As you add more Home Automation you are sure to encounter one of the great automation debates: “Smart Switch vs. Smart Device”. One camp claims it is best to control things from a switch the other directly from the device. Both have strong opinions and there is no end to the arguments. We are going to give our opinion about when each solution works best.
First let’s look at what a smart switch and a smart device are:
This is a switch, installed just like a regular light switch on a wall in your home, but with additional connectivity and control features. Smart Switches range from ones that look just like a regular switch with basic home automation control software built in (see the GE Z-Wave smart switch) right up to switches with large touch screen displays and tons of features (see the Nubryte (Amazon), or Brilliant switches).
These are devices that are controlled remotely and often include additional features and functionality that go beyond ordinary devices. One example is Smart Lighting. What makes the lights ‘smart’ is that the bulbs can be turned on and off via an app and may have more advanced features like the ability to change colors, dim, join together in scenes, and a wide range of other options depending on the vendor and model of bulb.
The advantages of using a Smart Switch include:
- Any device becomes ‘smart’ and can be controlled remotely or added to a scene
- Once they are installed you can change the device and maintain the automation without changing the programming in the smart home controller
- They are simple to use and basic versions are not threatening to non-technical people
- They are standardized and relatively straightforward to install
- It is easy to know when the device is set to on or off (unlike a smart device which is typically always on and only goes to sleep or into stand-by mode when it is ‘off’) and you know that no power is being delivered to the device or devices connected to the switch.
The disadvantages of using a Smart Switch include:
- Basic switches are limited to simple controls and only a few signals; often used for simple ‘on’ and ‘off’ control or a scene with multiple devices but still only with ‘on’ and ‘off’ functionality.
- Basic switches have limited feedback. If they don’t work it takes digging into trickier and more technical backend systems to understand why. To help with this some basic switches have a small light that will flash when a signal is sent and may even flash in a sequence or different color if there is a problem.
- If the switch stops working it usually means that something major is not working and will impact routine functions vs. a Smart Device that is often an auxiliary or specialty device
- A Smart Switch will always start devices in a default state; either the last operating state or a pre-programmed startup state
The advantages of using a Smart Device include:
- More granular and flexible control often including remote control
- Typically Smart Devices offer increased functionality beyond ‘off’ and ‘on’
- Smart Devices can often be programmed to start in a custom mode each time to match the current environment and needs rather than starting in a default state
The disadvantages of using a Smart Device include:
- Controlling the device requires a special remote control (often a smart phone or tablet) that can require more steps and be more difficult than a traditional switch to operate
- If the power is turned off at the switch the device will not work
- The remote control may not always be where you need it, when you need it
- Additional functionality adds complexity and may results in more frequent breakdowns
We recommend that you use the following guidelines to determine when you should use a Smart Switch, a Smart Device, or both:
- Use a regular switch for safety systems or critical devices e.g. the light switch for a furnace or for lights going into a dark basement.
- Use a Smart Switch for anything that will be used regularly and by multiple people e.g. a light switch in a TV room.
- Use a Smart Device for anything that regularly needs custom settings changed or provides feedback that requires a response e.g. a smart doorbell, leak or smoke detector.
- Use both an advanced Smart Switch (with a screen) and a Smart Device if you have a complicated environment with multiple people using the space and complex scenes with a range of different tasks and needs. For example at a main entry way for a smart home or in a multi-purpose recreational room.
These recommendations are not hard and fast rules and there are loads of special circumstances where one solution or another works better. Let us know if you have different ideas or suggestions!