One of the best places to start converting your old “dumb” home into a smart home is the lighting. First and foremost, this is a great way to test the waters and see if a smart home is right for you. You can start with a single smart bulb or a set of smart bulbs. This is the smart home version of dipping your toe in the water before diving in head first. When it comes to smart lighting, smart home light switches are a seamless and natural way to upgrade your home. You can hardly notice them once they’re installed and they work as intended even if the internet goes out. Before you fully commit to smart home light switches, there are a few points of interest that you should know.
1.) Smart Bulbs, Switches, or Plugs?
Smart Bulbs & Plugs
First off, you ought to make sure that you’re getting the correct type of smart lighting for your home. Smart home light switches are one of the more common options when it comes to smart lighting. In fact, you can find them at just about every “big box” home improvement store. Smart home light switches aren’t the only or best option for upgrading your home. There are two other common choices: smart bulbs and smart plugs. Here’s a post about reducing your home energy usage with smart lighting. It’s important to recognize that there is no “one size fits all” answer for smart home lighting.
Smart bulbs let you remotely control your lights or put them on a schedule. Some models let you change the color of lighting on the fly. Smart plugs are great since they keep things simple. They allow you to turn on an existing lamp with a regular light bulb into one you can turn on and off from anywhere. Some models let you track energy consumption. Both smart blubs and plugs feature a “plug-and-play” method of installation. If you don’t like it or want to move it later on, you can do so with little effort.
Smart Home Light Switches
Smart home light switches, on the other hand, are the reasonable midpoint between smart bulbs and smart plugs. They’re also the easiest to use. You can control the lights from the wall switch as you have always, but there are a handful of added bonuses. Some smart light switches feature dimming abilities and others pop-out like a remote that will make it even easier to control your lights. Smart light switches also work with traditional lighting fixtures that may not accommodate a smart bulb. All in all, installation is much more intensive and far more permanent.
You ultimately need to decide which smart lighting solution is best for your home. One of the best traits of smart lighting is that you can mix-and-match throughout your home, fitting each individual light with the most appropriate and effective smart light option.
2.) Smart Assistants: Alexa, Google, Siri, and More
When deciding which smart home light switch to go with, you should definitely consider which devices they are compatible with. If your smart home light switches are compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Apple HomeKit, or SmartThings, the possibilities of how you control your lights are essentially limitless. You’ll quickly figure out that simply being able to tell Google Home or an Alexa enabled smart speaker to “turn on the kitchen lights” is more often faster and easier than reaching for your phone and fumbling through an app. You will also be able to integrate the lights into your morning routine or have them let you know when it’s time to head to bed each night. One of the best commands is “Alexa, turn off all the lights” as you’re heading out the door.
3.) Are Your Light Bulbs Compatible with Smart Home Light Switches?
Like any dimmer switch, it is a wise idea to ensure that your smart switch will work with the lights you already have installed. This is especially true if you have LED lights installed. Take Lutron for instance – they have a compatibility tool that you can use to figure out which light bulbs (including recessed and can lights) will work with their switches.
On the off chance you plan to install a smart switch for a socket with a smart bulb (such as a Phillips Hue or LIFX bulb) installed in them, you will need to swap them out for a traditional “dumb” bulb.
Don’t Forget About Your 3-Way Switches
If you happen to have 3-way switches (many of us have them in hallways and large rooms, like a living room) you’ll need to take a moment to consider how best to handle these. You can use Lutron Caseta remotes to make the installation dead simple since they look and behave like three-way switches, but don’t require much handiwork to pull off.
4.) Cost of Smart Home Light Switches
The dollar figure attached to any home improvement project is typically a major pain point for most people. That being said, smart home light switches are not cheap. This is especially true if you plan on installing them throughout your entire home. Standard light switches are relatively inexpensive. To outfit a typical home with 20 “dumb” light switches will run around $60. That’s a few dollars less than a single Lutron wireless light switch, which retails for around $56. That being said, 20 smart light switches will run you in the neighborhood of $1120.
With this in mind, you can most likely install a handful of smart light bulbs and plugs around the house for a lot less money. However, the installation process and final product will be far less seamless. In all honesty, you don’t need to connect every light in your home. Some switches are simply redundant. You wouldn’t want to install two smart switches to connect one set of lights. Nonetheless, the difference in cost is still significant.
5.) Zigbee vs. Z-Wave
If you’re toying around with a smart thermostat, a few smart bulbs, locks, and smart speakers, you don’t really have to worry about what wireless communication standard they use. You typically need to pick either Alexa, Google Home, HomeKit, or SmartThings as your “brain” and move on. However, if you’re dealing with a bigger, more complex smart home with smart switches, garage doors, monitored home security and more, you’ll like need to decide between Zigbee and Z-Wave. Both Zigbee and Z-Wave are radio protocols that require a compatible hub for your devices to sync and communicate with your smartphone. Choosing which one to go with can be a tough decision.
Thankfully, while the protocol battle continues to wage on, it’s quickly becoming a moot point. ZigBee and Z-Wave aren’t directly compatible with each other. However, smart speakers like Alexa, Google Home and other smart speakers now support one or more of the standards and the gap is quickly dissipating.