Z Wave issues in concrete block home. Is Zigbee a better option?

I recently moved into a new home that is about 3000 square feet on a single story. The problem is, the home is very long from end to end and it has concrete block construction with plaster interior walls. To make things even more complicated, the internet comes in to one end of the house, meaning the other end of the home is about 75 ft away with about 15 concrete block or plaster walls in between.

Needless to say, I am having problems with SmartThings to the point of it being useless at the moment. I bought a ton of Z Wave plus repeaters, not knowing that only 4 hops are allowed with the Z Wave protocol. Now I am wondering if I should switch everything to Zigbee which allows more hops. I’d appreciate the community’s insights into this problem. Thanks in advance.

I know less about z-waves limits, but I’m a tech guy and I can troubleshoot…

First problem is ST hub location relative to wifi. It sounds like the WiFi hub/internet is on one extreme end of the house and might not be moveable.

But the ST hub is moveable, so let’s work with that. Using your phone on wifi, do you get wifi through the entire house? If not, look into a WiFi repeater, because in general, you’ll want WiFi everywhere.

The solution, I think is to put the ST hub in the middle of the house, and I’d bet it’ll get WiFi signal (or that WiFi repeater will fix that). This makes it so it’s less distance for the furthest Z-wave device to the hub, rather than the extreme of being at one end of the long house.

With that done, does it solve your z-wave device connection problem?

If not, that’s what the z-wave repeaters should help with. Since repeaters are a specific device, I assume normal z-wave devices don’t relay, and thus don’t count as hops. Spacing those repeaters out along the length of the house should take fewer repeaters with the ST hub located in the center.

I’ve got about half that floor space, no repeaters and my ST hub to z-wave is working fine through a couple walls (in any given direction). There’s limits, but I bet it can reach 32.5’, and a small set of repeaters should ensure that (imagine 4 total, one every 10 feet, going away from the hub along the main axis).

Or see what @JDRoberts says. he knows a ton about this stuff… :slight_smile:

The Smartthings hub doesn’t use wifi.


dang, that’s right. been awhile since I set mine up.

[edit, learned that the hub counts as a hop]

well, if its stuck on the far end of the house, and you can only do 4 hops, divide that 75 feet by 4, and place a repeater every 18.75 feet (closer to the center line of the house).

So a diagram of that would be:

| = wall
H = hub
R = repeater
— = 18.75 feet

So I did address the wifi issue. I have 4 Linksys Velop routers in the home, so I am getting strong internet throughout. I could move the hub to one of the more central router locations so that is a good idea. Still not sure if it will get the job done with only 4 hops. Really bummed that there is that limitation.

Does anyone have experience with multiple hubs? I see that samsung doesn’t support this but I think I recall seeing that some folks have done this successfully. Are you able to control everything from a single app?

I have my ST hub setup as a secondary controller to my ADT Pulse z-wave hub. Not quite the same thing, but related.

I was just perusing the FAQ, looking for z-wave info for your question, and saw that it says a device registered to one ST hub can’t be commanded by another.

However, I’d wonder if the ST app cares about that; To the app, it asks Samsung for a list of devices it can put buttons on screen for. To Samsung, you’d have a mess of them, spread across hubs. Don’t quote me on that, that’s pure speculation.

Let’s rewind before it goes that far. Your outer walls being concrete is irrelevant (unless you have outdoor z-wave devices). The core problem is distance and how many interior walls/material, the signal has to pass thru.

Move the ST hub to a central location, and your odds get much better. work the problem from there and see what devices don’t pick up.

Yes, I will try moving to a central location. But the house has some add-ons, so some of the interior walls are actually concrete block. Also, the home is in sort of an L shape, so there is concrete block at the inner corner which probably prevents the signal from hopping over to the other side of the home.

Can anyone comment on zigbee, would this be an option to consider? Trying to figure out why most folks seem set on Z wave instead of zigbee.

WiFi to the Hub

Thanks for the shout. :sunglasses: The general recommendations are very good, but for clarity we should just note first that only one of the smartthings hub models, the Samsung WiFi Connect which is also a Wi-Fi router, has Wi-Fi at all. The other models are all ethernet connected with no Wi-Fi radio.

