In the Smart Home: Getting Started Guide, you learned about the difference between controllable lights vs controllable light switches. (I covered more in that guide – feel free check it out if you haven't already.)
My preference is to make most of the light switches controllable because it opens up a huge world of possibilities for convenience, comfort, and security.
In this guide, you'll learn what it's like to replace an old (“dumb”) switch with a new (“smart“) one. Later, we'll take a look at adding the Insteon switch to your controller, and setting up some automation to make the most of your investment.
So, let's take a look at replacing your existing light switches with new switches my favourite product lines: Insteon.
Insteon has a really great range of Smart Home products: on/off switches, dimmer switches, plug-in modules (for controlling lamps and appliances), thermostats, receptacle outlets, ceiling fan controllers, motion sensors, water leak sensors – and the list goes on.
One of the greatest features is how reliable the Insteon devices communicate with each other around your home. You see, rather than relying on just one means of communicating, most (recent) Insteon models communicate via dual-band – which means they use your home's electrical power lines (PLM) AND they use a wireless protocol, and combine these two media to create it's own mesh network. That way, a device that's up in the corner of your top floor can talk through your other Insteon devices and eventually reach your Insteon controller (which is likely in some corner of your basement).
Insteon is backwards-compatible with X10 – but if you don't have any X10 devices, ignore this feature (as nobody in their right mind should implement X10 in a new setup! Think: X10 has many reliability issues…)
Another great feature of Insteon is the aesthetics. They simply look great. I prefer these Decora-style rocker switches rather than the toggle switches that were installed throughout my home.
I am not a certified electrician, and I do not claim to know the standards and building codes that are applicable to you. You are responsible for determining if you are qualified to work on electrical equipment, and how to do it in a safe manner. I am not responsible for anything you do with any of the information that I share.
If you have a desire to take this information and do something with it, I strongly suggest reading through the entire post to understand the complete process before you take any action with it. You might decide to ask a fully-qualified person to help you – and that would be a wise decision!
Now that you've taken responsibility for your own safety and well-being, let's move on!
1. Getting Started
In this scenario, I'm replacing two toggle switches that control the lights and fan in a bathroom.
Here are the original toggle switches:
I'll be replacing them with two Insteon 2477S on/off switches:
The new switches have a much sleeker look. After installation, I'll add them to my Insteon controller (to be shown in another post) so that I can have the lights shut off when I'm away, and the fan turn off by itself. I'll also be able to include the fan as part of a ventilation program – more on that in a different post.
2. Safety First! Shut off the power.
As I said before, it's up to you to take responsibility for your own safety. The first thing I did was figure out which breaker provides power to the existing switches that I planned to replace, and powered-down that circuit. Then, I tested the switches by turning them on & off to ensure the bathroom lights and fan did not come on. (I also used a multimeter and test light to verify there was no power in the circuit.)
3. Remove the wall plate
In this case, there are four screws that are easily removed with a flat screwdriver.
PRO-TIP: If the wall plate seems stuck after removing the screws, it's probably due to the wall paint – so be careful not to tear the paint when removing the plate.
4. Remove the old toggle switches
Each toggle switch has two screws on the top and bottom that hold the switch to the electrical box. Loosen these screws to remove the switches.
PRO-TIP: You can see some paint covering the top and bottom of the switch brackets. If yours are like this, use caution when pulling the switch assembly away from the wall, otherwise you'll tear the wall paint. Use a flat screwdriver or a knife blade to cut the paint around the metal switch bracket, so you don't risk tearing the paint.
Once you remove the screws and carefully pull the metal switch brackets from the wall, you can access the electrical wires behind them.
5. Connecting the new Insteon switches
This is where you'll need to understand the Line, Neutral, Load, and Ground wires. I won't attempt to explain that here. This is where you'll need experience, or a qualified person. You could cause serious injury, property damage, or death if you don't do this right. Alternatively, if this is done properly, by a qualified person, it's a very safe task.
So, let's assume that you have safely connected the Line, Neutral, Load, and Ground wires according to the product manual, and according to your home's wiring. Here are my switches after connecting these wires:
PRO-TIP: The dangling Insteon switches can easily scratch the wall while you're busy connecting the wires. Use masking tape or painter's tape to protect the wall from getting scratched.
You'll notice the Insteon switches take up a LOT more space within the electrical box. Use care to tuck the wires in and out of the way to reduce the bulk of wiring, and you'll have an easier time inserting each Insteon switch.
PRO-TIP: Don't tighten the bracket screws all the way until you fit the new wall plate over the switches. You'll probably need to wiggle the switches to align them with the new wall plate. Using the wall plate, align the switches so they look nice, then tighten the switch bracket screws.
If you haven't already, make a note of the Insteon address for each switch. In the photo, it's the 6-character address printed on the sticker at the bottom of each switch. You'll use that address later when adding each switch into your Insteon controller.
6. Install the new wall plate
These Insteon switches are a Decora-style rocker, so I can't use the old plate. The new plate is a dual-gang Decora-style plate from Home Depot, and it comes with 4 new screws that fit perfectly with the new switches.
Turn the breaker back on, and the new switches should work as normal.
PRO-TIP: Turn the wall plate screws so that the slot is the same way in all screws. It adds a nice professional look when they're all aligned. Use caution not to over-tighten, so you don't crack the wall plate.
At this point, you're ready to add the switches into your Insteon controller. We'll cover that later.
Question: What home automation products do you currently own, or want to learn more about?