Smart Light Switches Explained

If you're looking for a way to smarten up your home lighting than smart switches might be for you.
Rob Green

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16 February, 2021
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What are smart light switches?

Smart light switches replace your existing on-the-wall switches with ones that provide “smart” features, such as voice control, trigger and scheduling options. As they replace your existing switches, you’ll want to be confident working with electricity or as we recommend – calling an electrician.

If replacing every-single-light in your home sounds tiring and expensive, then smart light switches are an excellent choice for you. 

You can also find switches with in-built motion and light sensors, which adds to the quality of life improvements smart lights bring to your home. If you’re after switch recommendations, give our in-depth guide on smart lighting a read.

Why get a smart light switch?

Aside from the fact they’ll provide you with more ways to control the lights in your home, they also have a few additional added benefits.

  1. Don’t require you to replace every light in your home, but still provides smart features
  2. You can switch all lights off in your home with one command or button when you head out or go to bed
  3. Remotely control your lights with an app on your phoneor use voice commands
  4. Added security by turning your lights on and off automatically, making it look like someone is home when you’re travelling
  5. Add mood lighting, by dimming lights*
  6. Cheapest option to automate the lights in your home

* not all smart light switches can dim the lights

The first point on this list can’t be stressed enough, replacing every light in your home with smart lights adds up quickly, in terms of time and money. If controlling the lights in your home is something you want to do, but don’t want to spend a small fortune doing, smart switches are a great alternative.

Likewise, being able to control your lights in more than one way is what really makes them a standout technology. For instance, it’s much quicker and simpler to say a single voice command to turn off all the lights in your home, than to physically go around and turn them off.

Also, it’s nice to have lights turn on when you enter the room. Some models are also capable of dimming the lights at set times, so no more bright lights waking you up when you visit the bathroom at midnight.

Controlling a Smart Switch

Just like smart lights, switches offer similar ways to control the lighting in your home. The biggest difference between smart light switches and bulbs is the ability to control individual lights.

This might not be an issue for you, with your current light switches working perfectly well – but lack the smart features you’re looking to introduce into your home. 

Ways to control Smart Lights

Voice, Schedule, Trigger, Manual Control
  • Voice commands (e.g. “Hey Google turn the lounge room lights off”)
  • Automate with schedules (e.g. turn on when the sun sets and off when you go to bed)
  • Through triggers, like motion sensors (e.g. Someone enters the bathroom)
  • Manually though the app on your phone

Now you have multiple ways to control your lights, how and when is totally customisable to your home situation, for example people with pets might want to forgo motion sensors. By no means do you have to use every control option available, with a lot of people tending to stick to a few, such as using the physical switch and voice commands.

Smart Light Switch types and features

When deciding which switch to buy it’s important to understand the different types and features you’ll come across. To help out, we’ve listed the most important and common ones to look out for.

Smart light switch types

When it comes to light switches, like most products it’s best to do a bit of research before jumping in. Here’s some of the different parts that you should look for before making a purchase.

TypeDescription
Physical Control TypeButton, Flip or Dial
Neutral Wire SupportSome models require this, make sure you check
Multi-Switch SupportIf the lights in your room can be controlled with 2 or more different switches
SizeCan vary by a fair amount, most are “standard” size

Smart light switch features

Once you know what type of switch you want, here’s some of the features you should also be look for.

  • Ability to dim the lights
  • Connects directly to WiFi, Bluetooth and/or a Hub (Zigbee/Z-Wave)
  • Able to connect to popular voice assistants (Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri)
  • Built in sensors such as motion and ambient light

Additional features include geofencing, have your lights turn on as you approach your house. Some switches also include a night mode – enabling you to set a brightness level based on the time of day (so you don’t blind yourself at night when going to the bathroom).

We really like switches with in-built motion sensors, as nothing really feels as futuristic as walking into a room and having the lights come on automatically, it honestly is a benefit we didn’t think much of until we had it.

Direct to WiFi or Hub?

Similar to smart lights, switches will either connect directly to your WiFi or to a hub – with the advantage of WiFi coming from the fact you don’t need an extra device (hub).

However, the more WiFi devices in your home the greater chance of interference, so if you’re going to install multiple smart switches, we’d recommend looking into ones that connect to a hub – which utilises a different kind of wireless connection (Zigbee/Z-wave/Bluetooth) that doesn’t interfere with WiFi.

