Having house rewired - any tips / advice on how to integrate Smartthings (UK)

uk
project_lighting

#1

Hello

We have just bought a 3 bedroom semi. Having the electrics updated and a partial rewire done (mainly the lighting circuit). I’m keen to take the opportunity to integrate devices an start to develop it as a start home. Having done some research it seems like Smartthings offers a wide variety of third party integration and seems pretty solid for the future. I’d appreciate any advice / tips people have in terms of what to do at this stage while rewiring. I love the look of the lightwaveRF sockets and have seem some community created integration of these with Smarthings.

Initially I am looking for the following

Smart Heating
Smart Lighting (including external)
Smart Security

  1. I am having difficulty finding smart wall sockets other than the lightwaveRF. Would people recommend I just go for standard wall sockets and add a smart wall plug on top of this where needed?

  2. What would people recommend re lighting? Again I’d be keen to integrate this with rewire of the house.

  3. Is there anything in particular people would get wired in / installed while having the rewire done?

My only worry is investing in a “hard coded” solution and it being redundant in a year or a few years.

For the heating I am thinking of going with either Nest or Tado.

Any thoughts appreciated!


#2

In terms of having the most options for the future with light switches, the two main recommendations are normally:

One) include a neutral at each switch box where you would like to have an automated switch. This will give you many more choices in terms of devices and protocols regardless of which home automation system you end up with. The reason for this is that most radiofrequency light switches use the neutral to power the radio so that it can hear the next “on” command from the network even if the light appears to be off.

However, lightwave RF and Lutron do not require a neutral, so they work well with retrofits. They are also very nice switches.

Note that neither lutron nor lightwave RF are directly compatible with smartthings. As you mentioned, some community members have found various workarounds requiring various degrees of technical proficiency and additional equipment, so there is some SmartThings integration possible, but not as much as you would get with some other protocols.

A receptacle will normally already have a neutral, this issue only applies to wall switch boxes where the neutral may be at the ceiling rose instead.

Two) have deep back boxes installed at each light switch and receptacle that you would like to automate. Again, this is just to give you as many options as possible, as it makes space for a radiofrequency device. If the switchbox is very shallow, then it limits the choices of devices that can be placed there unless you’re willing to put an extension collar which lifts the device above the wall. Or, as you mentioned, you can use a pocket socket plugged into a regular receptacle.

The following thread might also be of interest:


#3

I recently did a remodel and so went through the same thing. My advice:

  1. Definitely have a neutral wire on all light switches.

  2. Go with GE z-wave of zigbee switches. The newest ones work fabulously well with SmartThings. They seem to have worked around the “Instant Update” issue, and now the hub gets updated almost instantly when you turn on/off the switch.

  3. Assuming you go with the GE switches, get a mix of z-wave and Zigbee. There are good accessories on each standard, and your light switches will act as your best repeaters.

  4. Have at least 2x (I’d do 3x) Cat 6a runs going to each room. Wireless is great, but nothing beats a wired connection. You can use Cat 6a to distribute HD / HDMI, relay infrared from remotes, and do all sorts of things. With the upcoming availability of 802.11ad wifi, you will want ac access point in every room for super fast wireless.

  5. We used magnetic switches to turn on/off the lights in all of our closets. That worked pretty well. But I might consider instead putting in smart switches and open/close sensors. This would allow you to auto-turn off the lights after ~ 10 minutes if the closet door is left open.

  6. Put in the awesome Aeon Labs recessed open / close sensors on all your exterior doors.


#4

You probably didn’t notice, but this thread is in the UK category. Your advice is good for the US, but the GE switches are not available on the EU zwave frequency, and I don’t believe the GE ZigBee switches are available there, either.

Many Aeotec devices are available in the UK (see www.vesternet.com ), but the mix is not exactly the same as the US.


#5

Thank you for the replies everyone. I will have a word with my electrician re neutral wires. How deep do the back boxes need to be? I have seen 35mm and 47mm options.

When having the all sockets installed - should I just get standard sockets installed for now or would people recommend going for lightwaverf. I’m tempted to wait and see what comes out in the future.

