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When putting in a new switch for a light it is often less work to put in a smart switch than run the mains cables.

However, how do you choose the type of smart switch to use?


See also "What are the pros and cons of different types of smart switches (That are on the UK market)?"

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I have never heard of a smart switch and have wired several homes. Do you have any examples or links? –  mohlsen Jul 23 '10 at 12:14
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This question should be Community Wiki as there will not be one right answer, and you're asking for a list. –  Mike Sherov Jul 23 '10 at 12:18
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2 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

X10

  • Pros:
    • Many manufacturers, and wide variety of products are readily-available (As of 2012, this may not be the case any more)
    • Low-cost
  • Cons:
    • Old protocol (circa 1975)
    • Most devices communicate over power lines, and design makes it susceptable to interference from noise. At worst, noise can be interpreted as commands (causing lights to turn on).
    • Slow and fairly basic. Sending more than 2 or 3 commands takes a couple seconds.
    • Only supports 256 addresses per network (total number of discrete dimmers, scenes, and sensors combined)
    • Requires phase-couplers to bridge both phases of power together
    • Requires PC or special hardware to program
  • Products
    • Smarthome makes fairly decent quality switches, which support scenes (multiple devices responding to a single address).

Insteon

  • Pros:
    • Relatively low cost compared to other products on market
    • Decent quality switches
    • Basic linking (including scene programming) can be done using devices themselves, PC-based programming for more advanced control.
    • Each device has unique address (16 million possible), and supports
    • Hybrid powerline/wireless: many devices use both to communicate, and most devices repeat signals to increase coverage/signal strength
    • Easy to interface to other products due to market size:
      • There are even several iOS apps that can control Insteon if you have an ethernet bridge
      • Most home automation controllers can communicate
  • Cons:
    • Swapping out a device can be difficult due to addresses being hardcoded (need to reprogram all other devices that were controlled by or control the swapped device)
    • Some strange limitations in scene programming (eg, cannot program a scene that sets some devices on, and others off)
  • Products
    • Smarthome makes a wide variety of products and is also the designer of Insteon

UPB

  • Pros:
    • More reliable protocol than X10
    • Simply-Automated's switches (at least) are extremely flexible:
      • Can configure 1,2,3-tap and press-and-hold behaviour for every button
      • 8-button switches are configurable with interchangable faceplates to be anything from a basic dimmer to 4 dimmers or an 8-button keypad or almost anything in between
  • Cons:
    • Uses power-line carrier, so it requires phase-couplers to bridge both phases of power together
    • Complex to program, requires PC software
  • Products:
    • Simply-Automated makes switches, plug-in modules, in-line modules, I/O connectors and computer interfaces

Z-Wave

  • Pros:
    • Wireless, and each Z-wave unit acts as a repeater, so the more devices you add in your house, the better coverage you get.
    • Standardized and easy to D-I-Y, you don't have to have it professionally installed
  • Cons:
    • Still a technology 'maturing', so you might have to be a bit of a hobbyist to get it all to work correctly.
  • Products:
    • Thermostats by Trane and others
    • Light switches by GE and others
    • Locks by Yale, Kwikset, and others
    • Controllers by many vendors, either PC-based (Homeseer, z-wave.me) or separate devices (MiCasaVerde, Homeseer)
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I can say from experience with X10 that while it's cheap enough, it can be a BIG pain in the neck. With both plug-in modules and wired in stuff, I've found that I can NOT depend on an X10 switch to reliably turn something on or off. They tend to work most of the time, but fail to work at the most annoying moments. –  Michael Kohne Jul 24 '10 at 1:20
    
I'd agree, btw - X10 is really pretty crappy. Insteon is much more reliable, but fails in the programming department. I haven't tried yet, but the Simply Automated UPB stuff looks very nice: there are a ton of combinations of keypads/rockers, and although they are only PC-based programming, the software and flexibility is pretty amazing (you can customize 1-press, 2-press, and 3-press, as well as hold, for every single button). –  gregmac Jul 24 '10 at 19:12
    
X10 is not around any more. All you can find online is just the lesser used products. I work for an X10 dealer and we've had no contact with them in months. I think the world will be a better place. –  lqlarry Jul 20 '12 at 5:06
    
For Insteon, the awkward programming, laborious replacement of devices, and scene limitations are overcome by using a controller like this. –  alx9r Aug 13 '12 at 4:25
    
What about ZigBee? –  Ken Liu Nov 8 '13 at 1:20
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The lower end stuff is crap, and will drive you mad over time. This includes X-10, Insteon, and UPB. These products will fail. It's just a question of how long before they do. Z-Wave is a technology, not a product line.

If you want something complete and reliable, go for Lutron RadioRA. Version 2 of this industry-standard system was released recently, and prices have become more reasonable. This is a whole-house solution. They also offer single-room and smaller-scene packages, and the mother-load solution called HomeWorks, which pretty much rules out retrofitting.

http://www.lutron.com

Note that you'll want a pro to install and configure these switches, unless you're really geeky and comfortable with handling electricity. And single.

Edit: Here is a link to a discussion about this very thing on a pro site. Read the comments: http://www.cepro.com/article/hardwired_vs_wireless_lighting_control/

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Agree, x10 is a toy that you'll enjoy for a day. –  Vitalik Jul 28 '10 at 20:43
    
If you have any interest in building a smart home, not just something that replaces a wire or two with radio, Lutron is the way to go. Z-Wave is too focused on being low power to support whole-home monitoring and control -- tracking which lights are on/off in the residence is unreliable with Z-Wave because communications are so hush-hush, and keeping the network in one piece can be a pain, too. I don't have as much experience with Insteon, but what I saw looked like it would be more reliable and simpler than Z-Wave. Not sure about its support for whole-home tracking. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Jul 22 '12 at 19:41
    
I've had great success with Insteon so far. I've had about 20 modules for about 8 months. As with any complicated system, I expect components to fail. The controller I am using automatically reprograms an installation when a module is swapped. I have tested that and it works as expected. I haven't had to troubleshoot finding which module has failed, but I've read that it can be done. –  alx9r Aug 13 '12 at 4:30
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