Interconnecting your Household Smoke Detectors with your Alarm System and Home Automation System

In the last two houses I've purchased, there has been two separate smoke detection systems - the bare minimum 120V wired smoke detectors - one per floor of the house, and a single low voltage smoke detector wired to the home alarm system. The 120V wired smoke detectors, when wired with 3 conductor (14/3) house wiring - use the red wire as an "interconnect" communication wire. When one detector detects smoke, all the interconnected alarms will sound.

These limitations:

  1. It doesn't make sense to have a wired smoke detector situated 15 feet away from an alarm system smoke detector - wall acne - when only one detector is required for that space;
  2. The smoke detectors on the 120V circuit, when detecting smoke - are not connected to your home alarm system, and therefore cannot send the signal to your alarm monitoring problem that there is a fire;
  3. For additional precaution, there should be a smoke detector in every sleeping room (and especially if there is decentralized heating in those sleeping rooms, like baseboard electric heat). 
Made me consider an upgrade:
  1. Eliminate the duplication between the alarm connected smoke detector, and the 120V wired interconnected system. Use only the 120V wired interconnected system for smoke detection, and connect the interconnect signal to the home alarm panel;
  2. Add interconnected 120V smoke detectors in every sleeping room, in addition to the standard smoke detectors in the hallways on every floor of the house. 
Since you should replace your smoke detectors regularly (usually every 10 years), the last two renovations that I carried out required the replacement of all the smoke detectors in the house. I decided to go with Kidde smoke detectors, they are commonly available at your local home improvement centers, and, Kidde sells as an option a relay module that permits the interconnection of the Kidde wired interconnected detectors with your home alarm system (2 wire contact interface). 

The Kidde smoke detector interface is the SM120X. 
The Kidde SM120X Alarm Interface Module
Installation of the SM120X is quite simple. Two wires connect to 120V line circuit (hot and neutral), one wire connects to the smoke detector "interconnect" wire - usually the red wire in a 14/3 cable interconnecting all your wired smoke detectors, and 2 wires connect to your home alarm system as a dry contact interface. Here are some photos of an installation in a 4" junction box:

Kidde SM120X Alarm Inteconnect Relay Installed in 4" Junction Box. Note 14/3 (wire to alarm daisy chain), 14/2 (line feed wire), and 4 conductor alarm wire entering the box). 

Kidde SM120X Alarm Interconnect Relay Installation - Cover Installed and Labelled using a PTouch Labeller
 In the most previous renovation, I also wanted smoke detector indication to be relayed to my ISY-99i / 994i. To do so, I used small automation relays with multipole contacts, driven by the Kiddes SM120X Alarm Interconnect Relay Module. In this installation, all connections are made on the phoenix contacts terminal blocks (eliminates the marettes used for wire connections). The automation relays drive the EZIO61 - to transfer the smoke detector status to Insteon signals for my ISY-99i, 994i, and also to my standard DCS alarm system panel. In this way, the signals are independent between the alarm dry contacts and the EZIO dry contacts, eliminating any issues with the alarm panel independence.
Kidde SM120X Alarm Inteconnect Relay - driving coil on double pole relay - one set of relay outputs go to alarm panel, one set of relay outputs go to Smartenit EZIO6I Insteon Dry Contact Interface

Kidde also sells a carbon monoxide detector interface - the CO120X. I have purchased one of these for installation in my current panel, I just haven't had the time to install it yet. I'll provide a short update to this page when I do. 

Kidde CO120X Carbon Monoxide Detector Relay Module (Color coded blue to differentiate from SM120X)

As always - if you have any questions just post them in the comments and I'll try to respond fairly quickly. 

Installing the Leviton Noise Block 6287 in a Flourescent Light Fixture

I've been upgrading the ballasts in my home's flourescent fixtures, for greater efficiency and better environmental performance. I've been discarding the 20 year old magnetic ballasts with modern, T8 electronic ballasts. This allows me to run T8 bulbs, which are a bit more efficient than the older T12 bulbs.

