 30 bucks at Home Depot. Zero maintenance or trouble-shooting. Yeah, I'm a geek. But the time I have for playing around is limited. I'd rather play around with my kids than do maintenance on a home automation system. Even if it means I have to pay 50 bucks extra on my electric bill if I forget to turn off the A/C when we go on vacation.

2011-08-08, 19:17
I ran across this article a few months ago, and forgot about it till now. It isn't exactly Mac-specific, but has a lot of good info about the advantages and disadvantages of the various interfaces.


From following links in the article, I noticed that embedded-OS central controllers seem to be the current state-of-the-art. That seems like what Apple would want to do if they ever did anything - sort of an AppleTV unit for home automation.

I ran across this one with multiple interfaces
that runs embedded XP (yuk!). Specs say it can be configured via a web browser from any system, and controlled via available iPhone and Android apps. If I was going to start building a system right now, that's probably what I'd go with.

If I had to pick a single interface, I like Z-Wave because it seems to have the widest range of available devices.

Further searching led me to this
which is a Z-Wave USB stick, and has a Mac Dashboard Widget that looks pretty slick and does both config and control. I didn't see anything about an iPhone app, though - so it looks like control options are limited to remotely-accessing the Mac with the USB stick that is running the Widget.

TotalControl has a very slick-looking Z-Wave iPhone app
that also does config and control - but it looks like it needs an embedded controller box. I may try looking for something cheaper than the first controller that does Z-Wave only.

2011-08-08, 21:43
I have to admit that I considered one of the doors that could be unlocked with a wireless connection, but my wife helped me figure out how bad of an idea that was. I'm the one with Security+ too. I was blinded by tech what can I say.

However, I love the idea of VPN connecting to my home network and then controlling the computer that controls my system. I don't want true outside the firewall access without something like the VPN to protect it.

For me, it's more about turning off the lights when my teenager or toddlers leave them on. Things like being able to turn on the porch light or back yard light from my seat rather than having to get up and go do it. I can't imagine me buying a module for my coffee pot, it has a timer. At some point I might do an in-ground watering system and having that timed would be good, but I can do that without being able to turn it on from my chair. This does limit your ability to soak the neighbor kids though. :p

Really, I'm interesting in things like energy management and environmental monitoring. Most of the room are empty during the day. In fact, in general half the house is empty for most of the day. The other half of the day we are all sleeping and now the opposite half is empty. It's times like this it would be handy to be able to monitor my home to be more efficient.

I do have a smart meter on my home and would like to get better use of it. My power company doesn't give great uses for it other than to rate my home's power bill based on demand levels during peak times. I also get a discounted rate during non-peak times. So yeah, this is worth it for me to find a worthy management system.

My Dencor (http://www.dencorinc.com/200d.htm) demand controller already sheds loads for me, but in a sequential non-intelegent manner. It's nice because I can duty cycle the water heater so it only runs for 20 minutes per hour during peak. Enough to keep water warm without wasting a lot of electricity keeping it hot during high demand periods.

2011-11-14, 13:32
I bought older house which I am renovating so I am in the similar situation where I am trying to decide if to go with INSTEON or with Z-wave. So here are my few cents:

- I believe both are reliable technology and my understanding is that both technologies can be controlled from Internet , but not directly you need some king of Ethernet bridge. Correct me if I am wrong.

- One very important think which I like on INSTEON is that normally it is using power line for communication, so no additional RF smog in my house. Idea that every switch in my house will be broadcasting on 900MHZ is scaring me little bit.


2011-11-14, 22:29
I"m not worried about the 900MHz as much as I am someone plugging into my wires. I haven't moved forward with any tech in this front yet. :\