Retrofitting a home to be a smart home can be a real headache, but it’s well worth it in the end. After all, who wouldn't want to have a fully automated home?
One of the first things most home automation newbies want to replace is lights and light switches, but you want to consider your Z-Wave light switches carefully. In addition to the actual switches, you need to think about the existing wiring in your home.
When adding new Z-Wave devices to your home, you can run into all sorts of little issues here and there. One of the most common is when you try to connect your Z-Wave switches into your existing electrical wiring and realize you don't have neutral wires!
In most houses, you have several colors of wire: a black wire that is your “load” or “hot” wire that carries the current from the fuse box to devices, a green (or bare) wire that grounds the current, and sometimes a white neutral wire that carries return current. A light switch normally uses all three wires to connect to the light. That’s the typical setup for most light switches, smart or otherwise, but Z-Wave switches are the most finicky when it comes to this.
So, what if your setup isn’t that typical? Some black wires carry the return current too, becoming a black and white wire in one, basically. Sometimes there’s no neutral wire at a switch location if the power is coming through the light fixture. In either case, what you’ll need is a Z-Wave switch with no neutral wire required.
Picking the Best Z-Wave Light Switch Without a Neutral
Unfortunately, there’s not too many of these types of smart light switches on the market, but don't worry there are some! We’ve found two Z-Wave switches that don't require a neutral, and we’ll compare/contrast them to help you choose the best.
The GE Z-Wave Dimmer Switch is designed to replace an existing switch without a neutral wire, so you’re covered there.
It also has one of the best features in any smart home switch: an LED to indicate the switch location in the dark. As you'd expect, it’s controllable through a GE remote or your existing Z-wave controller.
Two important things to note about this switch:
One, it is a 2 way dimmer, meaning you tap to turn off or on and hold to use the dimmer function.
And two, you have to use an incandescent bulb with this switch. With this caveat, it’s worth noting that the GE has great reviews and is priced reasonably.
The Leviton Vizia RF + 5A Incandescent Scene Capable Switch also has an LED light to find the switch in the dark and it's, unsurprisingly controllable via a hub or via the Vizia RF + 1-Button Scene Controller/Virtual Switch Remote.
It has capabilities for single pole and 3-way, and it can also be a multi-location control (only if used with the Vizia RF + Remote).
As part of Leviton’s Decora design series, the RF + switch also has a sleek look, with smooth plates and three available colors.
Unfortunately, the same caveats of it being a 2 way dimmer and it only working with incandescent lights mimic the GE 45606 Z-Wave light switch.
The Best Z-Wave Switch, No Neutral Needed
In our opinion, the clear winner of these two is the GE 45606 Z-Wave Technology 2-Way Dimmer Switch. This smart switch has all the functionality of the Leviton at almost half the price.
While Leviton boasts about scene control and the interconnectivity of their switches, the same can be said about GE's switches, so it's clear Leviton doesn't have the advantage here. With that said, the Z-Wave protocol allows both switches to connect into your network and work reliably, regardless of which one you choose to purchase.
What Types of Bulbs Can I Use with No Neutral Z-Wave Switches?
With no neutral switches, you can only use certain types of light bulbs because of the way these switches handle that return current, namely by sending it through the black load wire. This means that the light has a constant low level of power (return power) running through it, even when the switch is off.
Most non-incandescent light bulbs can’t tolerate having this power constantly running through them. So for a Z-Wave switch that doesn’t use a neutral, you need to use incandescent bulbs. Certain kinds of CFLs and LEDs can work as well, but you need to carefully check the specs or email the manufacturer first, because these bulbs are few and far between.
Is There an Alternative to a No Neutral Switch?
If you don't have incandescent lighting or you'd like to avoid installing a Z-Wave switch without a neutral, there is an option! You can, instead, just use Z-Wave compatible smart bulbs.
With these bulbs, you don't have to change the light switch at all, you just swap out your bulbs.
These smart light bulbs are usually shaped like a traditional light bulb, only they have a Z-wave control in the bottom and a LED light source at the top. With a Z-wave light bulb, you can turn off and on, dim, or change the color of the bulb (with some models) all from a remote, your controller, or you phone.
The only thing you need to be aware of with these bulbs, is that your light switch always needs to be in the on position. If the light switch is turned off, you won't be able to control these types of bulbs via your controller.
The Power of Z-Wave
Don’t let the presence or absence of a neutral wire scare you away from adding smart lights to your home. The joy of Z-Wave is that it was created specifically for lighting, even though it has since branched off into virtually every kind of sensor.
Even with wiring limitations, there are still ways to operate your lights via Z-Wave. After all, Z-Wave is what lets you connect and control everything in your home, so they made sure you could!
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