New home built: not planning to install light switches!

I am currently building a home, and have no plans to install light switches.
PIR and IR sensors will detect motion and presence, and openHAB will control the home.

One example for not using light switches is the open plan kitchen / dining / living area with a passage area leading to the hallway… creating effectively 4 zones in this single space. Having two different light sources for these zones will result in 8 switches. And if I want to switch these form the entrance, the veranda, and the hallway, we are talking 16 to 24 light switches which I find simply ridiculous and not up for the task at hand.
Since I have the technology to do without light switches in thsi room, why not all others?

Would you agree / disagree with my approach of ditching the idea of light switches altogether?

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I am in the process of building my house and thought about it for a few moments but end of the day I thought that some day I may sell this house and the new owners may not be as into that idea as I am… I ended up going with 133 insteon switches.

Based on a couple of posts of mine that you liked I think you know where I’ll stand.

I’m not sure that no light switches at all would adequately meet:

  • There are clearly situations where complete automation is not possible. In those cases the computer controlled interface must be as easy or easier to use than the traditional interface. For example, turning on the light should be as easy or easier than flipping a wall switch.
  • Guests, children, and house members who currently can’t find their phone must be able to control those aspects of the system that do require human interaction. I find that the traditional interfaces (e.g. wall switches, the physical Nest interface, etc. work the best but I can see a dedicated mounted tablet or a remote control being suitable as well.
  • There are also clearly situations where you will want to override the automated behavior and the way one overrides it must likewise be as easy to use as the traditional interface.

@sipvoip’s comment is a really important one as well. If you ever want to sell the house the lack of switches could be a major detractor.

Another consideration is server downtime. What happens when your OH server crashes for whatever reason? Will the lights be able to operate on their own without the server? I find it always to be best to always have a backup way to control everything in the house independent from the home automation server because things inevitably go wrong.

In short, I personally wouldn’t go without any light switches at all. You could convince me that I don’t need as many light switches as I might otherwise (e.g. I could avoid a lot of 3-way switches) and let the automation manage that, but having no switches would be a bridge too far so to speak.

Both @sipvoip and @rlkoshak make the same points that I would’ve made. Also, running wire while building is easy…doing so after is much more difficult. I don’t see how it would be worth the risk.

Furthermore, in question of a big battery of switches, today there are various systems with multiple switches in one standard switch, e.g. it’s normal for knx to have 6 or 8 buttons where normally is only 1 switch.
It’s most common for knx switches that they have status and labeling built in.
A second point, if using scenes, you can omit some switches, thinking more in a way of “light for watching tv”, “light for dinner”, “light for party”, “light for cleaning room”, “dark”, which would make 5 buttons, but could easily reduced if programming double clicks or serial switching. (I don’t know the correct english term, but think of two light bulbs and one switch, first step is light 1 on, second step is light 1+2 on, third step is light 2 on, fourth step is off, so one switch for two independend lights.)

I understand where you are coming from… but isn’t this a serious waste of money?

… and who can remember which is which? :slight_smile: The switch is an outdated / overrated piece of gear in a house.

… and read! – You caught me out there :slight_smile:
I have to say though: I like your posts! The time you take to respond… and the valuable contributions you are making not only to the forum, but the openHAB project as a whole. Seeing your solutions has kept me going; otherwise I would have abandoned this beast of a product :slight_smile:

Back on topic:
One reason for home automation – or even my building project – is sustainability… the type and usage of materials. E.g. cypress pine for all framing, cladding, flooring, as these are by default termite resistant… no poison needed, such as treated timber. and so on…

Another point is; what we are doing today, may well be (with a high likelihood) be the “normal” tomorrow.

Why all of a sudden being conservative? Where is the back-up for the fridge? The Switchboard? Etc.

My aim is to build with standard components; e.g. rPi, Arduino, RCDs, MCBs, contactors, and sensors. with spares lying around… and a well-documented system describing function and maintenance / repair.

Server crash; unplug rPi, plug in new, all good. Mirrored disks. It can be treated like any enterprise system. Updates have to be done in a controlled fashion. Any ex-enterprise person know, what I am talking about (disaster recover, business continuity, etc.)
The good thing in case of the home automation system is a mirrored disk is $50, a spare rPi is $40 and off you go. :slight_smile:

My situation is also unique due to my stance that I will only leave the house in a coffin, and do not care what happens to the place afterwards.

What I could see though: installing one traditional switch for a (one or a) few LEDs acting as emergency lighting, even with battery back up. However, I should say, my property runs on a 20kW battery. (Our lights never go out; though the neighbours’ do.)

I plan to have a sub-board per room (or two small rooms share) running to a central “hub” (star topology).

Well, keep the arguments / reasons coming :slight_smile:

So you would also dig a traditional phone line into the ground, because VOIP could fail? Really?
I fully understand that change is very difficult for many.

I sold the odd house in my life; and my answer: if this guy doesn’t buy it, the next will.
E.g. I had a house with a pool, and the potential buyer: oh, I will fill that it, because I do not like the maintenance of it. I couldn’t care less. (It is a bit different to a light switch)

I dunno about digging a line, as it appears that phone lines are on the way out, but along the same lines I would most certainly run ethernet cable through the house, which if needed could easily double as a phone line.

Another note: even with all the tech in the world, being able to access many of my switches via web app etc, it’s still considerably easier to just move a few steps and hit a switch. Easier than if I had a table up as a panel. And you may argue that you’d use something like Amazon Echo…but I doubt you’ll always want to have to say it (i.e. what if you’re trying to be quiet and not disturb someone sleeping, etc). Or using PIR…but then what if you want just one set of lights on? I often switch my lighting in my open area (5 different circuits) to suit the task.

