In this weekly column, hosts Brandon Doyle, Doyle Real Estate Team with RE/MAX Results, and Colton Pratt, project manager, walk through smart-home products and showcase their capabilities while reviewing pros and cons.
Smart switches are a great option if you want to control the lights in your home with your favorite voice assistant or through an app on your phone. But which smart switch should you buy?
The answer depends on a number of different factors, including the wiring in your home, existing smart products, budget, types of bulbs they’ll be controlling and number of switches you intend on installing.
Each smart switch communicates with your home network either over your existing Wi-Fi network, through a hub such as SmartThings, via Z-Wave or Zigbee protocols, or a proprietary bridge such as Lutron.
While Wi-Fi may seem like the most attractive option, adding too many devices to your network will cause them to slow down. So, if you’ll be replacing a lot of switches, it’s better to look at options that require a hub. Moreover, Wi-Fi switches also require a white neutral wire in the switch box, which may not be an option for older homes.
Basically, every smart switch available on the market will connect to your voice assistant in one way or another, but it makes sense to stick with one brand throughout your home so that you can access all of your home lighting within the same app.
With a Lutron Smart Bridge Pro or any of the Z-Wave or Zigbee switches, you’ll be able to connect to a central home hub and create automations across other devices, such as door and motion sensors.
Inovelli Red Series switches and dimmers allow you to create multiple scenes by connecting additional devices to a switch. For example, a single click could turn on an outside light, whereas a double click would turn on the deck lights. Holding the switch down could shut off all exterior lights.
These switches also have a notification light that can be programmed to display the status of other devices. We use this by our patio door to alert us if we’ve left the fence gate open or if the security system is armed prior to opening the door to let the dogs out in our backyard.
For lights that are controlled with multiple switches, you’ll want to check the box or manufacturer’s website to determine how to correctly wire the switches and which add-on switch is required.
Some smart switches will work with an existing “dumb” switch in the secondary position. Others might require an add-on switch, second switch or in the case of Lutron, a simple Pico remote control.
Pay attention to the instructions in the box, and make sure the power is turned off. If you’re unsure of what you’re doing, it’s always a good idea to hire a professional electrician.
Prices for smart switches vary from affordable Wi-Fi devices like Treatlife starting at $30 for a two-pack on Amazon, to very popular Lutron Caseta line, which runs about $50 a switch. The price can tick up higher with the Brilliant Control, which features a color screen and connects with thermostat, speakers, ring doorbell and door locks. Not to mention, it even has voice assistants built in.
Rooms with smart bulbs require a unique solution, as they require constant power to be controlled remotely. If a guest turns the light off at the switch, you won’t be able to turn it back on through the app. Manufacturers recently recognized this problem and now offer smart switches that work for these situations.
C by GE switches connect directly to their compatible smart bulbs, whereas switches such as Inovelli and Brilliant Control can be programmed to always be on and act as a button to control any other switch or bulb in the house. Lutron has partnered with Philips Hue on the new Aurora dimmer, which goes right over your existing switch and can control hue bulbs.
No matter what your budget or situation is, there are a number of great smart switch options. Don’t feel like you need to replace every switch in your house. Start with the most commonly used switches, such as in your bedroom, kitchen and family room, and expand from there as your budget allows.
Brandon Doyle is a Realtor at Doyle Real Estate Team — Re/Max Results in Minneapolis and co-author of Mindset, Methods & Metrics – Winning as a Modern Real Estate Agent. You can follow him on Twitter.