You should still put the hub centrally in the home both vertically and horizontally regardless of the model, because it will reduce the number of hops required, but you don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi to the hub because it doesn’t use Wi-Fi unless you also have that particular model.

On the other hand, and this may be what @KL_Forslund was referring to because it’s a method that many community members use, you can get a Wi-Fi access point that plugs into the wall and includes an ethernet port on the side. Then you can just plug the smartthings hub into that port and that gives you the ability to put the smartthings hub anywhere you want to in the home, it doesn’t have to be right next to your router. :+1:

In fact we’ve even had some community members use a similar method with a powerline device, one near the router where Internet comes into the home and one somewhere else in the Home that they plug the smartthings hub into. Since those signals travel over the home’s wiring rather than through the air, they can be a really good way of getting signal into what is otherwise dead space. They won’t help directly with your zwave or zigbee devices, but they do help if you need to locate the hub someplace far away from your Internet router.

We actually use a couple of powerline devices in our own home, although not for the smartthings hub, but because one room is a converted garage with thick cement walls and we weren’t getting any signal in there at all. Other people use the same method for basements which are RF dead zones. So it’s just another option to consider.

Cement and Plaster

These will block all radio signals, including Zwave, zigbee, and Wi-Fi. It’s a common issue for homes in Asia, for example, but also in the American Southwest where Adobe is sometimes used. That’s why you can typically use Wi-Fi just as an indicator of where signal is getting through, even though the hub itself doesn’t use Wi-Fi for most models. :sunglasses:

Usually the only solution is more hops, and, as was noted, zwave allows for a maximum of four hops per message while the zigbee profile that Smartthings uses, zigbee home automation, allows for 15 into the hub and 15 out. So zigbee is commonly chosen for industrial buildings like warehouses where you may have a lot of cement construction. A lot of times we will bounce the signal out into the hallway and then into the next room, for example. It just gives you more options.

You may also be able to locate light switches so that they are almost back to back and get signal through the wall that way. But it does use up a lot of hops.

The biggest advantage that Z wave has over Zigbee is that it’s not in the same frequency range as Wi-Fi, but zigbee is. So very strong Wi-Fi can drown out zigbee where it won’t interfere with Z wave. The solution to that, as you may have guessed, is again, using more hops. But it is just something to be aware of if you are trying to adjust Wi-Fi reception and Zigbee reception at the same time, as you may be working against yourself.

It’s usually best to get the Wi-Fi stable and then start laying out the zigbee backbone. It doesn’t make any difference technically, it just saves you some time and inconvenience.

General Principles

See the following FAQ. Start by reading post 11, then go back up to the top of the thread and read the whole thing. It covers both Z wave and Zigbee.

Large Houses

There’s also a community FAQ for Z wave in a large house. It’s not specific to the cement wall issues, but it might give you some ideas. In particular, it may be helpful to consider the use of zwave lightbulbs as repeaters as they can sometimes be the easiest way of getting signal down a hallway or up and downstairs in an area where there are no outlets.

Again, we should note here that Z wave bulbs generally are good repeaters (for zwave) while zigbee bulbs generally are not good repeaters for other zigbee devices.

What Other People Have Done

If you’d like to read about what other people have done with large house projects, you can take a look at the quick browse lists in the community – created wiki, look down at the bottom of the page for the “project reports” section, and look for the “whole house” list.


We’ve also had a couple of community members who live in Vietnam and have cement homes and had similar challenges. I could dig up some of those posts if you’re interested but they are also dealing with 230 V wiring so they have some additional device selection issues as well.


When it comes to high end home automation systems, the ones that are professionally installed and typically cost 10% of the value of the home, most of those actually do use zigbee, such as control4.

For low-cost DIY installations, Z wave was preferred up until about three years ago for two reasons.

One) as already mentioned, Wi-Fi doesn’t drown out zwave. That makes it way easier to place the devices in a typical US home, particularly fixed location devices like wall switches, door locks, and window coverings. Sensors aren’t the same issue because you can usually just move them a couple of feet to the right or left.

Two) Z wave only has a single profile, which means pretty much any certified Z wave device will work with any certified Z wave controller for at least basic on/off/dim. Each device will tell the controller its device class at the time of joining and the controller will assign the device ID. The standardization just makes it much easier to build up a network over time little by little, which is how many DIY projects are done.

