Using DIN Rail Mount Terminal Blocks for Low Voltage and Line Voltage Wiring Projects

A colleague of mine with experience in automation put me on to the Phoenix contacts screw terminal blocks. These are modular, and clip onto DIN rails, in any configuration or sequence you would like. They come in differnent colors, come with different dividers and end caps, and let you clean up junction boxes and panels with a very professional, organized look.

Lighting Relay Panel - Upgraded to Insteon Devices - All Interconnection Wiring Done with Phoenix Contacts Terminal Blocks. Note the plastic cable channels for routing wiring.
Check out my page on updating a 1980's relay panel with Insteon devices to learn more about this project.
Completed Panel, with Covers installed on the Plastic cable channels. All wiring now hidden, Connections very neat using the terminal blocks.
DIN Rail Mount Hesila Fuseholder - Light illuminutes when fuse is blown. Very useful when using sub-guage wiring below the guage required for standard house breakers. 
DIN Rail Mount Hesila Fuseholder - Opened to replace fuse. Uses 5 x 20mm standard tubular fuses. Note the junpers on the standard terminal blocks - used for cross connecting the circuits on the standard terminal blocks.
If you have access to electrical / automation wholesalers - you should be able to purchase these fuseholders / terminal blocks there if you require them. Another alternative are your local electronics suppliers / electronics parts suppliers - they will normally carry some brand of modular DIN rail mounting terminal blocks.

Using the Brother PTouch Labeller - Label the date on your new Smoke Detector Batteries

This will be a pretty short post - over the past few years I've gotten into the habit of putting the date on any batteries that I replace in battery operated devices. This helps with troubleshooting down the line, and can also help you verify when you actually need to change a battery.

One particularly important battery operated device are your smoke detectors, obviously. My house has nine smoke detectors installed, changing the batteries takes about 15 or 20 minutes. Labelling the batteries adds about 5 minutes to that task, so I just do it with my PTouch labeller, as the following images demonstrate:

Add the labels to your batteries at the start of the job - this makes things go quicker when you're carrying your ladder around the house. Check yoiur smoke detectors before hand for the installation orientation of the battery, so your installing your labels on the side of the battery that faces out when the battery door is opened.

Opening the cover quickly shows when the battery was installed. 

When Upgrading the ISY-99i to the ISY-994i, Should I Purchase the "Pro" Version?

Besides the number of additional links / programs that the Pro version of the ISY-994i supports, there is one particular feature that helps you save time when programming and setting up an Insteon system. That is the "delayed write" feature, that allows you to save and queue up Insteon device configuration changes between writes to the devices.

To illustrate - every time you make a system configuration change - adding a device to a scene, removing it, adding a device, and so on - the link tables on those devices need to be updated over the Insteon network. The PLM attached to your ISY-994i sends commands, over your powerline / wireless Insteon mesh net - communicate with the device in question, and sends the information required for that device to update its links tables.

Even a relatively minor change normally takes 10 or 15 seconds for this updating to take place. During that time, you can't interact with the administration console of your ISY-994i. So, you're waiting for it to finish. If you are modifying a scene with many Insteon devices - say - your 'All Indoor Lights" scene - this process can take a couple of minutes, up to 5 minutes if you have a large number of devices.

With the delayed write feature on the ISY-994i enabled - you can make all your changes to your scenes, rearrange your assignments.  Once you've finished making your configuration changes - you then toggle the delayed write button on the ISY-994i - and then it will make all the writes, to all the affected devices - all at once. This ends up being a significant time saver once you end up with a significant number of devices. If you're starting out, and only have a dozen switches and keypads, it may not be worth the extra cost. If you have 50 to 100 devices, there is no question, this will save you a lot of time.

Labelling Insteon Keypad Buttons Using a Brother PTouch Labeller and Clear TZ Tape

Now that I've organized my Insteon Keypads at the front and side doors, and have some sensors installed that are providing useful information, the next step in my project has been to label the keypads, so that my other family members have a better chance of understanding what I've done and operating the system.

Smarthome will sell you packages of pre-labelled buttons with a variety of phrases, and also will sell you custom etched buttons, where you provide the phrases you would like labelled. I haven't tried either of these options yet. I thought that I would start with some simple, self adhesive labels until I'm comfortable with the entire system architecture and organization, then once I'm content with all the button labels, I may consider an upgrade to custom etched buttons.

Smarthome also sells blank button kits - which I've used for my two main entrance doors. This is a simple option for self labelling. I've also tried cleaning off the printing on the standard printed buttons. A little research on the interweb lead me to acetone free nail polish remover. Handily, there was some available in the bathroom, so I tried it out on a test button. A drop on a facial tissue, then a 10 or 15 second scrub with the button upside down on the tissue, and the lettering is very neatly removed, with absolutely no damage to the plastic of the button. Magic!

Use Acetone Free Nail Polish Remover to remove the labelling from stock standard Insteon Keypad Buttons
 The next step in the process was to experiment with TZ Tape sizes and printing options. I settled on 3/8" / 9mm tape, and tested out some labels on white standard label tape. I found that Medium size text, bold, gives very good readability and a good size for button labels.

TZ Tape Trials - Top Left Label - Large Text Bolt, Middle and Bottom Label - Medium Text Bold

Here's the Medium Text Bold Label, 2 lines, 3/8" / 9mm tape below a standard Insteon Keypad Button

I found using a knife blade point to hold a corner of the label, made centering and levelling the label easier when applying to the button. 

Here's the label installed. Note the small defects - everything has to be kept clean during the labelling process to avoid defects.

Brother PTouch TZ Clear Tape - 3/8" / 9mm

Labelled Button installed on standard 6 button Keypad frame - When all are labelled, this simply screws back onto the Keypad. 
The following image shows the completed Keypad Keys. The two exterior door keypads are on the left, labelled identically. The right keypad is for the Master Bedroom, with a simpler set of options.

Three Keypad Button Frames with PTouch TZ Tape Labelled Buttons.
Use a small magnet attached to your screwdriver tip to help with holding the small phillips screws that attach the button frames to the Insteon Keypad
This is how the labels look when illuminated - quite good, very legible.

Well, that's all there is to that. I'll keep this up to date with experience labelling other Keypads. So far, so good. Post a comment if you have any questions.

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.