Switches or Bulbs debate

(Arun Nayar) #1

I am wondering what is more economical replace all the bulbs in my house with smart bulbs or replace the toggle switches and keep the bulbs? Also I am not sure which switches work best with smartthings, again price is the #1 consideration. I dont care about dimming, just on/off.

(Edward Pope) #2

If price, and not reliability is your number one consideration then go with the bulbs? I having tried both prefer the switch, it is more reliable and when you turn off the switch you still can turn on or off the light. With the bulbs, if a family member turns the switch off you loose access to the automation until that switch is turned back on.

(Greg) #3

Edward is right. If you only care about price go with bulbs.

However if you stick with ST you will eventually realize switches are a better long term play.

Another thing to consider is that anytime you have a power failure all your smart bulbs will turn on when power is restored. That is not fun if you have smart bulbs in your bedroom. Or if you are not home, it will just run up your bill for no reason.

There are a few apps that try to turn smart bulbs off after a power outage but none have worked reliably for me. When I’m not home and there is a power outage and subsequent restoration, I get notified via text, then go into the ST app and turn off my “smart” bulbs.


This is a good question, and one frequently discussed in the forms. You will find many threads on it.

The short answer is that it just depends on your local set up. There’s no one right answer. Do you currently use ceiling fixtures or table lamps? How many of both? Do you need three way switch control? If you have wall switches, do they have neutral wires? Do you want color changing bulbs? Where do you live? All of these and many other details will affect the answer.

For existing forum discussions, start here (this is a clickable link.):

From a purely financial point of view, in the US a typical networked wall switch for on/off only will cost .$40-$60 when not on sale. They tend to be more expensive in the UK.

A Phillips hue white only bulb typically costs about $15 not on sale And the optional matching battery operated switch (which can control up to 10 bulbs in a group) usually costs about $25. If you want to use the Hue bridge, which many people do, you can get a starter set with the bridge and two white bulbs for $80 at regular price. (One Bridge can handle up to 50 bulbs.)

But as to which would be less expensive for your house, it just depends on the specific details of how many bulbs and how many switches you would need.

(Someday my dog will be automated) #5

All depends on your setup. If money is the #1 issue, consider doing them in phases. You don’t need to change everything at once. In fact, I would advise you against it, until you get used to how things work and everything.

If you have dimmers already installed on the walls, smart bulbs don’t play nice with them, so you’ll have to either go for switches or smart bulbs + changing the switch to a regular on/off.

Do you have multiple lights controlled by only one switch? If so, switches are cheaper.

Do you have multiple switches and fewer bulbs? Then smart bulbs might be the way to go.

Do you have many 3 or 4-way switches? Then maybe, you should consider smart bulbs.

Are you buying or renting? If renting, smart bulbs are usually the preferred way to go.

As stated above, it all comes down to your particular situation.

(Different Computers. So happy with Indigo.) #6

The single most important thing is something we don’t know from your post:

Is your house wired in a modern way, with every place you want a smart switch one that provides 4 wires including a neutral? Smart switches require power all the time, and only a very very expensive Lutron model gets around this, so I’m told.

If you don’t have neutrals, then switches may be prohibitively expensive because you’ll need to rewire, which means hiring an electrician unless you really know your way around wiring.


Very good point about the neutrals. And it’s true that the original Lutron line can be quite expensive.

Fortunately the newest Lutron Caseta switches are in the same price range as most Z wave switches, and are cheaper than many. So you do see them in more homes now.

However, there’s no direct integration with SmartThings. There is an indirect integration using IFTTT which meets some use cases, but not all, because it adds some lag and doesn’t update SmartThings status. In particular, there’s no good way to set up a motion sensor trigger for them. (There are other Lutron model lines that have motion sensors, but that’s when we start getting into the expensive range. And they still don’t integrate with SmartThings. )

So the Caseta line is an option for some households that don’t have neutrals at the switch. But not all. Again it just comes down to the details.


