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We installed smart lights that work with Alexa/Google Home. The problem is that when the lights are off, we don't know if they are off because the (3-way) switch is off or because we voiced them off.

I'm thinking a good solution would be to install a tiny LED light somewhere that would signal whether the switch is physically on or off? Any suggestions on how to insert an tiny LED indicator light somewhere along a circuit. E.g. I'm open to adding another gang to the junction box.

What's a good way to insert some indicator light into a line-voltage circuit?

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  • My Philips hue bulbs are on standard switches. I never use the switch so i know they are always being supplied with power. You can look at your switch and see if it up or down or you can just try the app or the smart method used to actuate them.
    – Alaska Man
    Aug 25 '20 at 19:25
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    The only problem with disabling the switch is there is no way for EMS of fire department to override the smart switch in an emergency, code still requires a receptacle or fixture controlled by a switch.
    – Ed Beal
    Aug 25 '20 at 19:29
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    @AlaskaMan It's a three way switch so position doesn't work.
    – JACK
    Aug 25 '20 at 19:49
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    @JACK Missed that part. Still not difficult to figure out.
    – Alaska Man
    Aug 25 '20 at 19:54
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It sounds like you have light bulbs or fixtures directly controlled by Alexa/Google Home. A better solution, though sometimes a bit more work to install, is a smart switch. With a smart switch, the actual switch is replaced with a device that functions as both a physical switch and as a WiFi/remote/voice-activated/etc. device.

There is actually a bigger problem, potentially, than simply inconvenience. With your current setup, if the lights are turned off via Alexa/Google Home and then there is an emergency and someone who doesn't know about your Alexa/Google Home setup needs to turn on the lights, can they do it? Maybe (depends on the device) turning the switch on/off multiple times will do it. Maybe not. This is a real safety concern.

Related: you also need to ensure that you can toggle the lights regardless of whether your home assistant is available. If you can't turn your lights on because your Alexa is updating the firmware or because a backhoe tore through your fiber cable, that is an equally real safety concern.

A proper smart switch can often work in a 3-way configuration - i.e., with the 2nd 3-way switch being either a regular 3-way switch (possibly rewired a little bit) or with a "remote" at the other location (possibly wired using the existing wiring, possibly battery powered and radio controlled). There are a lot of possibilities.

Back to the original problem. There are lighted switches available such as: enter image description here

However, as with smart switches, dimmers, timers, motion detectors, etc., lighted switches have to get their power from somewhere. There are 3 options:

  • Neutral - Arguably the best, but neutral is often not available in switch boxes in older homes
  • Ground - Usable in limited circumstances. Do not use ground instead of neutral unless the device is designed to do so.
  • Leak current through the main circuit - Lighted switches used to all work this way. Many still do. The problem is that this is generally not compatible with LED lighting.

If you decide to install lighted switches, make sure they are compatible with your wiring and with your current and anticipated lighting fixtures.

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    Something else to keep in mind for your bigger problem: you need to be ABSOLUTELY certain that you can toggle the lights regardless of whether your home assistant is functional. If the ability for the lights to be on depends in part or entirely on whether your smart hub can process the requests, that's a huge risk as well.
    – Nzall
    Aug 26 '20 at 12:07
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    Why on Earth would lights that don't turn on be a security risk? First responders can be expected to carry flashlights or helmet lights. Inhabitants can presumably navigate their home (maybe slowly) in the dark. And anyway, who doesn't carry a flashlight capable phone today?
    – Nobody
    Aug 26 '20 at 12:50
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    There are 3-way switches that can light up when the circuit is hot - I've used them. I don't remember whether they can work at the "hot" feed location or only at the remote switch location. Aug 26 '20 at 14:33
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    @Brad My point is not that carrying laundry is an emergency situation. My point is quite the opposite - in addition to real emergency situations, there are real-world "normal" times where light switches functioning "normally" is a really good idea. Aug 26 '20 at 20:35
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    @Nobody, it's the middle of the night. Your three-year-old has just started screaming. Would you rather: (a) slowly and carefully make your way to the bedroom in the dark, or (b) go charging in, slamming a few light switches in passing?
    – Mark
    Aug 26 '20 at 22:24
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What you need is a combination of smart switch and smart bulb

You are correct that smart bulbs allow local control of color.

However you still need at-the-switch control of on/off, and that is because of requirements in both electrical and building codes that there be a switch on the usual place(s), and the switch works.

Do use your smart platform of choice to use the smart switches for on/off, and the smart bulb for color tuning. Do not turn the light off at the bulb.

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Do you frequently need to turn the lights off at the switch, or do you only use the smart assistant to control them?

If you don't generally control them using the switch, a cheap and easy solution would be to install switch guards on the switches for that circuit. They will prevent the lights from accidentally being turned off at the switch. You can still flip the switch if you really need to, but it's now a two-step process which is enough to remind the user that they should probably be using the smart controls instead. This is particularly useful when first switching to smart lighting and people are still in the habit of flipping switches.

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  • There several reasons why the switch gets flipped. Sometimes grandma flips the switch when she sees the lights left on. Sometimes someone is asleep next door and using voice is too loud. Sometimes Google's response is too loud if the volume is too high. Sometimes one of the bulbs loses WiFi and flipping the switch is the only option. Sometimes on forgets to use voice and just flips the switch.
    – Wynne
    Aug 27 '20 at 23:10

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