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Why Do Smart Light Switches Require a Neutral Wire?

Why Do Smart Switches REQUIRE a Neutral Wire?

This has to be one of the biggest questions I hear whenever there's any talk about installing smart switches. It's a very simple question, but doesn't get addressed too often. If your house is fairly new or has ever been seriously renovated, this may not be a problem. If you have an older home, chances are you don't have this neutral wire in your junction box. But why? Let's take a look at the infamous neutral wire and talk about why you need it.


What's the Deal with the Neutral Wire?!

If you look at the diagram to the left, a simple explanation clears up why we need a neutral wire. The short answer is that smart switches NEVER SLEEP, so they always require power. This isn't the case with non-smart switches. Smart switches have Wi-Fi that has to ALWAYS be on — otherwise, what's the point? Imagine if you turned your smart switches off and the Wi-Fi disconnected from them. You wouldn't be able to turn them back on with your voice and would have to get up to turn the lights on, which would defeat the purpose of the "smart" part. That wouldn't be good now, would it?


I Still Don't Get It....

Okay, so, you may be thinking, "Well, the HOT line goes INTO the switch, so it ALWAYS has power, right?" True, but it's not that simple. If you just send all the voltage right to the switch, you'd simply overload (kill) the switch and be at risk for starting a fire. Wiring in a modern home has alternating current (AC). Power comes into the switch through the "hot" line and exits through the neutral line. This allows the switch to get power and send it back to the source, but the power doesn't get passed onto your lights until you press the button. Well, or until you tell Google to turn a switch on or do it on your app. Only then, power flows through the hot line, up to the light and back down through the neutral line. Without the neutral line, this process cannot happen. The neutral line allows the circuit to be fully completed. 

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You Can Connect Your XBOX ONE to Your Google Assistant!

AND it's EASIER than You Think!

So about two weeks ago, I was doing something in my Google Home app on my Android smartphone. While looking at the top of the app and realized it said I had one device that needed to be added. Bewildered, I clicked the button. To my surprise, I saw that I was now able to add my XBOX ONE to my Google Home account. I believe this is also the same with Alexa, but I haven't felt like checking yet. Alexa isn't used too much in my home, so I'm not concerned.

After adding my XBOX ONE to my Google Account, I was wondering what exactly I could do with it. After a few minutes of research, I found out there are a few options so far.

The available options seem to be:

  • Hey Google, turn on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, turn off Xbox.
  • Hey Google, play [GAME NAME] on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, volume up on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, volume down on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, mute Xbox.
  • Hey Google, un-mute Xbox.
  • Hey Google, pause.*
  • Hey Google, play.*
  • Hey Google, next.*
  • Hey Google, previous.*
  • Hey Google, take a screenshot on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, record that on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, reboot Xbox.
  • Hey Google, stop on Xbox.
  • Hey Google, switch to [TV Channel] on Xbox.

*These are universal commands for media playback on Xbox Apps like the Blu-Ray Player and YouTube.

But how do YOU add it, you ask?

Simple! All you need to do is turn on your XBOX ONE game console and open your Google Home app on your smartphone. After that, click "Add Device" at the top of your Google Home Account. Select the "Have something already set up?" option and then you'll need to log in with your Xbox account. After that, follow the on-screen prompts and you'll be on your way to using your Google Assistant with your XBOX! I did it a few times already and it's pretty neat!

What do you guys think the next thing to be added to Google/Alex will be? Do you think Playstation will try to do the same? What about Nintendo? It's hard to tell and doesn't do a whole lot, but it's still a very cool feature. We all love knowing we have new smart products to play with! Tell me what you think!

Thinking of Adding a NEW Smart Product to YOUR Home?


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Zigbee Vs Z-Wave Vs Wi-Fi Smart Products

What's The Difference Between ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi Smart Products?

