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Smart Switches and Dimmers For Your Home

By Tobias Roberts Rise Writer
May 15, 2021

Before the day and age of smart lighting, a burned-out light bulb needed replacing with a similar incandescent bulb. Today, however, a walk through the lighting aisle of your local hardware store will give you seemingly infinite household lighting options. Gone are those simple, energy-hogging incandescent bulbs, replaced by a seemingly endless array of energy-efficient smart lighting gadgets.

What Are Smart Switches and Smart Dimmers?

Smart switches are smart home technology that allows homeowners to control the lights in their homes remotely. Smart switches connect to your home network or smart home hub and give homeowners access and control of their household lighting through a Wi-Fi connection. This connectivity allows you to remotely control the different light switches in your home via an app accessible via your smartphone, tablet, or computer. With all smart switch products, you can still turn the lights on or off "manually" by toggling the in-wall switch. This manual feature will allow your visiting "smart phone-free" grandma to turn off the lights in the bathroom.

Smart switches will give homeowners new ways to control their home lighting and switch-wired devices. Besides light bulbs, you can also configure smart switch products for remote control of any hardwired appliance that runs on a switch. Waste disposal units, ceiling fans, and bathroom fans can be turned off or on remotely with a smart switch. On a cold winter evening, you can even use a smart switch to turn on an electric fireplace to warm up your living room before coming home from work.

LED lighting options are one of the easiest and most cost-effective energy efficiency changes we can make. According to a Department of Energy (DOE) report, the collective effort to switch to LED bulbs has saved more than $675 million in energy costs each year. Suppose every homeowner and business owner changed entirely to LED lights over the next two decades. In that case, the United States could expect to see an estimated $250 billion in reduced energy costs. This reduction would effectively halve the electricity consumption used for lighting and help to avoid around 1,800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

LED lighting options drastically reduce the energy consumption of households and open up a whole new array of unique, customized lighting options. The combined ability to dramatically reduce energy use while simultaneously increasing our homes' comfort, performance, and functionality is the hallmark of a successful home technology option. And the numbers show that LED lighting options are quickly catching on with homeowners.

How Much Is the Smart Lighting Industry Worth?

The smart lighting market had an estimated value of 16 billion in 2020 and is expected to reach 36 billion by 2026. The increasing popularity and acceptance of smart home technology are certainly helping to spur on that impressive growth. Smart home technology continues to find innovative ways to integrate with our home lighting systems. With this, new possibilities for unique, customized, functional, and energy-efficient home lighting schemes will continue to hit the market.

Freestanding lights can benefit from the installation of smart plugs and outlets. Smart switches and dimmers are another integral part of smart lighting technology and systems for households. These products give homeowners more control over their lighting fixtures, and when correctly used, offer increased opportunities for energy savings. In this complete Rise guide, we explain everything you need to know about smart switches and dimmers and offer our choices for some of the best products currently on the market.

Why Do We Need Smart Switches and Dimmers?

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) states that "the residential sector electricity consumption for lighting was about 62 billion kWh." This consumption amounts to about four percent of total residential sector electricity consumption and about two percent of the US's total electricity consumption in 2020. How much of that energy was wasted by lights being left on when nobody was around?

Wemo Living Room
Wemo Switch Installed in Living Room. Photo Credit: Wemo
Caseta Lutron Kit Amazon
Caseta Lutron Kit. Photo Credit: Amazon

How Can You Use Smart Switches and Dimmers?

Depending on the type of smart switch system you use and how you connect them to your other smart home technology, some uses for smart switches include:

  • Voice control with smart home speakers. "Alexa, dim the dining room lights" is an easy way to create the perfect ambiance for a romantic evening dinner.
  • Remote control via a smartphone. No matter where you are in the world, you'll know when the lights in your home are on or off.
  • Create a customized time-based schedule for your home lighting. If the family is away for a long weekend, this feature can allow you to turn your lights on or off at a specific time of day.
  • Creation of different moods. When part of a complete smart lighting system for your home, smart switches can be configured for different lighting "ambiances," such as lighting for reading a book or hosting a party. 

