Do you need an electrician to install a smart light switch?
The installation procedure for a smart switch is no more difficult than that of any other electrical switch. You’ll need to take the appropriate precautions (we’ll help you with that, too), but you don’t need to hire an electrician or use any exotic equipment. With a screwdriver and a pair of pliers or wirecutters, you can get started. If you want to be extra cautious, you may use a non-contact voltage tester, but one can be purchased for less than $15 on Amazon.
There are numerous varieties of smart switches, and while this article isn’t intended to help you choose which one is ideal for your needs, it will walk you through the installation of any one of them. That’s because their wiring is all quite similar.
There are a few things to consider. First and foremost, an on/off switch will simply turn your light bulb on or off by providing electricity to the socket your bulb is screwed into. The socket will be unplugged in the other position, turning off the light bulb. A dimmer switch may also adjust the quantity of electricity flowing to a socket, allowing you to brighten or dim the light bulb while also turning it on or off.
Smart bulbs, not smart switches, are required to change the color of your illumination. Unfortunately, smart dimmer switches and smart bulbs are typically incompatible. Because smart bulbs are designed to work with a constant stream of electricity, they include radios that require a steady supply of power to function. A dimmer, on the other hand, controls the amount of energy supplied to the bulb.
The next step is to figure out whether you need a single-pole or multiple-way switch. You have a single-pole switch if only one switch controls the electricity supply to the bulb that you want to manage. If two or more switches are capable of controlling it, you have a three-way switch (a four-way circuit is created if more than two switches control the same light.)
If you’re replacing a dumb switch on a three- or four-way circuit, the other switch or switches on that circuit must be replaced with companion switches from the same manufacturer as the smart switch you’re installing. Wemo WiFi Smart Light Switch 3-Way: (The Wemo WiFi Smart Light Switch 3-Way is an exception to that rule, and it can also be used in a single-pole installation. It cannot, however, lower the brightness of a light.)
In this procedure, we’ll replace a single-pole switch with a C by GE Start Smart Switch Motion Sensing+Dimmer in a single-way circuit, but the technique is identical for multi-way circuits. (Also, if you don’t require all of the functions provided by this dimmer, GE Lighting provides four lesser-cost and simpler options.) The first step is to figure out which circuit breaker controls the electricity flowing to that switch and turn it off.
The next step is to remove the cover plate to access the switch. The best way to assure that electricity isn’t flowing into the switch is to use a non-contact voltage tester inside the junction box. If the tool detects current, it should beep and light up. If there are multiple switches in the package, make sure none of them have power.
Remove the screws from the switch and remove it from the junction box after you’ve confirmed that the power is off. The electrical wires in most smart switches include a “neutral” wire, which should be white or gray. Despite its innocent-sounding name, an electrified neutral can shock you. If your wiring does not include a neutral wire, you will be limited in the type of smart switch you may use (more on that in a little).
The “line” wire that transmits power from the breaker panel to the switch is usually black, red, or blue. The “load” wire transports electricity to the socket (and hence to the bulb) and will generally be white or gray like the neutral wire. The fourth wire, protective ground, will be either a bare wire or a wire with a green jacket on it. If there is a short circuit, the ground wire will prevent you from being shocked.
If you don’t have a ground wire, you won’t be able to use a smart switch; however, there are alternative solutions we won’t go into. If your home does not have a neutral wire, the Lutron Caséta smart dimmer may be an option because it does not require one. There are a few more options that don’t require the use of a neutral wire.
Installing a smart switch
You’re now ready to install your smart switch or dimmer after determining the electrical wiring in your house and purchasing one. Once again, make sure you’ve switched off the electricity to the switch. It’s a good idea to double-check that the switch’s power is off using the voltage tester, no matter how sure you are of your work.
Remove the old switch from your home’s wiring. To reveal the copper wire underneath, you might need to snip and strip off about a half inch of the wire sheath. Snip any extra wire using wire snips or a comparable instrument. The wiring methods used by smart switch manufacturers differ. Some use screw terminals that you twist the electric cord coming out of your wall around, while others have pigtail wires that you connect to your house’s wiring with wire nuts, and still others have backstabs.
Twist each of the line, load, neutral, and ground wires to the corresponding wires coming from the junction box with a wire nut, then attach them together using pigtails. If you have a switch that does not require a neutral wire (for example, the Lutron Caséta), put a wire nut on the end of that neutral wire coming out of the wall. Make sure no bare copper wire is visible after trimming off the excess (or wrapping it in electrical tape and then removing it).
Replace the junction box cover. Push any extra lengths of wire down into the junction box, then attach the switch and secure it to the box with either of the supplied screws or ones you previously removed from the old switch. Now replace the cover plate. It’s also essential to cover your smart switches in plastic. Metal plates are attractive, but they can interfere with the smart switch’s radio signal. Finally, re-establish power to the switch by going to your breaker panel.
Flip the switch to ensure it controls the fixture properly. If the light bulb isn’t illuminated, don’t worry; there’s always a chance that the bulb has burned out, even if it was lit before you switched switches. Verify that it’s still operational by putting it into a fixture you know is functional and testing it before doing anything else. Finally, install the mobile app you’ll need to control it using your smartphone or tablet once you’ve got the switch functioning properly. Congratulations on completing this task! You just converted a dumb switch to a smart one.