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New Wiring for Insteon - Best Practices?


matapan

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The only electrical installation guideline is that each box contain a neutral/common wire and a line/hot wire. That includes switch boxes that may lack a neutral wire and ceiling boxes that may lack a line wire.

 

Reliability lies with the user.

 

In particular, there are electronic devices that are designed to provide "clean" electricity, for example, line conditioners, UPSs, that will effective erase Insteon signals (signal suckers) and others that produce enough noise to overcome the Insteon signal (signal stompers) such as noisy power supplies, TVs. wall warts, non-incandescent lighting loads, etc.

 

In both situations, there are a few cures, The easiest is a filter for any plug-in device. The solution for any other problem is best decided after the problem device is located.

 

The good news is that most installations that include dual-band devices are trouble-free.

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I'm not an electrician by trade, I work with low-voltage and RF cabling, mostly in relation to corporate networking.

 

 

Current code covers most of the obvious things that would be a concern with Insteon and signal quality.    Here are some physical layer issues that are good to consider when planning:

  • Specify the tallest load center (breaker box) that you can, make sure there are ~6 unused breaker positions in the panel.   While you're at it, research whole house surge protectors, that will take up 2 breakers.
  • Specify minimum of 12AWG for all in-wall wiring, the smaller 14AWG isn't worth the tiny cost savings.
  • Resist feeding multiple rooms from a single breaker (unless the cost savings is significant).
  • Avoid mixing outdoor outlets with anything other than other outdoor outlets, especially if you use GFCI breakers instead of GFCI outlets (due to nuisance tripping).  This means outdoor lighting (and under-eaves outlets) should be separate, not shared with outdoor ground-level outlets.
  • Even if you aren't planning on a wired data or whole house audio, install low-voltage conduit (smurf tube) strategically, and avoid paralleling power runs, or leave plenty of distance between mains and LV.
  • All switch boxes should be full-depth, square, and 2-gang (or bigger) boxes except where a single switch is really necessary (e.g. for aesthetics).
  • Avoid 3-way switches, (and 4-way, etc).
  • No back-stabbing.
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I'm not an electrician by trade, I work with low-voltage and RF cabling, mostly in relation to corporate networking.

 

 

Current code covers most of the obvious things that would be a concern with Insteon and signal quality.    Here are some physical layer issues that are good to consider when planning:

  • Specify the tallest load center (breaker box) that you can, make sure there are ~6 unused breaker positions in the panel.   While you're at it, research whole house surge protectors, that will take up 2 breakers.
  • Specify minimum of 12AWG for all in-wall wiring, the smaller 14AWG isn't worth the tiny cost savings.
  • Resist feeding multiple rooms from a single breaker (unless the cost savings is significant).
  • Avoid mixing outdoor outlets with anything other than other outdoor outlets, especially if you use GFCI breakers instead of GFCI outlets (due to nuisance tripping).  This means outdoor lighting (and under-eaves outlets) should be separate, not shared with outdoor ground-level outlets.
  • Even if you aren't planning on a wired data or whole house audio, install low-voltage conduit (smurf tube) strategically, and avoid paralleling power runs, or leave plenty of distance between mains and LV.
  • All switch boxes should be full-depth, square, and 2-gang (or bigger) boxes except where a single switch is really necessary (e.g. for aesthetics).
  • Avoid 3-way switches) switches, (and 4-way, etc).
  • No back-stabbing.

 

 

KevinNH has a good running list but I have to disagree with the last two points. No modern home should be using any kind of Home Automation to supersede common and expected load control, ever.

 

The adage of *Better to have and not need - than to need and not have* is something everyone should embrace. There is absolutely nothing stopping a person to use any of the common HA protocols like Insteon, Z-Wave, ZigBee when upgrading an existing home.

 

That can not be said about the reverse . . .

 

If the existing wire isn't present for a standard and common 3/4 way wiring system how will you ever operate the switch using none smart switches? This leaves the home owner and future home owners solely dependent upon a $45-100.XX switch. What happens if it breaks or if the home owner or next home owner wants to use common none smart switches?

 

The phrase screwed comes to mind . . .

 

Lastly, there is nothing wrong with back stabbing wires so long as it uses the newer and secure method which uses the screw down method. Those which use the FIC (Force Insertion Clips) are indeed unsafe and prone to slipping out and thus causing a fire hazard.

 

I just wanted to clarify those two points because those not in the know or thinking long term will find themselves really screwed! I've seen a few homes now that totally eliminated 2-6 bank switches and decided to place (remote) control at the fixtures. Doing so for a brand new home using *Virtual Switches* is not only a bad idea but good luck climbing and replacing dozens of modules in a 25 foot ceiling!

