Smart Switches and Outlets – Home Improvement Podcast



welcome to fix-it home-improvement covering projects that every homeowner should know and great products for home and garden this week we're gonna be talking about smart switches and outlets and we'd like to thank John Eli for liking and sharing the podcast and we'd also like to thank player FM for making us the podcast of the day the first patent for a toggle light switch was in 1917 and one of the first motion sensors to turn on a light was developed in the 1950s the clapper came out in 1985 and was designed to respond to two claps to turn on a smart plug and the smart clapper came out in 1992 so that smart plug had two receptacles on it so – claps turned one side on and off and three claps would operate the other side smart light switches are becoming more popular in hardware stores and home centers and the in wall smart switch can give you control of your lights with an app on your phone and some can be controlled with a smart speaker like the Amazon echo or Google assistant and it's not just turning your lights on and off you can set up schedules or use it for security lighting or you can dim your lights and you know set kind of a mood and you can combine the smart switches with smart home systems that are using sensors for geofencing what's that so this is using the GPS and the Bluetooth signal in your smartphone to know where you are in your house so you can have your switches turn on and off lights when you get home you can have sensors that turn lights on as you move through the house you can also have multiple people in a system like this so when the last person leaves the house all the lights turn off you can have a security schedule so the lights will turn on and off so it looks like somebody's home and the thermostat will adjust itself to save the most energy so it's pretty why you can build a pretty elaborate smart system with some of these devices space-age I spoke to Levitan and they suggested starting out small with one or two smart light switches and smart and they're smart light switches work with Amazon echo Google assistant and nest thermostats their cameras and their sensors and so you can use a smart switch for your front porch for example you can turn your light switch on and off from an app on your phone or you can control it with your voice through a smart speaker you can also set up schedules so it'll turn on and off by itself at set times and then for your main living area you can use a smart dimmer switch and that will control your lights so you don't have to get up let's say you're watching TV and you want to dim the lights okay you don't have to get up how cool is that it's very cool smart plugs are wireless devices that you plug into an outlet and then you plug something into the smart plug and you can control it with your phone your voice with a smart speaker if it's set up for that and the plugs are just an easy way to control lamps in a room you can turn them on and off some are dimmable you can set up schedules for security lighting and if you're in a bedroom for example and you're ready to go to sleep and you have your lamp plugged into something like this you don't have to get up to turn off the light and Levitan has a smart lamp plug that's dimmable so you can adjust the light levels and I spoke to top greener and they suggested using smart plugs for holiday lighting it's very easy to set a schedule up so you can turn the lights on and off when you want them on and off that's nice so there is a thing is like a smart outlet right right this would be wired into the outlet so you'd remove your outlet right these plugs are becoming very popular because you just plug them in there's no wiring involved but Levitan and tap greener they have outlets that are wired in the wall so you move your outlet one side is always on and the other side is smart so you control it with an app or a smart speaker if you plan on using a smart plug for an appliance like a coffee maker and iron or a fan you should look at the amps so a 15 amp smart plug would be considered heavy-duty something that's less than that would be more for controlling a lamp and if you're controlling a lamp look for dimmable plugs this way you have more light levels and use incandescent halogen or dimmable CFLs or LEDs and I saw if you're looking for an outdoor rated smart plug I saw one by eye home it's a small eye and then capital H om e so you can actually use this outside and this would be really convenient for holiday lighting okay some top rated smart plugs are from Levitan it's le vit o n GE iris ir is tp-link it's t P – Li NK Wemo it's W e mo and tap greener its t.o.p gr e en ER so when you're shopping for smart switches and outlets and plugs I guess but you have to see what wireless system they're using right and they don't talk to each other right there's four main types of wireless standards you have ZigBee z-wave Wi-Fi and bluetooth and then some companies are using a different radio frequency unique to their products so the key thing to think about when you're shopping for smart switches and outlets is do you plan on just having a couple that you're only going to use with your phone or smart speakers or are you going to be adding smart devices or systems later on or what smart devices do you have now so if you have Amazon echo Google assistant smart things or apple homekit you need to get devices they're gonna work with your system work yeah yeah you actually have to do a little research yeah I was looking at smart switches in one store and they had three GE Smart Switches next to each other so one was the GE ZigBee Smart Switch and it works with echo plus or hubs with ZigBee so like smart things the next switch was the GE Bluetooth smart switch and it only works with a mobile app on your smart phone and then there was the GE z-wave smart switch so you can control this with a hub with z-wave like smart things or iris and the packaging says it doesn't work