Battery-powered switches and dimmer switches


(Graham Charles) #1

Hi everyone,

I’m new to all this but coming along. I’m confused about why every wall switch seems to require house power. I don’t seem to be able to buy a wall-mounted switch (as in, I want to Velcro or glue it to the wall, without a box), with the radio powered by a battery, that I can use to control my various lighting scenes and whatnot.

There are plenty of remote controls – handheld sorts of things, or else elaborate multi-switch keypads, but not just a simple “switch” remote or “dimmer” remote that doesn’t tie into house wiring at a switch box. I think maybe I’m just using the wrong vocabulary… it seems like such a thing really should exist.

While I’m at it, why isn’t there an in-wall switch with a battery (maybe even a rechargeable one!), so as to support houses with line-interrupt lighting wiring? Seems like this would be the simplest device to create – and even allow the battery to recharge when the circuit is powered. But I’m not finding it, so again I wonder if I’m just searching wrong.

Thanks for any advice.

g.


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(Keith Croshaw) #2

I think a bunch are coming.


and the phillips hue tap is kind of like that, sans battery. Don’t think it works with ST though.

also

Don’t know if that’s supported though.


#3

Cooper Industries makes a line of Zwave “anyplace” switches which are battery operated and require no wiring. No idea if they work with ST, though.

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


#4

The GE 45631 has been discussed in the community a lot, with many people not being able to get it to work with ST. It functions as a secondary zwave controller, part of the zwave standard that ST has not implemented. (I believe the only secondary controller ST recognizes is the AEON minimote they sell in the shop.) But some people are using it for some purposes, just search on the model number for the discussions.

@duncan from ST said in November that he hadn’t been able to get it to work.

GE/Jasco 45631 Keypad/Controller

The secondary controller issue is likely what excludes most control panel devices.

An alternate for some people is to wall mount an inexpensive tablet and run ACTion or a similar smartapp dashboard. If you run in kiosk mode and use a wallmount case that covers the home button you end up with something anyone in the house can use physically without granting them full access to the control app. So good for some use cases, but not others.


(Graham Charles) #5

Thanks, all… hopefully whatever standard the 45631 uses will be supported by ST in the future, and I’ll keep an eye on the Aeon Labs thing.

Just curious, now… why don’t such things exist? They seem like the easiest bits of kit to make, and given that the workaround is to mount a spare tablet to the wall (!!!) it seems like a no-brainer to me.

What am I missing?


#6

[quote=“grahampcharles, post:5, topic:10379, full:true”]
Thanks, all… hopefully whatever standard the 45631 uses will be supported by ST in the future, and I’ll keep an eye on the Aeon Labs thing.

Just curious, now… why don’t such things exist? They seem like the easiest bits of kit to make, and given that the workaround is to mount a spare tablet to the wall (!!!) it seems like a no-brainer to me.

What am I missing?[/quote]

It’s easy to have a zigbee wallmount control panel that controls zigbee devices. Or a zwave wallmount control panel that controls zwave devices. Or a wallmount Insteon control panel that controls Insteon devices. IF your switch and hub are certified for that protocol.

It’s much harder to have a physical control panel where every switch could control zigbee or zwave. Let alone Insteon or other proprietary protocols. And even more so when your hub isn’t actually certified for any of those protocols, but is just using a subset of the open standard.

So far all the switch panels people have mentioned handle only one protocol. So you’d have to know which of your devices it could control before you even started thinking about using it with ST.

From the beginning, ST had the philosophy that the retail customer wouldn’t even have to know if one of their devices was zigbee or zwave or whatever–ST would figure that all out for them and you’d be able to use the same commands interchangeably through the ST app.

In practice, that’s ended up being pretty darn hard to pull off. ST does the best it can, and prioritizes the devices with highest customer demand, but you’ll still find most of the conversations in this community get pretty techie. And many smartapp descriptions only make sense if you understand those techie issues.