This topic is quite large, so we’ll create a separate article on this.

Using a Smart Speaker for Voice Control

Using your voice to control your lights isn’t a gimmick anymore, it can come in very handy when you know what to ask.

Be sure to check the smart switches you choose is compatible with your smart assistant. While some support Google Assistant, Alexa and Siri (HomeKit) others might support only one or two.

 So, if voice control is important to you, make sure your smart switch also supports your chosen voice assistant.

Drawbacks

While they can be very useful, it’s important to also look at some drawbacks you might experience with switches. We want to be as transparent as possible so here are the most common drawbacks people experience with smart switches.

  1. You need to install them by taking out previous switches, so you’ll want to hire an electrician if you’re not comfortable doing this
  2. They’re harder to install and setup than other smart lights, such as bulbs
  3. Some switches are bulkier/smaller than your current ones, so make sure you research the size of the switch beforehand
  4. Some require a neutral wire to work, which older homes might lack, limiting your options
  5. If there’s a second switch controlling the same light, make sure your smart switch is multi-switch compatible 
  6. You won’t be able to control individual lights, which might not be something you need or want

You will also want to make sure the switch you buy can support the amount of power your lights consume in total, for example some switches can only support 450W total (~40-60 LED lights) or 700W (~11 incandescent lights) of power. Not a problem for many homes, and if you have LED lights already, shouldn’t be one you run into.

Practical and Common Uses

Following on from our discussion on why you would want to invest in smart switches, we’ve listed some more practical uses below. To give you a bit more of an idea on what they can do and ultimately decide if they’re a technology you want to invest in.

  1. Setup schedules, such as having the lounge room lights turn on when the sun sets and off when you go to bed
  2. Use voice commands to control the lights from anywhere in the home
  3. Create mood lighting by dimming the lights, great when you have guests over or for a movie night
  4. Make it appear like someone is home when you’re on holiday, by having lights turn on and off at different times and for different duration’s
  5. Switches with motion sensors built in, can detect when someone enters a room and turns the lights on or off accordingly
  6. Switches with ambient light sensors ensure your lights only turn on when it’s night

These certainly aren’t the only uses for smart switches, but hopefully give you some idea of what they are capable of. You could even setup some advance logic, such as having your whole house light up when the smoke alarm or home security system is triggered.

We’ll look to expand this list as we gather more feedback on what people are using their switches for in their day-to-day lives.

Picking the right smart light switch

It can be hard figuring out which switch is right for you, as we talked about earlier there’s a lot of different types, meaning if you’re after one with a set of features and looks – it might not exist or you may need to compromise.

As a rough guide we’d recommend following the below steps before picking a smart switch

  1. Check how many switches you want/need to replace
  2. Find out if your current switches use a neutral wire (will limit smart switch choice if they don’t)
  3. Find out the size of the light switches you’ll be replacing (so you don’t buy a switch that’s too small or too big)
  4. Look at our recommended brands and models below, to see if they fit the above criteria.

Brands to look at first

  • Leviton
  • Lutron

As for specific models, we can recommend;

  • Lutron – Caseta / Aurora
  • Leviton – Decora

Of course these aren’t the only brands out there, but they’re the ones that people keep recommending and for good reason. They’re excellent quality and reliable, which is what you want most in a product.

There’s also an argument to be made around how they’ll increase your home value, which requires a separate article to cover.

Smart lights or smart light switches?

Not sure if you should be purchasing smart light switches or smart lights? You’ll find our comparison between switches, bulbs and plugs right here. You might not want to read another lengthy article so here’s our quick input.

Smart Light Bulbs are great if you want to control individual lights. Group lights to get the mood just right. While costly, they offer the most granular control.

Smart Light Switches are the best for anyone wanting to introduce smart features (voice control, automations) to their home without replacing every single light bulb. Switches are also more cost-effective to install (compared to bulbs).

Summary

Smart light switches are a great way to automate the lights in your home without spending copious amounts of money, the major drawback to this however is the increased effort required to install them.

Once installed, the benefits and uses of smart switches really shine, we hear a lot of people love having their lights turn on automatically, or on command, without physically touching a switch. 

While it’s easier to recommend smart switches to people building a new home, anyone that’s planning to stay in their home for 2+ years will want to look into them as well. 

Still not convinced? Look into installing a single switch in your main room (e.g. Kitchen or Lounge Room), to get a feel for how useful they are for you.

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