Disappointed with SmartHome Quality

My home it pretty well automated. By that, I mean that our security system, an Elk M1-gold, can control the house lighting, thermostats, and drip irrigation system. Lights come on and turn off automatically as necessary. The ELK uses a expander device which connects to an INSTEON controller. The INSTEON controller has the ability to turn on/off/dim any light in our house that has an INSTEON switch. When it works, it’s great. When it doesn’t work, it really sucks.

So then, why doesn’t it work? Well, it seems that the Smarthome engineers forgot to spec quality components as the failure rate of most of the INSTEON and ICON (a cheaper version of the INSTEON switches) is over 50%. That’s right, more than half of INSTEON switches have failed, they either do not turn off, or they will not turn on. Nice.

No big deal, right? You say the switches are still under warranty! Sure. But now I have to remove each bad switch and replace it with a standard switch while the INSTEON switches are being exchanged for replacement. Now I have to go out and buy more than a dozen temporary switchs that I’ll only use for a month. Not to mention all the time it’s going to take to flip all the right breakers and install the temporary switches. A good Saturday afternoon lost, I suspect. Argh.

Oh, it gets even better… you see, each INSTEON device has a unique code that is addressed by other INSTEON devices. Each device must be programmed to control other devices through a time consuming process of putting the switch in programming mode and walking around to each desired device and have it send an acknowledgment. This doesn’t sound too bad, but when you have 20+ devices that are controlling each other in multiple patterns, it is bad. Really bad.

Oh, and if you don’t deprogram the devices you are going to keep before you remove the defective devices, they will forever try to turn on/off/dim the phantom switch. Do a factory reset on everything and start over from scratch. Beautiful. There goes Sunday.

But there must be a super dandy software package that makes this a cinch right? Wrong. There is Indigo from Perceptive Automation that works quite well, but it’s $180. Pretty steep just to fix a couple of light switches. The only other option is a meandering cluster-frack called PowerHome. You thought you’ve seen bad UI before. You ain’t seen nothing til you’ve seen PowerHome. PH is the epitome of why developers should not do UI design.

Let me add that Indigo is a wonderful home automation software package that makes any home automation task much simpler. Indigo is highly reliable and expertly supported. If you want or need automation software, buy it.

Ok, so four to eight hours later with PowerHome you might (there are no guarantees with PowerHome), might have a functional ‘map’ of your INSTEON network. Namely, which switch is talking to which other switch. With this, you could reprogram your new switches with the old mappings. Could, maybe, these are the best you get with PowerHome. Yup, another entire day lost. Super.

But every other home automation device manufacturer has a free programming/mapping software. Well,  you’d be right on that one. But hey we’re SmartHome and we don’t have our act together and didn’t think it was important enough. INSTEON has been out for over two years, and they still have nothing.

If I get the replacement switches I’ll need to do all the previous in reverse. Crap, that’s another day gone.

So I’m either stuck with switches that don’t work when you want them, or I can replace them something more reliable, which will cost several hundred dollars. Sweet.

It just makes me so mad to spend so much money on a product that has such a high failure rate and is such an incredible pain to fix. I really don’t have the money right now to switch to another home automation system (like SimplyAutomated UPB switches), so I’m gonna start ripping out the bad INSTEON switches and send them in for replacement. But that’s it, no more INSTEON for me. As the others start to fail, I will just remove them and replace them with the SimplyAutomated UPB switches.

BTW, I’m far from the only one who have problems with INSTEON switches. For your reading pleasure:

Guess what I’m doing this weekend.

I feel better now℠

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