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Smarten Your Home With the Flip of a Switch

Easy to install, relatively cheap and available in an assortment of styles and colors, smart switches could be just the upgrade your home needs.

David Anders Senior Writer
David Anders is a senior writer for CNET covering broadband providers, smart home devices and security products. Prior to joining CNET, David built his industry expertise writing for the broadband marketplace Allconnect. In his 5 plus years covering broadband, David's work has been referenced by a variety of sources including ArcGIS, DIRECTV and more. David is from and currently resides in the Charlotte area with his wife, son and two cats.
Expertise Broadband providers | Home internet | Security Cameras
David Anders
4 min read
A light switch and a blue wall

Are smart light switches right for your home? Start here.

Tomas Kohoutek/Getty Images

When thinking about upgrading your lighting or outlets with smart home technology, smart light bulbs or plugs likely come to mind. Those are certainly useful smart devices, but a smart switch may actually be the more cost-effective, long-term solution to your needs, particularly if you have a dimmer switch or a lighting fixture with multiple decorative bulbs. 

Smart switches are available online or at your local big-box hardware store and come in a variety of colors and configurations, including dimmer settings. They'll cost you a bit more than standard wall switches and may require a bit of electrical know-how to install, but you may find smart switches to be well worth the small trouble.

What's the point of a smart switch?

I get it: "Why would I need a smart version of something that's literally as simple as flipping a switch?" I can think of a few reasons, but it ultimately comes down to what justifies almost every smart home technology: convenience.

Sure, you can walk over to a light switch and flip it on or off, or maybe adjust the dimmer setting, but what about when you're away? Or, even more importantly, when you're comfy on the couch and want to turn the lights down without having to get up? Such situations, among others, are where a smart switch will come in handy.

I'm kidding a bit with the couch thing (though I've definitely been there), but the fact remains that controlling your light switches via an app on your phone or simply saying, "Alexa, turn on the lights" is convenient. Plus, the ability to remotely flip a light switch on or off, or set it to a timer to do so automatically, can add a level of security to your home while you're away.

What do you have to give up for that added convenience and security? Not much, actually. Smart switches can run from just $10 to $100 depending on the brand and functionality, and installation shouldn't take up too much of a Saturday, even for novice handypersons like myself.

Yes, they can work with your existing smart home tech

Most smart switches are compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri (or some combination of the three), enabling voice commands and further integration with your smart home. Again, it's convenient, and there's also something that feels slightly futuristic about saying, "Hey Google, turn off all the lights" as you're walking out of the house. 

When shopping for a smart switch, keep in mind what kind of smart devices and assistants are already in your home or you may own down the road. Try to find a switch that is compatible with those devices if you want to better integrate it with your smart home network.

Smart devices and assistants aside, you'll also want to ensure that your smart switch is compatible with the lights you have installed -- especially if they're LED lights. Lutron, for example, has a compatibility tool you can use to find out which light bulbs (including recessed and can lights) are compatible with its switches.

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Why choose a smart switch over a plug or light bulb?

Installing a smart switch isn't the only way to smarten up your home's lighting. Smart bulbs will also give you control over turning the light on and off, and many can change colors (that's not just fun, but surprisingly useful when ordering delivery or waiting for an Uber). The light bulbs can get pricey though, especially when you need multiple bulbs for a ceiling fan, and will only give you control over the bulb itself, not the source of power or other hardwired devices.

Smart plugs are similar to smart switches in that they allow you to control the flow of power, only from an outlet instead of a switch. As such, smart plugs are ideal for lighting situations like plugging in a lamp or night-light, but less so for hardwired lighting fixtures or ceiling fans.  

One advantage of smart bulbs and plugs over smart switches is ease of installation. Smart plugs will plug straight into your outlet and installing a smart bulb is like changing any regular old light bulb. 

Smart switches, on the other hand, are more integrated into the home and require some electrical work. Installation isn't all that complicated and your smart switch should come with detailed instructions, but be prepared for it to take longer than screwing in a lightbulb. Additionally, there are always safety concerns when working with anything electrical. Be sure to follow all safety precautions when installing a smart switch. 

Are smart switches worth it?

Smart switches are a fairly inexpensive, fairly easy-to-install way to upgrade your lighting controls. There are various smart switch colors and configurations to choose from, and some may play nicer than others when it comes to compatibility with your other smart home products, so you should be able to find a smart switch for nearly any room or need.

Consider your needs and determine if smart switches make sense, but remember, you don't have to choose just one type of lighting. Mix and match smart switches, bulbs and plugs throughout your home to fit each situation with the most appropriate smart light option.

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