Forget Smart Bulbs, Buy a Smart Switch

A light bulb leaning against the inside of a model-size, wooden house frame.
sommart sombutwanitkul/Shutterstock

Smart bulbs are easy, convenient, and great for many smarthomes. But do you know what’s even better? Smart light switches. They fix all the biggest problems with smart bulbs (with a few compromises).

As your smarthome grows, one of the first areas you want to control is your lighting. Smart bulbs might seem like the most straightforward option to accomplish this, but that’s not always the case. Instead, you might want to consider installing smart light switches.

Smart switches offer several benefits over smart bulbs. They solve the light switch problem, are easy for everyone to use, cost less, and even eliminate any naming issues. 

The Biggest Smart Bulb Problem, Solved

A standard light switch in the off position.
Who turned off this switch again? Josh Hendrickson

If you have smart bulbs, you’re probably already aware of their biggest flaw. If a light switch controls a smart bulb, and someone turns off that switch, you now have a dumb bulb.

It makes sense that the switch cuts power from the bulb, and without electricity, how can it be “smart?” But we’re creatures of habit, and trying to tell yourself (or anyone else in your home) not to use the switch is an exercise in frustration. Sooner or later, someone (perhaps even you) will flip that switch.

To use smart light switches, you keep your standard dumb bulbs, and the switch handles the smarthome part. So, you’ll never have to worry about bulbs without power again.

Everyone Can Use a Smart Switch

A smart switch with a paddle-style toggle in a wall next to a sign that shows an NES controller and the words "Classically trained."
This smart switch always resets to a neutral position. Josh Hendrickson

If you’ve never seen a smart switch before, it looks like a paddle-style wall switch. However, instead of locking in the on or off position, the paddle always resets to neutral. The switch contains extra electronics to interact with your smarthome. When someone uses the switch, it communicates whether it’s on or off to your smarthome.

If you use an app or voice commands to control the lights, that signal also goes to your smart switch. But the beauty of a smart switch is you don’t need to use voice commands or an app to control it. Any guest or family member can turn the lights on and off just as they would in any other home.

That’s a bonus if you’re worried your smarthome might intimidate guests.

One Switch Is Cheaper Than Bulbs

One of the other problems with smart bulbs is you have to buy one for every socket you want to control. And whether you choose inexpensive Wyze or premium Philips bulbs, the cost adds up quickly. If you have four or more light sockets on a single switch, the cheaper option is a smart switch—just compare the cost of a single smart switch to four smart bulbs.

Naming and Grouping Is Easier

The Alexa app showing seven smart light bulb devices.
In my basement, I have 10 smart bulbs and naming gets difficult with so many devices.

If you want to voice control your home, it’s vital to name and group your smart lights with care. Better names are easier to remember, and groups make voice commands easier.

But the more smart bulbs you have, the more difficult that task becomes. For example, you’ll spend a great deal of time just trying to think of unique names. Smart switches alleviate this issue because you have fewer things to name and group. They also save time and effort, because you don’t have to come up with new unique names, and then manually group the extra gadgets.

The Advantages of Smart Bulbs

Smart light switches are great, but in some aspects, smart bulbs are still better. If you care about colors or ease of installation—or your home has older wiring—smart bulbs might still be the better option.

Here are some things to consider before you purchase smart switches.

They Come in Colors

A living room lit with several smart lights in blue, purple, and orange.
If you want to incorporate colors with your smart lighting, you’ll need smart bulbs. Philips

One of the biggest advantages smart bulbs have over smart switches is color. You can buy smart bulbs in a dizzying array of colors, which you then control with an app or voice commands. But smart light switches use standard dumb bulbs, which usually have few color options at all.

If you don’t care about mood lighting, this isn’t a big loss. But if you often adjust the colors of your bulbs for parties or when you watch tv, a smart switch isn’t the best option.

They’re Easier to Install and Replace

Another area in which smart bulbs offer an advantage is installation. If you can screw in a light bulb, you can install a smart bulb.

But a smart switch requires more effort. You have to shut off the electricity in your home, remove the current light switch, and then wire the new one. If you’re uncomfortable doing electrical work, you’ll have to pay someone to install the switch for you. 

