smart switch

What is a Smart Switch?

In this previous post I talked about some problems users have when they connected Smart Lights to wall switches. Here, I’ll cover what a Smart Switch is and what it can do for you.

Smart Switches let you control the switch on your wall that is usually connected to an overhead light fixture from your Smartphone or your Voice Assistant. The subtle benefit being the overhead light, or whatever you have connected to the wall switch, gets most of the benefits of a smart device without actually being one. 

Below you’ll find answers to the most common questions regarding Smart Switches.

What Is A Switch?

A switch goes by a few different names. You might call it a light switch, dimmer switch, wall switch or maybe even an electrical switch. But no matter which you use, all of these general names refer to the same device. For this post, I’ll refer to it simply as “switch.”

Typical Switch

A switch is an appliance that’s embedded into the wall of your home. It has some number of knobs, or toggle buttons, that control a nearby device. Typically, a switch is connected to devices like overhead lights or wall plugs near the switch itself. Sometimes it controls devices in a separate room, like a switch beside your front door that controls the lights outside.

There are several variations of a switch: you might have one with multiple knobs; or you might have a light that is connected to multiple ones, called a 3-Way Switch; or your switch might even be able to change the brightness on the light it’s connected to, as well.

For some more information, check out this explanation of wall switch configurations.

What Is A Smart Switch?

Now that we know what normal switches are, let’s talk about the smart device variant of them. First and foremost, Smart Switches are pretty awesome. I think they are one of the most useful smart device categories out there, despite having a potentially tricky installation. 

Smart Switches let you control the switch on your wall from your Smartphone or your Voice Assistant, thereby giving you full access to control whatever appliance the switch is connected to—usually a light–even if it’s not a smart device . 

What Does A Smart Switch Do?

On/Off

If it can’t be turned on and off, it’s not really a switch, right? This is required functionality.

Style

Smart Switch styles are a big deal. Switches are one of the more visible and used appliances in a home. You wouldn’t want one that sticks out like a sore thumb. The Smart Switch needs to blend in with the rest of the devices in your home, so it’s important to find a style that blends in with the rest of your existing Switches.

Touch Smart Switch
Touch Smart Switch

Network

Smart Switches need to connect to your network somehow. If they don’t, your Smart Switches won’t be any different than the normal switch you replaced them with. Fortunately, Smart Switches can connect using a variety of network types, like WiFi, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. Check out the network overview to get more info about the differences between each network type.

Knob Count

I think knobs are the biggest challenge with Smart Switches, as normal switches can have different numbers of Knobs. For instance, it’s not uncommon to see switches that have 1, 2, or even 4 different knobs. Smart Switches are no different, but it can be tough to find a Smart Switch that has the right number of knobs, as well as the right brand you’re wanting. Be sure to browse through the various Smart Switch options a brand has before you decide and potentially get stuck with one that doesn’t have the right knob counts you need.

4 Smart Switch Assembly

Dimmer Switches

In addition to a knob that toggles power on and off, you can also get dimmer switches that allow you to adjust the brightness of a connected light. Dimmer switches have a secondary knob on the switch itself where you move it up and down, thereby controlling the brightness of the light. Instead of doing this manually, you can also control brightness remotely using Smart Switches. 

A word of caution here when connecting a Smart Light to a dimmer switch: Smart Lights aren’t meant to work with dimmer switches. If you do connect them, you could damage your Smart Light. Check out the section below on Smart Lights and Smart Switches for more info.

Dimmer Switch
Dimmer Switch

3-Way Switch Support

First, let’s talk about what a 3-Way Switch is. In your home, you might have two seperate switches that control the same light. I know I do. For example, in my home, I have one stairway light that is controlled by both a switch at the bottom of the stairs and a switch at the top. This kind of configuration is called a 3-Way Switch.

Smart Switches support 3-Way Switch configurations, too. Just make sure you get the right Smart Switch, because not all Smart Switches support this functionality. If you do buy a Smart Switch that doesn’t support 3-Way, your Smart Switch will tell you that it’s on, when it’s really not. If you can’t trust it, it’s not worth much once you get to more advanced setups.

Ecosystem Support

Similar to other smart devices, a Smart Switch doesn’t always support the ecosystem you have. Make sure your Voice Assistant and other devices are compatible with the Smart Switch before purchasing. This issue becomes really important once you move past the early phase of a Smart Home and launch into the Home Automation phase.

FAQ

How much does a Smart Switch cost?

Smart Switches are a bit more expensive than Smart Lights and Smart Plugs. Generally, you can expect to pay about $50 dollars for a Smart Switch with a single knob. Don’t let the cost deter you, though. You’re likely to get more value from a single Smart Switch than a Smart Light. Smart Switches last much longer.

How do you install a Smart Switch?

As hinted at above, installing a Smart Switch is likely the largest hurdle you’ll run into. Smart Switches are more difficult to install than a Smart Plug or a Smart Light. As such, make sure you can actually install it before making the plunge in purchasing. Installation requires turning off power in your home and specific tools to ensure the power is really turned off for the specific socket you’re working on. You might also run into differences in wiring, as not all houses have the same wiring setup. Youtube is a fantastic resource for getting installation right. Here’s a solid video to give you a better idea.

How does a Smart Switch work with Smart Lights?

A Smart Light connected to a Smart Switch will work, but I’m not sure why you would want it to. It doesn’t make sense to have a Smart Switch connected to a Smart Light because they both provide roughly the same benefits. They both allow you to control the device remotely using your Smartphone or Voice Assistant.

Note: If you have a dimmer Smart Switch, don’t connect a Smart Light to it, as Smart Lights are meant to have full power at all times.

When are Switches better than Smart Lights?

I recommend using Smart Switches for light fixtures, appliances that require more than one light bulb, or anything controlled by a wall switch. If you use a Smart Light with a wall switch, you’ll likely run into a common problem at home. However, for anything that isn’t connected to a wall Switch, I recommend using a Smart Light instead.

Security and Privacy

Just a parting comment on Security that applies to Smart Switches, and really all Smart Devices. A big concern when having all of these devices connected to your home network and the internet is their security. Many devices out in the market today have poor security, which gives Attackers an easy way to access your new device and home network and use it for their own purposes. For more info, see this post on Smart Home Security. Before buying any smart device, do some research to make sure the brand you’re going with hasn’t had recent security breaches.

Summary

Smart Switches are one of the core smart devices that everyone picks up. Like smart plugs, they can turn devices into smart devices for you. They also until Smart Lights or Smart Plugs, Smart Switches can still be use physically without any problems. You can use the physical switch without breaking the experience with your remote users, or automation.

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