When upgrading the ballast, I install a Leviton 6287 Noise Block to help reduce electronic interference with my Insteon signals. I purchased 10 of these noise blocks a few years ago from Smarthome, and am only now getting around to installing them. I don't have any particular noise issues in my home, and don't experience any routine signal failures, but I've decided as I go to install a few of these to try to maintain the performance of my Insteon network.

The Leviton 6287 Noise Block is self adhesive, and fits easily within a standard flourescent fixture. It has four connections, ground, neutral, line and load.

The electronic T8 ballast connected to the original flourescent tube sockets.

The noise block wires up between the line and load wires coming into the fixture, very simple.


Using the Insteon Hidden Door Sensor to Detect Deadbolt Lock Position - Doors Locked / Unlocked

Our house has four exterior doors, all with standard deadbolt locks. I haven't seen the need yet for automatic keypad locks, so we still have the standard deadbolts. Two doors are in the garage, and two in the house. When locking up when leaving the house, or when retiring for the night, it takes a minute or two to check all the doors to ensure they are locked. So, I've been thinking about how to automate the process for some time now.

Two weeks ago I tried my first Insteon Hidden Door Open / Close Sensor to control the lights in our utility room when the door at the bottom of the garage stairs is opened. I was quite impressed with how small, simple and effective this sensor is. The sensor is 3/4" in diameter (body), and the mounting flange on the head is 1" in diameter. I checked, and the mounting flange would fit in the 1" hole drilled behind my deadbolt strike plates.

Deadbolt recess behind the strike plate - already has a 1" hole bored for the deadbolt. 
The hidden door sensor is 3 1/8" deep, behind the flange. I did some carefull measurements and calculations to determine how deep the 3/4" hole would need to be for proper engagement with the end of the deadbolt. I then drilled the 3/4" holes behind the strike plates to EXACTLY THIS DEPTH, so that once installed, the Hidden door sensor will sit at the correct depth, without having to rely on the engagement of the flange on the head.

I also decided to drill the 3/4" holes BEFORE ORDERING the hidden door sensors - this way, in case I hit an obstruction - nail, screw, electrical wire, etc. I would know that I have the installation space available. 3 of my 4 doors had enough space for installation of the Hidden Door Module.
I simply drilled a 3/4" hole centered behind the deadbolt hole. 
 I then ordered and received my Hidden Door Sensors. I did my standard routine of labelling them, and linking them to my ISY-994i, and testing their functionality.

Labelled and ready for installation

Hidden Door Sensor Mounting Flange, with Screw Tab

Remove the screw tab with a set of side cutters

The hidden door sensor inserted in the door, sitting at the correct depth.

With the door strike installed, the sensor virtually disappears. 
Using the ISY-994i "options" tab for the device, I made some small changes to try to optimize the battery life of these units. I deselected the "LED" box (no need for LED indication of operation once buried in the door frame), and I also extended the heartbeat interval from 1 hour to 21 hours - this should greatly reduce the number of wireless communications daily.

I'll report on the actual battery life in the next year, when I have to change the first set of batteries.

I then created a simple scene and ISY-994i program, which illuminates one of my Keypad LEDs if one of the three deadbolts are "open". This gives me instant indication when locking up the house that one of the back or side doors are unlocked.
The yellow LED indicated an open deadbolt on the side or back of the house. 
UPDATE - AFTER ONE MONTH OF USE - This is turning out to be one of my favourite features of my Insteon system. Before going to bed, a quick glance at the keypad in my Master Bedroom indicates whether one of the exterior doors is unlocked. Very useful, and comforting.

Converting Insteon 6 Button Keypads to 8 Button Keypads, and using the LED Color Change Kits

As part of my current Insteon project, I've been working on a few simple programs and sensor upgrades to automate some of my routine process. Life is busy with two kids....

There are two doors that we routinely use to exit, alarm and lock up the house, the front door and the garage door. At these two locations, I wanted to install and upgrade two keypads to 8 button configuration, then use the LED buttons to relay some simple information and status from the ISY-994i controller.

Converting the Insteon Keypad is relatively easy, and a keypad already installed does not need to be powered down to perform the conversion.

