I am a newbie, and I am looking for advice (lights, no neutral)

Hello all,

I just started the home automation project around my house. Started with a Yale real living lock and the smartthings hub shipped this morning. The items I want to work on are light fixtures. However, I have an older home and I see many people have these problem that they do not have a neutral in the wall switch, so I have read some alternatives of going smart bulbs instead, but that’s where I am getting confused.

The first light fixture I want to update is a 3-bulb kitchen ceiling fixture. All three are controlled by the same switch. Can someone guide on a possible solution that will not include have to call an electrician to wire a neutral to my switch?

I also want to mention that I plan on adding and amazon echo for voice control.

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I’m not an electrician so I hope someone smarter than I will correct me if I get any of this wrong. I don’t think anyone will likely tell you any advise that is contrary to what is proper via code. As I understand it, another approach to control your 3 bulb fixture is to use a dimmer switches,which does not require a neutral. They work by bleeding just enough energy through the circuit so that the electronics in the switch stay active. There are two assumptions made here: 1) that the energy permitted to flow through (to keep the control electronics active) isn’t enough to energize the bulbs. 2) The bulbs you are using are dimmable.

It sounds like you are considering bulbs for this, i would never recommend that for this as EACH bulb pairs as a single device - so when you VOICE automate / command it would take 3 commands to turn on that fixture in its entirety (in a simple set up). When a single switch controls “multiple bulbs” I always recommend in wall switches (and the majority of the time DIMMERS).
Looping in the resident electrical guru @JDRoberts too.

You can actually group them in the Echo and just say “turn off kitchen lights” and it will turn all three off. One bonus of using bulbs in this case is you could just have one or two on for more lighting options. The big downside though is if someone turns off the switch, you can’t turn them back on without flipping the physical switch again. I made that mistake for a few rooms and eventually just used switches and regular bulbs.

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The problem is that almost all of the Z wave and zigbee switches that work with SmartThings do require a neutral. In fact, I think all of the switches on the official “works with SmartThings” list require a neutral.

There used to be GE zwave dimmer switches that did not, but they have been discontinued because, like most similar switches, they only work with incandescent bulbs. And these days everybody wants dimmable LEDs.

Cooper still makes one z wave model that does not require a neutral, but again, it only works well with incandescent bulbs.

Lutron makes excellent networked switches that do work with dimmable dumb LEDS, their Caseta line, but unfortunately SmartThings has never added direct support for Lutron. You can get indirect support through IFTTT, and that is much discussed in the forums, The short answer is it will work OK for anything except when you want to have a SmartThings controlled motion sensor turn on the Lutron switch. Then the lag may be too long.

Smartbulbs like Phillips Hues are the easy solution. You can certainly put three of those in one fixture. No neutral required. Then you have to figure out what to do about the light switch but we have an FAQ for that.

But as far as smart dimmer switches themselves, while it is true that there are some on the marketplace that do not require a neutral, there aren’t any that work directly with SmartThings except for the Cooper, and while it’s a good switch, it doesn’t work well with LEDs.

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Thanks for the shout. :sunglasses: I’m not an electrical expert (I’m a network engineer, so I know the device features side, not the wiring side) but there are a number of electricians in the community and hopefully some of them will chime in.

I did just want to respond on the voice issue though, as I myself use a great deal of voice technology since I am quadriparetic.

Echo Allows you to set up groups with any combination of your bulbs and switches, so that’s not a problem at all. You can also have the same device in multiple Echo groups.

For example, my living room has three separate lamps. My bedroom has an overhead light and two lamps. My hallway has two overhead lights. I have one group called living room that has all three lights. I have another group called downstairs which has all six lights. And I have another group called bedTime (not bedroom) Which has one light from the living room, One light in the bedroom, and one light from the hall between them. So when I turn on “bedtime” I get a pathway of lights from the living room to my bedroom. Groups work great with echo.

You can do some similar things with Siri, although the groupings are quite as flexible as echo.

In addition, in SmartThings you can set up a virtual device to represent a group and then assign the real lights to follow that virtual device. This will allow you to have voice control of the group even though it looks like a single device to voice control methods that might not have their own groupings.

So no matter how you do voice control, you should be able to set up any groups you want. And of course this is a good thing. :sunglasses:

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This was indeed a major issue with smart bulbs when they first came out.

Fortunately, just in the last eight months or so a number of devices have come on the market to solve the issue of switches with smart bulbs. The newest are smart switch covers which are battery operated devices that fit over existing switches and have their own buttons. That way there is a physical switch right where there always used to be one but your smart bulbs still have continuous power.

There are a number of other ways to solve this now as well. So it’s really not the issue that it used to be. Again, a good thing. :sunglasses:

They are still reasons why someone might prefer to use switches rather than bulbs, but now it’s more of a case-by-case evaluation rather than a one-size-fits-all answer, even in the same house.

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Thank you for your explanation. I think using bulbs and grouping them wight be the way to for me. The bumming part is I bought new LEDs for that light fixture when i bought the house 2 years ago, but I gues I can have them as replacement for the fixtures that wont have any smart bulbs yet

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BTW, smartThings is a very powerful system, but not very intuitive. Grouping lights is a perfect example of this. If you just look at the official features, you will probably think that lights cannot be grouped.

In fact, there are several different ways that they can be grouped. :sunglasses: There is a how to article in the community – created wiki that explains a couple of them.

http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=How_to_Group_Lights_Together

I would remove a light switch and double check to see if there is no neutral. You may luck out and have one, house could have been rewired. Depending on the age of the house, how long you want to live there, and the amount of automation you want to do, you may want to get an estimate on rewiring some of the house.

Other options include smart bulbs, (NOT GE LINKS), Hues are good. There is a way to wire a Aeon switch at the light fixture (since the neutral runs to that), but it is more complicated.

https://amzn.com/B00IRI1CEK

edit: here is a link to another thread about the aeon switch i light fixture.

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Also, are the bulbs pairable with sensors? Let say, I add a sensor for the bathroom and I have a smart bulb there, can I set it up to where sensor triggers to turn the lights on?

Absolutely. And this is one of the areas where SmartThings shows a real advantage because it supports multiple protocols. So you can use any of many different sensors to control any of many different lights.

You can have even have different rules for different times of day or other conditions. For example, I have a motion sensor in my bedroom. During the daytime, it doesn’t do anything. In the evening, it turns on the overhead light. And after I have gone to bed, it just triggers a soft night light on the wall. So lots of choices.

If you check the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki and look at “Get Started” projects, you will see several projects using lights and motion sensors. :sunglasses:

http://thingsthataresmart.wiki/index.php?title=How_to_Quick_Browse_the_Community-Created_SmartApps_Forum_Section#Quick_Browse_Links_for_Project_Reports.2FQuestions

It seems that my solution will be to have smart to skip wiring issues or work arounds. I was looking cree bulbs earlier today, and seemed to be the easiest way out, but I read mixed reviews about their relibility. It seems that Hue maybe more reliable. HOwever, did I understand correctly that I need a Hue bridge to use them?

You can directly pair hue bulbs to ST which I have many on both Phillips bridge and direct pair to ST. Only problem with direct pair to ST is tricky to impair and requires another device if you wanted to remove it from ST.

So after watching some videos, and doing some additional research I may have found some light at the end of the tunnel… I think I found the neutral in one of my switches. Can someone take a look and tell me what they think?

Im no expert but all those white wires twisted together with the red cap looks like your neutrals. You should be able to add a short wire from those wires to your switch.

Funny thing is I found out they are hiden behind the switches, and I would have never had not watched wemo switch installation video. lol