Add battery operated wireless switch to existing light fixture without Internet, smartphone, or neutral


(Gus Zernial) #1

I’m an electrician and a common request is to add switch(es) to an existing light fixture. Typically the existing switch would be a turn switch or pull chain in the lighting fixture. Obviously this can be done by running wire, but if this can be done wireless-ly, installation would be much faster. Sounds easy, but here’s common constraints:

-Old houses … two wire 120v - no neutral
-No wi-fi available (but don’t need internet access or smartphone control).
-120v power available at light fixture (load), but not at new switch location(s). Need on-wall battery operated switch(es)
-Sometimes need 3- or more-way switching
-Distance light fixture to new switch(es) varies - sometimes short, sometimes up a floor
-A plug-in hub or controller usually possible, depending on price.

Can someone recommend products … a solution?

Thx, Gus


#2

This forum is for people who are using the Samsung SmartThings home automation platform. That platform in and of itself requires Internet access and a smartphone. So I’m not sure we can help with your project, as any suggested solutions would be based on the SmartThings platform.


#3

If we ignore smartthings for the moment, The only option I can think of given the constraints you have, would be to use a non internet based controller, a battery operated switch, and a smart light bulb on the same protocol. The lightbulb will appear as a dimmer switch to the controller. You would have very few rules options, but you probably could set time based schedules. You could definitely have the smart bulb controlled by the switch.

I can think of two different set ups that would work with these Constraints, but you would have to match these models exactly.

This is older technology, and you would have to use the specific models. You do the programming on a tabletop console or the battery switch itself which does not require a smartphone or Internet. After that, the bulb would appear to be a dimmer switch and the Battery switch Would work with it. the bulb would have to be within around 40 feet of the switch, but the signal will travel through walls.

Option 1: pre smartphone Z wave setup plus zwave smart bulb

Back before smartphones, both Eaton Cooper and Leviton Offered simple tabletop controllers which could establish a Z wave network. You could use either of these. They tend to run around $150 each, sometimes a little less. I don’t remember how many devices these controllers can handle, you would have to check the specs. It might be as low as 16, but if I recall correctly it’s 32. But check. There’s a hard zwave maximum at 231 per network, but I don’t think any of the tabletop controllers can handle that many except the Eaton Cooper which was the newest of the old technology controllers.

Then you have a choice of a couple of battery operated zwave wall switches. Eaton Cooper makes a nice looking one, Called the anyplace switch. It will function as a dimmer. It’s available in two styles and several colors. It exactly matches the style and color of their mains-powered switches if that’s of any interest as well.

Ecolink has an Uglier but cheaper one which is a physical relay and makes a loud click. That one does not dim.

And gocontrol makes one with two buttons, on or off. This will cost between 30 and $80 depending on whether you can get it on sale. This model can also be used without the table top controller, but you will get fewer rules options with it. On its own it can control up to ten zwave bulbs.

Then you need a Z wave (not zigbee) lightbulb. GoControl makes these. Typical cost is around $18 per bulb, but shop around, prices vary a lot on these. (Don’t bother with the color-changing bulbs: this setup can’t change color anyway. Just on/off/dim.)

Note that some of the tabletop controllers can also work with other device classes also such as motion sensors or contact sensors so it’s a real Z wave network, not just for lighting, but with very limited rules programming.

You can mix and match the devices I’ve listed under this option, so you could use a Leviton tabletop controller with an ecolink switch, etc.

There’s also a GE option for the controller, but to be honest I’m too tired to look it up right now. Those definitely have a limit on the total number of devices each controller can handle, and there are some other issues with them. They’re OK devices, I just personally don’t like them very much.

Eaton Cooper makes the nicest brochures for their line if that matters to you. (Eaton is the company, Cooper is the division, and Aspire RF is the model line for the smart devices. You’ll find the products listed under any of these 3 names.)

http://www.cooperindustries.com/content/dam/public/wiringdevices/products/documents/brochures/aspire-rf-brochure.pdf

Option 2: zigbee operated dimmer switch plus zigbee smart bulbs

This is a brand new option just made available in the last year or so. They are currently available from two different brands. In this case the switch itself acts as the controller and can typically handle up to 10 lightbulbs (grouped) per switch.

These switches don’t look like a conventional switch, For one thing they are quite bulky, but they fit in a one gang space and surface-mount on the wall. These are intended specifically to control the smart bulbs, you can’t add anything else to them like sensors. And you can’t program them beyond on /off/dim for the bulbs. Typically one switch can control up to 10 bulbs as a group and the range is around 30 feet from the switch (again the signal can go through the wall).