Remove the four small silver screws to remove the plastic switch button frame. Once removed, it exposes the microswitches and LEDs in the Keypad Module.
 The Insteon 8 button conversion kit:
The 8 Button Kit includes a new button frame, complete with standard labelled scene buttons. I also ordered a set of blank white buttons (thinking ahead to using a labeller to do some simple custom labels)

With button change kits, lens color change kits, switchlinc LED light pipe conversions, I've started to collect a good amount of small Insteon bits. A Plano fishing tackle organizer is perfect to keep everything organized and at hand. 
 The Insteon Color Change Kit:
The replacement lenses have grooves on one face that allow them to sit flush in the button frame. The left yellow lens is installed correctly and sits flush. The right red button is upside down, and protrudes about 1/2 mm from the button frame. The lenses need to be installe properly in order for the button covers to fit correctly. 

I decided to try various colors for various functions. 

Once the button caps are installed, they hide the color lenses underneath. 

Both 8 button frames prepared for installation at the two keypads. 

One keypad was already installed, so the upgrade was performed with it on the wall. 
In order to make your life a bit easier working with the very small phillips head screws that hold the button plate down to the Insteon switch, snap a magnet onto your screwdriver shaft. This small button magnet is a rare earth magnet that I purchased in a package from a tool retailer - Lee Valley Tools. It's super strong, and really useful here.

Rare earth magnet helps hold small screws on tip of screwdriver.

Upgrade installed. Ready for labels.
Once the frame is installed, it is simple to convert the switch from 6 button mode to 8 button mode. If you're using an ISY-994i, simply delete the keypad first from your configuration. If you're not using a central controller, you'll have to manually unlink it from any scenes. Then, power off the device using the air gap for 10 seconds. Then, holding down the A and H scene buttons (top left, bottom right), close the air gap and restart the keypad. Release the buttons once it beeps and the LEDs come on. They keypad is now in 8 button mode, and ready to be re-added to your Insteon network - by adding the unit using your ISY or by manually linking to other devices.
Upgrade installed, with all buttons toggled on. When on, you can see the color come through the white button.
Once my two keypads were installed, I experimented a bit with the LED backlight levels. I settled on running these two keypads with an off backlight level of 0, to reduce confusion with activated controls. My plan for the two red buttons are to display general alarms on one, and specifically water leak sensing on the other. The yellow buttons will be used to indicate ISY faults or notices, such as low battery levels in wireless devices. The other yellow button will indicate when a deadbolt lock is unlocked (handy information - I can run to the back of the house and check the locks in that case). The blue light will indicate rain in the forecast using the climate module. The green button will be my "Vacation" program control. The top right white button will be my "all lights off" control - handy for locking up the house and leaving. And the left top button will be the connected load control.
Keypad with LED backlight level 1
Keypad with LED backlight level 0. The yellow and blue buttons arre "ON"

Installing the Insteon Micro On/Off Relay Module for Controlling Light Fixture

Recently I started automating the lights in the closets in our house, starting with those the most used on the main level. I quickly discovered that the light switches for most of the closets in the house have only a switch wire running to the switch box (14/2) and no line feed wire or neutral. You can get a special Insteon dimmer for 2 wire applications (no neutral), but it's more expensive that the standard controls, and not suitable for flourescent fixtures (which I have). 

So, I ordered up 6 of the Insteon Micro On/Off Relays, to get around this issue. The micro relays have two sense wires, that allow you to control the module using a standard electrical switch, and can be configured for several modes to accommodate momentary switches, latching switches, or double pole momentary switches. 

Standard north american 110V light switches are single pole latching, and standard north american 3-Way light switches are double pole latching. Latching just means that the switch connection stays connected once you take your hand off the switch. So from the documentation, I figured that the latching wiring diagram shown below would be suitable for my application. 

Insteon Micro On/Off Relay Module, with the Latching Wiring Diagram
Whenever I set up an Insteon module for installation, I normally label the application with a Brother P-Touch labeller, then take a photo with my phone. When it comes time to add the device to my network using the ISY-994i, I can quickly bring up the Insteon address and the application to correctly add the device manually with the ISY commands.
When using standard north american light switches as the control switch (latching), the purple sense wire is not used, so I roll it up and tie wrap it into a loop to keep it out of the way. Only the yellow sense wire is used. 

