Virtual 3 way without hub but z-wave ready?

Hello. I’m new here, I’ve searched read a lot but I cant find anyone with the exact situation I’m in.

I don’t have a smart things hub yet, because I am kind of waiting for a V3, I suspect will be out in a few months. But i’m eager to move forward with Z-wave stuff and be ready (already have a schlage door lock with it).

What I am trying to do is create a virtual 3 way switch that doesn’t require the hub at all (but eventually the hub could control that master control witch). I tired the GE addon switch and dimmer from a lowes, that didn’t work for me. I have no traveler wire at the second location I want the switch to go. I do have a black wire (hot?), white (common?) and bare there though. Just no traveler

It would be nice to not have to buy a 40 dollar mini remote just to pair them one time but if that’s my only option without a hug then just let me know… Is there any switches I can buy that will just speak to eacher and be z-wave ready when I finally get my hub? Dimmer is NOT required but might be a nice upgrade if its only a few dollars more…

I was leaning towards the Linear stuff at the moment, but that might also need hub/remote?

There’s no V3 in the production stages yet. (Because these are radiofrequency devices, they have to go through a certification process which takes at least six months. So you can tell some of what is in the pipeline just by watching the FCC approval process. As an example, the harmony extender got its zwave certification about eight months before it came to market.)

What has been announced is a add-on feature with a plug-in device for the Samsung high-end smart televisions. But no timeline on that when yet. And it’s unlikely that any new system will have more zwave features than the current v2 hub. Just sayin’…:wink:

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Ahh so holding out for a V3 may not be as good of an idea as I was thinking… I’ve read a lot of posts by you mr JD, you’re very knowledgeable on all the switches! is my request impossible without the hub?

OK, as far as setting up three way light (one light fixture, two switches) using Z wave only, there are whole bunch of options.

Physical vs Virtual

First, to get some terms straight, a “virtual three-way” by definition is using only wireless communications Between the auxiliary switch and the master. Not physical traveler wires. If it uses physical traveler wires, even if the master uses zwave to communicate with a hub, that’s a “physical three-way” not a “virtual three way”.

It makes a difference because a physical three-way will work even if your home automation system is not working. A virtual three-way requires that your home automation system be working on some level, but more about that later.

GE switches use traveler wires. The auxiliary switches are not zwave devices and will never communicate directly with a hub. They just send pulse messages along the physical wires to their master.

Also, we should note that you always need to use the auxiliaries that are recommended by the manufacturer for use with their master switch. You cannot mix brands together, it just won’t work. Different auxiliaries use different communication methods and are wired differently. So you always have to have a master and an auxiliary which are designed to work together, whether it’s a virtual or a physical three-way.


Why do I need a hub to set up a 3 way?

Now for your excellent question: do you need a hub at all to set up a three-way light case?

If you’re going strictly with the physical three-way, then no. You don’t need a hub. You just set up the master switch, use physical traveler wires to connect it to its recommended auxiliary, and you’re done. GE is a good brand for this. Both of the switches will work just like regular nonnetworked switches.

However, in this set up you’re not going to have any home automation features it all. You can’t talk to the master switch by your phone or your computer. It’s just exactly the same as any old light switch, except it’s ready to eventually talk to a Z wave controller when you get one.

On the other hand, if you want to do a virtual three-way, where the auxiliary might not even be on the same circuit as the master and you are not using physical traveler wires between them, then you need to have someone to talk to those devices.

There’s a whole separate question of do you want to be able to control the light from your phone. We’ll get to that one later.

The hub does two different things: establish the initial network and manage traffic going between devices on that network

If you want to use any home automation features it all with the switch, you have to establish a zwave network that it can belong to. That requires a “Z wave controller.”

There are many different available zwave controllers.

A $20 minimote can be a controller and establish a network. You don’t get any other fancy features with it, there’s no phone app or anything, but it can set up a network.