Phillips hue has a dimmer kit which consists of one battery-operated switch and one dimmable white bulb and then you can add more bulbs to it. This usually sells for under $35 and additional individual white bulbs sell for around $15. Home Depot should carry these. Nice packaging, widely available, super easy to deploy and use. Only comes in one color and the one style.

Note that you do not use the “Phillips hue bridge” in this configuration—That one requires a smartphone to set up while if you just use the dimmer Kit you don’t need a smartphone.

Sylvania Smart+ ***(Formerly called Sylvania lightify)***. You buy everything separately, in this case one dimmer switch and then individual bulbs. I think that limit is also 10 bulbs per switch but check the specs. The biggest advantage to this is that the bulbs come in more shapes and sizes. But their marketing materials make the switch look smaller in the pictures then it actually is, which annoys me. :rage:


.

Note that although this may say they work with Amazon Alexa, they won’t unless you also have Internet connection and a hub/Gateway. In the configuration we are talking about, just one switch and some bulbs, you don’t get any voice control.

So that gives you a couple of options. The zigbee choice will be cheaper but can only work with lightbulbs. It will also have a slightly shorter range than zwave, but since these are the older Z wave models, it’s the difference between about 30 feet and about 40 feet.

Again, you won’t need a smart phone, internet, WiFi, or the SmartThings hub for either of these options, but they are basically just going to give you a battery operated switch to control a smart bulb.

And remember that in these configurations, the bulb and the switch must match protocol: You can’t use a zwave bulb with a Zigbee switch or vice versa. If you want to do that, you have to go to one of the multi-protocol hubs like smartthings, and that in turn would mean Wi-Fi, Internet, and a smart phone.


(Gus Zernial) #4

JD Roberts thank you very much for this info - way better than what I was able to find in my own Google searching.

One thing you didn’t address was the “no neutral wire” constraint. What’s wired in my original description is the light fixture, which since I typically work on old houses, is a two-wire fixture, no neutral wire. It’s easy enough to replace the fixture and/or the bulb by a z-wave or zigbee smart bulb, but … would the lack of a neutral wire to the fixture hamper operation of the switch/light operation?

My plan would be to test one or more of these options before trying it for a client - if it works it would save me a lot of time and them a lot of labor cost.


#5

The bulb just replaces the Existing bulb, the switch is battery operated, surface mount, and the tabletop controller has to plug in to an outlet somewhere. So neutral wire is irrelevant to the two Configurations that I gave you. That’s why I went with the smart bulb options, then it’s a no wiring solution. :sunglasses: You could hold the switch in your hand, and it would work just as well. It’s just sending a wireless signal directly to the bulb, it doesn’t care how the fixture is powered as long as it is powered on. It’s the bulb which decide how much power to draw from the fixture, so when it looks like it’s off, it’s actually still drawing a small amount of power for the internal radio. That’s how it can hear the next “on” command from the radio in the switch.

Your clients would have to leave the fixture always powered on, that is, get out of the habit of using the pull chain or the turn knob on the fixture, but as long as they use the battery operated switch, everything will work fine.

If they do turn off the light fixture power with the old control mechanism, then the radio in the bulb will not be able to hear the message from the battery operated switch, and the battery operated switch won’t be able to get a message to the bulb until you turn the power on again at the fixture.

I forgot to mention that some pro installers will only get one of the tabletop controller, and take it with them to each new job site. They will set up a network there using direct association, Get everything working, and then take the controller with them. This will work with the specific models that I listed, but it means your clients won’t be able to add a new device on their own, and they won’t be able to have any time-based schedules. But it would reduce the cost significantly and bring it much closer to the zigbee option. So that’s another possibility, and it’s one reason that Eaton Cooper describes their device as a “configuration” tool. I wouldn’t call it a best practices approach, but there certainly are Professional installers who do it that way.


(Gus Zernial) #6

OK, so the fixture is always on, providing power to the bulb for both the electronics to turn it on/off wirelessly, and the 120v for the light itself, right?

Before this I wasn’t even confident that this could be done - now I’m ready to try it out using Z Wave and the Cooper Tabletop Controller you suggested. And yes I can take it from job to job as you suggested - most of my clients wouldn’t know how to program an add-on even if they had the controller

Many thanks, and I’ll post again and close this out when I’ve tested the specific solution.


