Adding a smart switch can be a cost-effective way to control groups of lights or other devices. Traditional wall switches can control lights, fans and outlets however, not all bulbs are dimmable, and not all switches are rated for fan control.
Some bulbs, including LEDs, may flicker if placed on a dimmer switch; using a dimmer switch that isn’t rated for a fan may burn out the motor or cause a fire. There are smart switches, some with speed settings, explicitly designed for fans.
Some smart switches can work with smart lights; they provide constant power to the bulb and offer controls right on the wall. Examples include Lutron Aurora, which can be paired with Philips Hue, Brilliant Controls and Inovelli switches when connected with a hub.
Brands such as LIFX, Wyze & Cync allow you to pair their new switches with their bulbs within the apps but do not work to control other brands of smart bulbs.
What wiring is required?
The next step is determining how the current switch is wired and what wires are available. When two or more switches control the same set of lights, those are three-way switches and will have a traveler wire.
There are a variety of smart switch solutions for three-way switches, which may include replacing only one switch, requiring an additional add-on switch, or connecting the wires and using a remote switch such as a Lutron Pico.
Many smart switches, particularly those that connect via wi-fi or are designed to handle larger loads such as fans, will require a neutral wire. Most homes built after the 1980s will have a neutral wire, it is the white bundle that is often tucked back in the box. Don’t worry if there is not a neutral wire available; Lutron & Cync both offer solutions that do not require a neutral wire.
How will it be connected?
After determining what you’re going to control and what wiring options are available, it is essential to consider how the smart switch will connect to your network. Common options include wi-fi, Z-Wave, Zigbee or Lutron’s proprietary connection. If you’re installing a handful of switches, wi-fi is a popular option because it does not require a hub or bridge.
Wi-fi does have its limitations, though; as you add more and more devices to your home network, your router may not be able to handle them reliably. Zigbee and Z-Wave are protocols designed to allow devices to work together; they require less power and connect to form a robust mesh network.
Popular bridges and hubs include Lutron Caseta, Smartthings and Hubitat. Some Amazon Echo devices and home routers have Zigbee radios built in, making connecting switches easy. The organization that manages Zigbee is currently working on a protocol called Matter which works on thread technology and will not require a hub, however, don’t expect devices to be available until the end of 2022.
How does it look and feel?
Ideally, before purchasing and installing a bunch of smart switches you’ll be able to try one out. Some switches are completely flat, others are more similar to a traditional switch, and some have LED indicator lights. Decide if up is on, down is off is important to you, or if a single button to both turn on and off is acceptable. Start small with one or two rooms to see how you like it, and then add additional switches 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.