They Work in Every Home

An opened light switch box with load and line wires hanging out of it.
This light switch box doesn’t have a neutral wire, so most smart switches won’t work with it. Josh Hendrickson

Something else to consider before you purchase a smart switch is that your light switch boxes might not have the proper wiring. Most smart switches require a neutral wire for power (Lutron is the exception). But many older homes don’t have neutral wires in their switch boxes.

In this case, you either have to go with Lutron switches or hire an electrician to run the missing wire—both of which can be expensive.

Or, you can just use a smart bulb—no wiring necessary.

Why Smart Switches Are Still Better

Despite the advantages of smart bulbs, I still prefer smart switches. In rooms where I do have colored lighting, I rarely use that feature. It’s a nice party trick, but most of the time, I just want my lighting bright enough to see, and not much else.

What I do enjoy is not fighting with family members because they used the light switch and killed my smart lights. When I have guests over, they’re also comfortable operating my smarthome’s lights because they work the same as standard lighting.

This familiarity eases people into using the other features of my smarthome. And, because many of the rooms in my home have three or four sockets on the same switch, I save money overall by not having to buy bulbs.

I still use smart bulbs where it makes sense, but everywhere possible, I prefer smart switches.

The Best Smart Switches

If you’re wondering which smart switches are best for your smarthome, it depends whether you prefer Z-wave or Wi-Fi for your connection, and if you have a neutral wire. Z-wave switches require a hub to work, while Wi-Fi switches connect directly to your router. If your light switch housings don’t have a neutral wire, you either have to buy a specialized switch that works without them or hire an electrician to bring your home up to code.

If you already have a smarthome hub, we recommend the GE Z-wave switch. It comes with dimming controls and features a paddle-style toggle that always resets to neutral. The light switch is large, due to the smarthome components, so double-check that you have plenty of space in your gang box (the hole that houses your light switch), along with an available neutral wire.

If your hub is compatible with Alexa and Google Assistant, your light switch will be, too.

For Z-Wave Hubs

GE Enbrighten, White & Light Almond, Z-Wave Plus Smart Light Dimmer, Works with Alexa, Google Assistant, SmartThings, Wink, Zwave Hub Required, Repeater/Range Extender, 3-Way Compatible, 14294

GE's smart switch is perfect for anyone with a Z-wave-compatible hub. Once installed and paired, it remains synced with every method you use to control your light, whether that's voice commands, an app, or the switch.

If you don’t have a Z-wave hub, then consider a Wi-Fi smart switch. The Eufy Smart Light Switch is compatible with both Alexa and Google. You just download the Eufy app (for iOS or Android), pair them, and then sync up the light switch with your preferred voice assistant.

When the light isn’t on, a small LED lights up, so you can easily find the switch to use it. The electrical components are larger than a standard light switch, but slightly smaller than the Z-wave switch. Still, make sure you have plenty of room for the switch and a neutral wire.

Best for Wi-Fi

eufy Smart Light Switch By Anker, Amazon Alexa & Google Assistant Compatible, Wi-Fi, Control from Everywhere, No Hub Required, Easy Installation, Single Pole, Requires Neutral Wire, 100~120V AC, 15A

Perfect for smarthomes that don't rely on a hub! Eufy's smart switch provides all the important features of a Z-wave switch, including Alexa and Google integration.

If your home doesn’t have neutral wires, and you can afford to hire an electrician to bring it up to code, that’s a good idea. Otherwise, the Lutron Caseta light switch is the cheapest way to go—it doesn’t require a neutral wire.

Unfortunately, the company does require that you purchase a Lutron-specific hub to work with the switch. But you can purchase both as a bundle. If you already own the hub, you can buy the switch on its own.  As a bonus, the Caseta also works as a dimmer and comes with an additional remote you can stick anywhere.

For Home's with No Neutral Wire

Lutron Caseta Smart Start Kit, Dimmer Switch with Smart Bridge and Wall Mount Pico Adapter, Works with Alexa, Apple HomeKit, and the Google Assistant | P-BDG-PKG1W-A | White

Perfect for older homes, the Lutron Caseta doesn't require neutral wires. In addition to the hub, this bundle comes with an extra remote you can put anywhere.

 

Josh Hendrickson Josh Hendrickson
Josh Hendrickson has worked in IT for nearly a decade, including four years spent repairing and servicing computers for Microsoft. He’s also a smarthome enthusiast who built his own smart mirror with just a frame, some electronics, a Raspberry Pi, and open-source code. Read Full Bio »

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