While there are many guides on which Z-Wave hub is best and how to set up specific devices, it's rather difficult to find one that outlines exactly how to setup Z-Wave smart homes with limited prior knowledge. That's why we created this article to help you turn your dumb home into a smart home even if you haven't so much as heard of Z-Wave before.
With a Z-Wave home automation system, you can control thermostats, security systems, door locks, irrigation, lights, fans, and even electrical outlets. Basically, everything in your home can be controlled if you want it to be.
What makes it even better, is that the controller can be a tablet mounted on the wall, a voice controller, like Alexa, a standard computer, or even your phone. In other words, you can control your home using any method you choose. The possibilities are endless!
If this intrigues you, here are the steps you need to take to get your smart home set up and running!
How to Setup a Z-Wave Smart Home
Choosing a smart hub is arguably the most important part of setting up a smart home. A Z-Wave hub is essentially the brain of a Z-Wave system. The hub tells the other devices what to do and when to do it, so it's a necessity in every system.
There are literally thousands of Z-Wave products, from door sensors to thermostats, that work with almost every Z-Wave hub out there, so choosing one that works with specific devices isn't 100% necessary. Instead, you need to look at the specs, the community, and it's features.
Deciding on a smart hub may be a challenge for a beginner, but with this guide you'll be able to make a much more informed decision when buying a hub.
Before choosing a smart hub, there are certain things you need to consider. Some of these things may be more of a preference than a requirement, but by looking at every aspect of a hub, you can be sure that you're getting the product that will suit your home.
What to Look For
The first thing you need to consider when buying a new hub is the price. While that may seem pretty obvious, some people fail to realize the importance of it, which can lead to buyer's remorse and/or other frustrations. Most Z-Wave companies require a one time purchase price for their hubs (ie. VeraPlus, SmartThings), while others have a purchase price and recurring monthly fees (ie. Iris). Our suggestion is to pick a hub without a monthly fee. There are some fantastic hubs out there that do not have reoccurring fees, so this shouldn't be too hard.
- Wireless Protocol Support
Smart hubs communicate to their devices via wireless protocols. Some of the most popular are Z-Wave, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. These languages simply represent how your hub speaks to other devices within your network. While some hubs only support Z-Wave, others have multiple chips built in to communicate with a wider range of devices. Basically, the more protocols your hub supports, the more options you have when buying devices.
- Local vs. Cloud
Some hubs communicate with devices through a local network setup, while others can only connect via the cloud. If you choose a hub that can only connect through cloud, you will only be able to access your devices while your internet and the cloud server are online. If your network or the server your hub communicates with goes down, you will not be able to control any of your devices. On the other hand, hubs that communicate over a local network will still be able to control devices if the internet goes down.
- Logic System
Every hub has a different logic system. For example, Vera hubs have scenes and Smartthings hubs use SmartApps. They are both logic systems that help the user create an action when a sensor goes off, but they go about it differently. In a smart home, the logic system is paramount, so I suggest watching some videos on your favorite hub's logic system before purchasing. You're likely going to spend a lot of time in these systems, so you'll want to make sure they can do everything you want them to.
- Additional Features
The above are general things to look for when shopping for a Z-Wave hub, however, there are some features that are unique to certain hubs. Most of the time, these features aren't necessities to your smart home, but they're nice to have. Some examples of these are: built in battery backups, alarm panels, and cellular backups.
If you're just starting to build your smart home, you should target an affordable hub that offers room for future growth. There are a few Z-Wave hubs that fit these requirements, so it will ultimately come down to preference.
VeraPlus is our favorite Z-Wave Hub, because it supports the four main wireless protocols: Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and ZigBee, it's compatible with well over 1,000 devices, and it supports virtually every third-party app you could want (ie. Nest, Echo, Harmony, ect.). Not only that, but the community is fantastic. No matter what issue you have, there is someone that can help you solve it and some of the forum members make some pretty awesome plugins! Vera even has a pretty active Youtube channel, that can give you some great ideas to use in your smart home.
Smartthings Gen 2
Another hub option, is the Samsung SmartThings Hub (2nd gen). It's similar to the VeraPlus in the sense that it does not require a monthly subscription and it supports ZigBee, Bluetooth, Z-Wave, and Wi-Fi. The big difference between the two is that Smartthings primarily operates via the cloud. The 2nd gen offers some local operations such as lighting control, but many of the hub's SmartApps still require an internet connection. Smartthings does have a very large community forum as well.
