FAQ: Dimmers/Switches that don't need a common (neutral) wire?

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(Mike Kelley) #1

I’m having a terrible time trying to get a three-way switch automated. While the rest of my switches in the house all have a common wire (and are easy to install the GE Z-Wave Dimmer) our Kitchen overhead recessed lights have the simple tap side “cheaped out” with no common wire available. Having an electrician run such a wire through our attic will be $$$$.

When I started with Insteon most of their stuff required a common wire but for situations in older homes or where the wiring was expedient (like this situation) they offered an RF Dimmer Switch that didn’t require it. I don’t suppose there’s anything anyone makes for SmartThings type Hubs that could also work without a common wire?

It irks the hell out of me since this is a light I really need to automate (and be able to dim).


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(Marc) #2

Here you go:

I had to install this in my laundry room since I didn’t have a neutral wire there.


(Mike Kelley) #3

Yeah, forgot to mention these are LED lights (so this switch won’t work).

ALL my lights in the house are LED.


(Marc) #4

I believe your SOL. I do recall I had to use a regular bulb for this reason. I didn’t care as much since it was just a laundry room with a light that only goes on when I do laundry. The older GE zwave dimmers didn’t require neutrals, so you might be able to find them on Ebay or here if someone is selling an old one, but those aren’t guarenteed to work with LED either. In fact, I had a problem with those and my LED Commercial Electric recessed lights and had to swap them out for ones with neutrals.


(Mike Kelley) #5

Actually, the other poster gave me a place to look and I found this:

http://www.amazon.com/Cooper-Wiring-Devices-RF9501AW-Single-Pole/dp/B004SCU5N8/ref=pd_sim_60_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=41nBCVqdAgL&dpSrc=sims&preST=AC_UL160_SR160%2C160&refRID=091TGYENBM935CN8HTS2

Which looks like what I need. It doesn’t say if it will work with SmartThings but it IS Z-Wave certified.


(Mike Kelley) #6

Hmmm – can’t find out if it requires a common wire or not, though. And I also see they aren’t dimmers. Sigh.

I think the term “SOL” might be more appropriate. But will appreciate any more answers.


(Chick Webb) #7

Have you considered using smart lights? There are color tunable BR30s, and the OSRAM/Sylvania/Commercial Electric color tunable and RGBW recessed replacements are quite nice.


#8

There are at least three zwave dimmers made that don’t require a neutral wire, including one by Cooper, one by GE, one by Leviton, but they are all three only rated to work with incandescents. There’s not usually a safety issue, just flickers and buzzing.

Some people have been able to use them with dimmable dumb bulbs with success, it just depends on the exact combination of switch, bulb, and fixture, so you may have to experiment. Also the buzzing is often worst at very high or very low levels, and some people really only dim between about 30 and 90%. So it might work, there’s just no way to know ahead of time.


#9

There’s one other alternative to consider. It will work well for some households, but not for others, just depends on exactly what you need.

The Lutron Caseta switches do not require a neutral wire and work just fine with most dumb dimmable LEDs. ( Lutron has a bunch of lighting patents, and their engineering is different than everyone else’s.) As of March 2017, they have an official cloud to cloud integration with SmartThings, although you will have to also buy the Lutron Caseta SmartBridge. This is often the best solution for homes that do not have a neutral at the switchbox, you just have to look at the total cost.


(Glen King) #10

If you have an Android tablet that you are using as a control center, it seems Tasker can do a lot with Caseta. That would eliminate the IFTTT delays.


(Mike Kelley) #11

Using smart lights in a switchable outlet to me just doesn’t make any sense – there’s no way your “smartness” can know if the switch itself is on or off, so you’d have to resort to making the switch inoperable somehow (which for the purpose of the kitchen can’t be done).

I appreciate the idea about the Lutrons – I don’t think a lag would be an issue for my purposes, but I think what I’m going to do first is to see just how much an electrician wants to fix this issue (this is the only three way light we have in the house – we have two outside ones but I don’t need to automate them). I might just have to bite the bullet (it really irritates me that ALL the other switches have common wires in the box – an hour ago I just put a dimmer in my computer room and that makes 8 so far without an issue. Why they had to cheap out and not extend the common wire…).


(Chick Webb) #12

Meh. Didn’t take too long to train the wife to say “Alexa, turn on the kitchen lights” instead of walking across the room to toggle the switch.


(Mike Kelley) #13

LOL – I can’t even get my wife to answer her SmartPhone. Trying to get her to use Alexa to turn lights on would be science fiction.