Well, it depends. Theorhetically, there's a lot of little things that are different, but at the end of the day it's a bunch of little things. I'm hoping with this article I can help point you in a better direction for what you may want — or at least help you understand some of the small differences. All three protocols (as I'll be referencing them as throughout this article) all work similarly, but have different requirements. All three require an active, working internet connection at your home if you're looking to work any of them via smartphone applications. You can freely use any combination of all three protocols in your home without worrying that one will cause the other to mess up or to see problems, but the equipment you'll need to work each protocol will differ. Let's take a look at each!


What's the Wi-Fi Protocol?

I figured we should start with the easiest to explain. Both Zigbee and Z-Wave require Wi-Fi at the end of the day for any appliation (app) usage, so let's make sure we understand this first! If a smart product, whether it's a smart light switch, a smart light bulb, a smart security system or even a smart plug, says it "requires no hub" and you can connect "directly to Google/Alexa" then it should be running on normal Wi-Fi. That means it connects to your router and accessing the internet very similarly to your cellphone, tablet or laptop (assuming you're not plugged in with ethernet). This is by far the simpliest route to take with your smart products, hands down. There's nothing easier then going into the app (such as Smart Life) and adding your product in that way. This becomes even more simple if it's the second, third, fourth, etc time you've used the same app, as it tends to save your Wi-Fi information for ease of use when you get a new smart product.  You connect it to Wi-Fi, make sure it's in your Google Home or Amazon Alexa account and you're good to go. The app on your phone basically makes a secured "backdoor" connection to your home to allow you (or anyone logged into your account or anyone you've "shared" the device with to control it).



Wi-fi Protocol Logo

However, if you have an old router or maybe one the cable company makes you rent, then you probably need something better. A lot of routers won't have a problem with ten Wi-Fi connections, but everything adds up. If you have two kids and a spouse, that's four people (including you). If you're streaming TV, your wife is watching YouTube, one kid is on their tablet and another kid is playing XBox online, this all takes a toll on your router and your internal network. Average day, this isn't a problem at all. But once you start adding several devices — let's say six smart bulbs, four smart switches, two Google mini's, a Google Home Hub, and four Amazon Alexa Dot's — you now have 15 additional devices you have on your network that all need an active, live internet connection. It's all these smart Wi-Fi products that can start to bog down old or underpowered (I'm looking at your rented cable combined modem/routers) that can start to cause stress.

So what do you do? Spend $100 on a brand new router? Who has money for that when you're trying to buy all these smart products, right? Don't worry though, that's where ZigBee and Z-Wave start to shine. Before I jump into what each one is and what makes them different, let's take a look back at our smart house described above. So you have roughly 19 products at your home that all need a Wi-Fi connection, right? So what if you could take some, or even most, of those off your Wi-Fi without having any functionality issues? Well, you can — in a way. In the same example above, you could take off six smart products and four smart bulbs (a total of ten smart devices) off your Wi-Fi and connect them to another hub. This single hub would then act as a sort of "new router" that would handle internet-related tasks for those specific ten smart products, thereby freeing up a lot Wi-Fi traffic. If you had a ZigBee or Z-Wave hub and compatiable ZigBee or Z-Wave light bulbs and switches, then that hub can talk to all ten of those products on its own and only send/receive internet related commands (such as turning on a bulb on the app) by itself only when requested. Now, let's talk about Zigbee and Z-Wave!


Okay, So Tell Me About ZigBee and Z-Wave!

