Smartthings compatible wall light switches vs smart bulbs

Why is it that you can buy Smart light bulbs for $10 however if you want a smart light switch it costs $32? I would assume that the same zigbee or zwave radio receiver that is in the bulb can be put in to the switch? If I use a connected bulb, it requires the switch to be always on and local switch control suffers. Thanks for any info.

Some of it is just market forces: originally smart bulbs cost $60, but competition has brought the pricing down over the last 15 months or so.

Some of it is true costs: it is much more complicated to engineer something that gets actually wired into the mains rather than just screwing in like a bulb. There’s additional safety equipment required for fire protection, in part because you have to allow for the possibility of someone doing it wrong. :wink:And the actuator part of the switch also requires a bit more equipment and complexity. But not a whole lot more.

I do expect the cost of smart switches to drop over the next two years, but no guarantees and no idea how much. But if I had to guess I would guess that by the end of 2019 smart light switches will be in the $19-$22 range. But we will just have to wait-and-see.

By the way, the issue of having a wall switch that can work with a smart bulb without cutting the current to it can be solved in several different ways. :sunglasses: However, they all require adding additional devices, which then increases costs and makes a Bulbs project cost much more like a Switch project. But a lot of community members, including myself, do use one of these methods. See the following FAQ (this is a clickable link)

But for now, I think we are still paying early adopter prices for the switches, even though we are actually many years into home automation. SmartSwitches cost $35 because the people buying them are willing to pay $35. As the numbers of those interested in the devices but unwilling to pay those prices increase, I do expect prices to drop.

3 Likes

I can’t speak to the economics from a BOM or manufacturing cost perspective, but I can say that the way I think of it is that with one switch I can control many bulbs and it “just works” via ST or via the switch, vs. buying many smart bulbs at more expense and dealing w/the issues of a dumb switch combined w/smart lights where family is going to continually “break” ST functionality by using the dumb switch.

I have one smart switch controlling several lighting groups: My dining lights (4), a set of lights in my office (4), my under cabinet lights (8) and island lights (3). So that’s 19 lights controlled by 5 switches (4 + 1 extra “slave” switch for one 3-way switch).

The math + convenience comparison I do is the following (and I buy switches on sale or used/like new):

Using Smart Switches: 5 x ~$32 = $160; Works from switch or from ST, family can’t “break” things by using the wall switch, don’t have to change family behavior
Using Smart Lights: 19 x ~10 = $190; Using dumb wall switch “breaks” ST control & is bad for smart bulbs, very hard to train family to stop using dumb wall switch

I only use smart bulbs on lamps (and provide a minimote for control), and have one case where it is not possible to add a smart switch (e.g., too crowded switch box). In that case where I used smart bulbs connected to a dumb wall switch I also set up a minimote zwave controller to control those lights and actually taped the wall switch on those lights permanently “on” and trained my family to use the minimote instead. Since the switch is a little hard to reach they actually prefer the minimote so that works well in that case.

1 Like

My 2 cents would be that a bulb is a bulb is a bulb… But the Smart Switches that I have in place are much more. The ones I bought can accept both regular press, double-press down, double-press up as well as press and hold in both directions too. So that gives me the ability to tell ST what to do when I use those other features.

So for example, I’ve set it up in my house so that pressing the OFF button on the switch simply turns off the light, as you would expect, but if you double tap the OFF button not only will it turn off the light in that room, but it will turn ON lights in the next room that you’re likely going to go to.

If I double-tap the OFF switch at the door I use to exit my house I have it setup so that it will turn off all the lights in the whole house as well as the TV.

You can’t do “extra” stuff with a bulb…but with the smart switch you have many more possibilities.

1 Like

I could not find any reason to install smart bulbs, as you can only control them from phone app or additional button devices, unless you’re looking for the wow factor from visitors when you change colors.
Main advantages of smart switches are that in general there are no electrical modifications needed, can control (or dim if using dimmers) regular bulbs and outlets and most important to me, anybody in the house can use them without other devices.

1 Like

I agree with everyone’s comments that Smart switches are much more versatile than a Smart bulb. That’s why I would hardly ever use a Smart bulb. I’m just saying that a Smart Switch is really a Decora or Leviton switch with a Zwave or Zigbee radio plus the microchip to enable the Smarts. We can see that the microchip and the radio cost only $5 (look at Sonoff) and added to a Leviton dimmer that is $10 should give a total price of $15, not $32. I see many wifi non zwave switches on Amazon in the 15-20 range so why are the zwave and zigbee ones more expensive for the same switch they have been manufacturing for many years? Thanks,

1 Like

Hey @Mike1616, I’m trying to decide which smart switch I want to get, which one supports all the stuff you list - double press, long press?

