All smart switches require a neutral conductor

Which Smart Light Switch Should You Buy?

Not all intelligent light switches are created equal. And while many of them have the same functions for the most part, there are a few things you should know about smart light switches so that you can choose the best one for your needs.

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You could just go with some smart lightbulbs (we're big fans of Philips Hue), but if you don't really need those fun, color-changing lightbulbs for your house parties, smart light switches can be just as good (if not better) and cheaper than smart lightbulbs. However, before you go for smart light switches, there are a few things you should know.

The neutral wire

For starters, the most important thing is to pay attention to whether or not a smart light switch requires the use of a neutral cable.

There is a white neutral wire inside some light switch junction boxes. This is used with any electrical device so that the current has a return path to the ground. In a light switch box, the switch usually bypasses just that wire, but is still accessible.

Some smart light switches take advantage of neutrals and must be connected to it in order to function. The problem, however, is that a neutral wire may not be accessible inside the light switch box, especially in older homes, and this can significantly limit your smart light switch choices.

Connectivity

Depending on the smart light switch, there are a few ways to connect it to your network. The most common types of connectivity are either WiFi, Z-Wave, or ZigBee. However, some smart switches use their own proprietary WiFi protocol, particularly Lutron with their Caseta devices.

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Smart switches that connect directly to Wi-Fi (like Belkin's WeMo light switch) are the most convenient because you don't have to deal with hubs. On the other hand, a Z-Wave or ZigBee light switch would need some kind of hub to connect, such as a SmartThings hub or a Wink hub, but it wouldn't affect your Wi-Fi network as much if you used it no longer need a couple of them.

With the Lutron Caseta line of light switches, you need the company's own hub because a custom version of RF is used to connect the switches. Fortunately, you can buy a kit that comes with the hub and it's easy to set everything up.

Which one should you buy?

While you have some choice on this matter, it ultimately comes down to the neutral wire and whether or not a smart light switch needs one.

Lutron Caseta light switches do not require neutral conductors - a good choice if you do not have a neutral conductor in the light switch box. Caseta switches are very good either way, and the fact that you don't have to mess around with neutral is a good convenience.

However, if you have a neutral, you have a handful of other options.

If you don't want to deal with hubs, using a Wi-Fi light switch is your best bet. Unfortunately, there aren't many of them, but TP-Link's Kasa Smart Wi-Fi light switch is a cheap and decent option, and the Kasa app is one of my favorites.

The Belkin WeMo model is pretty decent too, but it's a couple of bucks more than the Kasa switch and the app interface isn't that nice. However, if you already have WeMo devices in your house, the WeMo light switch is worth considering.

CONNECTED:How to install and configure the Belkin WeMo Light Switch

If you don't mind bothering with a hub (or if you already have one), Z-Wave or ZigBee is ideal. GE offers a wide variety of Z-Wave lighting products, including light switches. They offer ZigBee versions, but ZigBee light switches aren't that common. In addition, Z-Wave has a greater range and works more reliably. While ZigBee has the advantage of monitoring energy usage, this is usually not important when it comes to lighting, especially if you are using efficient LED bulbs.

There you will also find Z-Wave light switches from brands like GoControl, HomeSeer, Leviton and even Honeywell offer almost the same functions and can be controlled via your hub's companion app.

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No matter what you choose, stick with a single connection protocol. So if you start with Z-Wave switches, you will only use Z-Wave in the future. Mixing WiFi protocols isn't the end of the world, but you will get better reliability using the same connection in your home. Management becomes easier as soon as you equip your entire house with intelligent switches.