#7

Yes. :sunglasses:

using Z Wave and the Cooper Tabletop Controller you suggested. And yes I can take it from job to job as you suggested - most of my clients wouldn’t know how to program an add-on even if they had the controller

Since this is all new to you, I suggest you start by just picking up a Phillips hue dimmer Kit, which is one switch and one bulb. It’s widely available and very simple to use. Give it a try, and see what you think, both about the bulb and the switch. The kit will be widely available including at Home Depot, Lowes, Sears, target, really most places that sell lightbulbs. And you should be able to return it if you don’t like it.

The Z wave options are more complex, and the individual pieces are harder to find. So I’d start with the Phillips it just does a proof of concept test and then try the Z wave if there are specific features of style options you like better with those.


(Gus Zernial) #8

I’m going to go with Z Wave - I’m savvy enough to do the programming and I’m going to set it up at home before doing so at a client site (never do it the first time in front of the customer, right :slight_smile:

The only Z Wave battery operated switch that mentions ability to use multiple switches to control one light (3-way) is GoControl WA00Z-1 - is that the case or can all the Z Wave switches you recommended do that?


#9

If they are using direct association, they should all be able to do it. I’d have to look at The specs for each model. If you leave the controller, then they can definitely All do it.


(Gus Zernial) #10

OK, so I purchased and attempted to set up:

(1) Cooper Wiring Devices RFTDCSG Tabletop Controller
(1) GoControl Z-Wave Dimmable LED Light Bulb, LB60Z-1
(2) GoControl WA00Z-1 Z-Wave Scene-Controller Wall Switch

The light bulb is mounted in a switchable socket and the switch is on. The controller adds the light bulb to the network and the bulb can be turned on/off by the controller using all on/all off.

Supposedly you add the switches to the network by going to “Install” on the controller, which give a prompt to press the install button on the controller, which is supposedly either of the two buttons on the switch. That may or may not be succeeding - sometimes a new device shows up on the controller and sometimes it doesn’t, but even when it does I get N/A on device status for it, and messages indicating the controller can’t communicate with it. I’ve tried resetting both the controller and the switch(es) several times - no joy. In any case, I can’t control the bulb on/off using the switch.

Both the bulb and the switch say they’re “Z-Wave Plus”. The controller specs indicate Z-Wave but not Z-Wave Plus. The controller manual has instructions to associate source and destination devices, but then I follow them one of the devices always goes back to “press button to install device” - it seems like it can’t communicate with the second device to associate it. And the switch does not control the bulb, even with the controller active on the network.

Ideas to diagnose and/or fix appreciated. (Should I be using a different controller? Is there some manual programming method that might fix this?)

Thx, Gus


#11

The specification requires that all Z wave plus devices be backwards compatible, they should work fine for basic on/off/dim functions.

But since this forum is for people who are using the Samsung SmartThings home automation platform, and what you’re talking about is just basic Z wave with a completely different controller, I suggest you find a gocontrol or Cooper forum and they should be able to help you.

Or just talk to Cooper support.


(Gus Zernial) #12

I called Cooper support and they confirmed that their RFTDCSG Tabletop Controller was not Z-Wave plus and thus was not compatible with my GoControl bulb and battery operated switch. I called GoControl and they said that the Samsung SmartThings Hub (Hub v2) was Z-Wave Plus and therefore “should be” compatible with my GoControl bulb and battery operated switch. They said the switch and bulb could act as repeaters to connect to each other and to the Samsung hub, but they didn’t seem to know much about direct association, and whether the bulb and switch could operate directly without the hub and smartphone app after configuration, and/or whether the hub needed to be present after installation and be continuously connected to the internet for the switch to turn the bulb on/off.

Believe it or not some of my customers don’t have internet at home (either their poor, and/or 34% of U.S. senior citizens don’t use the Internet). I can set up a wifi hotspot using my smartphone, access the internet, and the Samsung app for Z-Wave device configuration, but I can’t leave my smartphone at every customer site. The Samsung smartthings hub itself is cheap enough to leave at the customer site after installation.

Soooo … would the Samsung hub solution work without ongoing internet access? Would it work in a 3-way swithc configuration with the bulb?


(jeubanks) #13

Sorry… I think this CPE idea with SmartThings is a very bad idea.


#14

Wow, I’m sorry they gave you such bad answers!

From the official zwave alliance website:

Will Z-Wave Plus products work with classic Z-Wave products?
.
Yes, Z-Wave Plus products are fully backward compatible with classic Z-Wave products.