GE’s dimmers will support ON/OFF of the lights by pressing the switch, and Dimming with the long press. They also have double-tap ON/OFF features that you can program to do whatever you want.

HomeSeer switches do even more. They support Double-tap, Triple-tap and long-press for scene control (meaning you can program 6 different buttons).

https://www.amazon.com/HomeSeer-HS-WS100-Z-Wave-Scene-Capable-Switch/dp/B01DFSAAJ4

1 Like

Just for clarity, only the very newest models of the GE switches, the ones which start with “14,” have those features. The older models which start with “12” and are still available in many stores only have the regular on/off/dim feature.

1 Like

WAF (and small children support) is a BIG requirement for me, so I’ve all swtiches. I’ve actually gone all GE because I also really like that it supports associations whereas the Homeseer doesn’t, and also looks like normal switches without the little side LEDs. I needed this as I use them to control 12V under cabinet light strips and 24V Ikea above cabinet lights using modified Kichler z-wave LED drivers. It makes all my lighting instant for on/off/dim because it doesn’t actually go through smartthings, so I have great WAF and it works even when smartthings is down. I can also use the awesome cloud device handler which allows me to do the double taps while locally controlling the lights since they are associated.

Side note, if anyone wants a super quick tutorial on how to use a Kichler 12387 (~$15) to drive 24V or 12V led strips, let me know. It’s a simple mod with minimal soldering that only requires one $2 MOSFET and works awesome.

I don’t get that though. I have some of the old (non plus) switches and they still act as though they support double-tap. For example, if I double-tap them they do not turn on because they are registering a double-tap instead of a single tap. If they really didn’t support double-tap then double-tapping will still act as a single tap.

I did not see it mentioned in here but I recall detailed discussion on the Vera community forums that Z-wave devices are required to pay a royalty fee for using the Z-wave protocol, which sets a bottom prices for Z-wave devices. Zigbee, however, is not limited by this royalty.

Regarding smart bulbs vs smart switches, I side with smart switches. They dont have the same WOW factor as the bulbs, but they are easier to setup, do not require special apps, multiple bridges and have latency issues.

For example, I have both Z-wave switches and hue light bulbs (not on the switches). I find the Z-wave response time to smartthings to be almost instant and highly reliable. I find with Hue, the response time on the bulbs lags and I get about a 10%-15% failure on bulb responses. For example, on an All Lights Off command, I get all z-wave devices off and I end up with 2-3 random Hue bulbs stuck on out of 30. Not impressed.

Ok, I gotta ask, @Izrun, what is WAF?! Also confused about your statement re/using GE switches … isn’t the Kichler 12387 a switch?

This message got really long, sorry. :blush:

WAF = Wife acceptance factor. I’ve tried too many beta products, home theater PCs, etc that my wife is pretty jaded when it comes to things like smart homes. In order for it to be allowed in my house I had quite a few requirements:

  1. She didn’t have to use any smart features if she doesn’t want to
  2. It must work without a phone
  3. It must be virtually indistinguishable from what we had before (no lag)
  4. It can’t look weird
  5. It has to work all the time, even when the internet is down.

As many of us Smartthings fans know, this list is actually pretty tough to always meet. So, my first decision was to use smart switches instead of smart bulbs. That covered lots of the tick marks. However, we recently remodeled our kitchen and that’s when things got complicated. We used to have lights in a soffit which we tore down, and we have really high ceilings in the kitchen so canister lights were not a great option. Therefore, we decided that we wanted to use LEDs in the glass cabinets and these little overhanging LEDs for the cabinets and room lighting. They are Ikea OMLOPP LED Spotlight and FORMAT if you’re interested. I also am installing a pendant light over the new bar that we want to match levels with these, as well as additional cabinets in the breakfast nook on a different circuit with these same lights. All of these should be controlled (and dimmed) by one light switch. In addition, we want under cabinet LED strips in the kitchen, also controlled by a lightswitch.

So, I had my hardware and now I needed to figure out how to implement this and still meet all of my conditions without wiring changes. As far as electricity I had only one switch wire going to the area, and constant power from the microwave and additional outlet I wired in the breakfast area. The IKEA lights were all 24V. The pendant light was 120V, and the LED strips were 12V. So now I had to get these all to work together and, of course, dim. For anyone who has messed with LEDs, dimming actually makes things a lot more difficult because you need to use PWM instead of just dropping the voltage.

After a bit of research, I figured I would attempt to use four of the 12387s to control each zone of my LED lights (one for each zone of upper @ 24V and one each zone of lowers @ 12V). When I received the 12387 I tore them down. First things I checked was the voltage. They were rated for use with Kichler’s 24V lights, but happily the seemed to work perfectly at 12V too. I assumed as much, and after tearing them down they end up dropping the voltage down to 3.3V for via a regulator so I knew I would be safe long term. Now was the issue. Instead of spitting out a 0-24V (or 0-12V) PWM signal on the switched output, they actually just send out a 0-3.3V PWM signal and the actually sinking of the current would be done by their super-expensive under cabinet strips. This was an easy fix though. I just soldered a MOSFET triggered by this 3.3V switching line and voila, full 0-12/0-24V PWM Z-wave controller for $17, and doing the power calculations I could drive something like 150W at least off of it, so I’m safe there too.

