Installing smart switches without a neutral wire
Unlike normal, or dumb switches, smart switches need to stay powered on all the time to be ready to respond to your commands. Smart switches rely on the neutral wire to provide that always on power, but many homeowners find their house wiring does not include it. Neutral wires weren't very common in houses built prior to the 1980s.
This leaves you with a few different options to install a smart with in a house circuits without a neutral wire.
- Have an electrician add a neutral wire
- Go with a smart switch like C by GE that doesn't need a neutral (it uses capacitors to bank the energy)
Use a robot like the SwitchBot Switch to eliminate the need for wiring anything which is what this article will cover in more detail.
Advantages of using SwitchBot to control your lights and toggle switches
The SwitchBot is a novel battery-operated device that attaches under a decora light switch using 3M adhesive and uses a robotic finger to toggle on or off your light switches.
It is a great idea and can upgrade anything that requires a physical button press to operate into a smart home device*.
*As long as the SwitchBot can fit near it and its finger can reach.
The strongest use cases I feel would be for
- Renters who can't replace their light switches
- Homes without neutral wires in their light circuits
- Homeowners who don't like playing with electricity
- Complicated 3 and 4 way light switch circuits that are hard to find compatible smart switches for
You can see my experiences with it in the below review of the Switchbot switch, hub mini, and hygrometer (humidity sensor)
The Switchbot is pretty small and the white color matched my decora switch plates. It also comes in black to match black switch plates. The 3M adhesive paper backing peeled off easily and stuck just below the decora paddle switch.
Switchbot includes extra 3M backings if you need to move the switch somewhere else later.
The obvious question is if the finger pushes the switch in to turn it on or off how do you reverse it? SwitchBot also includes a lasso attachment that sticks onto the decora paddle and hooks into the SwitchBot's finger to pull the switch in the reverse direction.
You sync this "switch mode" mode up in the SwitchBot app and you can invert the on/off, as well as the duration of the press, if you've installed the SwitchBot above or below your switch.
The user-replaceable battery lasts for 600 days.
Good uses for SwitchBot
SwitchBot works best on normal light switches. Heavier press switches like garage door buttons are a little bit too wide and stiff to push without dislodging the SwitchBot.
With the SwitchBot hub mini and thermostat hygrometer you could create routines in IFTTT or Alexa to a degree to have the SwitchBot toggle on a rocker switch for a fan if a room gets too hot or humid for example.
Another cool feature of the SwitchBot hub mini is that it can control devices that use infrared like your TV so you could create a routine that turns on or off your TV and turns the room lights off at the same time with the SwitchBot switch for a movie.
My light circuits do have neutrals and I have replaced many switches in my house with smart ones by TP-Link and Etekcity, but I am a bit wary of changing them all out due to how rapidly tech advances. On the remaining switches adding SwitchBot is so low effort and temporary, if need be, that it is well worth the price and if I change my mind it is easy to stop using them or stick them elsewhere.
They are a great idea and well worth it.