Skip to main content

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.

Editors' Recommendations

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…
Best standing desk deals: Plenty of options under $200
The CorLiving standing desk converter extended on a desktop.

If you spend a lot of your day working at a desk, adding one of the best standing desks to your office is worth considering. A standing desk can boost comfort and productivity, and even improve your overall health. If you feel like you’re spending too much of your day sitting at a desk, we’ve got some good news, as there are quite a few standing desks seeing impressive discounts right now. There are a lot of options to choose from that come in at less than $200, and you can even get a standing desk for as little as $50. So if you want to change up your work ergonomics from time to time through the day and save some money along the way, these are the best standing desk deals to shop right now.
Flash Furniture Eve standing laptop desk — $50, was $60

Laptop users should enjoy using the Eve standing laptop desk by Flash Furniture. It’s small, compact, and moves around easily. It’s top measures 25.5 inches by 22.5 inches, making it large enough for a laptop, or for doing a little bit of handwritten work or working with a tablet. It comes with casters that make mobility effortless, making it a good option for conference rooms and shared workspaces as well.

Read more
The best smart plugs of 2023: What is a smart plug, and which do I need?
A Wemo Indoor smart plug on a table.

Smart home devices have come a long way over the past few years. Walk into any home improvement store or supermarket, and you’re bound to find a wide variety of smart lights, smart locks, smart thermostats, and an assortment of other “smart” gadgets. But one often overlooked category is smart plugs – tiny devices that plug into your electrical outlet and give your “dumb” electronics the versatility of a modern smart home device.

Beyond giving you remote control of your outlets, many smart plugs allow you to set timers or monitor your electricity usage. This makes them surprisingly versatile while still carrying an affordable price tag. Plenty of big names (like Amazon and Wyze) are producing smart plugs, but they’re far from your only option. Here’s a closer look at the best smart plugs of 2023.

Read more
Best Keurig deals: Get perfect coffee every time for under $100
The Keurig K-Duo coffee maker sets on a kitchen counter.

If you want the convenience and speed of instant coffee without the gritty taste, you need a Keurig. Keurig is the original K-Cup coffee maker, and no other brand has quite caught up. Keurig coffee makers come in a lot of varieties, from single cup brewers to espresso machines. They range from cheap to rather expensive -- we've found Keurig deals on all types of models. Check out the list below, and make sure to compare what you see against the best coffee maker deals and the best Nespresso deals.
Keurig K-Slim Single Serve K-Cup Coffee Maker -- $99, was $130

Another slimline fit but one that offers a bit more functionality, the Keurig K-Slim Single Serve K-Cup Coffee Maker has a removable 46-ounce reservoir so you can easily brew up to four cups before refilling. With three different cup sizes, you can opt for an eight-ounce, 10-ounce, or 12-ounce cup of Joe at the push of a button. It all takes minutes to do with a removable drip tray that accommodates travel mugs and deals with any accidental spillages too. It also has multistream technology so it can extract more flavor and aroma with every brew.

Read more