Developments in the smart light switch mean you now control the atmosphere and visibility in your home far more intelligently than ever before.
There are many different approaches you can take to smart lighting.
Plenty of questions will crop up along the way starting with why you should consider upgrading the intelligence of your light switches in the first place.
Why Switch to a Smart Light Switch?
If you’re still unsure about the benefits of smart home technology, lighting makes a great starting point.
You can get going with as little as a single smart bulb or you can go all-in with smart switches.
While convenience is a strong motivator for many to switch to smart light switches, there are far more benefits to smart lighting than ease alone.
Core Benefits of Smart Lighting
- Enhance security by controlling when the lights come on or off even if you’re away from home
- Intuitive controls work seamlessly with your existing home WiFi network
- Save money on your utility bills by programming your lights with energy-efficiency in mind
- No need to overhaul the lighting system in place, simply work around it and inject it with some intelligence
- Enjoy the convenience of reading until you’re ready to sleep then asking Alexa to hit the lights or waking up in the morning without needing to fumble in the dark for the light switch
If you’re sold on the idea of smart lighting, the first distinction you need to make is between smart bulbs or smart plugs on one side, and smart light switches on the other.
Keep It Simple: Smart Bulbs and Plugs
Replacing your old bulbs with smart new ones might seem like a no-brainer.
- Smart Bulb: With smart bulbs, you can control your lights remotely using your smartphone and even change the color of the lighting if you want to improve the ambiance for your evening BBQ or poolside party
- Smart Plug: If you decide on a smart plug, you simply transform your existing lighting so you can switch it on or off from anywhere using your smartphone. Smart plugs have a WiFi chip that allows them to communicate directly with your router and WiFi network. Some smart plugs also allow for basic tracking of energy consumption. You can also use IFTTT (If This, Then That) applets to allow your smart plug to receive instructions from other devices in your home
The main advantage of this rudimentary approach to smart lighting is the fact it’s a question of plug and plays with a very low barrier of entry. If you don’t like the new set-up, there’s very little lost.
On the flip side, you need to make certain the bulbs you have in mind will slot into your existing light fixtures. As a rule of thumb, the majority of smart bulbs have an A-shaped bulb unit and an E-shaped base. If you have more exotic fittings like candelabras, smart bulbs won’t be a good fit.
If you’re looking to make a real impact with your smart lighting, though, smart switches offer you enormous scope.
Amp Up Your Home’s IQ: Smart Light Switches
In some ways, not much changes with smart switches. You’ll still be able to control them from the wall just like you always did.
The bonus with smart switches is the added functionality you’ll enjoy. Some come with remotes that enhance manual manipulation while you’ll also be able to dim the lighting when the mood dictates.
The other key benefit is that smart switches work effectively with your existing fixtures, even if they’re unsuitable for a smart bulb.
Installation is permanent and also more involved, but the results make this extra effort worthwhile.
Wired or Wireless Smart Switch?
If you decided that smart light switches are your best bet, you need to determine whether to go wired or wireless.
A wireless switch makes perfect sense if you’re renting. You won’t need to carry out any work on the wiring and switching already in place. Many smart switches come with a magnetic mount, meaning you won’t even need to physically fix it on the wall. Although the selection of wireless switches is limited, there are still options from the major industry players.
If you’re a homeowner, wired smart switches call for the current switches to be swapped out. In return, you’ll be rewarded with a fully integrated method of controlling your lights.
Often circumstance dictates whether you’ll choose wired or wireless smart light switches. There’s no right or wrong answer, just what works best for you.
Neutral Wire/C Wire
You need to understand your home’s wiring before launching in.
Most regular light switches and outlets use 2 wires:
Internet of Things devices, in common with most electronic gadgets, run on low-voltage DC power.
If you want to add smart light switches, you need at least one more wire to hook up to the DC power. This is called a common wire or C wire and it enables a signal to be sent to any of your IoT devices.
