Picking the Best Z-Wave Light Switch Without a Neutral
One of the first things most home automation newbies want to replace is lights and light switches, but you want to consider your Z-Wave light switches carefully. In addition to the actual switches, you need to think about the existing wiring in your home.
When adding new Z-Wave devices to your home, you can run into all sorts of little issues here and there. One of the most common is when you try to connect your Z-Wave switches into your existing electrical wiring and realize you don't have neutral wires!
What is a "Neutral wire" anyway?
In most houses, you have several colors of wire: a black wire that is your “load” or “hot” wire that carries the current from the fuse box to devices, a green (or bare) wire that grounds the current, and sometimes a white neutral wire that carries return current. A light switch normally uses all three wires to connect to the light. That’s the typical setup for most light switches, smart or otherwise, but Z-Wave switches are the most finicky when it comes to this.
So, what if your setup isn’t that typical? Some black wires carry the return current too, becoming a black and white wire in one, basically. Sometimes there’s no neutral wire at a switch location if the power is coming through the light fixture. In either case, what you’ll need is a Z-Wave switch with no neutral wire required.
What to do about that Neutral wire
Unfortunately, as of April 2018 there are no longer any Z-Wave switches made without a neutral wire required, the Z-Wave radio needs that neutral wire to supply power while the light fixture is off in order to stay connected. Never fear, there are three solutions!
1. Replace your bulbs with Z-Wave capable bulbs instead of replacing the switches. This way you just leave the switch on and control the light via your Z-Wave hub and the connected bulb. Another benefit for renters is this requires no wiring or changes to the home, and you can take these bulbs with you when you move.
Here are a few of our favorite bulbs:
2. Use an 'over the switch' unit to work with existing dumb switches. This switch cover from Ecolink uses a small motor to flip the existing switch on and off, so you can control outlets with Z-Wave without actually replacing the outlet (again good for renters).
3. Use a Z-Wave dimmer in conjunction with your switch. This Aeotec dimmer installs behind your existing dumb switch, so you can control the light using this while just leaving the switch on. It is pricey, but it works well. This might not be ideal for renters since you do have to do some wiring.
So you have a few options available if you have an older house with no neutral wires, personally I think the bulbs are the way to go, but if you have a fixture that has more than a couple bulbs in it that can get pricey, so the Ecolink switch is a good option in that case. If I have missed any Z-Wave switch that does not require a neutral wire please let me know in the comments to I can update this post ASAP!
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