Just to preface this section, I'm going to try to outline the main difference between the two protocols. Each protocol has its own pro's and con's, so it's up to you to see what matters to you the most. Most hubs currently include BOTH protocols, but if you don't have that option, it's good to know which one you may prefer over the other. Here's a quick rundown of each one compared to the other:


ZigBee Protocol Logo



Z-Wave Protocol Logo


Can support way more devices — up 65,000 or more
ZigBee is an "open standard"
Allows for unlimited "hopping" (the connection can jump between basically on ZigBee on the ZigBee network inside your home)
Shorter range — maxes out around 66ft (keep in mind the unlimited hops mentioned above)
Operates at 915MHz frequency in the U.S.
Faster data rates of 40-250 kbps
Depending on ZigBee version, can be "less" unified. If all devices are on ZigBee 3.0, protocols are more uniform

Supports up to a 232 devices.
Z-Wave is ran by Silicon Labs which has stricter controls, wanting every Z-Wave device to work with every Z-Wave controller (although, it's said the standard will become open sometime in 2020)
Allows for up to 4 "hops"
Better range — initially was up to 100ft, now apparently up to 328ft
Operates at 918/960MHz frequency
Slower data rate of 9.6-100 kbps
More unified - all devices use same protocol


So... Which Do I Pick?!

Ultimately, the choice is yours! If you have a hub already, then I would continue to buy products for what your hub supports. A lot of hubs support both, Zigbee and Z-Wave, so I would check that first before you spend any money needlessly. For example, I wanted a home alarm in February 2019, so I actually purchased the Samsung SmartThings ADT Wireless Home Security Starter Kit from Amazon on sale for $99 and it has both ZigBee and Z-Wave built in which was a welcomed bonus. Now I don't need to worry about "Oh wait, I don't have that protocol, so I can't use that product." Unless a third protocol comes out, which is highly unlikely, then I'm pretty set for at least the next few years. Experts think that one protocol or the other will eventually become the standard, but nobody knows for sure. I would pick what you think best fits your home.

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Can Smart Dimmer Switches Work with Smart Bulbs?

It's a Valid Question! But Let Me Explain...

It comes up every now and, "Can't I just use a smart dimmer to dim my smart bulbs? Unfortunately, the short answer is "NO!" There are many different reasons why, but without getting into too much technical jargen, the simple way of explaining it is you can't have the smart SWITCH (whether via app or touch) controlling the same aspect of the bulb that the smart BULB is trying to control as well. Basically, you end with the smart light switch saying, "Okay, the light's are set at 50%" and then have the bulb say "Weird, I have the bulbs set at 100%!" They just don't play well together.

Gosund Smart Dimmer Light Switch

Even if you have a "non-smart" dimmer switch, it's highly recommended against using any types of dimmer switches with smart bulbs since *basically* all dimmer switches do is lower the voltages that go to the bulbs and therefore causes less light to illuminate from the bulb, hence "dimming" it. If you don't have the option to remove a dimmer switch but really want to use dimmable smart bulbs, the best recommendation I have is you can leave the dimmer on and at 100% at all times and just use voice/app commands, but it still has the possibility of damaging your bulbs. I don't think it's LIKELY, but I do think it's POSSIBLE. You've been warned!

My tl;dr opinion: do not match up smart dimmable light bulbs with smart dimmer switches OR regular dimmer switches (basically, any dimmer switch).

There are other, better options beginning to surface on the market that allow you to basically "snap on" covers over top of you "dumb switches" and turns them into smart switches, but there aren't a ton of them yet and they're not regularly available for all types of products. For instance, iDevices has a "fake" stick-on-the-wall-anywhere switch, but it only works with their iDevice smart bulbs. Obviously this isn't an option for anyone who doesn't want to replace all their current smart home lights and switches. Again, more things are becoming available, but I still think it's too early to recommend anything.

In the meantime, if you're looking to get the new "Edison style" lightbulbs that have been recently flooding the market, then you may be stuck with a smart dimmer switch. A lot of these bulbs are manufactured with "old" incandescent technology, but there are some smart versions beginning to hit the market, including one by TP-Link. There are, however, other off-brand smart light bulbs that are Edison style, but these can be risky as they aren't reviewed often and I don't know much about these other brands. That's up to you! I will admit though, if I can manage to snag a free pair in return for an honest review, I would be willing to give them a chance! I mean, who doesn't like free stuff and an honest, unbias review?

