Installing Z-Wave Light Switches Throughout Home

(Douglas L) #1

Hi, all. After perusing the forum, I am blown away by the resources here, and feeling better that I might have some support as I work through the effort of trying to replace ALL of the light switches in my far, I have spent the last two evenings upgrading light switches in our laundry room and my sons bathroom. I am using GE on/off and dinner switches. I am slowly becoming more proficient at the process and have only shocked myself once (clear forgot to turn breaker back off)!

Some observations:

  1. Certainly niot cheap. At $30-40 a switch plus another $20 for add-ons for the 3-ways, this is going to be a very expensive project.
  2. Each room is taking me about an hour.
  3. I hope the V2 hub I am awaiting will provide greater reliability. I find sometimes that things just don’t work.
  4. I am thankful that thus far, the wiring in my home seems pretty modern. Have come across a couple boxes as I planned the project that don’t have white neutral bundles. Have seen some switches that apparently don’t need a neutral. Should I get those, or should I try to have an electrician install a neutral line for those boxes?

Anyway, I will keep you all posted as I progress.

(Realy Living Dream) #2

It may look daunting at $40 each, but I paid that much 5 years ago for each plain old “dumb” dimmer that would work with my LED lights. ( I only killed 3 of them when my daughter was helping and didn’t notice the difference between red wire and red with tracer wire) Not to mention the $40 for each lightbulb. ( Hope you have an understanding wife when she realizes I just spent > $500 to change the lightbulbs in the dining room )
The first few ZW switches I bought a couple years ago were $65 for on/off and $80 or $90 for the dimmers. So prices have definitely moderated as the industry expands.
That’s the nice thing about DIY HA. You can add and expand as the budget allows. Between the V2 hub and the new Harmony home hub and remote, I have spent my budget for the month already :smile:

(The Viking AKA "Holy Crap You're a Giant!") #3

Over the last five months I’ve installed nine smart switches or dimmers, plus three companion switches, an Aeon motion sensor, one smart outlet (in wall), one plug in smart outdoor appliance module and the ST v1 hub.

My wife is ready to kill me, as she’s trying to get our debt paid down and I’m not helping at all…
She’s also very into the system, though to her it is more of a “neat” thing than a “can’t live without” thing.

I’m nearly 600 into it and have to put the brakes on for a while…

But damn it is so much fun to convert a dumb room into a smart room.

(Kristopher Kubicki) #4

I’ve done probably 2000 devices, 60 or so custom device types and another 100 or so apps. This is a huge time sink for me.

@dlankler the install time comes down a lot quickly. Even the multi-gang rooms get pretty fast quickly. The V2 hub is more reliable, considerably. The Android app (maybe the iPhone one too) is insanely buggy. That is going to slow you down the most.

The only other piece of advice I think you need is that you’ll probably have rooms where the switch is the cheap part of the project. For example, I started converting all my bulbs to Hues. So I have the Z-wave switch and then the Hue bulbs both controlled independently, which leads for some non-intuitive interactions.

Neutrals are pretty easy to run, if you can run copper. It’s not too bad. At least have an electrician take a look at it though.


(Ray) #5

My advice to you about neutral. It’s way more beneficial in the long run to install neutral. You will have way more options with devices instead of looking for obsolete switches with dimming problem. Of course tearing away the house just to have neutral is also not practical and cost effective.

(Cody Truscott) #6

You /need/ a voltage sensor. Do not trust the breaker. Do not trust that other wires in the box are on the same circuit. Do not trust that ground is actually ground. Test. Test. Test.

Gardner Bender STK001 Voltage Test Kit, 2 Piece

(Realy Living Dream) #7

A simple outlet tester and a circuit tracer are great insurance too. $50 well spent in my tool box.

(Douglas L) #8

OK - an update, and some questions.

First, many thanks for the support and advice - very helpful. I got a tester and am being more careful, so no more shocks.

So, I am about halfway through. I’ve installed about 25 switches, and have learned about 3 and 4-way systems, carefully folding wires so that everything fits in the box, and how easily wires come apart if you don’t screw those caps on incredibly tightly.

I have also learned that i occasionally have to go into the ST app and “repair my z-wave network” to get new switches to properly pair." Still waiting on my new hub from the ST store…

My big question today is about loads. I have a room that has a big chandelier, with 18 40 watt bulbs. The electrician who installed it put a regular on/off (non dimming) switch, because he didn’t have the right dimmer switch and said that a regular dimmer “wouldnt be able to handle that load.” So, if I get a 1000W dimmer, will that work? Am I just multiplying the number of bulbs times the wattage to determine what I need? Same question for a room with 6 30W halogens.