A tablet works as a wallmount controller because the ST app is already designed to display devices of different protocols as equivalents. That’s the whole point of the ST philosophy. “On at sunset” is on at sunset whether the lamp is zigbee, TCP, zwave, whatever. And because the tablet app ISN’T acting as a secondary controller for any protocol–it’s just acting as an interface to the primary controller, the ST hub.

So, yes, building switches as a secondary controller for ONE protocol is pretty easy. Building one for multiple protocols using the open platform model is way harder and may just be too expensive.


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #7

Accurate posting, but I disagree with the conclusion.

A control panel should act just like a bunch of contact sensors or Capability Momentary.

SmartThings handles a single contact sensor just fine, regardless if is ZigBee or Z-Wave… Exactly per the paradigm they intended.

The Aeotec Aeon Minimote (and Enerwave 7-Button) has also been made quite functional, even if it isn’t strictly following the interface rules for capability.button.


(Graham Charles) #8

Hm. I guess I still don’t understand. I don’t want a switch that will communicate with the lamps themselves – I figured that the switch (like the motion detector, or the presence sensor, or the door-open sensor) would communicate with the ST hub, which would then control the lamp.

I could easily configure, for example, a battery-powered motion detector (Zigbee or Z-wave or anything supported by ST) to turn on a lamp. Why is a switch functionally any different?

Put another way, why is there no wall-mounted MiniMote?


#9

In most residential homes with home automation, there are three primary use cases for wall switches:

  1. to provide capability for people who don’t have access to the main controller. Guests, children, workers. Not all of these people necessarily even have smartphones. Or if you’ve misplaced your control device, like you need to turn on the light to find your phone. :wink:

  2. to speed up response time for lights, in particular (people hate standing in the dark waiting for a light to go on)

  3. to provide manual backup in case the HA system goes down

Of these, case 1 works fine with a switch to hub to device configuration. This is also what motion detectors can do, although not as reliably as a switch.

Case 2 greatly benefits from the switch being a local controller. Super helpful in multistorey homes or homes with lots of interference spots.

Case 3 requires that the switch be a controller. Although that doesn’t have to be a networked controller, a plain old wired switch works well with zwave, but not zigbee or any “always on” protocol.

So it just depends on what you need.

As to why ST hasn’t gotten someone to make a minimote in wall panel form, no idea–sounds like a lot of people would use it!


(Graham Charles) #10

Thank you, I think it makes sense now. If I understand correctly, a switch doesn’t work like the motion detector… it performs the switching function directly on the line power, then reports to the ST hub what it’s done… it doesn’t rely on the hub to turn the lamp off.

More or less?

Alas, it feels like a hub-based solution would work fine for me – there’s hardly any perceptible delay when I use my ST app to switch a light in my setting. And our wiring is old, so the wall switches won’t work.

Anyway, thanks for clarifying the switch thing.


(Broderick) #11

I’m in the same boat, old house wiring, no neutrals. I’d love a stick-on z-wave switch that would work with the button control app like the aeon minimote does. For the time being, I simply bought a minimote and velcroed it between my light switches on the wall. Wife loves it, now she can control a scene from a button, rather than having to take out the app (which is very slow). We have it right inside our front door, we hit it on the way out and it turns off the whole house.


#12

Same here, old house and no neutral. How can I replace my light switch with a ZWave switch (or anything else) that does not require the neutral to get power to turn on the light via the app?

Like the OP, I couldn’t find anything that’s battery powered but is an in wall switch catering for the ‘no neutral’ issue which is many homes have.


#13

It is unlikely that you will find a battery powered switch that can control an actual load to a light fixture.

However, if you put a smart bulb in the fixture, you can then leave the power on to that bulb, put a switch lock on the switch, and add a battery powered switch next to it to control the smart bulb.

Then you have several options. See:


(Graham Charles) #14

That’s what I don’t get. Why is it unlikely? It seems like the easiest thing in the world to invent, and clearly there’s a need… What am I missing?


#15

Because it’s cheaper, easier, safer, and more reliable to just power the switch from the circuit it’s controlling. And generally NOT a good idea to put batteries inside a closed box with a live circuit that has extended wiring. It’s possible for fire to travel along the wires inside a wall. So a battery device is usually kept separate from those wires, just in case.

