Do you happen to remember X10, the device-control-over-power-line protocol that was mega-popular in the ’80s? It’s still around, and it’s still super cheap. But after 20 years of over-the-counter and DIY innovation it’s a lot easier to mess with — as is its more modern coutnerpart Insteon. Here’s the short of it: By installing control units between power outlets and your appliances, you can turn everything on and off via remote control. One unit accepts the commands from your remote control, passing commands to the various modules via encoded signals over your power lines.
It’s easy and cheap to get started. A number of online stores sell starter kits consisting of a single receiver/remote module and a couple appliance (read: switch on and off) and lamp (read: includes a dimmer function) units for well under $100. Here’s an example from Smarthome, a shop I’ve purchased from in the past: a kit designed to control home theater lighting for $70.
But Insteon takes the whole concept farther with a much wider range of modules, including computer interfaces, thermostats, security tools, and many in-wall modules to replace lighting controls. Most range in price from around $20 to as much as $200 (thermostats and the line), but all interface together to allow you to program lighting scenes, timed events like external light activation or temperature changes, etc. Cool stuff!
My first experience with X10 was ordering a little single remote/two appliance module kit for around $20 in the late ’90s. After playing with it a bit, it became the “tree button” at Christmas time as we’d hook the tree to it so we could turn the tree in the living room on and off from the bedroom. Now I’m starting to think I could hook some of the contact reader/control boxes into my security system’s sensors to tie it all into my current automation system — and maybe control my sprinkler system, too.