Leviton and Cooper both make tabletop lighting controllers which are only intended to run a few zwave lighting devices, and they can be a good solution for some people. They can establish the network. They will let you set up timed schedules for the switches and some scenes. But I don’t think they have phone apps. And I don’t think you can control the switches when you aren’t home except with a time based schedule. But they do give you a few more features than the minimote does.

However, it may surprise you to know that both of these devices typically cost between $120 and $200. That is, significantly more than a SmartThings hub! And they do way less, although at the present time they do it much more reliably. If they look like 20th century technology, yeah, they pretty much are.

There is also a nice $35 aeon USB stick which is a Z wave controller and has some good software with it, but you have to be much more technical to use it and it has to be plugged into a laptop which is running all the time. And it still won’t give you a phone app or remote access.

(If you want to go that way, I recommend getting the indigo home automation software. But again that’s adding more cost. )

What if I just get the minimote?

So let’s say you just get the minimote. It should cost about $20 at and once you do get your hub you’ll still be able to use it as a handheld remote.

It can act as a primary controller and establish the network. So now what does that give you that just a GE switch wouldn’t?

The main thing is that it would let you “associate” two zwave switches that are in the same room so that they can talk to each other. Or a motion sensor and a switch in the same room.

So you could set it up without any coding at all so that when the motion sensor detected activity the switch came on. Or so that when you turned on one switch, the other switch also turned on. This is your true virtual three-way.

That would work just fine. You wouldn’t have a phone app, you wouldn’t have time schedules, you wouldn’t have the ability to use it outside the home. But it doesn’t require Internet and it gives you a three-way even if the two switches are on completely different circuits. It also gives you the ability to have some other devices, most commonly motion sensors, trigger the light.

so it all comes down to what you need

If you just want to wire your switches ahead of eventually getting a Z wave controller, you can use the GE three-way kit that uses physical wires. You won’t have any home automation, but it will work just fine as physical switches.

If you want to get a little bit of home automation, in particular if you want to set up a virtual three-way so that you have two switches that are not connected by physical traveler wires and maybe not even on the same circuit and both control the same light, you can get zwave switches that support “association”, use a minimote to establish the network and create the Association, and you have your virtual three-way. You don’t have timed schedules or a phone app or a way to control them from outside the home, but you do have a virtual three-way. You can even throw in a motion sensor. But all the devices have to be in the same room.

However, if you want timed schedules or The ability to control devices in multiple rooms or from outside the home, then you need to go a different direction and get at least an Aeon USB stick. At which point it is probably time to ask yourself why aren’t you just getting a regular hub?

The other alternative

The alternative to all of this, and the one I usually recommend for people trying to ease into home automation, is to get a Phillips hue bridge and their $15 hue white light bulbs.

These work great. You get a phone app. You get control from outside the home. You get control of bulbs anywhere in the house. There’s no wiring required.

If you want a wall switch they have a nice $25 dimmer switch that controls up to 10 bulbs at once. You can put them on a time schedule. They work with voice control with the Amazon or apple’s HomeKit.

They have an IFTTT channel which gives you a whole bunch of other options.

And it’s a very reliable system. I’ve had mine for over a year and have not had one day when they didn’t work as they were supposed to.

These are definitely 21st-century devices. And, you’ll be able to use them with SmartThings if you get it eventually, and with most other home automation hubs. There’s a reason this brand is so popular. :sunglasses: :bulb:

No one has called this out yet, you have no Neutral or Traveler. All GE zwave switches (current Gen) need a Neutral as well as many other manufacturers.

If you can find smart switches that support your setup then you won’t need a hub. Something like Aeon Microswitch and install at the light fixture (assuming its a single light fixture) might work, but I have no experience in this.

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And I tried to follow this by buying the GE dimmer z-wave with its GE addon switch (which at the time I did NOT realize didn’t have any z-wave at all). I knew ahead of time I had no traveler wires at the 2nd switch (the kitchen). I only had 2 light switches which use the most primitive black wire x2 and nothing else (white and bare ware are coiled up in the back with caps on them). Since I knew I didn’t have a traveler I took the GE out and returned it (although I’ve read a posting or two that say maybe I could have used the common wire to get this connection working with the GE?).

