Carpe Diem:24 September, 2020

Smart Switch Showdown

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Smart Switches and Home Assistant!

Last Updated: 1/14/19 – Added home assistant details for each switch; also added additional vision in-wall switch

Hello again! It’s been a while since we’ve talked. Life tends to get busy – an infant, new job, and chores around the house. I did manage to find some time to write another post! If you’re new to my blog, check out my other posts on Home Automation.

In my previous post, we talked about some smart bulbs; now let’s dive into smart switches! Over the past year, I’ve tried out a small handful of switches. I hope my experience will answer a few questions you may have and aid your smart switch purchase decisions. Note that I’m using the term “switch” but all the switches in this post also serve as a dimmer (controlling brightness) with the exception of the vision dual relay switch. Note that all the switches here are compatible with Home Assistant.

This is a pretty detailed post see the table of contents below – read the whole blog or jump to the part that most interests you:

  1. Switch reviews
  2. Considerations in three and four way configurations
  3. LED bulbs and switch compatibility
  4. Home electrical wiring and things to consider when adding smart switches
The switches I’ve tested are:

GE

This is a rocker paddle switch (though there are toggle switch varieties)- it looks almost identical to a dumb rocker switch with 2 major differences – 1) the switch doesn’t have an on/off position – it remains in the middle and both the top and bottom portion can be pressed at anytime. and 2) there is a little blue LED on the bottom. These switches do require a neutral.

Amazon Link: GE Z-Wave Smart Dimmer

Pros

  • Uses Zwave and works with Home Assistant – no additional hub required if you have a zwave stick like this HUSBZB-1 or this Aeotec Z-Stick. See my other post for more info.
  • Z-wave repeater
  • Comes with neutral wire small extension (so you can tap into a neutral wire junction), almond button color variation but no face plate
  • Little LED illuminates when not on (helpful to see in the dark, but can be annoying – it can be disabled)
  • Remembers last dim level after being turned off
  • Add-on switches for 3-way can dim, but are another switch to buy and wire in

Cons

  • Switch can’t dim as easily – hard to get to lowest dim setting without turning light off depending on bulb (see below note on bulbs)
  • Wish double tap would make it go to max brightness (however see other notes – might be able to enable via software)
  • Requires a neutral
  • Doesn’t work with some LED bulbs that Lutron’s Caseta has no problem with
  • Large form (deep switch body) – may not fit easily if there are other wires in box

Other Notes

  • This switch is priced middle-of-the-road
  • Little blue LED is nice to have, but not a deal breaker for me if it didn’t have it. It defaults to being on while the switch is off making it easier to locate the switch in the dark. The LED can be turned off all
  • Can enable Double tab to max brightness via HA software config
  • Only 2 inputs (buttons): down and up

Home Assistant Integration

Straight forward standard Z-wave setup. Put your z-wave network in pairing mode (in HA, go to z-wave control panel and click add node – see official documentation here for more detail) then follow the instructions in the book or press and hold either the top or bottom button.

 

INOVELLI

This is also a paddle rocker switch (though there are toggle switch varieties). This switch is very similar to the GE switch above. These switches do require a neutral. 

Amazon Link: Innoveli Smart Dimmer

Pros

  • Uses Zwave and works with Home Assistant – no additional hub required if you have a zwave stick like this HUSBZB-1 or this Aeotec Z-Stick. See my other post for more info.
  • Comes with neutral wire small extension (so you can tap into a neutral wire junction), almond button color variation and face plates
  • Cheapest of the three switches here
  • Z-wave repeater
  • Little LED illuminates when not on (helpful to see in the dark, but can be annoying – it can be disabled)
  • Works with ‘dumb’ switches in 3 way setup (cheaper since it can work with your existing switch), but ‘dumb’ switch can’t control dim
  • Excellent customer service – the president, Eric, is very active on forums and customer reviews online

Cons

  • Switch can’t dim as easily – hard to get to lowest dim setting without turning light off depending on bulb (see below note on bulbs). This can be changed in the switch settings however I wasn’t able to easily figure it out.
  • Wish double tap would make it max light (might be able to enable via software)
  • Requires a neutral
  • Doesn’t work with some LED bulbs that Lutron’s Caseta has no problem with
  • Large form (deep switch body) – may not fit easily if there are other wires in box
  • I had some issues with pressing the switch and it not registering the action. I would have to press the switch with extra force for it to work. However, this generally wasn’t a deal breaker for me

Other Notes

  • While these switches work perfectly fine with Home Assistant, their documentation is aimed at SmartThings.
  • Quality on some of the switches was an issue earlier on. My switch was overall okay, but others that did have issues received replacement switches based on amazon reviews.
  • Only 2 inputs (buttons): down and up

Home Assistant Integration

Straight forward standard Z-wave setup. Put your z-wave network in pairing mode (in HA, go to z-wave control panel and click add node – see official documentation here for more detail) then follow the instructions in the book; the device will go into auto pairing mode when first turned on or to do it manually, press the top button 6x within 2 seconds.