Connections are simple. For my application, I required pigtails for line, neutral, and load. I used 14 guage stranded wire for the line and neutral wires for additional flexibility in placing the module back into the electrical box.
The Micro On/Off module is a nice small size, and fits quite well in an octagonal box. It's much more convenient than the older On/Off modules which were just about the same size as the Insteon switchlinc modules.
The Micro On/Off Relay wired up and ready to stuff back into the electrical box. I used a bit of yellow tape to mark the cable coming back from the light switch box to indicate which wire to connect to the sense wire. The sense wire seems a bit fragile - I connected this last and was careful not to put too much stress on the wire. 

Here's the module rearranged in the electrical box. The flourescent light frame will cover the opening once installed. 
I typically label these sensors with a Brother P-Touch labeller prior to installation, and label the battery with the installation date. A quick photo with my phone and I have a record of the configuration, including the Insteon address on the sticker on the circuit board. This way, when it comes time to link up the sensor with my ISY-994i, I simply bring up the photo in my phone screen to recall the Insteon address for adding the device manually.
Insteon Door Open / Close Sensor ready for installation on the closet bifold doors. 
Once the module is installed, it worked perfectly without any additional configuration. It ships prepared for operation with latching switches on the yellow sense wire. What is nice is that regardless of which state the Micro On/Off Module is left at, one tap of the connected switch (up or down), will change the state again on the Micro On/Off module. So - you don't have to flick the manual light switch off and then on again to control the light. The next switch of the light controls the module, regardless of which state the module is in, or which state the switch is in.

Overall I'm impressed with this device. Very nice. Good small size. Simple installation (depending on how much time it takes to remove your light fixture to get behind it to the electrical box), and good functionality with the sense wire input for hooking up to a standard light switch for control.

UPDATE - ONE MONTH FOLLOWING INSTALLATION - This feature - linking the Insteon Open / Close module to the closet lighting control - Micro On/Off or Switchlinc On/Off - is another one of my favourite Insteon features. Open the closet door - light comes on. Close the door - light goes out. Even during the day with a good amount of background light this feature is quite appreciated.


Installing the Insteon Hidden Door Sensor - Automatically Controlling Utility Room Lights when the Door is Opened

Quite often I have an armload of stuff when I'm going downstairs to the utility room in my basement - tools, material, whatever. I recently changed the standard doorknob to a lever passage set - makes it quite a bit easier to get the door open, now I've installed the Insteon Wireless Hidden Door Sensor to automatically switch the lights on whenever the door is opened.

Insteon Wireless Hidden Door Sensor
This is a slick little device - 3/4" in diameter, battery powered with a standard AAA battery, and a small plunger switch to detect when the door is open or closed.

You need a 3/4 hole drilled in the hinge side of the jamb - about 3" deep. A spade bit works well for this. 

Once you have the Sensor linked in to your automation network, you are ready to install it in the hole with the screw to hold it in place.
Switchlinc On/Off Relay to control the utility room lights
When I originally linked and programmed the Hidden Door Sensor, I decided against creating a scene because I only wanted the lights to switch on when the door was opened, and remain on even with the door closed. So I created a short program in my ISY-994i controller - whenever the door is opened, it switches on the light. When the door is closed, there is no action taken. The delay with having the program perform this control was about 1 to 2 seconds - quite noticeable and a bit annoying. I received a good suggestion from Eric in the comments below, and changed the hidden door sensor mode to "Two Nodes" in the ISY options menu for the hidden door sensor as follows:

That gives you one node in the ISY for the door opening, and a separate node in the ISY for the door closing. I linked the door open node as a controller for the Switchlinc relay. It works perfectly - only turning the light on when the door is opened, with an almost instantaneous response, much quicker than the ISY program control. Many thanks to Eric for the suggestion.


Building a New House or Doing a Renovation, with Home Automation in Mind?

Here is what I would set out as a specification for your electrician:

1. Put in the deepest wall switch boxes that are readily available for your wall thickness. Some of the modern Insteon devices are getting quite large now that they contain wireless mesh net antennae ("Dual-band") circuitry, and the Insteon Switchlinc On/Off Relay switch - which you would use for all wall switches that don't require dimming circuitry, are now rated to switch 17 Amps / 1 HP / 1800W. The downside to this high current capacity is that it's supplied with 12 gauge leads - large, require larger maretes to make connections, and less flexible. So it becomes a chore to install these and try to stuff the wires and connections behind it. So - deep switch boxes will make this easier.

