How to install a smart light switch

You don’t need a Ph.D. to install a smart light switch — just a screwdriver

It sucks to have to wrestle with shopping bags while trying to find your house key and unlock your door in the dark. If you arrive home at night to a dark front porch, it’s nice to be able to turn on the porch lights with your phone before you get out of the car. When you want to turn off a light when you’re sitting comfortably on the sofa, it’s pretty sweet when you can just say “Alexa, turn off the hall light,” or “OK, Google, turn off the kitchen lights.” Smart light switches allow you to control your lights remotely with your voice or with your smart phone.

Some people like smart light switches better than smart light bulbs because you can turn any light or ceiling fan into a smart device, and you don’t have to keep spending cash on expensive smart light bulbs when they run out of juice. You can buy regular (non-smart) bulbs, which tend to be more inexpensive. Installing a smart light switch is a one-time ordeal. Once you install the switch and go through the setup, your regular old lights are smart lights.

Smart light switches can be a pain in the butt to install if you don’t know what you’re doing. You have to make sure you get the right gang the right wiring setup, and the right fit. If you know the steps, however, installing a smart light switch is a relatively painless process. Here’s how to install a smart light switch.

Things you’ll need

how to install a smart light switch wire connectors
  • A Philips head screw driver
  • A flat head screw driver
  • A smart light switch that fits your wall switch and wiring setup (more on this later)
  • Wire cutters
  • Wire connectors
  • A flashlight or battery-operated lantern
  • Electrical tape

How to install a smart light switch

Step 1: Learn your existing wall switch and wiring setup. Before you purchase a smart light switch, you’ll need to figure out the type of switch you need. If the wall panel only has one switch, you need a single gang; if it has two switches (maybe one switch for a light and one for a ceiling fan), you’ll need a two-gang smart light switch; if it has three switches, you’ll need a three-gang switch.

You also need to know what type of wiring you have. Turn off the power at the fuse box to avoid getting electrocuted. Then, open up the existing switch where you want to install your smart switch and examine the wiring. To open up the switch, unscrew the screws on the wall plate (they’re usually located on the top and bottom of the plate). Use a butter knife or flat-head screwdriver to pry the plate off of the wall, as it can stick in place (often because of paint). Then, unscrew the screws on the actual light switch and gently pull the switch forward.

how to install a smart light switch locate neutral wire
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Look at the wiring setup. Most smart light switches require a ground wire, an “in” wire, an “out” wire, and a neutral wire. Most homes have the in, out, and ground wires; but, some homes built before the 1980s don’t have neutral wires. Typically, the neutral wire is a white wire (or group of white wires). If you don’t have a neutral wire, you can still install a smart light switch, but you’ll need to purchase a specific type of smart light switch that doesn’t require a neutral wire. For instance, the Lutron P-PKG1W-WH-R Smart Lighting Dimmer Switch will work without a neutral wire, but it does require its own bridge.

Step 2: Choose a smart light switch. Once you familiarize yourself with your wiring setup, choose a smart light switch that fits your situation.

With two-gang switches, you can run into traveler wires and other unique situations. Therefore, the instructions moving forward will assume a single-gang smart light switch with a neutral wire, like Wemo’s smart light switch.

how to install a smart light switch
Erika Rawes/Digital Trends

Step 3: Remove your old light switch. Ensure the power is off at the breaker. Disconnect the old light switch completely by disconnecting each wire one by one. Take note of which wire is which as disconnect them to avoid confusion later. It helps to label the wires with colored electrical tape so you can keep track of them

Step 4: Connect your smart light switch. Connect the wires on your smart light switch to the wires inside your wall. Connect the “in” wire to the “in” wire, the “out” wire to the “out” wire, the “ground” wire to the “ground” wire, and the “neutral” wire to the “neutral” wire. Secure your connections with wire connectors, and make sure you don’t have any loose or exposed wire in the box (note: the ground wire might be a bare wire).

how to install a smart light switch wiring diagram

Once you’ve made all of the connections and secured them, test your connections by turning on the power. If your switch has power, move onto the next step. If your switch does not have power, re-check all of your connections.

Step 5: Secure the smart light switch in place. Turn the power back off at the breaker. Neatly place the wires connections into the wall box. Sometimes, it’s a tight fit, and it’s hard to get the wires into the box. As tempting as it is to forcefully shove them in the box, take your time and neatly place them to avoid loosening the connections or creating a fire hazard.

Once you’ve fit the wires in the box, screw the smart light switch into place. Then, turn the power back on at the breaker to make sure you didn’t break any of the connections. If your connections are all intact, snap on the wall plate, and begin setup in the app.

switchmate magnetically attaches to make light switches smart switch

Step 6: Connect your smart light switch to Wi-Fi. Install the smart light switch’s corresponding app and connect the switch to your network. Once you get the switch connected to the app, name the switch and connect it to Alexa or Google Home and start voice-controlling your lights.

Tips

  • Read the smart light switch’s instruction manual thoroughly to ensure you understand its wiring and setup.
  • Your wiring setup might be different in different rooms throughout your home. Don’t assume all of your wall switches have the same wiring setup.
  • If you experience issues connecting your switch to the app, make sure you have it on a 2.4 GHz network. You can also try resetting the switch, which typically involves holding down the button that turns the light on for about 10 to 15 seconds.
  • Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on how to install a two or three-gang smart light switch, and on how to install a smart light switch without a neutral wire.
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