I got adventurous this past weekend and decided to give the GE Iris On/Off light switch (Model 45637) a try. At my local Lowes, they are priced at $35 each.
The short story is- IT WORKS. After much installation trial and error (more below), I finally got it hooked up correctly and the SmartThings hub immediately (and automatically) added a new tile to the App on my iPhone for control of the On/Off light switch. I can now turn my basement light on/off from the switch or the ST App on my phone! Nice.
The Long Story…
The biggest issue I had with the light switch installation has to do with the fact that I am not an electrician and most online tutorials you’ll find about “How to install a light switch” are dealing with passive switches- meaning that the switch itself simply closes or opens a connection on a single wire. In the case of these Z-Wave light switches, the switch itself is an active device, so the switch needs power to operate. To slightly complicate the matter, the electrical lines that you’re dealing with when installing a light switch are AC power lines. I’m much more accustomed to dealing with DC circuits, so the AC connections are still slightly mysterious to me.
When I pulled out the original passive light switch, it just had 2 wires connected to it. The original wiring my house is at least 75 years old, so most of what I found did not line up with current standards or tutorials. To make matters worse, the original power lines were so dust covered and discolored that all wires just looked grey- as opposed to the Black, White, Green wire color convention I expected to find.
I deduced that the 2 wire connections would have both been the “Black/Hot/Line/Load” wires. The passive switch simply opened or closed this wire to turn the lights on and off- and since it was a passive switch, it didn’t matter which wire was the “line” and which was the “load”. This is what led to most of my confusion issues when installing the Z-Wave switch.
After turning the the main power to this light switch off at my circuit breaker
, the 1st step was to pull the original switch and the switch’s mounting box completely out of the wall. This revealed the “Neutral” wires that were conspicuously missing from the original switch, but where a part of every tutorial I found online. I also realized that since my house AC wiring was old, it did not have the “Green/Ground” wiring that current homes include. Fortunately for me, the Green/Ground wire is a safety feature, but not required for operation, so I’ll just forget that for now.
The GE Z-Wave light switch Manual has some connection circuit diagrams, which were helpful.
Once I had located the 2 loose Black/Hot wires and 2 loose White/Neutral wires (which I had now marked with Black and White electrical tape to help distinguish between the 4 drab Grey wires), I had all the connections I needed. I connected each Black wires to the “Load” and “Line” connectors on the GE Z-Wave light switch. For the White lines, I simply connected the 2 loose ends together and ran another connection (like a ‘T’ connection) out to the single “Neutral” connector on the GE Z-Wave light switch.
At this point, I was ready to test the switch. I flipped the circuit switch back on and ran back upstairs to test the On/Off switch… nothing. No response from the lights when pushing any buttons on the switch. No “power” LED indicator light on the switch either. Hmm. I ran back to my circuit breaker to turn the circuit back off again.
I looked through the manual again and started reasoning that since the switch itself IS ALSO AN ELECTRICAL DEVICE, that the “load” and “line” connectors on the switch may matter more than all the online tutorials had led me to believe- since they were dealing with passive switches. I had no way to know which of the 2 Black wires was the “line” and which was going to the “load”, so I just swapped them on the GE Z-Wave switch. I turned the circuit breaker back on and BAM! Success! The switch controlled the lights, the blue LED indicator on teh switch was on and when I opened my SmartThings App there was a new On/Off Tile Icon for the switch! (the default icon looked like an AC outlet, so I changed it to a light icon).
In Summary, these switches are relatively cheap at $35, readily available at your local Lowes (in case you feel like running out and just going for it one day), and most importantly, they work seamlessly with the SmartThings system. However- BEWARE - if you are not an electrician use EXTREME CAUTION because a mistake in dealing with this wiring could cause injury or death, especially in houses with old wiring. But if you ensure that the circuit the switch you’re replacing is OFF at the main circuit breaker box and you ensure that the loose wiring is well insulated (not shorted) when you turn the breaker back on, you can make it through a trial and error process without harming the Z-Wave Switch.
For various reasons, this single switch replacement took me 5 hours in 100 degree heat (my Fans and Air Conditioning are on the same circuit as the switch I was replacing) and my wife was not happy about that… but I learned A LOT and in the end I was successful. I’ll probably wait until my wife is out before I attempt to replace the next light switch though