2. Always feed the switch box first - and everywhere there is a wall switch control. In my current house - this rule is 75% respected - except for most of the closets, where the circuit is fed from the ceiling light octagonal box, and a two wire 14 gauge cable (14/2) is sent down to the switch box. So - if you want to install an automated switch - you're in trouble because there is no neutral wire in the switch box. There are ways around this - Insteon sells a dimmer switch that doesn't require a neutral wire, but not a relay switch which is required for flourescent fixtures and some LED fixtures.

3. Make sure there are a good number of blank or spare breaker spaces. This makes it easy to add a double breaker to install a phase coupling powerline communications module (for better powerline signalling - e.g. Insteon), and a spare outlet for the installation of your powerline modem (PLM) right next to the panel for the best possible comminications with your Insteon devices located across your house.

4. Have your garage door opener wires - from the door sensors and wall mount controls to the opener location - run in the wall behind the drywall. This will ensure a nice neat setup without any surface mount wires. Have your electrician install an outlet in the ceiling of your garage, close to the opener. If you want to have the lockout limit switch to avoid garage door activation when the door is bolted, you can run those wires behind the drywall also.

5. Wiring for 120V wired smoke detectors - if the code in your area only calls for one smoke detector on each floor of the residence, consider upgrading the wiring to include one smoke detector per floor, plus one smoke detector in each sleeping room. The wired smoke detectors can then be interfaced to your home alarm system and your home automation system using interconnection relays like the Kidde SM120X.

6. Cabling - You can run structured cableways throughout your house for future expansion requirements, which is certainly a good idea, but for some reason the structured cable tubing is really overpriced. For short runs within walls - I've used ordinary shop vac or sump pump tubing - which is about 10 times less expensive, but it is not plenum rated for fire safty - it should not be run within ventilation ducts or in open ventilation spaces above modular ceilings. Here's a short list of cables you may wish to consider running in your walls before closing up drywall:

  • Smoke detectors - 110V with signal wire - every level of the house plus one in every sleeping room;
  • Network Cat 6 cable;
  • Video RG6 cable for classic cable / digital cable / PVRs;
  • Video surveillance. Sure, you can get wireless IP cameras, but you still have to get power to them. Power over ethernet is one option - run Cat 6 cable to camera locations, or plan for regular analog output cameras (which are much cheaper) and run a combination video signal / power cable. Front door, back door, garage, a few eaves of your house to watch your driveway, yard, etc. 
  • Alarm system - see below - panels, keypads, motion detectors, sirens;
  • Automation of roller blinds and shades - run cables to window corners for future upgrades;
  • Telephone (Cat 4, 5 or 6) - plan where your cordless phone base station will be - run a Cat 5 cable to that location, and also plan for a UPS protected outlet at that location so when the power goes out, your cordless phones still work;

7. Alignment of boxes - you can check out my post on Wall Acne - but I would certainly try to plan for and enforce coordination between the various contractors that are installing anything on the walls, such as:
  • Alarm contractor - panels, keypads, motion detectors, sirens, etc;
  • Electrician - lighting, outlets and switches;
  • Network - Cat 5/6 internet cabling, telephone cabling, coax cable, etc. 
  • HVAC - thermostats and controls for ventilation - humidity control, etc. Note that the thermostat has to be placed in a central location in the home, that you`ll need thermostat cabling to the furnace / mechanical room, and also keep in mind that modern intelligent recovery thermostats for heat pump systems require a separate cable running from the thermostat to an appropriate exterior location under a roof eave for outdoor temperature measurement.
  • Other items such as smoke detectors and CO (carbon monoxide) detectors. 
You'll end up with fewer wallplates and wall acne issues if you can use separator plates to double up electrical and low voltage in the same wall box. I've done this to combine telephone / internet cabling with electrical outlets, and wall switches with low voltage ventilation controls. You just need a wall box with a metal separation plate - your electrician will be able to help out with this. The trick, however, is that you'll need to direct your electrician to install the double boxes with separation plates before your network cable and HVAC installation takes place, so it requires some planning. 