(Chick Webb) #8

This certainly has been a large factor in my decision making. No neutrals in “this old house”, so I’ve got quite a few smart bulbs. And, yes, they have their issues and in some ways it would be better to be able to use switches. But, they do work pretty well.

(ActionTiles.com co-founder Terry @ActionTiles; GitHub: @cosmicpuppy) #9

Ditto ditto ditto.

Ain’t no way I can afford to run neutrals to all my old light switches. My Hue and GE Link bulbs work 99% perfectly, thankyouverymuch.

(Dan P Parker) #10

The lower end of that range is more like ~$32 (unless someone knows of a regular price better than this one: Amazon: GoControl WS15Z-1 Z-Wave Non-Dimming Wall Switch, White).

(Dean Smith) #11

No Neutral wires here, have 12 GE Link bulbs, all work fine. YMMV


I specifically said “when not on sale.” The list price of that model, as shown at the link you gave, is $54.95. Same range I gave.

(Dan P Parker) #13

Not an Amazon customer, I take it? That’s not a “sale” price. It’s simply the regular price for which Amazon sells it. The quoted “List” price is what Amazon describes as…

“…the full retail price listed on the product itself, suggested by the manufacturer or supplier, or estimated in accordance with standard industry practice.”

They don’t sell anything at “List” price. Hardly anyone does. In reality, it’s essentially meaningless.

(Arun Nayar) #14

I will have to go check my wiring but my house is from 2003 so dont know if that counts as modern or not.

(Someday my dog will be automated) #15

Yes. You should have neutrals in each switch. Unless there was some really shady stuff going around when it was built.


Look up. :wink: A ceiling is no less meaningful than a floor. We always encourage community members to shop around, as prices do vary. In the Deals thread we get down to what typical purchase prices have been. But for a discussion as general as this one, list price is a reasonable ceiling to start from.

Submitted with respect.

(Oscar Calvo) #18

I would like to have both options, is there a way to install ZigBee dimmers and have them behave as switches?

(Mark) #19

Seems to me only one of you isn’t acting like an adult. JD has helped probably hundreds (thousands?) of people in this community with his frequent and well-informed posts. Who have you helped lately?

Getting back to the topic.

I believe neutrals weren’t required in switch boxes in 2003. The apartment I live in was gutted and remodeled around the same time and the electrician didn’t install neutrals in each box. That became required in NEC 2008 or 2011 maybe? Not 100% sure.

(Edward Pope) #20

@DParker Everyone in this community is very protective of @JDRoberts. He is very helpful and very knowledgeable. I would also like to point out that you missed a deal that Lowes had recently selling switches for 20 really less than that due to price matching for some. They were GE Iris brand that worked just fine with ST. So there are SALES that are cheaper than the 32 or so you referenced. JD is really just saying look around for the best prices, make sure that the device has a good record and is compatible with ST. Frankly I think we all have purchased switches all over the range as we build our various HA projects,

Ultimately, please remember that this is a community and we are all trying to help each other. So there is NO reason to be snide about someone trying to assist you.

(Benji) #21

If you have neutrals, go with switches all. the. way. Do not even consider any other option unless you’re really on a tight budget but personally, I’d just wait longer until I could afford the switches, yes really.

I went with smart bulbs and 100% regret my decision now and I’m just about to put in an order for switches to replace everything. Bare in mind that for the most part, depending on the type of bulb you’d only have to get two or three smart bulbs before you’ve brought a smart switch anyway.

I’m done with smart bulbs, too many GE Links dropping off the network due to firmware issues and too many ‘all on’ lights at 4am after the power blips for a fraction of a second. It also adds unnecessary complexity in my opinion and the more complex it is, the more to go wrong. Of the 28 smart bulbs I have, 21 of them are going to be replaced with 9 switches and that’s only because the people that built this house have a switch fetish…