Light strips are great, until they burn your house down (I'm kidding, sort of).
Though expensive and difficult to install, a smart home just isn't complete without smart light switches.
I personally tested the following:
|Caseta Wireless Dimmer Switch (PD-6WCL-WH)||Decora 600-Watt Z-Wave Dimmer Switch (VB2-DZ6HD)
Decora Dimmer Remote (DD0SR-DLZ)
Decora Z-Wave 15A Switch (VB5-DZ15S)
What you need to know
Smart light switches are the ideal lighting solution in every home. Replacing one light switch connected to six light bulbs is cheaper than replacing six smart bulbs. Smart switches function physically like regular switches, with the added benefit of being controlled remotely through voice, app, or automation. It’s too bad that I’m a renter, otherwise, I would have smart switches everywhere.
Most wireless light switches use Z-Wave Plus, but some use Wi-Fi or another technology. I wouldn’t use Wi-Fi switches unless I trust that the company will be around in the next ten years. That is why I’m comfortable recommending the Lutron Caseta brand, mainly because the company makes good products and has been around for ages.
Smart switches, especially Z-Wave switches, are difficult (and potentially dangerous) to install for DIYers like me. They are bulky—leaving little room in the already tiny electrical box to fit the switch and its wires. Z-Wave switches also require identification of the line (hot), load, traveler, neutral and ground wires, as each wire must be connected with its designated screw on the switch. A regular single-pole light switch install is much simpler—as long as you connect the line and load wires to any of the two black wires on the switch, as well as the ground wire, the switch will work.
In a 3-way switch, the process becomes slightly more complicated as you also need to purchase a separate auxiliary Z-Wave switch and it must replace the switch directly connected to the line (hot). If you replace the light switch connected to load with an auxiliary switch, then you’ve made a mistake.
There is some good news that the upcoming Z-Wave switches are looking easier to install. The upcoming Innovelli switches no longer require a neutral wire, which opens the door for older homes to be outfitted with smart switches. If companies can make a smaller Z-Wave switch and simplify the 3-way switch installation, then Z-Wave switches will finally be a match for Lutron Caseta switches—my current recommendation.
There are more things I haven’t mentioned that can go wrong. It’s not easy, but not impossible as long as you take the time to read instructions, watch tutorials, ask questions and be patient with the install. My general rule is if I have any uncertainty with any step of the process, then I’m not ready.
Installation of smart switches can be the most daunting part of a smart home. If you are unsure if what you’re doing, take the safe route and call an electrician. Don’t risk burning the house down because of your pride. That is why my recommendation is the one to take seriously, as it is one of the safest switch installations you can do.
Considerations before buying a smart light switch
- Check if your house has neutral wires in each of the electrical boxes. This is needed for most Z-Wave and Wi-Fi switches. Newer houses are required to have neutral wires installed, but most older houses do not have them.
- Identify the 3 or 4-way light switches in your home, as these may require auxiliary switches (if using Z-Wave).
- Decide on using dimmer switches or not. Dimmer switches require dimmable bulbs.
- Identify wall plate sizes to purchase, unless your house already uses rocker-style switches.
- If there is a light switch you rarely use, then don’t replace it with a smart one.
What you get with a smart light switch
- Gives you the ability to remotely control light fixtures using voice, app, or automation.
- Design automations that control lighting at different brightness levels. I set brightness levels to 10% for any automations that run between midnight and sunrise.
- Vacation mode lighting. Write an automation that turns the lights on and off to simulate activity.
- Affiliate link: Purchase the Lutron Caseta starter kit (switch and hub) or Leviton Decora switch on Amazon
- Connect Leviton Decora switch to SmartThings with custom device handler and Home Assistant using this Hass.io add-on.
- Lutron Lamp Dimmers can be used as range extenders. Only one extender per system, according to the Caseta FAQ.
- Lutron Caseta 3-way Switch Installation Tips: Youtube demonstration and PDF guide
For a safe and hassle-free installation, I highly recommend Lutron Caseta switches. Adding yet another hub to your smart home goes against my advice, but the simplicity of installation, lack of neutral wire requirement, and its overall reliability make this the only smart switch I can recommend for DIYers to install without professional help. The cost of a starter kit seems high, but know that you can use the included Lutron Pico remote as an auxiliary switch in a 3-way switch, which will keep the price in line with other smart switches.