I have thought about cat 6 cabling. I imagine this is cheaper in the US and hence had decided against this. We don’t have the need for video input into each room so I was leaning against this. I wasn’t aware that IR relays about be used on cat 6 and hadn’t thought about the wireless access point usage. My alternative was to use powerline sockets (I know these aren’t as good), but mainly to rely on wireless as the house is not too big. Id be keen to hear people in the UKs thoughts re cat5/6 cabling and whether this is worth it considering the cost.

Thanks!


#6

A few more random thoughts…:sunglasses:

Pattress Boxes

Even if you decide to go with nonnetworked receptacles for now, I would still have the deeper back box put in just so you have options in the future. These really shouldn’t cost much more than shallower ones unless you have cement walls already up. (Back boxes are also called “Pattress boxes.”)

whenever possible, get Pattress boxes that are plastic, not metal. Metal will degrade the signal of anything put inside the box. Sometimes you don’t have a choice though and the Pattress box will be a thin galvanized metal. If that’s the case, or actually, even if it’s not, it’s best to not use metal faceplates for switches and outlets. It just means the signal will be that much harder to get through. Again, this is true no matter which network protocol you select.

Walls and Doors and Signal Strength

Also, avoid metallic wallpaper. That can also degrade signal.

If you have metal doors, you have to think about how you’re going to get signal past them. The worst case is A typical residential building in Europe is usually metal doors in a brick wall. If it’s a metal door in a wooden wall, you’re probably OK. But if it’s a metal door in a brick wall or a metal wall, you have to start thinking about things like putting rubber weatherstripping on the door to give the signal a place to get through.

You can usually find a way to work around all of this, but if it’s a new build, you might as well make things easy on yourself.

The following shows the amount of signal loss for different types of materials. The higher the number below each material, the more difficult it is to get signal through

Ceiling line devices? How will they get power?

Also, seriously consider putting an outlet or two near the ceiling line if you can do so in an aesthetic fashion. This gives you the option to put security cameras or plug-in motion detectors or LED light strips or mains-powered smoke or particulate sensors up high without having to run cord and cabling vertically.

Motion Sensors work best at 90 degrees to the line of travel

If you’re thinking about motion sensor placement, these are typically most effective when a person walks across the sensor plane rather than straight on towards the sensor. It can literally save you a couple of seconds in response time, which is particularly noticeable if you’re using motion sensors to control lighting as someone walks into a room.

WiFi and Zigbee

Very strong Wi-Fi is valuable, but it will tend to drown out some of the other home automation protocols, particularly zigbee. So if you’re thinking of smart things or any of the other controllers that also have zigbee, you’d like to have those at least 3 m away from a Wi-Fi transmission point.

where to put the home automation hub?

Also, if you’ll be using any home automation protocols which use mesh relaying, you want to put the hub centrally in the house both horizontally and vertically. So if you have three floorS, ground, first, and second, ideally you would put the hub in the center of the first floor so that the signal can go both up and down and cover the whole house. If you stick the home automation hub in a closet on the side of the house on the ground floor, you may not be able to reach the second floor easily even with repeaters.

I just mention that because sometimes people doing a new build imagine sticking a utility closet someplace, and then putting all of their electronics controllers in there, but this is often the worst thing you can do as far as good home automation coverage, particularly for zigbee, Z wave, and Bluetooth mesh. These three are all low-power protocols, unlike Wi-Fi, and so you need to do a bit more planning about how you will get coverage throughout the house.

Of course, the bigger the house, the more challenging this is, so people living in a small flat may not have any issues at all. Again, just something to be aware of so you can make things easy on yourself from the beginning. :sunglasses:


(Paul Ockenden) #7

I wish there was something that looked more like a traditional light switch. Both LightwaveRF and Lutron are push-button jobbies.

I need this both for WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor), and also because we have an elderly relative with brain problems who stays with us, and who needs very familiar looking controls.

I reckon if someone made a traditional UK lightswitch which fitted shallow backboxes and which worked with ZigBee or (EU flavour) Z-Wave, and two wires (natch) they’d sell like hot cakes.

Are you listening MK, Crabtree, Contactum, Telco, marbo, BG, etc. ?


(Simon) #8

IMO fit deep boxes, the deeper the better and a neutral as it will give you more options. I would also wire some cat 6 if you can. Even Cat 5e is OK as it will support 1Gig at up to 100M, which its plenty of bandwidth. The cat 6 cable is not expensive compared to the total job cost and it again it gives you options. I ran 2 ports to each room and still found I could do with some extras. Especially some AP points the ceilings.