 

LUTRON CASTETA 

These are some of my favorite switches. Excellent quality, design, and they do not require a neutral! Their design is different – each switch has 4 buttons: off, max brightness, and up/down brightness buttons.

Amazon Links: Switch only, Switch and Pico remote, Pro hub kit, Standard hub kit

If you are just getting the Lutron smart switches, I recommend the pro hub kit if you can get your hands on it, otherwise the standard hub kit will work with home assistant as well. The pro hub has some additional compatibility, but not a deal breaker if you can’t get it.

Pros

  • Very nice fancy 4 button design
    • Brightness levels on side – these remain on but very dim when switch is off
    • Easy control of full on/full off and dimming level with extra buttons
    • Some come with screw-less face plate
  • Some come with Pico remote
  • Easiest to install, no neutral required  
  • Small form – switch is a bit smaller compared to other smart switches and is easy to fit into a tight switch box
  • Integrates nicely with home assistant
  • Auto calibration on min brightness – see below notes on bulbs
  • Compatible with many bulbs though Lutron only says compatible with a select few detailed nicely on their page
  • The Lutron app is one of the better designed apps I’ve seen in the smart device space. It has a lot of great functionality on its own. I rarely use this app though since home assistant does all the work.
  • Works with Pico remote for 3 and 4 way setups. This is awesome because installation is a breeze (the pico remote can be mounted virtually anywhere and appear as a regular switch) and you don’t have to worry about wiring more than one switch. Batteries do need to be replaced bu they’ll last 10 years according to Lutron

Cons

  • Requires a hub (non-zwave/zigbee switch) though it is easy to set up and connect to home assistant
  • Uses proprietary Lutron communication vs standardized z-wave
  • More expensive
  • Some bulbs may not be compatible with this switch. Lutron provides a nicely detailed site to check for compatible bulbs. However, I’ve been using bulbs not on that list without major issue.
    • Some bulbs buzz and hum, but this isn’t overly audible unless you are in a small room
    • Some bulbs (LED candlestick bulbs mostly) lightly flicker on the lowest brightness more than others, but it hasn’t been a deal breaker for me. I actually kind of like the effect, reminds me of a lit candle.
  • Incompatible with Extra Low Voltage (ELV) lights (lower voltage than your typical LED bulb) – see note on bulbs below

Other Notes

  • Lutron also has a “pro” series of these switches that can work with extra low voltage lights and eliminates some of the light flicker issues. These also have an extra button in the middle like a Pico remote. However these switches require a neutral and are about twice as expensive. Find the pro switch version here

Home Assistant Integration

You’ll need to do some additional setup to get the Lutron hub connected to HA, but it’s not too bad. If you have the pro hub, I recommend checking out upsert’s custom component as it adds some additional functionality. I’ve been using this custom setup for over a year now and haven’t had an issue. Helpful setup instructions are included within the readme.

If you are using a non-pro hub or just want to stick with the official HA support, check out the HA how-to here.

 

VISION IN-WALL DUAL SWITCH

The Vision in-wall switch is very different from the previous reviewed switches. This switch is designed to be hidden inside the switch box – it does NOT have a physical interface (i.e. buttons to press to turn on/off). Instead it relies on the dumb switch already in place to control the unit. It’s able to do this while always keeping the unit powered so you don’t have to worry about keeping the switch in the on position in order to control it. What makes this switch unique is that it has 2 relays built in meaning that it can control two different lights! I have a number of these “dual toggle on a single pole” switches in my house, and the vision switch is able to control them both.

Amazon Link: Vision In-wall Z-wave Dual Relay Switch

Pros

  • Uses Zwave and works with Home Assistant – no additional hub required if you have a zwave stick like this HUSBZB-1 or this Aeotec Z-Stick. See my other post for more info.
  • Able to use existing switch to control
  • Z-wave repeater
  • Controls two lights independently
  • Cheapest of all the switches reviewed here if dividing cost by number of switches (i.e. if this costs $30, it’s only $15 per switch)

Cons

  • Requires a neutral
  • Does not control brightness (only on or off)
  • 1600 Watt limit across BOTH switches. e.g. 800 watts or ~7.25 amps per switch. While this should be plenty for modern lighting, it’s something to consider
  • Not z-wave plus

Other Notes

  • I’ve been pretty happy with this switch – does the job great when I need two lights controlled on a single pole
  • Must be placed inside the switch box. Consider:
    • How much room is in the switch box – this switch is very small, but if you have a very crowded box, it may not fit
    • Reduced wireless connectivity e.g. don’t use a metal face plate and you may have connectivity issues if this device is far from other z-wave devices

Home Assistant Integration

Straight forward standard Z-wave setup. Put your z-wave network in pairing mode (in HA, go to z-wave control panel and click add node – see official documentation here for more detail) then follow the instructions in the book or simply turn the light off and on 4x quickly.