I was surprised at the number of official integrations are supported by Lutron Caseta. SmartThings, Home Assistant, Google Assistant, and Amazon Alexa can be connected with a few clicks in an app. Even though the Caseta bridge and SmartThings are using the internet instead of local communication, I didn’t notice any significant delay when turning on the light. Hubitat is also “supported,” but requires the more expensive Lutron SmartBridge Pro for local communication. I became aware of this recently and had to decide against purchasing Hubitat as I didn’t want to buy yet another $120 to gain nothing meaningful in return.
The Lutron Caseta bridge needs a wired ethernet connection to your router, though connecting to a wireless network bridge also works. The light switches use Lutron’s proprietary Clear Connect wireless control protocol, which have no issues in a 2,000 sq. ft home. I think most homes will be fine using Caseta and a plug-in dimmer (which doubles as a repeater), but I would have doubts using Lutron Caseta in a very large home (4,000 sq ft).
I’m not a fan of the look of the Caseta switch and Pico remotes. I like the rocker switches that are on the Leviton Decora, but that’s my preference.
Installation and Smart Home Integration
Out of all the products listed here, smart light switches are the most difficult to install, except for Lutron Caseta switches. It is as easy as installing a regular light switch. You want to know why? Here’s why:
- The size of a Caseta switch is only slightly larger than a regular light switch.
- A neutral wire isn’t required to power the switch.
- There is no need to identify load and line wires (unless it is a 3-way switch) to install.
- Special auxiliary switches specifically for a 3-way switch configuration are not needed either.
For 3-way switches, the recommended installation is to reverse the 3-way wiring back to a single-pole setup and use a Pico remote as the auxiliary switch. Lutron has a video demonstration on Youtube. On the outside, the remote functions and looks like a regular Lutron switch.
If you need to extend the range of the Lutron Caseta smart bridge, you can purchase the Lutron Lamp Dimmer, which can also control a floor lamp, including the dimness!
Connecting Lutron Caseta to SmartThings is easy, but connecting to Home Assistant is more difficult due to the need to create an authentication certificate with Lutron, but a Hass.io add-on exists to automate this task. Once the certificate is created, you never have to touch the Lutron configuration again. Any new switches are automatically added in Home Assistant.
Leviton Decora Z-Wave Plus Dimmer Switches
When I first started planning my smart home purchases, I was adamant on sticking with Z-Wave devices to create the most robust Z-Wave network. That led me to the Leviton Decora Z-Wave Plus Dimmer Switches, which I purchased and installed at a friend’s house. The Leviton Decora Z-Wave switches (DZ6HD) have been performing solidly for the past year, but the painful installation process and the neutral wire requirement make it difficult to recommend when there are better options like the Lutron Caseta switches. If you don’t mind a challenge and your home is outfitted with neutral wire, then give these a shot.
Issues with Z-Wave devices are not uncommon from the forums I read, but I’ve had no such problem with the dozen Leviton Decora switches. The switch doubles as a Z-Wave signal repeater, which makes these perfect in a large house (3,000 sq. ft or greater). I also like the rocker-style switch design compared to the Lutron Caseta look.
The Leviton Decora switch requires a neutral wire to work, so newer or remodeled houses that have these wires are compatible. The bulky size of the switch makes the installation challenging, especially when installing three switches in one box. At the current price on Amazon ($51), I would rather risk trying the upcoming switches from Innovelli or Lutron Caseta, which are a similar price.
Installation and Smart Home Integration
I remember having minor issues pairing with SmartThings, mainly with getting the device handler by user @jasonxh to load and getting the SmartThings hub physically close enough to pair the switch. That effort required using some long network cables to pair the first set of switches.
I can’t comment on the difficulty of pairing directly with Home Assistant, as I used SmartThings in this particular setup. Z-Wave and Zigbee device management is one of Home Assistant’s weaknesses, so I advise researching on forums for potential issues. After pairing, the switches have been rock solid with no issues whatsoever for over a year.
For the renters out there, smart bulbs are a useful (and the only) smart lighting option.
Not all lighting has to be smart and these solutions prove it.