The only reason we have a use case is because we want to keep the radio powered while the circuit itself is off. That’s so the radio can hear the next “on” command from the network.

It’s possible to do that without using batteries, in fact it’s quite easy if you only want to control incandescents. That’s how the old GE switches worked, and it’s how the current Cooper models work that don’t require a neutral. It’s just tricky for other engineering reasons if you want to control LEDs or CFL’s.

As with many other light switch issues, the Lutron company has poured a ton of time and money into research on building better light switches, and they do have a modern RF switch, the Lutron Caseta, which can control LEDs and doesn’t require a neutral. It’s actually some pretty amazing engineering. But it’s also patent protected, and not available to other companies. And of course it still doesn’t solve the issue for people who are not allowed to replace a light switch. It’s not battery-operated, and it doesn’t work with SmartThings directly.

So if you don’t want to replace a light switch, regardless of the neutral wire issue, you have the following choices:

One) use a smart bulb, put a switch lock on the existing light switch, and use any of the several battery-operated choices for controls which do work with SmartThings. I personally really like the smartenIT 3 toggle switch, but there are other options as well.

Two) wait six months until the switchmate, or some similar competitor, is available. This is a Bluetooth switch that fits over the existing switch, very similar to how the August lock works.

I’m very impressed by the early engineering specs on this, and it’s one of the very few devices that I have supported early in a kickstarter or indiegogo campaign. It’s available now for preorder, but it’s still several months away from shipping.

This is going to be kind of ugly, it’s a big box that fits over the existing switch. And there’s no telling exactly how or if it will integrate with SmartThings until The Bluetooth radio is actually turned on in V two and the switchmate is actually shipping. But it’s a no wire, battery operated mechanism that will operate an existing switch. (Notice, though that the battery device is not going inside the switchbox where the live wires are.)

  1. If you’re handy, you can build your own switch toggle which is a mechanical device that literally just flips a switch on and off. They’re not that hard to build, but they are ugly. Then you need to add a thingshield to it so that they could talk to SmartThings. And of course you would need one for each switch. so that’s another possibility if you really need something right away. But I think most people would choose option one instead of this.

Those are pretty much the only three options that don’t require doing something with the existing wiring. And one of them is still in pre-release development.


(Graham Charles) #16

Except, of course, in the case of houses with no neutral, of which there are clearly a lot – in that case, it’s impossible unless you allow a tiny load through the circuit at all times, as you mention:

But, of course, incandescents are obsolete tech – why would I want to use them, even if I could buy them illegally somewhere?

Really? This is a thing? You can’t have tiny Li-ion batteries in proximity to house wiring? Maybe this is the actual answer to my long-standing question. Just curious, though: how does the Caseta get away with it? Or my alarm company, which has a honkin’ big battery right in the powered switchbox?

Thanks for mentioning this – I hadn’t heard of it and it’s a tricky one to find. Googlers, look for Smartenit ZBWS3B.

I still don’t feel like my question has been answered; as an engineering challenge, this feels completely basic. Unless, as you say, there’s some fire code thing with the battery being near a wire.

g.


#17

Sorry for any confusion–Caseta isn’t battery-powered. That’s The unusual thing about it: the ability to power a radio switch without a neutral but that can still control LEDs.

They just can’t integrate directly with SmartThings. They do have an IFT TT integration, but that may be too much lag. Just depends on the use case.


#18

That’s why we keep a topic listing all of the battery-powered remotes and buttons that work with smartthings. Pretty easy to find that way. :sunglasses:

Click on the topic title a couple of times and it will take you to that thread.


(John Crighton) #19

I’m new here so may be missing the point, but what about the Fibaro Dimmer 2? It works with LEDs, doesn’t require a neutral and you can pick your own momentary switch plate to go on the front.

It definitely works with ST (I have one).

As for a battery powered switch, I’m looking for one too! I had X10, and used these:


(Graham Charles) #20

Not available in the US, apparently, but intriguing!