A smart light switch uses a wireless signal to connect to your network. This gives you remote access through a smartphone app, tablet, hub or even a smart speaker. The best smart light switches have a tradition light switch built-in as well allowing you to operate the switch normally. This is important, especially if you have an unreliable internet connection.
The switch communicates using radio frequencies, there are 3 main types found in smart light switches and other smart tech devices. The first type and probably most familiar is Wi-Fi/Bluetooth. Switches that use these to communicate do not have to integrate into your network, but rather are directly paired with your smartphone or another control device. There is one big drawback to these types, you only have a finite amount of bandwidth available, and the more devices connected, the chance you will run into issues increases dramatically.
The Double Z’s – Zigbee and Z-Wave
More intricate smart homes likely already know that they use one of two (or both is better) common communication protocols in their devices; Z-Wave or ZigBee. Each device has its own design and custom signatures; using these dedicated protocols keeps your devices from interfering with each other and other equipment in your home. Some switches have either Z-Wave or ZigBee protocol abilities, the best ones with have both.
Doing Their Own Thing
Finally, there are a few manufacturers that have their own communication protocols. These are the ones that you are likely to find out that they can only connect to a low number of other devices. While there may be some business advantage to the separation from the pack, the only benefit to homeowners is that the communication is often piggybacked on a home’s electrical system, meaning no reliance on wireless signal strength.
Requirements for Installing a Smart Light Switch
Without going into too much complicated electrical mumbo jumbo, most smart switches are designed to easily replace any existing light switch. They operate on a connection that requires the use of a neutral wire in addition to the hot and ground wires. This is what most modern homes are built with, however, older homes, those built before 1980 will not have the neutral wire unless it has been remodeled. You may need to consult an electrician to be sure.
Other than the neutral wire, there are no other special requirements for installing a smart light switch, other than the connection it will use; Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or protocol.
Types of Smart Light Switches
Now that we’ve covered some of the boring stuff, let’s get into the fun things, like types of smart light switches. Just like traditional switches can control everything from lights to fans, to thermostats and air conditioner, a smart light switch can do those and more.
These switches are the ones that can be connected and controlled by a virtual assistant such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Most smart light switches have this option in some way, either by direct connection or using a hub that converts the voice commands to the necessary communication.
Switches that are not directly connected to a voice-enabled device may have a slight delay in the response, but can still work well.
Many smart light switches offer you the ability to dim your lights. This may depend on the type of bulbs you have installed and the capabilities of the smart switch you choose. Most CFL and LED light bulbs available today can be dimmed with no worries, but check to make sure.
Auxiliary Switches – Fans, etc.
Many homes using toggle switches to turn everyday items such as fans, even appliances, and air conditioners. All of these can be replaced with a smart light switch to give you control over these as well.
One task that many have found a smart light switch especially helpful is for temperature control. In most cases, you can use your smart light switch to program fans or even air conditioners to turn on just before you arrive home from work, instead of running all day in an empty house.
Don’t Use a Smart Bulb with a Smart Light Switch
One way to guarantee that your bulbs can do what you want them to do is to install smart bulbs, however, it is not necessary to pair a smart light switch only with smart bulbs. In fact, using a smart bulb is not recommended with most smart light switches. Smart light switches are one way to bypass replacing all of your bulb with the more expensive smart bulbs.
Coupling smart bulbs with a smart switch may even cause some issues with the connectivity of a smart bulb. They require constant power to work properly. Disconnecting the power may damage, or at least cause a smart bulb to need to be reprogrammed.
Cost of Smart Light Switches
Now for the important part – the cost. Smart switches, just like everything else comes at a variety of price points depending on the specific brand and any added features. Expect to pay between $25 and $80 for most popular smart light switches. There are absolutely smart switches that can be more costly as well.
When shopping for a smart light switch you can help avoid the tally going to high by only replacing your most utilized switches and the ones that will provide the most benefit to your routine without any other options that may cost less.
For example, many people have large walk-in closets that have a light ran by a switch. Sure, you could spend the money on a light switch that gives you either motion sensor access or even verbal power over your closet light. However, there are other smart tech options, such as a motion-activated light bulb or even a regular smart bulb that can be programmed to respond to voice commands, both usually less expensive than a smart light switch.
