C by GE’s New Smart Switches Work in Older Homes by Skipping the Neutral Wire

Five different smart switches in dimmer, toggle, and paddle styles.
C by GE

Most of the time, if you have to choose between smart bulbs and smart light switches, you should get the switch. But there’s a problem: most smart switches require neutral wires and maybe a hub. Older homes often don’t have neutral wires, and hubs are complicated and expensive. Now C by GE has a new smart switch for you that ditches the neutral wire and the hub.

Neutral Wires are a Pain

In most modern homes in the U.S., if you open your light switch box, you’ll find four wires: load, line, neutral, and ground. If you have a standard light switch, you’ll probably find the load, line (both black), and ground (green) connected to the switch, and any neutral wires (white) bundled at the back.

Most smart switches take advantage of that neutral wire to provide power to the circuitry that listens for your app or voice assistant signal. Without a neutral wire, they don’t work, and that’s a problem because most older homes don’t have neutral wires. Instead, you’ll only find load, line, and (hopefully) ground wires.

If that describes your home, you had two choices: either had to pay an electrician to run the missing neutral wires (which is expensive), or buy a Lutra Caseta switch and hub (which is also costly). Either way, you were going to pay extra to deal with a lack of neutral wires. But now there’s a more affordable alternative, thanks to C by GE.

A Hubless Solution to the Neutral Problem

A white paddle-style light switch.
C by GE

C by GE, if you aren’t familiar, is the smart home wing of the General Electric (GE) company. The company makes smart bulbs, sensors, and even smart switches. But those smart switches required a neutral wire.

Now, the company has announced new smart switches that forgo the neutral wire and even skip the hub. Instead, you’ll find a low profile switch that needs just load, line, and ground. That low profile is good because older homes often have smaller junction boxes for lights switches. The switch will automatically determine which wire is load and line, a helpful feature since both are black and hard to tell apart.

You’ll wire up the switch, insert an adapter into your lightbulb socket to prevent flashing, and connect the switch directly to your network.

Forgoing a hub simplifies the process, especially as in larger homes, you may need more than one hub to connect every switch to the network. C by GE says it will continue to sell its hubless switches that do support neutral wires, so if your home has them, you should get that instead.

In either case, the smart switches are Wi-Fi connected and compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant.

The smart switches will come in several styles (paddle, toggle, etc.) and start at $39.99. We should see them sometime in the first quarter of 2020. C by GE will also release smart dimmers that don’t require neutral wires in the second quarter, starting at $49.99.

A Wireless Switch and Sensor

A wireless motion sensor and magnetic mount.
C by GE

If your home has switch-less lights that rely on pull chains, C by GE has that covered now too, with a new $22.99 “wire-free” switch option. Just insert a C by GE smart bulb into the sockets, mount the wireless switch, and you’re good to go. You’ll have convenient control without the need to call an electrician. C by GE says the switch should available sometime in the first quarter of 2020.

And if you prefer a home that anticipates your needs, C by GE’s new smart sensor can help. You can mount the new $30 wireless motion sensor anywhere in your home thanks to its magnet mount, and it will turn your smart lights on and off based on your presence in the room.

Source: The Verge

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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