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Guide to smart light switches

Replacing every light in the house with a smart bulb can get pricey quickly. One easy way to add intelligence to a room’s lights is with a smart light switch. Once installed, you’ll be able to remotely control your lights, automate activation, or use voice assistants from Google, Apple, and Amazon as if you had full-blown smart lights. Here’s how it all works.

What does a smart light switch do?

Controlling a smart light switch with your smart phone.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A smart light switch replaces an existing light switch. When you link it to your home’s wireless network you can flip that switch off and on remotely or via voice assistants. Your light bulbs don’t need to be smart lights, they just need to be the lights connected to that switch.

Smart light switches come with smartphone apps that provide setup, schedule, dimming, and control options. Apps typically include geofencing, which uses your phone’s location data to automatically trigger lights. The specific features of the app vary by brand, but typically it will have the same kinds of features you’d see on smart light bulb apps.

It’s worth noting that some smart light manufacturers offer light switches designed specifically to work with their smart bulbs. Make sure to double-check the requirements on the package before buying a smart light switch, or you may be stuck with a switch that only works with smart bulbs.

Should you get smart light bulbs instead of smart light switches?

There are many benefits to upgrading to smart lights. Though there is an additional cost compared to a smart light switch, installation is easier, and switching over to LED from older light bulbs can save you money on your electrical bill. Smart light bulbs also afford a whole range of colors in the home that you can’t enjoy any other way.

That said, a smart light switch offers the convenience of automation, remote control, and voice activation that smart light bulbs also enjoy. Smart light switches are typically cheaper than smart bulbs, too. Even then, smart light bulbs may not be a viable option if the fixtures are well outside the wireless range. Switches can control outlets as well, so these smart switches can potentially enable automation for a wide range of appliances.

Besides enabling other devices, the smart switches sometimes have helpful additions like motion sensors, lights, speakers, microphones, and built-in voice assistants. These can make the switches quite useful in their own right.

What are the best smart light switches?

There are many great smart light switch options available. We’re big fans of the Lutron Caseta since it’s chock-full of features and doesn’t require a neutral wire, which makes it an option for some older buildings. The Lutron Caseta plays nice with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri. It also has geofencing and scheduling functions, which should cover all of your bases.

Often enough smart switches are made by manufacturers that also make plenty of other smart home devices. Keep that in mind when picking a smart light switch, as a common brand can make interoperability a breeze.

How much do smart light switches cost?

Smart light switches are fairly affordable. It’s possible to find a perfectly serviceable one for $10. Some of the fancier models include features like built-in Alexa, and reach closer to the $100 range.

You can expect some moderate electrical savings thanks to adding intelligence to your lights since they won’t be on any longer than necessary, but real energy savings are had when you replace old light bulbs with LEDs.

Can you make a light switch smart?

Products like Switchmate snap on top of an existing light switch and mechanically activate it.

It’s better to make a light switch smart by replacing it altogether. Full replacements have less mechanical wear, sport a more streamlined look, and offer great functionality with dimming.

When making the replacement, ensure there’s enough room in the box it mounts to for wireless transmitters. You’ll also need to find out if you have a neutral wire running to it, as that can affect which smart light switches are compatible. You’ll also need to know if the switch is single- or double-pole (i.e. multiple switches are connected to the same light).

It’s important to think about installing multiple smart light switches of the same brand, so you can group all the lights in your home and control them on the same app.

Do you need an electrician to install a smart light switch?

You don’t need an electrician to install a smart light switch. If you’re nervous about doing it right, an electrician certainly can do it, but it’s a fairly basic operation.

One of the bigger challenges can be fitting the wireless relay into the existing fixture box. This relay is what lets your smart light switch communicate to the rest of your home’s devices. If you need to remove the box or cut a bigger hole to make room for extra equipment in the wall, it can turn a small job into a much bigger one.

How do you connect a smart light switch?

You’ll want to check the instructions included with the smart light switch you buy for specifics, but generally, you’ll follow a few of the same steps.

  1. Turn off the power to the light switch at your circuit breaker board.
  2. Remove the existing light switch, including ground, live, neutral, and load wires.
  3. Reconnect the ground, live, neutral, and load wires to the new smart light switch.
  4. Screw the new light switch into place.
  5. Turn the power back on at the circuit breaker.
  6. Go through smart light switch setup instructions.

You’ll likely need to make sure there’s Wi-Fi coverage to the outlet, or that the other wireless hub (required for some models) is in range. Some smart switches will rely on Bluetooth, so your phone will need to be close by to work with it. Read more details on how to install a smart light switch.

Now that you’re all set with the fundamentals of smart switches, hopefully you can pick out one you like, and add some intelligence to your home lighting setup. Smart light switches are a fine, inexpensive alternative to upgrading a home’s entire set of light bulbs while offering much of the same features.

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Simon Sage
Simon has been publishing in tech since before the first iPhone was released. When he's not busy lighting a candle for the…
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