How to Setup Z-Wave Smart Homes From Scratch

how to set up your smart home

While there are many guides on which Z-Wave hub is best and how to set up specific devices, it's rather difficult to find one that outlines exactly how to setup Z-Wave smart homes with limited prior knowledge. That's why we created this article to help you turn your dumb home into a smart home even if you haven't so much as heard of Z-Wave before.

With a Z-Wave home automation system, you can control thermostats, security systems, door locks, irrigation, lights, fans, and even electrical outlets. Basically, everything in your home can be controlled if you want it to be.

What makes it even better, is that the controller can be a tablet mounted on the wall, a voice controller, like Alexa, a standard computer, or even your phone. In other words, you can control your home using any method you choose. The possibilities are endless!

If this intrigues you, here are the steps you need to take to get your smart home set up and running!

How to Setup a Z-Wave Smart Home


Buy a Smart Hub

Choosing a smart hub is arguably the most important part of setting up a smart home. A Z-Wave hub is essentially the brain of a Z-Wave system. The hub tells the other devices what to do and when to do it, so it's a necessity in every system.

There are literally thousands of Z-Wave products, from door sensors to thermostats, that work with almost every Z-Wave hub out there, so choosing one that works with specific devices isn't 100% necessary. Instead, you need to look at the specs, the community, and it's features.

Deciding on a smart hub may be a challenge for a beginner, but with this guide you'll be able to make a much more informed decision when buying a hub.

Before choosing a smart hub, there are certain things you need to consider. Some of these things may be more of a preference than a requirement, but by looking at every aspect of a hub, you can be sure that you're getting the product that will suit your home.

What to Look For

  • Price

    The first thing you need to consider when buying a new hub is the price. While that may seem pretty obvious, some people fail to realize the importance of it, which can lead to buyer's remorse and/or other frustrations. Most Z-Wave companies require a one time purchase of a hub, there are some fantastic hubs out there that do not have reoccurring fees, so this shouldn't be too hard. Full hub guide with editor's picks.
  • Wireless Protocol Support

    Smart hubs communicate to their devices via wireless protocols. Some of the most popular are Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. These languages simply represent how your hub speaks to other devices within your network. While some hubs only support Z-Wave, others have multiple chips built in to communicate with a wider range of devices. Basically, the more protocols your hub supports, the more options you have when buying devices. [2019 update] Now that Google home and Alexa are able to communicate with hubs of different protocols, the choice between z-wave and zigbee is becoming less and less important. I use both in my home and interact with them seamlessly through google home.
  • Local vs. Cloud

    Some hubs communicate with devices through a local network setup, while others can only connect via the cloud. If you choose a hub that can only connect through cloud, you will only be able to access your devices while your internet and the cloud server are online. If your network or the server your hub communicates with goes down, you will not be able to control any of your devices. On the other hand, hubs that communicate over a local network will still be able to control devices if the internet goes down.
  • Logic System

    Every hub has a different logic system. For example, Vera hubs have scenes and Smartthings hubs use SmartApps. They are both logic systems that help the user create an action when a sensor goes off, but they go about it differently. In a smart home, the logic system is paramount, so I suggest watching some videos on your favorite hub's logic system before purchasing. You're likely going to spend a lot of time in these systems, so you'll want to make sure they can do everything you want them to.
  • Additional Features

    The above are general things to look for when shopping for a Z-Wave hub, however, there are some features that are unique to certain hubs. Most of the time, these features aren't necessities to your smart home, but they're nice to have. Some examples of these are: built in battery backups, alarm panels, and cellular backups.

If you're just starting to build your smart home, you should target an affordable hub that offers room for future growth. There are a few Z-Wave hubs that fit these requirements, so it will ultimately come down to preference.


Buy Your Devices

Z-Wave devices receive commands from a hub to trigger events based on certain triggers that you set up. Here is a great example of a starter hub and device.

Now that we've talked about hubs, it's time to talk about the different devices available and which ones you should start with. From deadbolt locks to light switches to thermostats, there are numerous devices you can add to your Z-Wave network. In fact, almost every electronic item in your home has a Z-Wave alternative, so you can virtually control everything you desire to.

Z-Wave devices fall into five categories: screw-in, wired, in-wall, battery powered, and plug-in devices.

Screw-in devices are devices that screw into existing light bulb sockets. They give you control over the bulb, so you can switch it on/off and dim it. This can be hard for kids to master, if they turn off the light using its switch, you lose access to the bulb via your hub. 

Wired devices consist of energy monitors, outlet controllers, etc. This type of device requires a little wiring but is a great solution to controlling whatever device you want to plug in. 

In-wall devices are usually traditional switches and dimmers. Other in-wall devices are thermostats, tablets, alarm panels, ect. Using z-wave switches is very unobtrusive and still allows you to use the switches in the traditional way as well, your kids and guests will appreciate that. 

Battery powered devices are just that: battery powered. These types of devices are usually sensors such as motion, door, and tilt sensors. Anything not near an outlet should be battery powered.

Plug-in devices are devices that you can plug into an outlet. Most commonly, these are used to control lamps and other lighting fixtures. 

The beauty of Z-Wave lighting is that you can control them from your smartphone and you can automate them so they turn on when you come home and off when you leave. You even make their logic more complex by adding in other devices to the mix such as motion and door sensors.


Add the Device to Your Network

It would be near impossible to put together a guide on how to setup Z-Wave devices for each hub, since there are literally thousands of hubs and devices, however I've included a setup video below for some of the more popular hubs.

The basic strategy to add a device to a Z-wave hub is this: You turn the hub's discovery mode on, which basically means it's looking for new devices, then put the device into pair mode after which the hub will see it and then add it to your network. It's a pretty simply process, but each device pairs differently, so you will need to read the manual on your new device to see how to pair it.

How to Add a Device to Vera Running UI7

How to Add a Device to HomeSeer

How to Add a Device to Wink

How to Add a Device to Smartthings


Customize Your System

After you have a hub and a couple of devices, you can start customizing your home automation setup to your liking. The possibilities are endless when it comes to Z-Wave home automation, so if you can imagine it, you can make it happen.

At this point, I would suggest visiting your hub's forum, because you'll find all the information you could want in regards to your hub, plugins, and devices. In fact, you may even stumble on some hidden gems your hub has to offer.

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About the author

Tony Dean

I'm a husband, dad and maker, interested in all things creative and constructive. Home automation and smart home gadgets are fun right now, plus arduino, rasp pi, solar heat, and lots of other stuff.

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