Smartening up a larger home

My wife and I are moving away from our townhouse and into a larger house (probably ~3000-3300 square feet) soon. Currently, all of our Smart Things integration was done with Smart Bulbs and lamps and a few devices clustered fairly close together. Is there any consideration for setting something up for a larger house? I’m not sure if switches or bulbs from one end of the house might be able to communicate with the hub, and vice versa. Is there anything to help the range?

Also - the house will likely have vaulted ceilings, which makes bulbs incredibly difficult to change (not to mention, there are a lot of bulbs at work) - would the better option to just install smart switches that integrate with ST like the Leviton ones? Or is smart bulbs the better way to go?


I have 3100 sf of living space 4600 cover. 2 story every common space with at least two wired devices. All lights are connected to smart switches. Bedrooms have nothing smart in them, yet. I took the smart bulbs out of the master as the switch was more convenient. They now sit in a drawer and will never get used again. Once one failed I quickly realized it could get real expensive. I have had 1 smart bulb failure and 3 LED bulb failures in the last 2 years. None were even close to their life expectancy.

I have no problems with communications and I always install devices in place followed by a zwave repair. I do believe the wired devices are key.

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There are lots of debates about smart bulbs vs switches… here and here are a couple discussions. I personally went with wall switches because I wanted to maintain normal usage without having to rely on other controllers like minimotes/phone/echo to turn off lights.

You may need to space some ‘always on’ devices (which repeat z-wave signals out through mesh) throughout the home. For me it has naturally worked out okay on our 2 story+basement home; I’ve got 4 or 5 z-wave switches on the most used lights in the house plus a few plugs, smartstrip and thermostat all help repeat the signals. My garage is the only area I had trouble (with a door sensor) and my quick fix was to put an unused zwave plug in between. It resolved problem, I need to try removing that device again and run z-wave repair because the distance wasn’t that far, maybe another problem was happening???

They advertise 100m/328ft unobstructed distance maximum between z-wave devices, so it seem like this shouldn’t be an issue in most houses unless you have a really long home with one isolated device on the far end. You can buy repeaters as well, but they are too expensive IMO, might as well just buy a z-wave plug/switch for about same cost and plug a lamp into it.

Also, I have decided to use all z-wave devices. To me it makes more sense to have all devices using one protocol to strengthen one mesh… rather than mixing in a second protocol and having two weak meshes.

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I live in a 4200 sq ft home with over 240 devices on SmartThings. I basically got every light switch automated and every area has a motion sensor + many other sensors and devices. Everything works great. No issues at all.
However, the placement of hub and selection of switches (if you are not automating all) should be done optimally to ensure you have a strong mesh network. I also run a business around smart home solutions and one of the things we spend a lot of time on is the original device placement and selection. So keep that in mind.

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(i’ve moved this to projects so you can get individualized responses based on your own set up.)

There have been quite a few discussions in the past about large homes and the various methods and challenges. You’ll find most of them on the quick browse list in the community – created wiki in the project reports section under “whole house projects.” So that should be of interest.

Regarding the bulbs, most smartbulbs have a long life as long as they are used as directed by the manufacturer, so that in itself isn’t typically an issue.

The smart switches versus smart bulbs discussion is one of the longest running on the forum and there are people with passionate opinions on both sides, but the short answer is that smart bulbs are best for some situations and smart switches are best for others. Many people have some of each just to meet different use cases.

In particular, if you want the color changing feature of the bulbs, including changing from cool white to warm white, then that would call for the bulbs. Or if you have a large room with multiple bulbs and you want to enable zone lighting without having to do a lot of rewiring. Otherwise, as long as a project that requires wiring isn’t an issue, the switches will probably make more sense.

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There’s also an FAQ on coverage for a large house. As both @kevin and @ashutosh1982 mentioned, device selection and placement are key.

We should note that the advertised maximum range for any of the protocols is always based on clear air on a dry day. It’s much longer than you would get inside a typical home. The usual rule of thumb for a zigbee or classic Z wave device indoors in a typical residential setting is around 14 m/40 feet for one “hop.” And longer for Z wave plus, but still only about 20 m/60 feet.

That’s because all kinds of things degrade signal, including walls.

The good news is that both Z wave and zigbee are “mesh” protocols where one device can pass along a message from another in a sort of Relay setup. So you aren’t limited to just the distance of one hop.

The FAQ linked to above explains more about that and describes how to apply it to device placement in a large house. :sunglasses:

3000SF is not that big ( relatively speaking) . I have 2500 with a brick firewall down the middle and have no issues with 1 ST hub controlling 160+ devices. If you include the Gardenspots outside we are well over 5000 SF covered. Vaulted ( open air) ceilings actually works in your favor. As others have already said you need hardwired signal repeating devices for each protocol used in every room and the hub to be centrally located.

Smartbulbs give you additional option of color for mood, alert lighting, switches do not.


I live in a 3500sf home (2 stories) and I faced a similar situation to you @M_Li. Where do I start? What areas do I cover? Bulbs vs switches?

So, I started with the areas that my wife and I use most often. I essentially created a path from the kitchen and great room to the bedroom and game room, because we are in those areas more than any others. Then I converted the outdoor security lights. Then I tackled the guest bedrooms, starting with the ones that are used most often. Then the bathrooms, mudroom and the walk-in utility closet.

I still need to work on some larger walk-through common areas (10x20 foyer, and hallways due to 4-way switches) and the study.

I basically followed what I thought was a common sense approach.

For the 2-story family room, I replaced the switches, so I wouldn’t have to deal with the 15-ft high bulb replacement. For the kitchen, with recessed lighting, I did switches as well. Essentially, any area with multiple lights on the same circuit, I replaced the switches. This also applies to the outdoor security lights.

For the bedrooms, I opted for motion sensors and RGBW bulbs in the lamps, while leaving the overheads for later upgrades when I decide to automate all of the ceiling fans. This allowed me to automate the lighting on motion, change the color temperature and dimming based on time of day, and use a color (red) for a night light when someone gets up in the middle of the night. I found that red was less likely to wake up the other occupants in the room.

The bathrooms, walk-in closets, pantry and mud rooms didn’t really merit full automation. So, I installed occupancy sensors in all of them, except the water closets in the bathrooms. I also installed occupancy sensors in the garage work area.

All of this was a combination of Z-Wave, Zigbee, WiFi, and IR (some of the unmentioned accent lighting is IR controlled by Harmony Hub in order to avoid the cost of Hues while getting the same ambiance), as well as non-connected motion sensing lights on the stairs and the above mentioned occupancy sensors.

This darned near covered my entire house. So that will give you an idea of how far you can go easily on a first pass.

I would probably advise taking some time to see how you live in the home to decide what you want automated and what can wait. Flesh out those scenarios, and then you can start filling in elsewhere. Just finding reliable devices and building your automation routines will be enough to keep you busy for awhile.

As far as range, I have a Zigbee contact sensor in my mailbox that accurately communicates with my hub approximately 40ft away. Unless it’s a 3000sf Ranch, you shouldn’t have many issues, as long as you install Zigbee repeaters (outlets, switches and some bulbs can do this).

Bulbs vs switches is probably something you will ask yourself repeatedly, and even your answer may change. The question is extremely subjective. The answer usually comes colored (pun intended) by your lighting needs in each application.


Thanks, everyone. This is really helpful! I am probably going to primarily stick with switches, like MEarly, because I don’t know how to replace lights in vaulted ceilings either.


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