DORESshop Wi-Fi Dimmable Smart LED Light Bulb

Closing Thoughts...

With that said, you're then left with an "Okay, so what do I want to use? Smart bulbs or smart dimmer switches?" That's a very valid question! I would recommend you check out my other article in regards to whether smart bulbs or smart switches are the better fit for you! It can be a tough choice if you're just starting out — or maybe you've come to the realization that you might want to switch from what you currently have. It's okay! Smart bulbs and smart light switches are becoming very affordable and I think most homes will have things in the coming years.

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Smart Switch vs Dumb Switch

Smart Switch vs Dumb Switch

I won't bore too many of you with the details, but plenty of people still don't understanding the difference between smart switches and non-smart switches (also called "dumb" switches). Although they look the same from the outside, they're entirely different beasts on the inside. A dumb switch is a VERY simple switch that allows you to connect power to a light, fan, or many other things simply by toggling it into the "on" position. Without switches, all of our bulbs, lights, appliances, etc would just be on all the time. Switches are an easy way to just toggle power on and off; however, smart switches bring a whole new dimension to the field. Smart switches are ALWAYS on and always have power running through them, but only through the toggle do they allow power to flow through them and into the light. Currently, smart switches typically use either Wi-Fi or "ZigBee" or even bluetooth to allow users to control lights either with their voice or even cellphones. Think you left a light on? No problem, your smart apps can let you know the state the light is in (typically "on" or "off") and you can even toggle them when you're not home!

Now, typically, a smart switch costs about four to five times as much as a non-smart switch, but the benefits are absolutely worth it! Just be careful if you want to get smart switches as sometimes your gang boxes (typically the blue boxes inside the wall that your switch screws into) may not be deep enough. Typically, this isn't a problem, but since you don't connect the wires directly to the switch, it can take up more room. Smart switches have wires that come out of them, so that takes up real estate too. Add in the wirenuts that you're REQUIRED to use, then things can get REALLY tight! If you're unsure if you have room, you can always take a peak inside your gang box, it should be easy to tell. I've included the measurements of a "common" smart switch if you want to know the exact measurements.

I have to admit, as much as I love my smart switches, it was definitely a bit of a pain to fit them inside my boxes. With the extra wiring and wirenuts, I was stuck pushing a lot of the stuff back into the box and then putting some of the wirenuts at the top of the box and some in the bottom. However, I'll admit it was worth the pain! Anything that's hard ends up being worth it... right?

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Typical Smart Switch Dimensions

Typical Non-Smart Switch Dimensions

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Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches





Smart Bulb for Smart Homes











Lutron Caseta Smart Home Dimmer Switch with Wallplate

Smart Bulbs vs Smart Switches

Ever try to think about which one to use, but you're not too sure? Well, in this quick article I'm going to lay out some information, recommendations, and ideas for you to comb over so you can make the best decision for you and your home!

Both, smart bulbs and smart switches, have their "prime" uses inside the home, but knowing which one to use where (and more importantly why) can be a little tough! If you're just starting out in the smart home adventure, I would highly recommend that you comb over the idea of where you want the smart product first. It may seem obvious, but when you think it over, you may end up changing your mind. The room you are in the most or are most frequently in and out of the most may be the best idea for some people, but not others. "Why's that?" you ask? Simple! If you have a room (or garage) where you may occasionally carry heavy or large objects, it may be best to start with those areas first! Consider this: you just picked up a heavy box and you've started to move it into another room when suddenly the door closes just enough for you to not really be able to see where you're going. Now, most people still keep going, but now you really can't see where you're going or what you're near, so you're not even sure if you can put your heavy box down safely. This would be a PERFECT situation to use your smart product to turn on the lights. BOTH, smart light bulbs and smart light switches would be a perfect way to shed some light on the situation (literally). A simple "Okay Google, turn on the garage lights" can turn on your lights (assuming you have a Google device either in your pocket, aka your phone, or another type of Google product nearby).

