The Problems With Smart Light Switches (And How To Avoid Them)
If you want to take control of your lights at home, adding timers, scenes and other automations then you may have been looking for a "smart light switch".
Smart light switches offer a great way to automate, control and monitor your home. They offer comfort and security benefits such as scenes, increased security with automatic lighting, welcome home lighting and much, much more.
But whilst there are some great quality products out there, there's quite a few roadblocks to look out for as there are lots of reasons why a particular smart light switch just won't fit your home.
Luckily to all problems there is a solution, so here we outline the problems and what can be done about it.
1. Neutral Wire Required
A lot of smart light switches require a neutral.
Especially cheaper WiFi based ones.
They need to be directly powered in order to talk to the cloud and operate from a smart phone or voice control with Alexa etc.
Step one on your journey to smart lighting is to check that you have a neutral cable at your light switches.
In the UK there are two common ways of wiring lighting, the most common is to wire the feed in and out to the light fitting itself, meaning no neutral at the light switch and method 2 is to wire the feed in and out to the light switch, which means you will have the neutral!
If your house is wired as per method one then you'd need to be able to replace the cable from the light switch to the light fitting in order to gain an additional cable core for the neutral. This may or may not be easily achieved, so check first.
2. Deep Back Box Required
You've got a neutral? Great.
The next problem is the depth!
Smart switches contain some IoT tech including WiFi chips and computers which means they are generally a little deeper than standard light switches.
The vast majority will be at least 30mm deep which means you'll need a back box of 47mm deep in order to safely connect the cables.
If your back box isn't that deep, but you do have a neutral, you'll need to replace the back box for a deeper one.
Hopefully you've got plasterboard walls as this is really simple, a direct swap. If however you're into brickwork then you'll need to chase out the wall deeper to accommodate the box.
This is usually easily achieved by a professional without causing much damage so whilst it does create some extra dusty work, it's not always a deal breaker.
3. They Don't Dim!
Okay, so you've pulled in an extra cable for the neutral and you've chiseled out a 47mm deep back box, your switch is now an easy fit!
Simply wire it up, connect to the app and you're off!
However, if you're planning to set the scene with some nice dim lighting you might be a bit disappointed to find out that the vast majority of smart light switches don't actually dim!
Not everyone wants to dim their lights though and switches such as the Iotty offer a really comprehensive smart home experience without breaking the bank.
You can create scenes, timers, automations and even use the switch to control things such as blinds, gates and much more.
4. They Do Dim!
Problems 1-3 can be solved by using the LightwaveRF smart light switches.
Whilst they are a little bit more expensive than the WiFi smart switches it's for a reason.
- They are much better quality
- They don't need a neutral
- They don't need a deep back box
- They offer dimming
With that comes another minor problem, but luckily this ones pretty easy to resolve.
Your lamps must be dimmable!
For most lamps this is fine, just bear in mind that external lighting and "special" light fittings must also contain dimmable bulbs in order to work.
LightwaveRF is easily the smart light switch that ticks most of the boxes and is easiest to install, especially DIY.
5. Battery Powered Wireless, Can't Go Wrong?
You've probably seen the completely wireless battery powered switches such as the Lutron RA2 Select range, surely these must be "the answer"?
Well, wireless switches are super easy to fit. Obviously.
You can stick them anywhere without worrying about cables, chasing or even electrical regulations (i.e you can put a wireless keypad in a bathroom!)
So what's the problem here?
These systems will require a receiver unit for each light fitting which is often quite bulky.
When installed with down lights these are usually sited at the first downlight and can easily hide in the ceiling space, however that's not always quite so easy with a standard pendant fitting or wall lights.
If you're going down this route then you simply need to ensure that you have a position where you can site the dimmer module for each circuit.
Where there is a loft space, or you can get floorboards up this should be relatively easy. But put some consideration into "fancy" light fittings and wall lights as they may not be so easy to retrofit.
So there we have it, those are the main problems that you'll face when choosing smart light switches for your home project and how each problem can easily be overcome when you're armed with the right knowledge.
LightwaveRF is the easiest and most feature packed solution for a new or retrofit project however the Iotty, Nedis & Homeflow Smart Life switches are great for a one-off room or for smaller projects such as automatic external lighting.
We'd recommend that on all new builds and renovations that you always, always, always put in a 47mm deep back box and a neutral core to the light switches. It won't cost you much more on your project and it means that you can't really go wrong when choosing your smart light switches!