 

Common sense must prevail and balance must be present . . . 

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I wholehearted agree with Teken on those ones.

 

What happens when you have to take out the HA to sell your home. Many prospective buyers will see weird switches and never come back again, running like scared chickens. From previous expereience and reading I have determined all HA will be gone from my home when I attempt to sell it.

 

This is very similar to buying a home with a pool. Most people will not look at a home with a pool, here (area dependant). ...and yet, they will shop for a big back yard so they can put their new pool in.

 

I refuse to buy a home with a fixed up basement. I have seen too many that have to be ripped out, down the the bare concrete, before doing it properly again.

 

I see HA as no different. Some people are totally afraid of technology and won't touch it, and the others want it done their way because they are "in to it", and won;t touch somebody else's out of date, messed up, installs.

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By "Avoid 3-way switches" I don't mean never deploy them, just think twice.

 

I agree with avoiding 3- and 4-way switches. I feel they are unnecessarily over used.

3/4-way switches are a great idea for stairwell lighting when you want to be able to turn on the light from the top or the bottom of the stairs, but 80's home builders seemingly went crazy for 3-ways.   I have a hallway light controlled by switches at each end of the hallway.   Sounds like a good idea, right?   However this hallway is so short that standing in the middle I can just about reach both switches. 

 

Then there are the switches so far removed from the light being controlled that you can't see the effect of flipping the switch; had to have a bunch of visiting friends dial into a conference bridge on their cell phones to figure out what it did.

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IMO, multi-way switches are a must for any room that has more than one entry point. Our bedroom, for example, can be entered from the patio or the hall. I don't want to walk across the room in the dark to turn on a light. Our kitchen also has two entries and the living room has three.

 

Thanks to HA, we now have lighting control from any entry B)

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  • 5 weeks later...

Thanks for all the reply posts regarding best practices.

 

I found a posting on another forum where the poster recommended minimizing the use of switch loops. I searched on this term but didn't really follow the jist of what switch loops are from the explanations I've seen so far. Anyone know what a switch loop is and why they're not recommended to be used when installing Insteon switches?

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A switch loop is where only two wires are run between the fixture and the switch, line and load (switch return). That's all that's actually needed, but it leaves the switch box without a neutral wire. Due to current code requirements all boxes must have a neutral wire, so it's usually not a concern, but any electrician should be reminded that you need a neutral in every box.

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A solid/reliable Earth Ground is very critical.  While current code requires a Earth Ground many older homes do not have that sometimes contributes to HA gremlins.  Basically that Earth Ground is not just for safety.   In most modern electronics there are switch mode power supplies that need that earth ground to have a path to send the noise to ground.  That noise dissipation is important when you have HA using old PLC (Power Line Carrier) tech.  One of the main failures of Insteon GEN 1 was that it relied solely on PLC (other than phase coupling etc) and a very weak 5 Vpp signal making it very vulnerable to noise (just like X10).  UPB has a much stronger 40 Vpp signal and Zwave and Insteon GEN2 (I2 Devices) are devices that are less vulnerable to noise.

 

So while you are installing new wiring it is important to use "best practices" when you terminate your grounds for safety and also performance/quality of HA etc. 

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Biggest thing I can emphasize is get the biggest, deepest boxes you can find. Insteon switches take up a ton of room, and add to that the fact they have pigtails instead of screw terminals makes the box fill problem even worse. Extra deep boxes will help alleviate the problem somewhat, especially when you have multiple Insteon switches in the same box

 

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Biggest thing I can emphasize is get the biggest, deepest boxes you can find. Insteon switches take up a ton of room, and add to that the fact they have pigtails instead of screw terminals makes the box fill problem even worse. Extra deep boxes will help alleviate the problem somewhat, especially when you have multiple Insteon switches in the same box

 

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Also, mudrings. My builder used mudrings with rounded corners. It's impossible to put two Insteon devices in a dual switch box without getting the dremel out... :(
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Also, mudrings. My builder used mudrings with rounded corners. It's impossible to put two Insteon devices in a dual switch box without getting the dremel out... :(

 

I can't honestly say mud rings are very common in my area for a new build. So I have to ask what exactly is the idea behind using them when every new house I have ever walked into while under construction doesn't use them?

 

I guess a visual would help me understand the practical uses of the mud ring and why so many others don't use them?

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All good thoughts as always.

Speaking as a DIYer that retrofitted with new LV wiring in an existing home I'd say !conduit conduit conduit! for low voltage at the same time if possible.

Different locations for these most likely.