Unfortunately, approximately 50% of North American homes don’t have this C wire so how can you get around that to achieve your smart lighting goals?
- Choose smart switches that don’t require an additional neutral wire
- Add wires into your existing wiring, but this is costly and creates a real mess. This is the best method if you are remodeling and the wiring is already exposed
- Smart bulbs sidestep any problems with wiring and grant you control at bulb level
- Go for smart LED lights with battery-powered switches
With the wiring issue addressed, you need to think about what communication protocol best meshes with your smart home.
Protocol: Z-Wave or Zigbee?
As with all aspects of your smart home, there’s never a single clear-cut path that’s best, simply a case of what works best for your situation.
If you’re only interested in a smart lock, some simple smart bulbs and perhaps a speaker, you won’t run into too many issues with communication standards.
If, on the other hand, your smart home includes garage door automation, smart switches throughout and other layers of smart home security, you’re likely to encounter Z-Wave and Zigbee.
In the simplest terms, both Z-Wave and Zigbee are radio protocols calling for a third-party hub so your smart devices can communicate with your cell phone. Bluetooth and WiFi-enabled devices, by contrast, can communicate directly with no need for translation.
While Z-Wave and Zigbee are not compatible with each other directly, you can bridge this protocol gap with hubs and smart speakers, so it’s becoming less of a divisive issue.
The Strengths of Z-Wave
While there’s no single solution, the Z-Wave protocol does have one significant advantage over other protocols.
The 900 MHz frequency occupied by Z-Wave isn’t shared by many other devices. Zigbee, Bluetooth, and WiFi all share the same 2.4 GHz frequency, so there’s often a great deal of network interference.
Beyond this, Z-Wave can be rolled out as a mesh network. The more Z-Wave devices you have, the stronger the signal becomes.
Digital Assistants: Compatibility
If you already use Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant, check and make sure the smart light switches you’re considering are compatible with your favorite digital butler.
Once you’re used to barking commands like “Turn off all the lights” as you head out the door or you’ve got your lighting fully assimilated into your morning routine, you’ll fully appreciate the sheer convenience of managing your lighting through your cellphone or by voice activation.
Dimmers or On/Off Switches?
With all the basics covered and your route to smart lighting in your home fully illuminated, there’s one more decision to make.
Should you choose a dimmer or a full-bore on/off switch?
As always, it depends on you and what you want. We’ll outline 3 of the best smart light switches in each category so you can see which would work best for you.
3 of The Best Dimmer Switches
If you’re looking to remotely control your smart light switches from anywhere without spending a fortune, this no-nonsense dimmer switch is ideal for all regular paddle-style switches.
You won’t need a C wire, so it’s great for older homes because this additional neutral wire removes a common barrier of entry to smart light switches.
If you want to use your favorite digital assistant, you’ll need an enabled device, along with the Insteon hub that will come in useful for far more than just your smart light switches. If you plan to extend the boundaries of your smart home, a hub is a crucial investment.
If you don’t feel the need for a hub, you just set up a virtual 3-way circuit pairing your switch with a keypad, a motion sensor or another Insteon switch. Taking this route requires no further investment.
Control is streamlined so you can use a single tap to control multiple devices. You can customize rates of dimming and schedule with ease even if you’re not the biggest tech-lover. Adding Insteon sensors adds further depth to your home’s security and functionality.
- No neutral wire needed so ideal for most homes
- Get voice control using Alexa or Google Assistant through an Insteon hub
- Easy to bolt on temperature control and remote access by the camera
A highly convenient wireless approach to smart light switches, the Leviton dimmer allows you to get going with no need for a third-party hub.
All you need is the Leviton app available for both iOS and Android, and you’ll be able to dim your lights from your phone or using Alexa. For voice control, you’ll need an Echo device then get your digital helper to dim the lights on demand.
There’s a broad spread of wall plates available to coordinate with any décor and there are a number of color change kits to choose from. You can customize every element of your smart lighting experience with Leviton.
Ideal for LED lights and a simple way to get started with smart lighting, you will need a C wire to get going.
- WiFi connectivity so no hub required
- Great with low-wattage LEDs
- Full Alexa control using enabled devices
If you’re looking for a Z-Wave smart light switch that will work with SmartThings, the HomeSeer wall switch is an excellent choice for all types of lights including LEDs.
You’ll get all the reliability you’d expect from Z-Wave communication and stress-free integration with other smart home appliances.
While you can use any controller, the proprietary HomeTrollers will deliver a superior experience and allow you to harness the full functionality more easily.
This smart light switch comes into its own when you incorporate it into your HomeSeer ecosystem. Use the paddles to set up multiple events and tap in combination to trigger a range of events.
Despite some minor blowback about flickering, the HomeSeer switch performs strongly with LEDs and makes an affordable, effective way to uprate the intelligence of your light switches.
- Z-Wave protocol for rock-solid communication
- Trigger multiple events in your HomeSeer
- Works with incandescent, CFL and LEDF lights
3 of The Best On/Off Switches
If you want to control your lights going on and off not just being dimmed, the Insteon is super-simple to install and allows plenty of flexibility.
Insteon’s ToggleLinc Relay lets you control any non-dimmable lights and fans in your existing smart network. In its most basic sense, you enjoy that on/off functionality, but there’s plenty of room for expansion.
Use an Insteon remote controller to hit the lights even if you’re in bed. Adding an Insteon hub will allow you to introduce an element of programmability. If you want to use Alexa or Google Assistant, all you need is the requisite device and that all-important hub.
Installation is nothing to worry about and the Insteon Remote Control On/Off Switch is a quiet and effective way to seize remote control of your lighting.
- Turn lights on or off remotely with 80% less noise
- Scene lighting simplifies controlling lighting throughout the house to a single command
- No loss of settings in event of power failure
If you’re already invested into a Z-Wave-enabled smart home, the GE Z-Wave smart switch lets you control all hardwired light sources in your house through an appropriate Z-Wave gateway.
This switch allows you to work with the lighting already in place, but adds remote access and wireless scheduling.
With even more pace and 400% more memory than Z-Wave Classic, this Z-Wave Plus device has all the reliability you would expect from this protocol, along with a range suitable for even larger homes.
This smart switch does call for in-wall installation but this is not complex. The body is fairly substantial so make sure your box is deep enough.
If you don’t want to start rewiring and you’re looking for a way to integrate your lighting into your Z-Wave smart home, this GE on/off switch is a must.
- Z-Wave Plus offering more speed and memory than Z-Wave Classic
- Use with almost any type of light bulb
- Impressive range up to 150 feet
This HomeSeer on/off switch is Z-Wave enabled and lets you control the lighting in your home with any controller. We’d recommend using HomeSeer’s own HomeTroller for best results.
While it might seem like little more than a gimmick, the multiple colors available for the LED indicator can actually come in handy, surprisingly. Simply using red for open doors lets you see at a glance if security has been breached.
You’ll need a Z-Wave hub, so this smart switch is a good fit if you have a hub already or you plan to build out your smart home, in which case a hub will be an essential anyway.
As with all the best smart switches, controlling the HomeSeer is extremely intuitive. You simply tap in a number of configurations to trigger commands.
With straightforward installation and a great range of control, this smart switch is another home run from HomeSeer.
- Multiple colors for status indicators, so you can streamline monitoring your smart home at a glance
- Z-Wave for dependable communication
- Very easy to install
Deciding on the most appropriate strategy to boost the IQ of your home’s lighting is something worth spending time on.
If you’re frank about your needs and you consider both your home as it is now and how you’d like it to be, you’ll end up with the right equipment rather than questioning whether you need an injection of smarts for getting the wrong kit.
Once you’re clear about what you want your smart lighting to achieve and how to integrate this with your existing set-up, you’ll soon notice a sharp upswing in the convenience of your lighting while saving money on your electricity bill monthly.
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