We suggest starting with one smart light switch. This will give you a chance to get comfortable with the technology. You will be able to understand your personal habits and interactions with the smart switch. This will allow you the ability to make a more informed decision on the switches that you would benefit the most from replacing.
Smart Light Switch Alternative Options
We love options, and hopefully, by giving you a few alternatives to smart light switches we won’t be overwhelming you. There are a few alternative options available, and we’ve given you these along with a few details to give you a quick overview in case they may be something that you may be interested in.
Another Wired Option for Remote Control
Those individuals who are not afraid of handling the wiring connections that you need to install a smart light switch may be willing to go a little further into home automation.
Remote Control Relay Switches
Relay switches are inline switches that control the flow of electricity. These switches can range from simple designs for use with the small appliance to heavy load switches that can be installed directly to existing electrical lines.
Remote control relay switches can be found with many of the same options as a smart light switch, including voice and app controls. The best part of using remote control relay switches is that you can usually pick up multiple relays for the same price as a single smart switch.
CAUTION: Relay switches are installed by cutting and rerouting electrical wiring and should only be done by someone with experience with electricity and follow the strictest safety practices. Please do not install any device to your electrical circuit without following all safety precautions. Get help if you cannot safely do it yourself.
Wireless Smart Technology
Some people are just not ready to mess with the wiring in their home, or may you rent your home, and cannot make smart tech upgrades. You do not have to do without smart light switch technology, there are some options.
Smart light bulbs can now be found in variations to replace every type of light in and around your home. A good quality smart bulb can offer all of the same features that you want in a smart light switch, including dimmable lighting, scheduling, and remote control. Some smart bulbs even offer color options with nearly unlimited customizable options.
The big downfall to smart bulbs is that you will have to purchase a smart bulb for each light that you want to control, the cost could add up quickly, and maybe significantly more than you want to spend.
Another option that is a bit more limited is the smart plug. Limited since they can only operate lamps and appliances that are plugged into a regular wall plug. However, for those that are new to smart home technology, smart plugs can be a more checkbook friendly option to test the waters of smart tech.
Using a smart plug is very easy. Simply plug it into a regular wall outlet, link it to your smartphone or another compatible device, plug in the lamp (or other appliance) to the smart plug, and viola, you have control of the lamp with your voice or smart device.
Smart plugs are especially perfect for those hard to reach outlets that you would use more often if they weren’t buried behind heavy furniture. Anything that uses a standard outlet can be powered on and off with a smart plug.
Smart Light Switch Buying Guide
Now that we’ve covered all the details of smart light switches you are probably just itching to run out and buy one, or go to your favorite online retailer and add it to your cart. Before you do that, take a look below for some of the details that you may need to know before checking out with that smart switch.
What to Know First
Perhaps the most important thing to consider before shelling out money on any light switch is how the switch operates. This includes not only the smart features, such as voice control or using an app but whether or not you can use the switch like a traditional light switch. While it is true that most smart light switches will have this ability, you will want to double-check.
There is always a chance that any smart device can become, well dumb. This can happen if there is a glitch in the app, a software issue, or even something as simple as a weak Wi-Fi signal. You will want to retain the ability to operate the switch normally, just in case.
We discussed above the importance of a neutral wire when installing a smart switch. You will need to determine if this affects your home. If your home is older and does not have wiring that includes a neutral wire, all is not lost, there are a few smart switches available that can be installed in your home.
Do you want to be able to use Alexa or Google Assistant to control your smart switch by voice command? If you do, then you had better make sure that the switch you buy has this capability. Voice-enabled devices are definitely becoming more and more commonplace, but smart technology still exists without it, so double-check. This is not one of those options that may be added later.
This is for individuals that have already ventured into the world of smart home tech. Those people that already have smart devices. However, it should be a consideration, even if a smart switch is your very first smart home upgrade. Smart technology must be compatible with other devices in order to ensure everything operates smoothly. Save yourself some headaches by finding a smart switch that is compatible with your existing technology.
We briefly described how smart switches communicate with the wireless network within your home. Very similar to the compatibility mentioned above, you will want to pay special attention to any protocol requirements that your smart light switch may have. This will determine how you are able to access and control the switch.
For example, the Amazon Echo Plus works as a smart hub for many smart devices, but only contains Zigbee protocols. If you have this device already and want to use it to control your smart switch, you will need to be sure the light switch can communicate using Zigbee protocols.