Unfortunately, you can’t use the common (ground) wire in that way. You have to have a separate traveler wire.

There are about eight different ways to wire a three-way set up with regular switches, but not all of them will work with network switches.

In a non-network set up it is possible to create a figure 8 wiring pattern where each switch just completes the circuit and cuts the other switch out of the circuit. These are the kinds of switches where sometimes turning it up turns the light on and sometimes turning it down turns the light on–depending on the position of the other switch on the circuit.

But that method does not work with Networked switches, where one switch has to be assigned as the master and the others just essentially act as remote controls to it.

The reason is that if you cut a networked switch out of the circuit, then it cannot hear the next “on” command. So the wiring for zwave switches is somewhat different than for conventional switches.

Okay gotcha, so I did the right thing in returning the GE (I believe it did NOT have direct association according to when I looked it up) and I think from reading your older posts I need direct association at least with 1 group to do this remote control thing?

I’m leaning towards that, if the mini mote is only 20 bucks, I think I wana do that with 2 z-wave switches. Here are my reasons for now:

1.Dining room light is a pain to turn on to have to walk out of the kitchen, past the dinning room, over to the stairs to turn it on, there should be a switch rightoutside the kitchen.

  1. I’ve cut the drywall and installed a 3 bay box there already so it’s ready for a switch to be installed.

  2. at THIS time using my phone to control this light is of 0 important to me I just want to be able to turn it on when i’m having dinner at night which comes right out of the kitchen.

  3. all z-wave switches act as repeaters, so it would be good to have a z-wave capable switch in kitchen one anyways as its the ‘middle’ area of my town house, so it will help repeat other signals, correct?

  4. One day I hope to get either Google Home, or possibly amazon alexa (I prefer google for now) so I can just say “Hey google, turn on the dinning room light” and he can do that because it will be a z-wave switch. (of course i’m hoping smartthings will work with google home, yet another reason i’m waiting on my hub).

Does this all sound like a good reason for my choices?

That being said, which wall switches would you recommend? are the Linear going to work for this? I only need these 2 switches to control this one light… all other 3-ways in my house have travelers , so this is the only poorly designed switch in the house (why didn’t they just put a switch outside the kitchen! so aggravating!). the GE’s I bought didn’t look like they’d work. very little lag would be great. I don’t use LED bulbs YET in this lamp so the 10% dimming thing isn’t a problem. I don’t even REALLY have to have dimming but as I said if its only a 3-6 dollar difference why not? Although I will admit I kind of hated that GE’s dimming sucked… No double up for Max brightness. kinda laaaaame :slight_smile:

Also just so I understand, if I got something like the linear, and did the direct association, I remember reading they only support 1 group, does that mean if later I wanted to do some kind of ‘virtual 3 way’ upstairs, I cant do it because the one and only group is being used?

Also THANK You so much for you help on this. The other posts I was reading were mostly dated back in '15 so I wanted to also make sure some awesome ready out of the box switch hadn’t come out that I was missing (and to be sure those GE’s I bought were too old to have direct association and wouldn’t work).

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It all sounds good except for the Google home logic… Google home will only work with zwave switches if there’s a man in the middle (which might be SmartThings). Same for echo. Neither echo nor Google home have direct zwave integration. Echo works with Z wave switches by talking to either smart things or wink. Google home will have to do the same.

As for a specific brands, I’m tired right now so someone else will have to answer. You’re right that the key is association, I just honestly don’t remember what the linear has and I’m too tired to look it up. (IIRC Linear is the one where some of their marketing materials said that they had Association, but when they went to actually certify it it didn’t have Association, but I might be confusing it with a different brand.)

You can look it up for yourself on the Z wave alliance products site.

@codytruscott has run into some association issues in the past, he might be able to say more.

