Remodeling 101: Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switches

by Barbara Peck

There are many instances in which you may want to turn down the lights: for a dinner party, a relaxing bath, movie night, and on other occasions we don’t need to get into here. For when you don’t want to get out of bed—or when you’re on your way to the airport, only to realize you forgot to leave a lamp on—there are now smart dimmer switches that use wireless technology to adjust light levels. Here’s what you need to know.

Belkin Wemo Wireless Light Control Switch Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch In-Situ
Above: The Belkin Wemo Wireless Light Control Switch in situ.

What are the smart ways to dim the lights?

In the past we covered the new smart light bulbs that you can control with your smartphone or tablet (see Remodeling 101: Smart Light Bulbs). If you have smart bulbs in your lamps and light fixtures, you can dim them using their app. But maybe you’re not ready to invest in smart bulbs—those things can be pricey. Or perhaps you have a beautiful ceiling fixture that only takes candelabra bulbs. Your best option is to replace your old wall switch with a smart dimmer switch.

What’s a smart dimmer switch?

Most smart dimmer switches are installed inside the wall, behind your existing switchplate. Once installed, they let you dim (or brighten) a number of lights using a mobile device—or even with voice commands, using a smart-home virtual assistant like Amazon Alexa. You generally need to have installed a smart home hub (such as Wink, Apple’s HomeKit, or Samsung’s SmartThings) to operate these dimmer switches remotely. If you already have a smart-home system, that will likely dictate the type of switch you choose.

Belkin Wemo Wireless Light Control Switch from Home Depot Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch
Above: The Belkin WeMo Wireless Light Control Switch;$49.99.

Why would I want a smart dimmer switch?

For starters, a smart dimmer switch lets you can dim your lights without getting up off the couch. But it does much more than that. It lets you control a number of lights simultaneously using a mobile device. You can even arrange for a group of lights to dim automatically at a certain time every evening, or to drop to a set level at the touch of a button. (Some switches have a customizable button, so that one tap or two taps will adjust the lighting to set preferences.) Plus, any smart dimmer switch will also let you turn your lights on and off, wherever you happen to be. That’s handy if, say, you’re out of town and want to create the illusion that there’s someone home. And tech-challenged household members can still operate these switches manually, the old-fashioned way.

What do I need to install a smart dimmer switch?

Home Wi-Fi, of course, is essential. In most cases, you’ll also need a smart-home system or hub to allow your mobile device to communicate with the switch. And if you’re doing the installation yourself, you’ll need pliers and a screwdriver.

What kinds of smart dimmer switches are recommended?

Most smart dimmers look like a traditional paddle-style wall switch; you may even be able to use the same wall plate (in fact, many come without the wall plate).

New products are coming on the market all the time, so before you make a decision, bone up on the subject online. The Wirecutter currently suggests smart dimmers that use wireless Z-Wave technology, which integrates with a large range of smart-home hubs. Note that Z-Wave dimmers do need a smart-home hub for you to communicate with them. Below are a few models currently on the market.

Homeseer HS Z-Wave Scene Capable Wall Dimmer Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch
Above: Wirecutter’s top choice, the HomeSeer HS-WD100+ ($55 at Amazon), works best with HomeSeer’s HomeTroller system, but it’s also compatible with other Z-wave controllers.
Insteon Remote Control Dimmer Switch White Smarthome Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch
Above: The Insteon Remote Control Dimmer Switch ($49.99; also available via Amazon) requires the Insteon Hub; it integrates with Apple HomeKit technology and also with Amazon Alexa. The accompanying Screwless Wall Plate ($2.99) comes in six neutral shades.
Luttron Caseta Wireless In-Wall Smart Dimmer Kit
Above: To use the Lutron Caséta Wireless In-Wall Smart Dimmer Kit (from $59.25 via Amazon), you’ll need to add either the Caséta Wireless Smart Bridge, which lets you integrate the switch with Apple’s HomeKit (so you can ask Siri to dim the lights), or the Wink hub; either way you can connect your switch to Alexa. For more information, visit Caséta Wireless.
Leviton Decora Smart Wifi Dimmer from Amazon Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch
Above: No hub is required for the Leviton Decora Smart Wi-Fi Dimmer ($49.99 via Amazon); simply install the switch in the wall and use the My Leviton app (for iOS and Android) to connect it to your home’s Wi-Fi. This switch also operates via voice control with Alexa; see Leviton for more.

Can I install my own smart wall dimmer?

You might be able install a smart dimmer yourself if you have some experience swapping out light switches. You’ll need to turn off the power to that circuit at your fuse box, open up the existing switch, and do some rewiring to attach the wires to the new switch. If anything about that makes you nervous, bring in a licensed electrician to do the job.

Switchmate Light Switch Toggle White Home Depot Smart In-Wall Dimmer Switch
Above: Looking for an option without rewiring? The Switchmate Light Switch Toggle ($29.97) attaches magnetically to existing switches (avoiding the need for an electrician) and can be controlled via an app, but it can only turn lights fully on or fully off. For more automatic on/off switches, see our earlier post Lights Out: Sensor Light Switches.
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