What Types of Smart Switches Are Available? 

The main differences in smart switches are related to the type of connectivity you use to control them. All smart switches will rely on a radio transmitter for their internal communication and to connect with your home network. However, the "smart" functionality of the switches, which allow them to communicate with one another, can be controlled by different broadcast frequencies and protocols. The three most commonly used types of connectivity for smart switches are Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, or Z-Wave.

In general, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth smart switches are the easiest to install as they do not require a smart home hub. They can thus easily connect with your existing home network. Smart switches that rely on Zigbee and Z-wave connectivity for control will require a connection to a smart home hub. The main benefit of this option is that the switches will not eat up the bandwidth on your Wi-Fi network. This feature can be vital if you plan to install several smart switches throughout your home or have a limited internet data plan.

Leviton App
Leviton Switch and App. Photo Credit: Leviton

How Much Energy Do Smart Switches Save?

Leading smart switch manufacturers like Lutron state that homeowners could experience energy savings of up to 60 percent when using smart switches with dimming and occupancy sensing capabilities. However, it is crucial to recognize that smart switches will use more energy than a standard switch. In general, smart switches with Wi-Fi controls will use two watts of power while idling, while a ZigBee or Z-Wave switch will use about 0.5 watts at idle. Energy savings does tie directly into user behavior. Suppose your household habitually forgets to turn off the lights. In that case, smart switches can help to reduce your energy consumption drastically by allowing you to schedule on and off times or turning off lights remotely.

How Long Do Smart Light Switches Last?

A regular light switch should easily last 20 years or more. Most light switches wear out due to repeated use or loose wires that can cause short circuits. Because smart switches tend to get "flipped" on and off less regularly, they should be more durable than manual toggle switches. But of course, they are so new - we will have to wait and see!

KooGeek Installation
KooGeek Smart Switch Installation. Photo Credit: KooGeek

How Do You Install a Smart Light Switch?

Before installing smart switches in your home, you need to determine whether your existing light bulbs and electrical wiring are compatible. For light bulbs, Lutron offers a helpful compatibility tool so you can decide which light bulbs are compatible with their switches. Changing all of the light bulbs in your home to work with the new smart switches you purchased will significantly increase the overall price.

You will need to make sure that your household electrical wiring has a neutral wire in the switchback boxes. If your home was wired before 1980, you might not have a neutral wire in the box, making installation more expensive. Check out this YouTube tutorial for a complete, step-by-step guide for smart switch installation.

Chandelier

When Should You Choose Smart Light Switches Over Bulbs? 

Suppose your home has LED light bulbs (but not smart LED light bulbs), and you don't want to replace them before the end of their useful life. Then, a smart light switch might be a better and potentially less wasteful solution. Or consider the scenario where you have multi-bulb fixtures or lighting combinations with many light bulbs tied to one switch. In that case, a smart light switch may be a more intelligent and less costly alternative that will give you similar results. Smart light switches make all the connected light bulbs smart. 

Wemo WiFi Smart Dimmer Belkin
Wemo WiFi Smart Dimmer. Photo Credit: Belkin

What Are The Best Brands of Smart Switches?

Smart light switches allow you to have the same control as smart light bulbs without adding color. Belkin WemoLeviton, Koogeek, GE, Lutron, Top Greener, and LeGrand are widely available and have smart light switches in the $20-$70 range.

Look affordable option that can connect to your home Wi-Fi system and don't require a Hub. If you have an older home whose wiring lacks a neutral wire, consider purchasing the Lutron Caseta Smart Switch Kit. For under $100, you get smart switches that operate on a separate hub. This feature allows you to avoid the neutral wire requirement, reducing installation costs and perhaps even improving reliability.

Kasa Installed
Photo Credit: Kasa

Smart switches are a great way to cut back on your household energy bills, especially if you tend to leave lights on. As smart lighting systems continue to evolve, they also give homeowners a wealth of alternatives to customizing their home lighting options.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-05T17:17:45+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.

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