NOTE: When I added this switch to home assistant, it detected the two different switches (yay!). However it also detected a third! The third switch seemed to control one of the switches the exact same – so in other words, it was a duplicate. I simply edited my HA configuration to hide the duplicate switch (setting hidden: true).

Three and four way switch configurations

Given the complexity of this topic – I’ll cover this in a separate post. In summary for the three switches reviewed here:

LED Bulb Compatibility

If you’re using incandescent or CFL bulbs, they are compatible with a majority of smart switches without issues (note that only certain CFL bulbs are dimmable). If you haven’t already, I highly recommend switching to LED bulbs given that they are so cheap and will drop your energy bill significantly.

LED bulbs are great, however there can be some compatibility issues with smart dimmer switches. The issue is that LEDs generally require so little current to operate, but they have a little overhead energy requirement to turn on. In addition, if enough current isn’t provided, the bulb will strobe off and on or can make a buzzing noise. There is a specific electrical explanation that is happening here, but I’m going to explain it in layman terms (I don’t think I fully understand the electrical explanation!). Incandescent bulbs are very ‘dumb’ – it’s literally a very small wire that runs through a glass vacuum chamber that glows when current is ran through it. LEDs are much more complicated – they have circuit boards with additional electronic components. These additional components have an overhead energy cost to run (though it is very small) to function properly.

The issues comes into play when a smart switch does not account properly for this overhead cost. Not all smart switches provide enough current to achieve the lowest brightness without turning the light off completely or causing it to strobe off and on. Some smart switches are ‘smart’ enough to automatically calibrate this: Lutron Caseta for example. Others like the Innoveli Switch can be calibrated. If you are driving more than one LED bulb (e.g. light fixture has 2 or more LED bulbs in it), it’s usually a non-issue.

Electricity and Wiring in your Home

I am not a professional electrician by any means – I’ve learned from family/friends electrical engineers, electricians, and of course the Internet. To be clear: electricity is dangerous!! Play it safe, do some research before diving in. Turn off the power at the breaker before you open up any electrical box (unless you’re a pro – you can do whatever you want 🙂 )

Wiring

Depending on the age of your home and where you are located (different states have different electrical codes). I live in the Midwest US and will be referring to the standards I have – yours may be different but the overall principals are the same. This is not an in-depth explanation – I’m just focusing on the parts relevant to the smart switch. There are 4 primary wires you’ll deal with in a switch box:

  • Line, aka hot (usually black) – you can think of this as where the power is coming in (though technically it goes in and out 50-60 times a second depending on where you live).
  • Load (often yellow or blue) – this goes to the light; think of it as what load is the switch carrying
  • Neutral (almost always white) – this completes the circuit. You need to have a neutral in order to have power flow through. When you plug something into an outlet, you are connecting the line (hot) on one prong and neutral on the other prong completing the circuit allowing current to run through the device you plugged in.
  • Ground (green or bare) – safety. Ground wires are designed to take unintended current (from a short perhaps) and direct it somewhere that will safely trigger a breaker. Ground and neutral are very similar but have one major difference. Neutral is designed to regularly carry current and the ground is used in failure situations only.

Neutral wires

Neutral wires can be tricky. Depending on the age of your home, you might not have them in your switch boxes. They became a standard to include in switch boxes in the late 1970s in the US – if your house was built before then, you might not have a neutral in your switch boxes. Most smart switches require a neutral, however you have excellent options if you don’t have a neutral (Lutron Caseta) – see my review below for more details. The neutral is needed to power the electronics inside the switch (so it can receive signals to turn on).

If you have neutral, great – you have more options when it comes to smart switches. If you don’t you have 2 options 1) get a smart switch that doesn’t require a neutral or 2) get your switch box wired to include a neutral. After my experience with the Lutron switches that do not require a neutral, I’m more than pleased, and it’s much less expensive.

Switch Boxes

This is a big one that I didn’t think of before – smart switches are MUCH bigger than their dumb switch counterpart – see the pictures below. This creates some challenging depending on how large your switch boxes are. Multiple times, I couldn’t put in a certain smart switch in because it wouldn’t fit in the box. Depending on the size of the box and how many wires are in the box already, you may have a very difficult time fitting a smart switch in.

Before you buy a smart switch, turn of the power, open up your switch box, take a look to see if you have a neutral and how much size is in the box. Buy a few switches of different types – you might need to do some trial and error.

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