Generational interoperability for basic functionality (on/off/dim) has been a standard requirement of Zwave from the very beginning.

If you were going to use advanced features like central scene control, they wouldn’t be interoperable. But that wasn’t what you were talking about in the previous discussions on this thread

I’ll admit I have to wonder how you worded the question given the strange answers that you got. But so it goes.

I agree with @jeubanks That the smartthings hub is not a good match for what you describe.

But let’s go a completely different way.

Just get the Hue Dimmer kit which includes one battery operated dimmer switch and one white hue bulb. These will work together and will not require any other devices. They will not require the Internet.

Typical cost is $35 for this two device kit. Home Depot, Lowe’s, and Target will all carry it as will many other retailers. ( note that although it is advertised to work with Alexa, it will not unless you also have the Phillips hue bridge, but since Alexa itself requires the Internet I’m assuming that’s not a feature that you need.)


.
https://www.homedepot.com/p/Philips-Hue-Smart-Wireless-Dimming-Kit-1-A19-LED-60W-Equivalent-Warm-White-Bulb-and-Remote-Dimmer-Switch-455386/206976874

This will work just fine for adding a wall switch where there wasn’t one before, so good for smartening up a pull chain fixture. No wiring required. Just follow the instructions in the box.

The only negative is that they will have to change the battery on the switch about once a year depending on how often it is used.

(Put a childproof lock on the existing wall switch if there is one (you can typically get these for less than two dollars) just to keep people from turning it off at that switch. But given what you described, I’m assuming there isn’t a convenient wall switch or people wouldn’t be asking for the smart option anyway.)


(jeubanks) #15

I agree with @JDRoberts with the Hue switch/bulb kit. That would be the easy way to achieve what you were asking. There are other solutions like Insteon which is a bit more complex but does not require Internet or a central Hub to work but it’s also more expensive than the Hue setup.


(Gus Zernial) #16

The Philips Hue solution above works, and satisfies the objectives in my original posting, see below. The single switch and lightbulb in the kit paired and worked right off the bat, but I had trouble pairing two switches to set up a 3-way switch configuration, and had to work with Philips support to get it to work, also see below. Philips support was very helpful.

(I’m now going to try this at a client site, but I have one more question: Hue is zigbee … is Z-wave better/longer range and if so is there an equivalent Z-wave solution?)

-Old houses … two wire 120v - no neutral
OK, works in that situation
-No wi-fi available (but don’t need internet access or smartphone control).
OK, works in that situation
-120v power available at light fixture (load), but not at new switch location(s). Need on-wall -battery operated switch(es)
Switches are wireless and use one CR2450 coin battery. No experience yet, but the battery is easy to replace and I’d bet it lasts a year absolute minimum.
-Sometimes need 3- or more-way switching
As described in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIaokY_3vFw the Philips method is to set up the lightbulb to be operable by one switch, and then pair the second switch to the first. I tried this several times, resetting the switches between attempts, and couldn’t get the second switch to work. I called Philips tech support and after repeating the switch pairing sequence in the video, they had me subsequently pair the second switch to the bulb, and after that both switches worked in the 3-way config
-Distance light fixture to new switch(es) varies - sometimes short, sometimes up a floor.
Tested this in various locations including multiple rooms on the same floor and placing the switch up a floor (ie. top of the basement stairs from the basement light), and it continued to work.
-A plug-in hub or controller usually possible, depending on price.
Total cost for the bulb and two switches was about $80, no bridge/hub required. Once you know how to do it, setup time is quick. Depending on the situation, it’s a helluva lot easier and cheaper than pulling wires to the switches.


(jeubanks) #17

There are quite a bit of differences between the two protocols however you will find most (almost all) “Smart Bulbs” are either Zigbee or Wifi. There are very few Z-Wave bulbs. Of the differences there is range and repeaters but if all you’re working with are Bulbs each of them are also repeaters. The curious part that I don’t know that maybe @JDRoberts does know is whether or not the Philips bulbs will repeat for each other since they are paired to the Dimmer Remote (Switch) and not to a central hub…??? I dunno.


#18

Yes, they do. They form a ZLL network: no primary coordinator is required. :sunglasses:


#19

There are a few Z wave possibilities, but they will cost more than the Hue and be much harder to source. Setup is also more complicated.

Stick with the Phillips hue. :sunglasses:


(jeubanks) #20

I figured you would know. :wink: