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IoT: Smart Lighting With Wireless Switches

Published December 21, 2017

This is my second post in what I hopefully will call my IoT, internet of things, series. The first one was about wireless thermostats and how to install a C wire on a heat only boiler system.  This one is about my venture into converting, some - not all - of my light switches in my home to smart switches.

I picked Lutron Caseta Wireless switches because (a) I saw a good deal on a starter kit and (b) I asked Stacey Higginbotham, who is the queen of IoT, if I should run with them and she said yes.  So I went with it and I am addicted, and bought even more over Black Friday deals and then some more when I got free Google Express dollars.  So I have a good number of Lutron wireless switches installed in my house now.

There are a bunch of options for these switches but the truth is, for most light switches, you really only need to get the PD-6WCL model.  If you want a three-way switch solution so you can control one light on two sides of the room, go with the P-PKG1W (Amazon aff link) because it comes with the PD-6WCL, a Pico wireless remote and a fancy screwless plate.  You also need the hub, so if you do not have one yet, they also sell starter kits with the hub (Amazon aff link) note, there are often deals, good ones, on the starter kits.  I recommend you first go with a starter kit and play around with that before "going all in."

The packaging instructions are pretty straight forward, so I am not going to go through how to set it all up and there are tons of YouTube videos on it.  I will just share the things that are kind of outside of those documents.

For 3-Way switches and polls, you really should go with the P-PKG1W, it makes things way easier and the pico wireless remote can easily be mounted on one of the poles, while the PD-6WCL can be hooked up on the other end.  You simply cap off the switch you had where you are putting the pico remote and connect the wires as instructed to on the other end to the PD-6WCL.  For 3 way configurations, it can look messy and the truth is, I had to resort to trial and error - keep trying to touch different wires together to see what would work - but I got it.  For most of this, I didn't turn off the power because I wanted to test it live, I only shocked myself once but it was a pretty big shock - so be careful, it is always recommended to cut the power when doing this.

For a one way switch, typically you just need to connect the ground wire to the green wire cable and then the two black wires to any of the two black wires on the PD-6WCL and you are good to go.  With the 3-way, you need to play around more and test things because there are way more than just 3 wires for those poles:

I took a picture of this before disconnecting the wires.  I also disconnected one wire at a time, connecting those wires to the new Lutron switch before disconnecting more wires. It helped me keep track of things just in case I wanted to put it back the way it was.

When doing the three-way switch, you can put a Pico wireless remote in a wall box adapter, PICO-WBX-ADAPT, which are about $4, and mount it in the place of the other mechanical switch you had completely capped off to act as a light switch on the other end.  They supposedly last for 10 years and the batteries are easy to change.

Ceiling fans are complicated too, if you just have one light switch controlling the fan and the light.  So you need to get the PD-5WS-DV model, which is an on/off switch without a dimmer.  Think about it, you cannot dim how fast the fan goes - so it is either on or off.  There are some ceiling fans that are HomeKit controlled and work with the Lutron app, but I didn't have one of those.

The last issue I faced was that when pairing the Lutron light switch to the Pico wireless remotes, you either need to do it before you add the main light switch to the app or hub or use the app to add the pico wireless remote after it is added to the hub.  Once the switch is added to the hub, the only way to get it to sync up to that light switch is to add the pico remote via the app, otherwise it won't work.  It took me a day or so to figure that out because even removing the switch from the hub doesn't let you pair the remote after you add it back to the hub.

Here is a good video of an overview of how the set up works:

Overall, I am loving being able to control my light switches wirelessly.  They work with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Carrier Cor, Ecobee, the Google Assistant (ie Google Home), Nest, Honeywell, Logitech, Samsung SmartThings, Sonos, Serena Shades and more. 

I can schedule the lights to go on and off or different level of dimming based on times of the day, sunrise or sunset or even based on my location.  For example, in the middle of the night, my bathroom light is set to be 5% bright, so when someone goes to the bathroom at that time, you aren't blinded by the light at 100%.  I set the basement lights to go on when I arrive home, because I enter through the basement and  I set them to turn off when I leave the home.  Being an observant Jewish family, we also replaced most of our in-wall timers that turn on and off lights automatically on Shabbat as well.  And it is easy to control, all over your app, Apple Siri, Google Home and more.

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Barry Schwartz is the CEO of RustyBrick, a New York Web service firm specializing in customized online technology that helps companies decrease costs and increase sales. Barry is also the founder of the Search Engine Roundtable and the News Editor of Search Engine Land. He is well known & respected for his expertise in the search marketing industry. Barry graduated from the City University of New York and lives with his family in the NYC region.

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