with Google assistant or apple homekit you'd need a hub for that and then there were three Levitan switches so one was the Decorah switch that works with bluetooth on your phone you don't require you know doesn't need a hub there's no Wi-Fi it works 30 feet from your phone the Levitan decorous smart Wi-Fi switch works with amazon echo or google assist and the Levitan Decorah Wi-Fi dimmer you don't need a hub it works with Amazon echo and Google assistant and you can control this from anywhere so you don't young you can be outside your home right and turn it on you have to make sure that you read the packages because they all look very similar all right yeah some of them really do but you could pick up two switches and there are two different ones and they don't work together right absolutely I was looking at some of the top greener Wi-Fi switches and dimmer switches and they can be controlled with Google Assistant Amazon echo or a phone app no hubs required and these work with IFTTT so this is a free online platform you could set up so this can communicate between apps so it makes it convenient for a lot of these smart devices and for if this then that so if this happens then another action takes place the Lutron caseta wireless switches they work with amazon echo google assistant apple homekit nest and serena remote control shades and these caseta switches they need a smart bridge what is that it's a device you plug into your Wi-Fi router and it connects devices that don't have Wi-Fi chips to the internet or it's gonna connect devices that are on a different frequency like ZigBee and that way they can connect to the internet you keep saying hub what do you mean by that so a hub can be similar to a bridge or more complex to communicate with a variety of different wireless standards so you can well basically you can have multiple devices from different companies controlled with one app so it's kind of like having a universal remote okay but but you still have to see what company's devices connect to it so just because you have a hub doesn't mean that all company's wireless frequencies are gonna communicate with this so you still have to do your homework okay smart things is a popular hub and this supports ZigBee z-wave bluetooth and Wi-Fi and it can connect to outlets and switches from Levitan Lutron GE Belkin eaten and Honeywell but just specific switches so you still have to read the label and smart things can also control security sensors on door and windows water leak sensors door locks motion sensors and tracking devices I'm kind of scared to ask what our tracking devices so these are cool you can attach these to let's say your kids belt loop a backpack a dog collar you put it on your keys and it uses GPS to track this so in real time you can look at your smartphone for example and see exactly where this device is or or whoever you've attached into so that's pretty cool and if you're thinking about getting a smart speaker the Amazon echo plus has a built-in hub and that's going to allow you to work with a lot of devices if you're purchasing an in-wall smart outlet and so let's say you're removing your old outlet and you're wiring this into your wall you want to check the breaker or your fuse and older homes to see how many amps that circuit is and you want to match it either 15 or 20 amp if you're putting a 20 amp outlet in a 15 amp circuit it could potentially be a fire hazard and for Smart Switches you want to see what type of bulbs it will work with and then the total amount of watts so one Levitan Decorah smart Wi-Fi switch i looked at was 600 watts for LEDs and CFLs 1800 watts for incandescent and halogen a top green or Wi-Fi dimmer I looked at was 600 watts for incandescent halogen up to a hundred and 50 watts for CFLs and LEDs and if you're getting smart dimmers you need to get dimmable leds or cfls they're not all dimmable okay you also need to know whether you need a single pole or a 3-way switch so many of these switches can be used as a single pole or a 3-way depending on how you wire it on the package though right and these are going to be the most versatile especially if you ever decide to move the switch to a new location taking my switches with me so with conventional switches a single pole switch is used if you only have control of your light from one location there's no other switch that works with it to control your light you have a single pole switch if you can control your light or a group of lights from multiple locations you have a three-way switch or doesn't make it so with conventional switches if you have only two switches that work together to control your light you have a pair of 3-way switches if you have three switches that control your light you have a pair of 3-way switches and a four-way switch with smart switches you have to read the packaging if you're using it as a 3-way tap greener for example that second switch can be a standard single pole or a 3-way switch so it's a very unique wiring some companies like Levitan if you have more than one switch operating your lights you can't use anything other than a coordinating switch so you have to check the box and get that model number for the second switch you can't just use a pair of 3-way switches like with conventional 3-way switches Lutron has a unique remote control for multiple switches for a light you can use it as a handheld switch or you can attach it to a wall plate you don't have to do any wiring you just add a battery to it with conventional single pole switches you have two screw terminals and a ground and it doesn't matter which screw terminal you connect to which Hotwire on a conventional single pole or a 3-way switch there's not a neutral wire connected to the switch right with Smart Switches there's going to be one side that's marked top or up or there's going to be an arrow pointing up and you need to wire it with a line or the feed wire to a specific screw terminal and depending on the switch you're gonna need to