New to home automation -- How limited am I by old wiring?

Yeah so I stay away from electricity if I can help it, so I have no idea what any of that fancy lingo means haha… I can say however I have no basement and on this specific switch the wall is cinder block so I can’t exactly cut into the wall.

So, the pictures I took has 3 separate switches… the one I focused on has a black and red wire, the other two have black and white wiring.

Is there something else I can take a picture of or is it pretty clear my wiring is too archaic for your standard smart switch?

Thanks for your help guys.

If, as mark supposed, your junction box is fed with conduit (a possibility, given it’s cinderblock) then the ground would be the conduit itself and no additional wire is necessary. Any chance you own an ohm-meter or multi-meter?

I do not, but I can pick one up. I try to avoid electricity as much as I can but I suppose It would be handy to have just in case.

Probably yes.

There is an option you can consider. It’s not quite as convenient because you have to change batteries a couple of times a year, but it will work fine And won’t require any rewiring.

Ecolink Recently released a battery operated zwave plus smart switch cover which fits over your existing switch and mechanically moves it. It’s actually kind of cool. :heart_eyes: it will work just like a regular Z wave switch, and looks like a pretty normal switch except that it sticks up off-the-wall a bit. The only negative, as I mentioned, is that you will have to change the batteries every so often.

There are some community members using it:

It also comes in a rocker style if you prefer that, although That one has been harder to find.

If you’re going to be installing your own smart devices, you’ll have to get familiar with electricity: function and safely especially.

I’ll take a look at these. If I used one of these an the Switch was turned off would I still be able to trigger my lights by voice or motion or would it still need to be powered on constantly since the smart switch cover is designed to flip the switch on and off?

I have a family friend that does electrical work, but he lives a town over, so it’s a bit inconvenient to have him come all this way just to see if my switches wiring are adequate for your standard smart switch.

I guess what I’m trying to accomplish right now is to find out what my realistic options are with my current wiring.

Yes. Basically one simple question answered. “Is the box grounded” which can be tested with an ohm-meter between the neutral wires (white, tucked in the back) and the box. If the box is grounded, you’re good… at least for now. There may be further questions necessary for other locations.

Or you can always pay a trustworthy electrician Who either knows or is willing to learn. :wink:

I have an electrician I’ve been working with for four years now. He had previously installed Lutron non-RF switches, and security cameras, but no networked light switches.

Over the years we have learned a lot together, he has always given me discounted labor prices on anything that was new to him, and he’s been a great guy to work with.

I’ve also had very good luck with Amazon’s “smart home services” – – the one that uses Amazon employees, not the referral service. They arrive actually knowing the products. There’s a very limited set of products that they install and only in some areas, but I can definitely recommend them. I had them install my ecobee which turned out to be a tricky installation because of the 1950s wiring but they handled it great.

They charge more than the local independent guy that I use, and it’s been more fun working with him over the years, but I do use them for things that he doesn’t want to do, like the thermostat. :sunglasses:

I would consider doing this, since as @Edward_Niedziejko it’s the only way to really answer the question you’re asking.

I had no knowledge of home electrical wiring before I got into home automation. After reading/watching some videos online and asking questions of people here that are much better at this than me, I’m comfortable with basic rewriting of a light switch, which I’ve done several times over to add some smart switches, fan controllers etc.

You could probably learn how to use a multimeter and check if your switch box is grounded in an hour or less. Then you could also learn how to check whether that bundle of white wires in the back of the box in pic #3 is definitely a neutral bundle too :slight_smile:.

If you Live near a Home Depot, many have a free weekend course in installing a light switch which will teach you all about wiring and the tools that are used even though they don’t cover smart switches. So that’s another option as well. :sunglasses:

I’m a three-dimensional learner – – while I find videos helpful once I know what I’m looking for, I just really don’t do well learning first time stuff from them. But that’s just me.

Or 30 seconds. :smiley:
Turn dial on multimeter to Ohm (looks like a horseshoe)
Put test leads in Volts/Ohm and common slots (not Amps)
Put the test leads between two points you’re checking: In this case, the white neutral wires and the box.


Since the OP appears to be starting from scratch, a few minutes on basics like what does hot and neutral mean, or how to check whether the circuit is energized, would be time well spent.

JD’s suggestion re: a class at Home Depot is a great one for learning those very basic concepts.

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That’s true. I’ve been taking apart electronics and modifying them since I was 8, so I might have unrealistic expectations of familiarity for others.


In general, now that I am an actual home owner, I do want to acquire at least basic skills and knowledge.

I’ve watched YouTube videos and it seems simple enough, but the videos I’ve seen had the wiring they needed conveniently accessible to them.

I’m very much a visual learner so seeing it action would be good for me. My plan was to have my family friend come by and change a few switches I use actively right now so I could watch and learn and do the others as I continue to expand my home automation. But I didn’t want him to come up only to find out my switches wouldn’t work for what I needed.

It’s flipping the mechanical switch on and off, but the Z wave radio remains powered by the batteries inside of it, so you can still use voice or motion or anything else you would use with the mains powered switch. The only difference is that you are powering the radio from the batteries in the device, not from your own house wiring, which is why your house wiring no longer matters. :sunglasses:

So you are using voice to tell the battery operated device to switch from the off position to the on position, and then the battery powered device is mechanically moving the original switch.

It’s appropriate to have a healthy respect for the potential dangers of working on your home’s electrical wiring.

But a lot of these basics can be learned by most people. I’m quite sure it would take me much longer to install a smart switch than it would take a professional electrician. But I can do a decent job of it, save money at the same time, and it’s satisfying to have some idea of what’s going on inside your walls rather than throwing your hands up and calling an expert for even the most minor troubleshooting.

I think you’re reaching the point that someone will have to check these switchboxes with a multimeter. How much beer have you offered your friend to come by your house twice if that ends up being necessary? :grin:

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Gotcha! That makes sense!

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The most important lesson I could offer is “don’t be a path to ground”. Make sure you have circuits turned off (a voltage tick tester or the previously recommended multimeter can help confirm).

Make a plan. Draw out what you intend to do, check that it’ll do what you want, make the change, and then check your change matches your plan before turning anything on again.

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There is a noticeable click with these switches, so you will definitely want to try one and see what you think. Of course The other no wiring option is smart bulbs, But I am using a few of the battery operated switches in places where I have some ceiling fixtures that I like, it’s just the wiring is very old And I didn’t want to pay an electrician or the cost of Lutron switches. But those are in places like a utility closet and storage room where we don’t even notice the noise.