Oh, and as far as association groups, like I said I’m tired and I’m not following things really closely (I use text to speech software) but as far as association groups the groups are basically per device. Not per network. So you can have two switches downstairs which each only support one Association group and they are talking to each other, and two more switches upstairs which each only support one Association group and they are talking to each other, and that’s no problem. I hope that’s clear. If not somebody else can correct it. I’m going to go nap. :zzz: )

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The newest switches which are pretty cool are the homeseer ones. They have instant status, which most inexpensive switches don’t, and they also have a double tap and triple tap feature which has some practical value. So like you tap once and the dining room light comes on, the tap twice and both the dining room and the kitchen come on. Of course you have to have everything wired right to make that work, but it’s still a nice feature.

Can somebody read the above and see if there’s a neutral issue for the OP’s set up. The back of my brain is telling me that there was, but I can’t go back and find it now. If so, that really limits the switches that can be used.

Oh I meant with google home or alexa, that I WOULD be getting a smartthings… But only amazons has announced some kind of support for it I think? Google has not said anything, which is why i’m waiting, if google home comes out and doesn’t support smart things I might have to re-consider but i’m thinking they will. then at that point i’ll get my hub and the google home.


As for the Linear switches, I went down that path as one of the posts I read here which you also participated on, one of the people said he went with Linear over GE because it did exactly what i’m hoping to do, (that’s what he said, but I cant confirm, so i’m not jumping RIGHT in yet).

I’ll look at the Seers too… Not that I need that many features, I would just like a ‘single tap’ retstores to last set dim level… and ‘double tap’ goes full bright, without having to hold it down.

go get some sleep! You are invaluable to this community and we don’t need you being exhausted! I’ll see if anyone else replies and i’ll look up some Linears and Seers and maybe narrow it down to a model or two with another post here.

Looking at the 3 ways wiring from the site below. Which wiring option do you think is close to your setup. Also look at the wires hidden behind your switches.
You said “dimmer from a lowes, that didn’t work for me. I have no traveler wire at the second location I want the switch to go. I do have a black wire (hot?), white (common?) and bare there though. Just no traveler” it’s not possible to have a 3 ways with just 2 conductors.

I may have explained it badly @Navat604 . Right now there is only one switch which controls the dinning room chandelier it was a regular old pole switch, single throw, it had one black wire coming in at the bottom, and one black wire going back out the top, that is it, it used no other wires. There are white and bare copper wires tucked behind the switch with end caps on them.

The place I want to put a 2nd switch has 2 switches wired the exact same way but only for the kitchen lights (nothing for the chandelier at all). I want to add a switch that controls the chandelier next to these 2 switches.

Do you see 2 white wires twisted together with a connector behind the switch? One from bottom and one from top? If yes then that should be your neutral.

Edit : I see your dilemma with a second location for your light switch without a hub and Z-wave ready.

Yes there is a white wire for every plug that runs in there and a bare one too. When I pulled out the old 2 gang box over near the kitchen, there is basically a big ‘tube’ of wires for each wall socket and one that runs to the fuse box I am guessing. they all have 1 black, 1 white, 1 bare and that’s it. they wired this place on the cheap :frowning: couldn’t give me a red wire to that light, would have made this whole thing easier…

My plan is to get a z-wave switch and steal some of the ‘black’ wires power to power it, then it would communicate with the actual switch that does the job of turning the light on and off, I just wanted to do it without having to have the hub right now, and the mini mote for 20 dollars that can pair them might be the option for me… Just have to find the right switch that allows this to be done and can communicate with a hub later down the road.

If you have white wires in your switch boxes, you have neutrals available. You just need to pull off the wire nut and add a jumper to go to your zwave switch. The GE switches come with a white jumper wire for this exact scenario.

When you are referring to stealing power from the black wires, you will still need a neutral to complete the circuit and power the switch, even if you are not directly switching the light.

Right but the GE wont control the main switch without a traveler wire which isn’t in that box :frowning: