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How Does X10 Work? Print E-mail

A simple X10 system consists of 3 parts:  A transmitter, your home's existing electrical wiring, and a receiver to which the lights/devices you want to control are connected.


A transmitter is a device that is plugged into a normal wall socket.  This device receives commands from the outside world, translates them into X10 protocol, and then transmits that signal onto your homes electrical wires.  There are many different types of transmitters:

  1. A timer transmitter (which looks like a digital alarm clock) can be programmed to send commands at specific times of day.
  2. Radio transceivers can receive signals from hand held devices (such as remote controls), and then transmit those commands to the power lines.  To reduce confusion, think of these things as 'Interface' devices.  They RECEIVE radio commands, convert them into X10 protocol and then TRANSMIT them onto the power lines.
  3. Advanced users can use transmitters that attach to a computer via RS-232 (serial) or USB allowing computer control.


To carry the commands, your existing electrical wiring is used.  The transmitter broadcasts your commands onto your wiring where the receivers actively listen for them.  Since all your homes electrical circuits go back to one place (your load center or 'breaker box'), your entire house can be controlled from 1 location (more on that later).


Receivers listen for the X10 signals and react when they sense them.  Typically these receivers have an outlet on them where you plug in the device, which in our case are holiday lights, that you want to control.  When the receiver 'hears' the command to turn itself on, the outlet is powered.  When an off command is heard, the outlet shuts off.  (Note: for those of you who already know something about X10, I realize there are more commands than just on and off, including 'dim' and all the extended commands.  If you are an advanced X10 user, then you already have enough knowledge to skip this article and look at some of the more advanced topics.)

Addressing the modules:

Each receiver can be set to a unique 'address'.  In X10 terms, these are called the 'House' code and the 'Unit' code.  There are 16 house codes ('A' through 'P') and 16 unit codes ('1' through '16') for a total of 256 unique addresses.  Most modules have 2 small rotary switches that you adjust with a small screwdriver; 1 for the house code, and 1 for the unit code.  If your module doesn't have rotary switches, consult the module's owners manual to set the address.

If desired, you can set multiple receivers to the SAME house and unit code and they will both react at the same time.  IE, Sending a single ON command to A2 will turn on ALL of the receivers that are set to A2.  Multiple modules with the same address do NOT need to be in the same location, or on the same electrical circuit. 

You can also duplicate a unit address across different types of modules.  For example, you can set a light module and a remote chime module to C12.  Whenever a C12 ON command is sent, the light module will come on, and the chime module will ding.

You are free to use multiple house and unit codes in one installation.  Because of this, a module's address is typically given as BOTH the house and unit code.  For example: A2, C12, P16, etc...

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