Is this a new build?

 

 

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I can't honestly say mud rings are very common in my area for a new build. So I have to ask what exactly is the idea behind using them when every new house I have ever walked into while under construction doesn't use them?

 

I guess a visual would help me understand the practical uses of the mud ring and why so many others don't use them?

The builder of my house used a slightly larger box that does not have lugs for switches to screw to. This is an economy for the builder - all boxes are the same.

 

Then the mudring has the screw holes to actually mount the switch to.

 

It's not something I thought I'd have to specify...

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The builder of my house used a slightly larger box that does not have lugs for switches to screw to. This is an economy for the builder - all boxes are the same.

 

Then the mudring has the screw holes to actually mount the switch to.

 

It's not something I thought I'd have to specify...

 

Really?

 

I suppose if a person looked at it another way is that a larger box would offer more space and didn't have to worry about wire box fill capacity. Regardless of the mud ring does the box actually have a deeper interior vs a standard one? That would be a plus in my books as you're probably aware standard JB are not very deep to start with and personally would like to have a slightly wider box too vs what ever is the common standard.

 

Not to completely derail this thread but I have considered using the Carlon type box's part because they are highly recommended vs the super cheap aszz blue ones (who ever makes them) as they would offer slightly better RF output from those hardwired devices.

 

In Canada all new homes must use and install metal JB's in the home . . .

 

As far as I am aware in a retro fit anything can be used from plastic, fiberglass, to what ever intermediate material the vendor says its made of like *Resin*?!?!

 

Anyways thanks for the insight as mud rings isn't very common in this neck of the woods.

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I have noted the great notations that have been made, but back to the 3 and 4 way switches. I do believe they are a must, so what is the best wiring diagram that can be used for all that is the easiest to retro insteon switches?

 

 

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I have noted the great notations that have been made, but back to the 3 and 4 way switches. I do believe they are a must, so what is the best wiring diagram that can be used for all that is the easiest to retro insteon switches?

 

There is no "best" wiring diagram because there is only one way to wire 3- and 4-way switches. The only difficulty is when the line and neutral enter at the fixture and a 2-wire cable is run from the fixture to the first switch. In that case, there is no neutral at any of the switches. the solution is to run a 3-wire cable between the fixture and the first switch.

 

In the event line and neutral enter at a switch box, there is no difficulty installing Insteon devices.

 

BTW, a 3-way configuration is when there are two switches in different locations that control the same load. A 4-way configuration is when there are more that two switches. Any number of switches more that two is still called a 4-way configuration. each switch still has only two positions, up/top or down/bottom. A 3-way switch is so called because it has three connections/screws/terminals. One connection is either the line or the load, the other two are travelers. A 4-way switch has 4 connection, two travelers in and two out.

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It is apparent that there is not a "best" way to wire seeing I have seen three different ways so far in my house. I am just looking for ideas for wiring them easier to prepare for the Insteon devices.

 

You mentioned using 3-wire, that is a start. I guess if I explain how Insteon switches are wired and what is needed. Maybe that will help.

 

 

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The are many ways to route the cables, but the is one and only one way to connect/wire 3- and 4-way switches. Insteon uses a virtual 3-way configuration. In a virtual configuration, each device requires line and neutral, but only one device is actually wired to the load.

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As noted above, grounding is very important in all electrical systems, particularly instrumentation and control.  Remember the neutral wire is not the ground.

 

The lack of solid ground connections cannot not only be dangerous is can create havoc in control systems.   As Taken noted Canadian code requires metal boxes which can ground the installed devices through the screw connection, however I strongly recommend direct connection to the box or ground pig tail.  US code allows for non-metallic boxes so the installed devices require direct connection to the ground pig tail.

 

The other recommendations are good, but you need to balance cost with benefit it can start to get expensive.  I agree with 12 gauge wiring and a lot of separate circuits.  If possible try to keep your control systems and computers on separate circuits from motor loads.  You may need to install a large breaker panel or use pony panels.

 

Conduit is great for LV wiring if you are doing a new or gut renovation, but again can be expensive.

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Other than standard wiring throughout, the only requirement is a neutral wire in every switch box. As long as that requirement is met, any standard, 3- or 4- way switch can be replaced with an Insteon switch and back, if desired.

 

Two more suggestions, based on decades of experience, include a 2- or 3-gang outlet box on each side of the bed and more outlets in the kitchen than you will ever need. No extra wiring is required, only the cost of the larger wall box and outlets, a few dollars each. Reasoning: consider a clock and lamp, that uses up a standard duplex receptacle already and that counter-top appliance that you never thought you would need.

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