I have Fibaro 212 dimmers working fine with standard MK logic pus switches. For me the system had to work just like it did before. I’m happy with how it works and how it looks.

I


(John Crighton) #9

Speaking as someone who bought and converted a 3 bed semi in the UK, with automation in mind:

Deep backboxes - very important. 47mm would be great. I have some of these in extended areas (loft/back of house) but these boxes would start to affect the other side of some of the original internal walls if fitted everywhere. 35mm boxes can hold a module and a flat face plate, but it’s tight.

Neutral to light switches - not absolutely necessary. If you have the opportunity of running them, great. If there are some places you can’t run them, or it’ll mean pulling plaster off where you weren’t going to then don’t worry about it. There are modules like the Fibaro Dimmer 2 which are (imho) some of the best out there. They don’t require a neutral and offer some really great features. I have used Fibaro Dimmer 2s and chrome plated retractive switches throughout the house.

Electrical sockets - I like you have looked around for a solution. Lightwave RF was the only one available. I was uncomfortable in the thought of investing, as it’s a fairly closed protocol and doesn’t work without some fudging. I considered the reality of what I might need switches like this for, and went for standard (nice looking) outlets instead, and use the ST outlet adapters where necessary.

With heating, the jury is still out. I have three zones (water, CH and underfloor) which need dealing with, and things keep changing in this arena, so I still have dumb thermostats for the moment.

ETA: Smart bulbs work nicely with Fibaro Dimmer 2s, you can connect a second switch to send commands to a smart bulb from a normal switch. This is great for outdoor bulbs.


#10

Outlets

There are a number of pocket socket choices available, and as long as you’re OK with the aesthetics, these work just as well as wiring the in wall outlet itself. Also, the newest generation of zwave plus, which came out in 2015 allows for somewhat smaller devices and this has added even more pocket socket options. Zwave plus also has the longest indoor range of any of the typical protocols, which is nice also. At my own house, I just use pocket sockets.

If aesthetics are more important to you, the same Inwall relays that can be used for light switch can also be used for a networked outlet. In fact, in home automation a networked outlet is the same device class as a wall switch, it just has a different form factor. But it has on, off, and on some models dimming. Most have a physical pushbutton as well for manual control, although it’s often a bit awkward to use. But it’s there.

Since the relay is inside the wall, you can use any outlet faceplates you like. Again, though, it’s better to stay with plastic to allow the single through. And in particular, avoid metal outlet plates or frames.


#11

Thank you for all the replies. Lots of very useful information. I’ll have a chat with my electrician re deep back boxes and neutral wires to lights.

I agree re sockets - realistically I’m not sure what use I’d have for having smart sockets at every outlet.

Fibaro looks great but still relatively expensive.

Currently I am thinking of having fibaro dimmers fitted at each light switch (around 10 switches). I’d really appreciate some further info / opinions / advice however:

  1. My current lights are standard non smart lights. These consist of traditional light bulbs / fittings and also gu10s ib the kitchen. Although I’d love smart bulbs everywhere this is prohibitively expensive. So ideally I will go for a combination but keep the majority of bulbs as standard. Combining these with the fibaro dimmers - would this still work as a “smart” solution when combined with smartthings. Particularly the gu10s as these seem to be harder to find in smart form at a cheaper price.

  2. My other question is regarding the dimmer function - I’m keen to replace all my bulbs with LED Bulbs. Would the dimmer function still work - I am aware that traditional dimmers do not work with all LED Bulbs.

  3. I’m still undecided re network cabling. Any other opinions appreciated (thanks to those who have given so far)

  4. any suggestions re external flood lighting on the house and the best way to wire this in - again would a smart swifhc and standard light be the best way to go?

Thanks again! Much appreciated!


#12

Never use a dimmer that controls the current load to a smart bulb, whether that dimmer is smart or not. Basically you need to allow a smart bulb to control its own current draw and you leave the current on the circuit on all the time. Otherwise, you will eventually burn out either the bulbs or the switch, and can start a fire. You’ll see a lot of people who said they have done it and it was fine, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.

You can use a smart dimmer on a different circuit (or battery powered) and have the smart bulb “follow it” through wireless commands, and these work very well. There are battery powered Devolo and Popp switches in the UK that works very well with smart Bulbs and with SmartThings thanks to a custom device handler by a community member.