Zigbee allows for many different profiles and they aren’t all interoperable. In addition, each device comes with its own fixed ID which could complicate matters because the coordinator has to be pre-programmed to recognize it. The combination of these two factors mean you are more likely to find zigbee in devices which are sold as a kit with the controller pre-programmed for those specific devices. It also means it’s way easier to buy a “zigbee” device which will not work with your home system, which is very frustrating for consumers. ( just as a practical example, Lowes sells the line of home automation equipment called Iris. All the Z wave devices work fine with SmartThings. The first generation zigbee devices don’t work with SmartThings and cannot be made to. The first model line of the second generation Zigbee devices do work with SmartThings out of the box. The second model line of the second generation zigbee devices don’t work with SmartThings out of the box, but can be made to, so Lowes has them marked as not compatible with SmartThings even though they actually are. :scream:

That right there encapsulates the reason why Z wave has been more popular for low-cost home automation systems. It just reduces the number of customer support headaches significantly. :wink:)

Smartthings was very unusual in allowing customers to upload their own device type handlers, allowing them to add additional zigbee devices which smartthings the company had not pre-programmed into the hub. Most other home automation systems make customers wait until the company has added the device specifications to their libraries.

You put those two things together, and Z wave is just a simpler low-cost DIY solution. You don’t have to worry about Wi-Fi interference and you can add devices little by little over time and still have pretty good confidence that they will work with your system.

But Z wave doesn’t scale up as well as zigbee does, so you do find more zigbee in large commercial installations, including office buildings, hospitals, and hotels. But those are professionally installed and the installers have network diagnostic tools that help with deployment.

There’s also a separate zigbee profile just for lighting systems, particularly for smart bulbs, and fir technical reasons that one happens to work very well for DIY projects. So you do see a lot of zigbee lightbulbs sold. :bulb:


Both protocols are good, it just depends on the specific requirements for anyone installation. :sunglasses:


Thanks for the great information. Definitely going to tinker around with hub location and multiple “repairs” throughout. I like the idea of bulbs but the home was built in the 50s and I do not have neutral wires, therefore I cannot install smart switches to control the lights :frowning:

Most of them don’t, but the Samsung WiFi Connect mesh WiFi system does. There about eight different hub models now, all with slightly different features. :wink:

In the last 15 months or so, a couple of different companies have released in the wall zwave micros that go behind the light switch and some of these do not require a neutral wire. In particular the fibaro dimmer 2 is popular, and there is a similar Aeotec model in the new nano line. Those will act as zwave repeaters. I’m not sure how much help they’ll be given the hop limitations you’re running into, but they might work in some spots.



Good to know. Definitely going to check that out. Hopefull it’s slim enough to fit in my outlet boxes.

Now that I think about it, I have another question on repeaters. How smart is SmartThings when it comes to choosing a path? Does the signal just travel to the nearest repeaters?
Or does it realize that it may need to skip a repeater in order to achieve the desired action in 4 hops or less?

Oops–let’s back up a second. In the US, the micros are only intended for light switches

, not in wall receptacles.


But you wouldn’t need them for an in wall receptacle, because those always have a neutral anyway.

But just to be absolutely clear, most of the in wall micros are only spec’d to control up to 10 A and US code almost always requires that an outlet where you can plug something in be at least 15 A. So check the specifications carefully.

the manufacturer product descriptions for the micros may discuss outlets, but that’s because of the European markets.

Now that I think about it, I have another question on repeaters. How smart is SmartThings when it comes to choosing a path? Does the signal just travel to the nearest repeaters?
Or does it realize that it may need to skip a repeater in order to achieve the desired action in 4 hops or less?

This is covered in the FAQs that I already gave you, but generally you can assume that it will go to the farthest repeater it can reach for each hop. Technically it’s a little more complicated than that but as a practical matter you won’t run out of hops just because you have additional repeaters in the same room.


If your electrical boxes are metal (I suspect they might be in concrete) will need to get the zwave antennas out of the box. In my experience it is often beneficial to extend the antenna with a bit of wire such that the length outside the box is a length similar to the original antenna. This will often drastically improve the range on a device in a metal box and may get you down to 4 hops.

sometimes it is better to try to bounce the signal though doors and down halls then try to push it though a thick wall. Found this out helping a friend put switches in a 110 year old home.

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