The Neutral Wire Guide
Let's hear from an expert
If you're just starting into building your smart home, especially smart lighting, you probably find yourself wondering what a neutral wire is and what if your house doesn't have one. We had expert Steve Lee back with us to answer the most common questions you may have about neutral wire.
What Is a Neutral Wire?
Since most Insteon-compatible wall switches and dimmers require a neutral wire connection to operate, you need to know if you have one of these in place. A neutral wire is a type of wire in which carries currents back to the source of power and or regular voltage. Essentially, it allows power to return to its original source. We will discuss the purpose of the neutral wire a bit later.
Why is this so important, though?
It’s not just Insteon switches and dimmers but most smart lighting in general that call for this neutral wire.
There are a few hardwired automated switches that don't need a neutral wire, but these are in the minority. Also, you'll be limited to incandescent lights.
Insteon is one of the few companies who have the solution to your problem.
Think do you want to use LEDs or another energy-efficient lighting? If you don't want to be stuck into a small segment of the smart lighting market, you'll need to resolve the neutral wire issue.
Insteon Remote Control Dimmer Switch
Neutral Wire FAQs
What To Do If You Don’t Have a Neutral Wire
What do you do, then, if you want more energy-efficient lighting?
You've got three main choices:
1) Run a Neutral Wire
Call in an electrician and get him to run a neutral wire running from the light fixture to the switch.
You could also ask the electrician to rewire both the switch and light fixture, but this is more complex and therefore costlier.
Regardless of the option you choose, running a new wire inside your walls and ceilings might prove too much trouble so you could always opt for smart lighting that doesn’t demand a neutral wire. As we mentioned, though, your options will be more limited.
2) Use Smart Switches That Don’t Need a Neutral Wire
Some dimmable smart switches can be fitted with no neutral wire.
What’s crucial here is the dimming functionality. This reduces the flow of power from your light to your switch to a trickle. While this power will not be sufficient to activate the bulb, it will ensure the switch continues to communicate with the home hub.
Note: Make certain the dimmable smart switch you're looking at will work with the smart bulbs you have in mind. Unfortunately, much only work with older incandescent bulbs.
With any incandescent applications, the Insteon 2-Wire Dimmer Switch is an exact fit. It will only work with incandescent lighting, though.
Here are two solid choices that work with more contemporary, energy-efficient bulbs...
Lutron Caseta Wireless In-Wall Dimmer, White
Lutron Caseta Wireless Dimmer for LEDs
The Lutron Caseta is the connoisseur’s choice. Installation takes just 15 minutes, and you won't need a neutral wire at all.
You will need the Caseta Smart Bridge, but this allows for control in-app on your smartphone along with wide-reaching home automation with a range of compatible devices from Honeywell and Nest to ecobee and the SmartThings ecosystem.
You can use either 150-watt dimmable LEDs or 600-watt incandescent or halogen bulbs.
GE Z-Wave Plus Wireless In-Wall On/Off Smart Switch
Wirelessly schedule and control any hardwired light source, (requires a Z-Wave certified gateway
The Z-Wave-enabled GE does require a neutral wire either.
Max Load: 960W Incandescent, 1/2 HP Motor, 1800W (15A) Resistive
The Z-Wave Plus Smart Switch provides ultimate flexibility for your home lighting by creating custom scenes and scheduling timed events when you're either home or away.
3) Use Dimmable Smart Bulbs
If the idea of replacing switches or rewiring doesn’t appeal or falls outside your budget, you could consider using dimmable smart bulbs instead.
Smart bulbs might not prove the most cost-effective whole-house solution but, depending on your intended use, this is a viable workaround.
With the LIFX LED Bulbs, you leave your wall switch set to on and then take charge of the lighting remotely.
Some bulbs may require a hub or bridge, but you you'll be able to quickly install and take control right away in-app on your smartphone. With an Echo device or Google Home smart speaker, you can also use voice command with Alexa or Google Assistant, respectively.
Get an Expert
If you're in any doubt at all or you're not entirely comfortable working with electrics, hire a professional.
An electrician can quickly, easily, and safely determine if you have neutral wires in your switch box. If necessary, they can also pull neutral wires wherever you happen to need them.