(Although it was extremely interesting seeing what she had asked Alexa to do when we first got her – I went out of the house and when I went to the app and saw the things she thought Alexa might be capable of… well, let’s just say my wife still believes in Unicorns and having computer cook dinner for her :>).


(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #14
  • minimotes glued to the switches.

(Mike Kelley) #15

Also, sometimes (at least in our house) Alexa seems to be about as dumb as dumb can be.

Last night one of our cats knocked down something in the living room (we assumed) making a terrible noise. I said “Alexa, turn House on” (my house group is all my lights) and Alexa said “I don’t understand you” (I was speaking VERY clearly). A second attempt got about 1/3 of the lights on with a “Those devices don’t support that command” (ALL of my group are just switches). A third attempt FINALLY got most of the house lights on.

However, a few minutes later NOTHING I could do could turn them off (I eventually had to use my iPhone to do that). Alexa finally just said “Smartthings doesn’t work” or some such, which is surprising since my phone worked fine with it.

There are many times I think Echo just isn’t Ready For Prime Time yet. Some day, but not yet.

(Oh, and do I have to add that it would only take ONE time for this not to work that my wife would go to the switch. Her level of patience, on a scale of 1 to 100, is about a -5).


#16

FWIW, I have had a number of problems with the Echo/SmartThings integration, but none with the direct Echo/Philips hue bridge or Echo/wink app integration.


(Jason "The Enabler" as deemed so by @Smart) #17

I am using a GE dimmer with no neutral in my master closet.

I’m using a disable led bulb in it. It works pretty good. I can not doin before 10 our above 80. It turns beyond either threshold. But I’m pretty sure 80 is at full bright anyway when compared to the same bulb elsewhere in the house.

The only reason I’m using it is because I’ve got around 6 of them. I’m using two. The others are in a box in the garage.

You interested? @Kelleytoons


#18

I completely forgot the other popular option.

Even though there is no neutral at the light switch, there has to be a neutral on the circuit somewhere. Typically that is at the ceiling fitting.

You can use one of the in wall micro relays (there are a couple on The official compatibility list) and just put it in the circuit where there is a neutral. Then usually replace the wall switch with a nonnetworked momentary switch that controls the relay with pulses.

Search the forums for Aeotec micro and you will find lots of information. :sunglasses:

There are several different models, some with dimming, some not.


No Neutral
(Mike Kelley) #19

LOL – unless the electrician wants three or four hundred dollars most of these solutions are WAY too complicated for my purpose.

However, I got to testing with my Lightify bulb last night because I hadn’t been thinking right – I didn’t think that even if you turn off a networked bulb you can still turn it back on by just flipping the power switch on and off. That was my biggest concern if I replaced all the bulbs and left the switches alone – that I’d turn them off and my wife would go ballistic if she couldn’t turn them on again with a switch (I don’t need to turn this lights on automatically half as much as I need to turn them off).

SO… I need to do a cost effective comparison. I’d have to replace four lights, and if the cheapest solution I can find is $40 per bulb (and it would cost $60 for the switches) then all I really need to find out is how much an electrician would charge. If it’s appreciably over $100 (two or three times that) then replacing the bulbs makes a lot of sense (but if he can do it for, say, $150 then I’ll go with that route and do it right).

Thanks guys for all the input, though. Now I’m off to price bulbs (these are all recessed ceiling type kitchen lights – need BRIGHT, of course, but I’m not sure what the wattage is to begin with).


(Mike Kelley) #20

Just thought I’d cap this off with what I ended up doing.

Laid down for a nap (us old people need our naps) and suddenly realized how much of an idiot I am. You have to understand – I talked this problem over with a guy who built his own home (and did all his electrical wiring himself) and after coming over and looking at the situation he didn’t have any answers short of running a common wire from the ceiling down… But as I was dozing I suddenly realized there was a switch on the opposite side of the wall (a regular switch, not a three-way) that almost surely had a common wire in the box.

Sure enough it did, and I just used a jumper and ran it through to the other side in that box that was missing it and saved myself hundreds of dollars (perhaps) on an electrician. All is working fine now (the lights even dim and I was kind of worried I had non-dimmable LEDs in there).

It did throw me that my friend was clueless but I have to remember that his wiring experience was in the days WAY back before you needed commons for electronics in switches and such. That someone like myself (and I do NOT think of myself as a home improvement kind of guy) can solve these issues is very interesting.