The Wink Connected Home Hub is one of the best hubs for beginners. That's because it features a very affordable price (average $50-$60) and it's very user friendly. Where it lacks is support and development. The software that came with the Wink hub at launch has pretty much been the same since and the company that owned Wink, Quirky, filed for bankruptcy last year. Wink then was sold to another company (Flextronics), so there could be new development coming, but it's tough to say. The Wink hub is definitely a beginner's hub, so if you just want to tinker, this would be a greta hub for you. If you plan on creating and continually developing your smart home, then I would suggest a more robust hub.
HomeTroller Zee S2
The HomeTroller Zee S2 is the most expensive hub on this list, not only because the hub regularly costs $200+, but also because Homeseer requires you to purchase the plugins you want to use unlike other hubs. That being the case, Homeseer hubs are widely accepted as some of the most robust, reliable, and power hubs out there. These hubs feature both local and cloud connectivity, similar to how Vera works.
Z-Wave devices receive commands from a hub to trigger events based on certain triggers that you set up. Here is a great example of a starter hub and device.
Now that we've talked about hubs, it's time to talk about the different devices available and which ones you should start with. From deadbolt locks to light switches to thermostats, there are numerous devices you can add to your Z-Wave network. In fact, almost every electronic item in your home has a Z-Wave alternative, so you can virtually control everything you desire to.
Z-Wave devices fall into five categories: screw-in, wired, in-wall, battery powered, and plug-in devices.
Screw-in devices are devices that screw into existing light bulb sockets. They give you control over the bulb, so you can switch it on/off and dim it.
Wired devices consist of energy monitors, outlet controllers, etc. This type of device is widely used, but it is available should you want it.
In-wall devices are usually traditional switches and dimmers. Other in-wall devices are thermostats, tablets, alarm panels, ect.
Battery powered devices are just that: battery powered. These types of devices are usually sensors such as motion, door, and tilt sensors.
Plug-in devices are devices that you can plug into an outlet. Most commonly, these are used to control lamps and other lighting fixtures.
A good Z-Wave device to start with is a dimmer switch. This is an in-wall device that allows you to control your lights via your hub. This is a great device to start with, because you probably have multiple switches in your home and if you continue upgrading your smart home, chances are you'll end up replacing all of them eventually anyway.
It's important to note that most dimmer switches are designed to work with LED lighting. If you have CFL or incandescent lighting, make sure you look at the manufacturer's website to ensure your switch can control the lights.
Also, to hook these in-wall switches up, you need to have a neutral wire in your J-box. If you do not have a neutral wire, these switches will not work.
If your home is older, chances are you don't have neutral wires in your J-boxes. If that's the case you cannot install Z-Wave in-wall dimmer switches. As an alternative, you can install Z-Wave bulbs instead.
Z-Wave bulbs are quite a bit more expensive, because you have to buy significantly more of them, but they work just as well as a dimmer. One thing to keep in mind is that you need to keep your switches in the on position at all times to ensure you can control your lights via your hub. If one of the switches gets turned off, you won't be able to control the lights until the switch turns back on.
The beauty of Z-Wave lighting is that you can control them from your smartphone and you can automate them so they turn on when you come home and off when you leave. You even make their logic more complex by adding in other devices to the mix such as motion and door sensors.
It would be near impossible to put together a guide on how to setup Z-Wave devices for each hub, since there are literally thousands of hubs and devices, however I've included a setup video below for some of the more popular hubs.
The basic strategy to add a device to a Z-wave hub is this: You turn the hub's discovery mode on, which basically means it's looking for new devices, then put the device into pair mode after which the hub will see it and then add it to your network. It's a pretty simply process, but each device pairs differently, so you will need to read the manual on your new device to see how to pair it.
How to Add a Device to Vera Running UI7
How to Add a Device to HomeSeer
How to Add a Device to Wink
How to Add a Device to Smartthings
After you have a hub and a couple of devices, you can start customizing your home automation setup to your liking. The possibilities are endless when it comes to Z-Wave home automation, so if you can imagine it, you can make it happen.
At this point, I would suggest visiting your hub's forum, because you'll find all the information you could want in regards to your hub, plugins, and devices. In fact, you may even stumble on some hidden gems your hub has to offer.
zwavezone.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking from “Z-Wave Zone” to Amazon (amazon.com, or endless.com, MYHABIT.com, SmallParts.com, or AmazonWireless.com).