Choosing the Right Smart Switch
One of the primary goals of my initial home automation installation was to install smart light switches that would allow me to turn lights on and off with my voice. While it is cool to be able to walk into a room and say “Alexa, turn on the living room,” the real power comes when you can setup scenes that work with multiple lights at once. I can say “Alexa, turn on the downstairs” and turn on the normal set of lights that I like to have turned on for the middle level of our house. I can also say, “Alexa, turn on the whole downstairs” and all the lights will be turned on downstairs. Finally, I can say “Alexa, turn off the whole house” when I walk out the door and Alexa will turn off any lights in the house that happen to be on:
Virtually all mainstream wifi smart switches work with the Echo platform, so compatibility was not an issue. With that in mind, my first inclination was to use the WeMo platform, since that was one of the most highly marketed platforms that I had seen in stores:
WeMo makes a small number of products, and their two mainline products that I chose to work with are the WeMo Switch ($34.99 per switch) and the WeMo Light Switch ($49.99 per switch). The Switch is a smart outlet that plugs into an existing outlet, and the Light Switch is an actual light switch that installs into the wall in place of a traditional switch. The Switch works as advertised. It is a little clunky to pair, since it communicates directly with the wifi router but has to be connected to the router initially via the WeMo app. Once that is done, however, it gets its job done and allows you to turn lights on and off that are powered by an outlet. The setup through the WeMo app and the Alexa app are pretty straightforward:
The problems came when working with the WeMo Light Switches. Like the other Switches, they are somewhat clunky to pair but do function, but they have a critical achilles heel. If you read the specifications, it says this:
Replaces single pole switch. Not compatible with 3 way (multi location control) switches.
This means that if you have a light with multiple switches that turn it on and off (which is extremely common), the WeMo light switch will not work for you. This sent me back to the drawing board. I landed on the Caséta Wireless platform from Lutron ($54.99 per switch). These support three way switches, and also come with their own base station that connects to the wifi router via an ethernet cable. This is a small risk, since you are dependent on that base station continuing to function or the switches become useless, but I mitigated that by buying a backup base station in case Lutron stops making the platform in the future. The benefit of the base station is that pairing the switches to wifi is much smoother. The switches are also higher quality, and come with dimmer capabilities:
The Lutron app is fine, and they integrate with the Alexa app just like WeMo:
Most importantly, they support wiring for three way functionality:
I would highly recommend the Caséta platform, and have installed 16 switches throughout my house to complement the six Echoes that give me complete smart lighting voice activation in every room of my house.
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