Next, I noticed that the dimmer I put in my daughters room gets a little hot. She has 6 hi-hats with indoor floodlights (I think they are 40W, but I will double check). Do I need a special dimmer on that, or will the standard GE z-wave dimmers work? Do I need to worry about the heat?

Last, we have a room with two fans on one switch. They appear to be standard ceiling fans (I dont know the power load). They are currently both connected to a single standard toggle switch. Okay to put them both on a single GE Fan z-wave switch?

Many thanks!

(Kristopher Kubicki) #9

You should put electrical tape on top too - in case something comes lose you don’t end up energizing your ground

A 1kW dimmer should be fine, as your load is only 720W. If you were going to use a z-wave dimmer I would not recommend the GE/Jasco one. I’ve had a good experience with those dimmers specifically. Keep in mind if you replace those bulbs with wirelessly controlled ones (I think TCP makes one), then you’ll have to put the on-off switch back as it won’t work with a dimmer. 720W is a done of power for a light by the way :slight_smile:

Halogens get sooo hot … They’re really wasteful. Your load there is only 180W

Same as before. You don’t need a special dimmer unless its LED, and that depends on the bulb too. If you are going to replace those bulbs with ones with finer control you have to use on-off instead of dimmer.

You want a standard on/off switch then. Make sure you don’t use a dimmer on anything with a motor (Fan, HEPA filter, etc), or the motor will eventually break.



I think a better approach is to replace the bulbs with GE Link or Hue (if you want the colors and don’t mind the price). I left all my switches alone. Much easier in many ways.

I think we’ll see smaller bulbs for those cases where a regular size won’t fit. In cases where you have lights with multiple bulbs on one switch then the switch replacements make more sense.

(Morgan Young) #11

You guys don’t swap out light switches hot? Haha. I never kill the breaker.

(Ray) #12

I am an electrician and I don’t change out switches with breaker in the on position. You won’t “kill” the breaker but will eventually kill yourself or your family with a house fire. Of course I know you are just kidding right? Right? :smiley:

(Fast, Good, Cheap...pick two.) #13

I’m jealous…

Not only is that not in my budget, but I swapped out all my switches to newer rocker switches last year…prior to home automation disease lol.

My issue now is my home is 1972 construction; therefore, has small metal outlet boxes. The z-wave switches are quite large. I know there is no way they will fit in the majority of the locations I would want them.

For this reason zigbee bulbs work nicely. I live alone so I’ve grown accustomed to not using certain switches. My only issues are when I have guests that manually turn on / off lights and the occasional power outrage light show as my whole home illuminates on power restoration.

For the reason of size I feel z-wave switches still have a way to go for more mainstream home automation affectionado adoption. I feel most would say complication of installation in the wiring which does not bother me.

(Realy Living Dream) #14

My house was built in 1893, so I don’t want to hear about it. Small box syndrome can easily be rectified with some " old work " gang boxes and a razor knife . :black_joker:

(Fast, Good, Cheap...pick two.) #15

You could have let my b*tching go on just a little bit longer before you smacked me down lol.

Yes, I’ve considered that…but what a mess one would make in the drywall trying to remove the nails. I just don’t see a good way to do so without having to do drywall repair?

Anyway…maybe one day I’ll tackle. I’m not 100% sold the technology is here to stay before I get to hacking and a “nice to have” turns into “needs reconstructive surgery”.

(The Viking AKA "Holy Crap You're a Giant!") #16

My home was built in 1958 and also suffers from small box syndrome, buried in thick plaster-itis.

Z-Wave switches install just fine in the metal boxes without issue, and I have retrofitted at least 8 switch boxes with Z-Wave.

Some boxes I’ve cut out and replaced with old work boxes, but when you have inch and a half thick plaster/plasterboard to work with, it’s a bit of a mess.

Fortunately, in all but one of the boxes, I have neutrals available, though I have had to re-run some wire when working on the kitchen lights in order to allow a hot, neutral and load in the same box where they had used the neutral as the load line.

(Fast, Good, Cheap...pick two.) #17

I assume the thick plaster helps with room? (box depth)

(Cody Truscott) #18

If wires are coming loose, then you are using the wrong size of cap. Use the appropriate cap and it should work just fine. Don’t resort to ‘hacks’ like adding unnecessary and untested tape.

(The Viking AKA "Holy Crap You're a Giant!") #19

Probably, though it tends to hinder things a bit as it was applied after the boxes were put in.
I have to chisel away the plaster around the edges of the box in order to fit the larger body switch through the plaster itself into the box.

I HAVE struggled with one or two locations, which is why the boxes got replaced.
Those tended to have 2+ switches in them with a LOT of wiring, so the extra room was definitely needed.

All in all, the standard metal boxes are dimensionally able to contain the switches, with some wiring tucked behind. If you have 10+ inches, or 5-6 wires in the box, that’s where the problems come from.