Now I had my controllers ready to go. I put a GE wall switch controlling the switched circuit. I then connected this two the two upper 12387 via z-wave association. It worked perfectly, and now it controlled on off and dimming with both device with absolutly no noticble lag. It looks just like it’s hard wired. Then, I installed anothe GE switch with the load line disconnected (just gaev it power). This one serves as a remote control for the under cabinet switches. I actually mounted these switches under the cabinets as well, so you can control (and sync) all of these under cabinet strips by either using the wall switch or the buttons on each controller. Again, these are all linked with associations, so no lag. They also can work even with smartthings completely unplugged.

The best part of doing all of this is that because I have all these different zones controlled via associations they ONLY are synced together when using the switches (and I also did it with voice for alexa/google home). If I want to have one light different from the others I can do it with the app or with voice controls, but as soon as someone presses a switch it takes over.

So far it has worked 100% flawlessly every day, and I couldn’t be happier. The only complain I ever have from the wife is with the doubleclick. She complains that it sometimes doesn’t work or is laggy. This, of course, is because that uses smartthings and the cloud. Every time she says this it makes me very happy with the solution I went with, as I would be hearing this constantly otherwise.

2 Likes

LOL, I figured the W must be Wife but I couldn’t decode the rest.

Honestly your WAF list is really similar to my list for myself. I want my switches (smart and dumb - and I will still have plenty of dumb switches as there are plenty of places a smart switch is just not needed) to all look the same, or at least have the same styling, and not require folks to have to stop and figure out how to use them - they should JUST WORK as normal switches for the uninitiated user, but support smart features for me, and hopefully them, to enjoy. And since the smartthings app and the cloud are flaky, they definitely have to still work in local only mode.

Sounds like you came up w/a slick solution. Bookmarking this for when I remodel my own kitchen!

1 Like

BTW finding a set of switches (smart and dumb) that have the same styling and handle all the functions I’m looking for is turning out to be the hardest part of all this - I like the Lutron Caseta switches but their smart switches have a completely different look from the dumb ones, so they are out. Right now it’s Leviton, GE, or Eaton/Cooper Aspire. I’d probably pull the trigger on the Aspire line but they are z-wave, not z-wave plus. Debating whether I need the z-wave plus upgrades or not. Anyone have any thoughts on that?

Zwave plus is nice, but not essential. The four biggest differences are:

1). Better battery life, which doesn’t generally applied to light switches

Two) longer range, which in practice inside typical US residential construction means around 75 feet instead of around 40. Might make a difference, might not, just depends on your specific set up.

  1. better in place exclude/include, which does help with light switches since it means you don’t have to use a minimote or carry the hub around if you want to re-add I device which is more than one hop from the hub. But that’s typically a one time set up issue and may not be enough to justify the decision.

Four) capability of over the air upgrades, except that smartthings doesn’t support that anyway now for Z wave devices, so that’s kind of a futureproofing issue

Speaking just for myself, if I were looking at two devices with similar form and features and one was Z wave plus and one was classic Z wave, I would buy the plus. But if the classic Z wave had either a form or features that I preferred, I wouldn’t have any concerns about buying that instead. :sunglasses:

2 Likes

Thanks @JDRoberts, excellent advice as always. None of the improvements you list is a must-have for me; the extra distance would be nice but I think I’ll have enough devices spread around that it won’t really be necessary. I thought plus also added faster response times - is that incorrect? This would be the one thing that might matter; if the z-wave switches have noticeable lag that could get annoying.

I hear people say that from time to time in forums, but it’s not in the official spec.

People may have gotten confused because the better power management means that battery operated sensors might be manufactured to have quicker response times, because the manufacturer wouldn’t be worried about the battery burning out too quickly. But that’s not a per event improvement, and only applies to sleepy devices.

As far as response time, most Z wave manufacturers go for a “Two seconds or less” response time, which is noticeably slower than, say, Lutron, which aims for a half a second or less response time.

But in either case, that only applies to the networked commands. It doesn’t change how quickly the light comes on if you just press the switch.

That said… Switches that have a built-in double tap feature, such as the newest GE switches, may indeed be slower when you just press the switch on the wall, because the switch itself is Waiting to see if there’s going to be a second tap. So that’s just something to be aware of.

1 Like

Used to have this same issue. Now after a couple firmware updates on my bulbs it has gone away.

1 Like