In the same sense, a smart light bulb or smart light switch in a room you go into a lot makes a ton of sense too. There's nothing more annoying than having to get up when you're watching TV or trying to cook and it's getting a little too dark outside and your lights aren't on! A simple "Okay Google, turn on the living room lights" will light you up in no time! Once you decide which room (or rooms!) you want to start in, you're almost there. Now it's time to figure out if you want to do a smart switch or simply install smart bulbs. Again, both have their pros and cons, but I'm here to help so don't worry! Let's start with smart bulbs.

Smart bulbs are a great idea for several reasons which I'll touch on now. Smart bulbs are easy to install! You plug them in, add them to your Google or Amazon account and you're good to go! I'll argue that it's typically harder to get Google or Amazon or Smart Life to see the smart bulb than it is to twist in a light bulb. Unless your lights are in a vaulted ceiling that you can't reach, it's just worlds easier to twist in a smart bulb than it is to do electrical work on a switch. Also, if you want bulbs with COLOR, then you can only do that with smart bulbs. Whether it's RGB or just different "temperature" bulbs, there's no equivalent on a smart switch. No smart switch (as of 2020) can change the bulb color or temperature. If you don't own your home, bulbs are obviously a better choice since when you move (and hopefully buy a house!) you can take your bulbs with you. Beyond that, you never know how a landlord may feel about you "upgrading" their home and I'd hate to see you lose a security deposit over something dumb like a smart switch (oxymoron? lol!). Some of the downsides are that it can definitely be expensive. If you have fans in your home, most take three to four bulbs, so you're looking at a minimum of nine bulbs if you have three fans! I'm in Southern California, so I have fans in just about every room and I would need a total of 12 bulbs! Another downside is if you turn your lights off at the source, such as the wall switch or at the fan, they will not work until you turn the power source back on.

What about smart switches now? Well, I feel like they look absolutely beautiful! A few years ago, my wife was complaining about how the hallway was too dark and she couldn't find the light switch if she needed to get up in the middle of the night, so I went out and bought a "dumb" switch that had a light inside that would come ON if the light was OFF. Easy enough right? Now she could see the LED light-up inside the switch when it was off. All smart switches act as a "nightlight" of sorts. They aren't the brightest in the world, so they won't keep your seven-year-old from thinking there are monsters under the bed, but you'll be able to see ANY of your switches across the room unless there's a feature on your particular smart switch where you can turn off the nightlight. Smart light switches are coming a long way and their functionality is perfectly on-par with your typical light switch. Flip it and lights turn off. Flip it again and the lights are back on! If you know how to do BASIC electrical work, like "matching-up-colors-on-wires" basic, then you shouldn't have a problem with this install. With that said, the smart switches DO take up more room in a gang box, so you may need to replace your boxes if there isn't enough room in them, so now you're talking more money and more time. Wiring is TIGHT and you're sure to get frustrated if your boxes aren't the cleanest. But most, if not all, smart switches come with a new faceplate which snaps on, so they'll look a LOT cleaner.

So What Do I Get?!

It depends. If you have the room and knowledge, I would ALWAYS opt for a smart switch. If you have lots of lights on one switch, smart light bulbs can be very pricey. If you want your bulbs to change temperature or color, I would have to say get smart bulbs. If you want a nightlight on your switch, then smart switches have those! You could also do both! For example, I have a fan with three bulbs in a small room with my computer in it and I originally had smart bulbs in this room, but I wanted to switch over to smart switches. Once I installed the smart switch (non-dimming), I realized the lights were just too bright for me, so I ended up installing the bulbs back in. Now, I have the convenience of still using Google commands, but I can also dim the lights (bulb side) or pushing the power switch to turn the bulbs on and off. There are plenty of options, it's just deciding what's best for you!

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Wemo Smart Light Switch











Wemo Smart Light Switch