connect a neutral wire to the switch okay say that package right and that's something you should definitely look for in the package because if you have an older home and the switch box doesn't have a neutral you wouldn't be able to use that switch you're a smart switch unless you rewire the box Lutron though has some smart switches that don't require a neutral wire but the switch doesn't work with all bulbs so you need to go to their website and look at the approved LEDs and CFLs this is so that you can match it if you have a smart switch that can be wired as a single pole or a 3-way and you want to wire it as a single pole you'd connect the feed or the line wire coming from the service panel to the – Terminal listed in the wiring instructions so you really have to look at how its wired on some of these switches it's gonna be marked as hot or black you're just gonna have to look and the wire going up to the light will be marked as load or it's gonna be red usually that extra screw terminal for the three-way connections gonna have tape over it or if you have wire leads on your switch you're gonna have one wire with a wire connector and then you would use that if you're wiring it as a three-way how do you find the feed wire so you're gonna turn off the power to the circuits you're working on check that it's off with an electrical tester you're gonna remove the switch separate all the wires so nothing's touching turn the power back on and with your tester you're gonna find the hot wire and this is the feed or the line coming from the service panel you're gonna mark it and then turn off the power when you're putting in the new switch you never want to do any of these projects with the electric eye on a shotgun to the right circumstances can be deadly for wiring a smart switch is a 3-way it's not like a conventional pair of three ways if you have two switches that operate your lights so with standard 3-way switches you would turn off the power you'd take off the cover find the wire that's going to the dark colored screw terminal and Mark it in each box and that your common so you would connect the marked wire to the dark colored screw and the two new switches and those other two wires would go to the light colored screws those are your travelers and it doesn't matter which wire you put on which travelers screw so pretty straightforward pretty easy with the smart switches every manual I looked at had a different way of wiring it so no no definitely have to read the instructions on how to wire it as a pair of three ways another thing to look at before you buy a smart switch is how much room do you have in your electrical box so smart switches are big and many of the pros are now recommending have a electrical box that's 2 and 3/4 inches deep or larger so like here in the Chicago area inch and a half to 2 inch deep boxes are pretty common they're tiny so if you plan on adding smart devices you need to check it first and you may need to update your boxes many smart dimmers will also have an air gap so smart dimmers usually have a small amount of power going to the light even when the bulb is off which could potentially be a shock hazard and an air gap is a switch or it's a piece that pulls out of the switch so you're completely disconnecting it to the light so if your dimmer has an air gap always use it when you're changing a bulb that way you don't have a chance getting shocked and if you're using a smart dimmer for dimmable LEDs and CFLs you want to check to see if there's an adjustment for setting the minimum load level for your LED or CFL or is it automatic many of these smart dimmers it automatically will set the minimum load level for LEDs so you don't have flickering so if you're installing any Smart Switch you need to read all the instructions right yeah yeah and it's funny how each company has a little different system their electronics are different if you plan on doing some wiring projects around the house and you're running a cable for a switch the new electrical code for most locations requires a neutral wire in the box now and this is going to allow you to add smart switches or timers in the future in the past many switch boxes going to a switched outlet for example wouldn't have a neutral so you should put in a bigger box – yeah right very smart yeah – or 3/4 deeper for some of these smart switches and you would just cap off that neutral wire you'd have that neutral wire connected all the way back to the service panel ready to be used if you need a device later in that box that requires a neutral so you're using 1 12 3 ok 3 12 3 or 14 3 with the ground there are also smart in wall timers now Intermatic as a top rated one that you can control and set up with a phone app it works through Wi-Fi you can also control it with Amazon echo and it can be wired as a single pole or a 3-way and this would require a neutral wire what are some top grated Smart Switches top greener levitan Lutron tp-link GE Wemo and Eaton do you have anything else dad do you plan on having just one or two switches or a variety of smart switches over time you can need to match the products and the wireless standards that they're using do you plan on getting a hub or smart speaker you'd also want to think about that and make sure everything works together exactly and then check your electrical switch boxes first to see if you have a neutral wire and how deep they're let's wrap this up you could subscribe to our podcast on Apple podcast google podcasts kiss box player FM or your favorite podcast and if you enjoyed it please leave us a review you can check out our home improvement videos on our youtube channel to fix it home improvement you can subscribe to that as well you can download our books home improvement solutions what every homeowner should know on Amazon book one to five you can email us at fix-it podcast at gmail.com and you can follow cindy on twitter at fixes co-hosts next week

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