Note the metal separation plate running down the center of this box, separating low voltage on the right, from line voltage (110V AC) on the left.
In a retrofit situation, you can add a surface mount media frame next to a standard simple outlet. It takes some adjustment to get the hole centers aligned to fit a double wallplate correctly, but it ends up being neater than having two boxes in close proximity on the wall.
Another example - telephone and internet next to outlet using surface mount media frame

Combination Electrical Box / Low Voltage Media Frame - These are tough to install in a renovation - easier to install in new construction

Venmar air exchanger control on the right, Insteon Light Switch on the Left.


The Dewalt DC-515 18V Cordless Shop Vac

This has become one of my favourite tools. It is super handy for cleanup after odd jobs around the house. Installing electrical switches, small drywall patch repairs, anything that leaves a small pile of dust when you're done.

Standard 1 1/2" shop vac accessories fit the Dewalt Cordless Vac. This is the micro cleanup kit with brush, perfect for cleaning out electrical boxes.

Two standard extensions with the narrow floor wand - perfect for cleaning up the floor. 

Here's the side view of the vac, with the hose stored the head works for floor dust pickup.
The vacuum has a washable filter, that's suitable for drywall dust, and an easy opening dust bin. Very handy.

Installing the Insteon Wireless Open/Close Sensor on Bifold Doors

The pantry in our new house has bifold doors. When I renovated the pantry and added cabinet modules and drawers, I also added LED strip lighting all around the perimeter of the door opening. The LED lighting is a dramatic upgrade - it's really bright, white, and it illuminates all the shelves in the pantry.

I wanted to add automatic control of the LED strip lighting. I decided to use the Insteon Wireless Open/Close Sensor as my Insteon scene controller, and a standard 2477S Switchlinc On/Off Switch to control the light circuit. When I purchased the sensors, I initially planned to put two in - one for each of the matching bifold doors, left and right. When I went to install them, I found that it would be much easier just to add the sensor with battery on one door, and the magnet on the other door. As soon as one door or the other is opened, it opens the reed switch in the sensor, and the controller issues it's on command. This is what the installation looks like:

Sensor screws to the left bifold door, near the edge close to the top of the door.  Note the label on the battery with the installation date - I've gotten into that habit with my smoke detector batteries - makes it very easy when troubleshooting to identify old batteries that may need replacing. I use a Brother P-Touch for doing all my labels. 

Measure from the top of the door frame to the center of the sensor, in order to place the magnet at the same height. 

Installation of the magnet. The kit comes with good quality 3M double sided tape, but I prefer screwing the sensor and magnet down. The kit comes with the screws.
It took about 5 minutes to link the Insteon Wireless Open/Close Module to my Switchlinc On/Off Wall Switch, using my ISY-994i interface. The Open/Close Module is the controller, the Switchlinc switch is the responder. Now the LED light strips illuminate as soon as the doors are cracked open, and shut off as soon as the doors are completely shut. I also wrote a simple program in my ISY-99i to shut the LED lights off if 10 minutes passes with the doors left open. It's a very convenient upgrade.

Here's some photos of the strip lighting installation. I ripped some angled strips of plywood to direct the LEDs output towards the center of the vertical shelves on the sides, and almost directly down for the strips installed across the top. I then fastened the strip lights to the plywood using the supplied adhesive backing tape. I used kits from Costco - quite inexpensive, but I exceeded the maximum number of strips on a single power adapter, so I had to arrange two power adapters to power the setup.

The completed pantry with the strip lighting on. 

I removed the old light fixture, replaced it with a standard outlet plug and lighting box cover for power outlets. Then, I just plugged in the supplied power adapters. Notice the cable tie bases - self adhesive, and the zip ties. They help make a neat, inconspicuous installation.

The top LED strip light mounted on a ripped piece of plywood. I used one side of the plywood strip to mount the low voltage electrical lead using self adhesive cable tie bases. The top portion of the side strip is also visible. 

Lots of clean white light when illuminated.