Some smart light switches can have to pretty cool extras if you are into that. And who isn’t? Anyway, one of the most popular is switches with built-in LEDs that make it visible in the dark. This is handy when you are stumbling to the bathroom in the middle of the night and don’t want to wake anyone up using voice commands.
We also discussed dimmable switches, and this is not an option on all smart switches. In addition to checking to see if your bulbs can be dimmed, if you want to dim them, the smart switch will need that feature as well.
Perhaps the best bonus feature available in several smart light switches is a built-in Wi-Fi repeater. For those of us that do not live in areas with super-strong Wi-Fi signal, or have a home setup that blocks or limits the signal, a repeater can be a blessing. A Wi-Fi repeater works as a relay extending your Wi-Fi signal farther away from your router. Smart light switches with this feature can improve your Wi-Fi connection allowing you more freedom with your internet.
Ease of Installation
This can get tricky. First, if you have any doubt as to your abilities or safety when working with electricity or wiring, we suggest getting some help or hiring a licensed electrician. That being said, almost all smart light switches are installed much in the same way as a traditional switch, so the process is pretty straightforward.
What can be different Sin the digital installation. This means what connecting your new smart switch to your network or control device, such as your smartphone, or smart hub. Depending on the brand and model of a smart switch you buy, this process can be a very simple, or complicated headache. All smart light switches will come with either written instructions or access to the instructions online.
We suggest that you do a little bit of research before buying, check out other customers responses for any issues they may have had with connecting their smart switch to their network. Obviously, this is not going to be something most manufacturers are willing to share or promote. If you choose not to do the digging, go with a brand of switch that is known for multiple smart tech devices. You are less likely to encounter issues with switches from companies that already have success in with other smart devices.
Best Smart Switches
Treatlife Wi-Fi Light Switch – Best Budget Option
If you are wanting to try a smart light switch without investing a ton of money, then this smart light switch from Treatlife is a great option. This basic smart light switch REQUIRES a neutral wire and easily fits any standard switch box. This smart switch is compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT so requires no addition smart hub to operate.
Bonus features include a built-in light that makes the switch easily visible for normal switch operation, scheduling options; including countdown timers, and a smartphone app for easy remote control. This switch also comes with an easy to follow guide to walk you through installation.
- Standard size
- No Hub Required
- Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, and IFTTT
- 2.4Ghz only
- Single Pole installation (Not for 3-way installation)
This smart light switch from GE is the ideal switch if you want the look of a traditional light switch. Once it is installed most people will not even know that this is a smart light switch. Can replace any traditional light switch, including 3-way switches. This is a smart switch with some amazing extras, including a built-in Wi-Fi repeater to help you extend your Wi-Fi throughout your home without any additional devices that take up plugins or wall space.
This smart light switch uses Z-Wave protocols, so you must have a hub that is capable of using Z-Wave. Once connected you can use voice controls as well as app controls. This switch is also capable of being connected to groups of devices for even more custom options.
- Looks like a traditional switch
- Can be installed as a 3-way switch
- Built-in Repeater
- Group customization possible
- Easy control from any smartphone, tablet, or PC
- Voice control w/ appropriate hub
- Requires Z-Wave Hub
Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch – Best Overall Option
Lutron is often the first company mentioned when smart light controls come up. Their light switches offer some of the widest compatibility with unmatched customer support. This smart switch is a multipurpose light switch, able to operate any traditional light as well as a built-in dimmer. You can even use this smart switch to operate many of the most popular specialty bulbs and can operate up to 17 bulbs in a single circuit.
Unlike the two switches above, this one from Lutron does NOT require a neutral wire for installation, allowing any home to be able to utilize this advanced smart technology.
- No neutral wire required
- Built-in Dimmer
- Compatible with the largest range of smart devices
- Large bulb capacity
- Free app for Android and iOS
- Requires Smart Bridge to connect to Alexa and other voice assistants
- Wall cover plate sold separately
We have covered not only what a smart light switch is, but diving deep into the many options that can be possible. We hope that this article has provided you with the information necessary to make the decision whether a smart light switch may be in your very near future. As a final reminder, please be safe if you decide to undertake the installation process yourself, your health and safety are important, and no amount of technology is worth that risk.