Or you can just use the Phillips hue battery powered dimmer switch which is available from Amazon.co.uk and is also very popular. It doesn’t have direct integration to SmartThings, but it works is a parallel means of control, and the status will get updated in smartthings the next time the bridge is polled, within five minutes. We use these at our house in the guestroom as an intuitive means of control.

Both are good choices if you want a wall switch with smart bulbs. :sunglasses:

Or you can use a smart dimmer like the Fibaro with dumb dimmable bulbs, and that also works very well. You may have to experiment to find just the right brand and model of dimmable dumb LED to work with the Fibaro without flickering, but it should be doable.

Just don’t use any dimmer to control current flow to a smart bulb.


(Paul Ockenden) #13

I really don’t think the bulb is the right place to control a bulb. It ‘fights’ with the switch. Much better to have control in the switch itself, working in tandem.


(Simon) #14

Personally I would not use smart bulbs. Their biggest advantage I can see is that you don’t have to make any adjustments to your standard wiring. Great aftermarket fit for plug ‘n’ play instead of a single bulb. If I look at my house I only have 2 internal bulbs where that would work. The rest are multi-bulb fittings, GU10s and low voltage down-lighters.

The disadvantages of smart bulbs are that they are expensive, there are limited options and you will find they don’t play well with the people in your house. For them to work you need to leave the switch on all the time and it will take a long time for people to get used to that. I retrofitted a couple of external lights with PIRs months ago and I still find the switches turned off. Maybe it was all my years of moaning about turing lights off :wink:

If you have the opportunity to re-wire then do it properly and fit the modules. That way you can use standard switches so the system works just like it did before, choose any lights you like and have the automation. The only thing stopping me rolling out the whole house is the fact my back boxes are not deep enough and its not politically a good time to suggest messing up the decoration for something the better half doesn’t want to begin with.

If you have the opportunity to wire in some network cabling then also do it. Twisted pair has many uses beyond networking. Its quite handy to extend some AV or get power to a remote module.


(Jon) #15

This has probably been asked many times, but is there a light switch available anywhere that has built in z-wave/zigbee functionality, so no modules required?


#16

Many people like smart bulbs for the color changing abilities, not necessarily turning blue or orange but in particular those that can change color temperature from cool white to warm white. Rainbow colored ones can also be nice for notifications, like blue if the laundry is done and orange if the gate is left open. So again, different things work for different people.

While it’s true that the issue of keeping power to the bulbs used to cause a lot of conflict with people turning power off at the switch, over the last year a number of devices have come out to address exactly this issue, in particular the two battery powered switches that I already mentioned. These work well to offer an intuitive control on the wall while still keeping power to the bulb. There are other options as well, including voice control.


(Paul Ockenden) #17

I think we all have different levels of WAF (wife acceptance factor).

Actually, that’s sexist. There’s a HAF too, eh @Mavis ?

P.


#18

Just to clarify what you mean by “no modules required.” If you mean not needing a separate in wall relay like The Fibaro, the market has been Limited in the UK and EU by the fact that most switch boxes don’t have neutral wires and most of these switches do require neutral wires to keep the radio powered.

If you do have a neutral at the switchbox, there are some zwave ones, such as those from Devolo ( these look the same as the battery powered model I’ve already mentioned, but they also come in a mains powered version). TKB also makes a popular line.

Vesternet has a reasonable selection. Note that most of these will require custom code to work with smartthings. There are as yet none on the official compatibility list for the UK, I believe. However, most of the ones that use zwave can be made to work.

http://www.vesternet.com/z-wave-tkb-single-paddle-wall-switch

http://www.vesternet.com/smart-home/lighting/switches-dimmers


#19

Indeed. Many people use FAF ( Family acceptance factor) for this reason when speaking in general terms rather than of their own household.

In my case, because we have three housemates, various friends and aides coming through, I use xAF, where X stands for “anyone but me.” :wink:


#20

Different people have different opinions on this, but in general, yes, I think most people find it easier to use the standard bulbs and smart switches for outdoor floodlights . The main reason for this is the standard bulbs tend to work better across a wider range of temperatures and humidity conditions. As well as working better in an enclosed fixture. (Many smart bulbs are not rated for outdoor use as well as not being rated for use in a fully enclosed luminaire.)