The ISY-99 is the best thing that ever happend to my automated lights


About two years ago I moved into a new house and discovered that when I park in my detached garage at night, I can’t see where I’m going because the light switch is in the house and I’m in the garage. So I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if when my garage door opened that my alley, garage, and porch lights turned on for a few minutes so I could see where I was walking. Two years later and now I have about 16 automated switches in my house, but unfortunately it came with lots of headaches. The problem is that I choose to use Insteon Lights from Smart Home and although they feature some very advanced grouping configurations, there was no easy way for me to configure it. I tried a few open source projects, as well as three Insteon plug-ins from my current Home Automation controller provider Main Lobby; and I even tried Smart Home’s software HouseLinc. Upon evaluating mControl and discovering it couldn’t master Insteon either, I was telling my new friend Ted Singh from Embedded Automation that I was thinking about ditching Insteon altogether — and the over $1000 I had invested — for something that actually worked. Ted recommended that before I do, that I try out a device from Universal Devices called the ISY-99i. Basically it is a small embedded Insteon controller — they have plans to support UPB and Z-Wave as well — that has a very useful management utility. At first I was reluctant because of the cost. The ISY device I was interested in was $339 and also required me to buy a Ethernet adapter for my Elk M1 Gold alarm system for about $200. So while I was trying to figure out if it was worth another $540 to make my over $1000 investment actually work — more if you include the cost of the Elk — I added up how much it would cost me to switch to Leviton’s Vizia RF and as you might have guessed, it was way too much.

Over the weekend I installed the ELK M1EXP and let me tell you, I should’ve of waited so long, the Ethernet interface is so much better than the serial I was using and well worth the $200 on it’s own. But the real magic happened last night when I received the ISY-99i. In about 4 hours, I achieved lighting bliss and created groups that I’ve fought with for 2 years and never accomplished. The device is an absolute joy to use and besides a few hiccups that UDI’s support was quick to respond to, I couldn’t hardly go to sleep last night because I was so excited about what I’d accomplished — yes, I’m that much of a geek. You have no idea how many hours of heartache I have invested in trying to get even the simplest group created and the ISY can do it in minutes and perfectly every time. Smart Home should bundle this with every Insteon PLM as it makes their hardware an unbelievable solution.

Now for the only problem. As great as the ISY device is, it isn’t very useful if I can’t integrate it with the rest of my system. It integrates pretty well with my Elk, which is my number one priority, but it also needs to integrate with my controller and since Cinemar makes their own plug-in for Insteon — you remember, the one that doesn’t work — I’m not sure I’ll get much help from them. Luckily their architecture is pretty open and my friend Dave has written a few plug-ins already, so with a little help and a little research of the UDI WSDK, I should be in business.

14 Responses to “The ISY-99 is the best thing that ever happend to my automated lights”

  1. DWAnderson says:

    Sorry about the HHTML error above!

  2. […] Drawbaugh has had a few recent posts on lighting control and his INSTEON setup.  DW writes about his X10 setup and not knowing if […]

  3. Brad says:

    Ben, do you have any experience with the Leviton z-wave equipment that you mentioned? I am trying to decide what would be best for me at my house. Based on your experience with this new controller, would you recommend Insteon for someone just starting out in home automation?


  4. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    No I’ve never used it first hand, but I have a friend who has a few switches and am very happy with them. Honestly I’m not sure which I would go with if I was starting from scratch.

    I’d have to do a lot of research.
    The only thing I can tell you is that I would recommend Insteon as long as you plan on buying an ISY.

  5. Dave says:


    Thanks for the write up I have an ELK M1 with the M1XEP with both Homeseer & Mainlobby. The Insteon hasn’t been very reliable. This had me at a crossroad, trying to decide should I take the Insteon “Whole House”.

    The ISY is my last hope for a stable system and what I have installed so far isn’t very complicated.

    Just recieved my ISY-99 Pro/IR. Still waiting for the PLM – delayed until Feb 2nd – crap!

    If it works as well as you and several others have posted Smarthome should be funding UD development on the ISY.

    Wish me luck!


  6. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    There’s no doubt in my mind that the ISY will solve all your problems. It truly is an amazing device and does things with Insteon that I long wrote off as impossible because of bad design years ago.

  7. Paul Ferrara says:

    Hi All,
    I went through a very similar scenario. I’d been using X10 automation for 20 years (yes, it’s been around that long), and decided to “Upgrade” to Insteon last year. I was doing this at the same time I was getting MainLobby set up to control it all by touchscreen. I spent a bunch of money on new switches and keypads, and then struggled for months trying to get it to work, first with the Main Lobby Insteon plugin, and then with a free app I found online. Nothing but headaches resulted.

    I started searching for a fix, and found so many glowing reviews about the ISY99 that I decided I’d give it a try (as a last ditch effort before tossing out my investment in Insteon hardware and switching to Zwave). I purchased it in Oct 08 (got a refurb unit for $100 off -great deal!) and Home Automation life has been good ever since. It really is as good as everyone says – I highly recommend it.

    BTW, there is a plugin available for MainLobby called MLISY. It is available at “”. It does everything I want and has been stable.

    Finally, Insteon’s communication reliablity and added features really are a big step forward over old X10. It’s unfortunate that it’s release was hampered by poor programming and debugging capabilities, and poor reliability of micro-switches (in the 1st generation units). Fortunately, they appear to have fixed the reliability problems, and the ISY99 resolves most of the rest.
    Happy Automating,

  8. Ben Drawbaugh says:

    Glad to hear you had the same experience, it really is amazing how much better it works than anything else out there.

    Now if only I could find a better replacement for Mainlobby and I’d never have to fight with that terrible automation rules UI again.

  9. Dennis M says:

    I too am at a point where the ISY unit is the next step to get me where I want my system to be.
    I am also researching the Arduino microcontroller board and I am curious if anyone has been able to interface these two devices.
    The Arduino is a cool gadget that allows you to build your own electronic devices, robots, etc. You can use it to read sensors (temp, vibration, etc) and control lights, motors, etc. I bet with enough time you could build your own Insteon device with the Arduino.
    I noticed that the I/O plug-in units for Insteon are pretty one-dimensional… you connect a sensor or switch to the input and then program the unit to send an Insteon command based on the sensor feedback. That’s pretty cool, but not if you want to include more advanced control logic like IF..Then statements. The Arduino seems perfect for the job… it just needs a link to the Insteon world. Would the ISY be that link?

  10. Insteon says:

    Glad to find another isy-99i supporter – I tell people it will solve their issues and still get that doubting look that tells me they think it’s too good to be true.
    Hardware > software in this case.

  11. uweb says:

    good info., thanks.

    How come nobody tried Indigo (Mac)? I am presently trying to figure out whether to go with Indigo Pro first, before getting Isy 99.

    Any comments will be appreciated.

    • Ben Drawbaugh says:

      I use Macs to get work done, but it is hard to beat a specific purpose built device like the ISY-99 at its intended task.

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