Could it be done? Sure, it’s technically possible…but you asked what others thought, and thus far everyone on this thread (who are obviously into automation and using it to some degree) has argued against that. Oh, and I’m pretty sure copper wire and switches are plenty sustainable.

Yes, and I appreciate each of the comments.
But this would be only only a collection of opinions, and I like this to be a discussion :slight_smile:
Hence, adding questions or counter arguments / reasoning… not to put people down, but to instil discussion.

The light switch topic is an ongoing internal battle for me – for weeks now. Initially I said NO, then I opted for YES, and on further thinking I came back to NO.

I agree with the approach or principles that home automation should be useful, unobtrusive, reduce ‘work’, automate what would otherwise be a manual task.

Because I am building from scratch, network cables will be used (as I am opposed to radiation), shutters have power and control, sensors everywhere, etc.

Back to the lights, I have a current demo set-up where an ambient light sensor drives the dim level of a LED. this has worked so far, and did neither have had a desire nor need to change what was automatically provided. And if I would want to change a thing, this being the exception, I use the openHAB controls to change it.

Lighting control is now standard in most new office buildings, and it works, and nobody is complaining. Why not in the home?

I will have true presence detection – got my grid-EYE eval kit yesterday :slight_smile: – how exciting.
… hence, will not have the usual motion (PIR) sensor issues.

Yes, I do all this because I can, and I have the foresight of aging; hence why our doors are 900mm wide, and 90% of them open automatically (sliding). So once I come along on a walker, I certainly do not want to let got for a light switch :wink:
This home is supposed to assist me.

Voice-enabling comes at a later point (in a few years) and will only augment the system.

Agree, because with proper automaton, neither is required! As I describe it, proper automation removes the need for manual operation, thus the light switch has no place.

So the old phone lines are n the way out? Why do we hold onto light switches?

So back to the light switches… on further thinking and taking my intent into account, would you do away with light switches?

I’m with you Max_G - you’ve provided a great collection of reasons and 'I would have thought that most people here would think the same. Perhaps something changes when the construction process begins.
I have been running an OpenHab system for 3 or 4 years with no light switches without issue.

My only concession was to put cat5 cable into the wall where ever a light switch would go. I did this during construction just in case (with plenty of photos). The thinking was that if the whole automation thing didn’t work out, then I could always use any kind of switch to operate later on. I may yet install a few touch switches or panels at some stage. I also may build my own touch switches to operate over a simple protocol later. I do like the idea of a switch performing different functions depending on the time, conditions, whatever. No rush, as it all works well and the just in case wiring will always be there.

As you said, one day all will be built this way - switches are so antiquated.


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Actually I do have a backup fridge (we buy much of our food in bulk to save on cost) and a VoIP service to backup our cell phones (no landline). But as a generic answer, it all depends on an assessment of what your risks are and how or whether you want to mitigate them with a backup. For me, it is worth the extra cost of running a second fridge because if I don’t, and the only one fails I would be out hundreds of dollars in spoiled food. With the second I have a way to triage and at least save the expensive items.

The same applies for home automation for me. As hard as I try there are always errors in my rules logic, strange edge cases I never considered, updates which change certain behaviors I was depending upon, etc. which causes havoc with my automation (when I was talking about reliability I was really referring to this, not the reliability of the server itself, a backup doesn’t do you much good if your rules have a logic error). If I didn’t have a backup way to control everything I would be under the gun to get it back up and running and/or fix them ASAP because nothing would work. With the backup I can take my time.

Also, from a usability perspective, I frequently have house guests, occasionally rent out my house, and have a toddler. I’ve yet to see a home automation only interface that is as intuitive and easy to use as a wall switch. Thus, for me, doing away with light switches entirely would be a negative in the home’s usability in general.

But my concerns and my threshold for risk is uniquely my own. You have a very different risk profile so none of these concerns may amount to much for you.

That will put you well ahead of 99% of the people on this forum I suspect. :slight_smile:

I might also suggest investing in some automated configuration in the this. Ansible, Chef, Packer, Puppet, Vagrant, etc are all tools that can aid you in this. I’m personally slowly building some scripts (which I hope to move over to Ansible) that build up my Pis from scratch and so far it has saved me a ton of time already. Plus it kind of self documents how the machine is configured.

Unless the problem is in your rules themselves. For me and even more importantly, for my family, there really isn’t the patience to not have lights working while I’m tinkering with trying to figure out what weird edge case occurred that I didn’t account for in my rules.

That certainly takes out the resale value concerns. And if the intuitive usability of the house for guests and family are not a big concern for you I think that eliminates my two primary objections. Being the cautious person I am I might still run the power wires in the walls to where the switches would go, leaving them disconnected but available to back in switches when/if they are needed. Like you said, what we do today may not be where things go in the future and having these wires would give you the most flexibility to adapt as things change.

NOTE: If you have a touch screen or the like attached to each sub-board per room located near where a light switch would be and configured to turn on/off the light at a tap …

I think his point is running wires while the walls are open is far cheaper and far easier than running wires after the walls are closed up. While you are building your house and all the walls are open it is the cheapest and easiest time to wire the heck out of it. So run the wires now, even if you don’t immediately have a plan to use them.

A little anecdote. In my first house I wanted to move the cable outlet for the TV to a different wall. This was an older house so all the walls were clearly closed. So I decided to run a new coax. But running two wires are as easy as running one, and while I’m at it I may as well run some Cat-5e while I’m at it. In the end I ran two coax and two Cat-5e to three out of four walls in each of the bedrooms, the living room and the dining room with them all centralized in a closet. I didn’t have a use for all of those outlets and wires at the time but I quickly grew into them and ended up regretting I didn’t run even more wires.

I’m in a new house and boy do I wish I had those wires. But this house would be far more difficult to retrofit with wires like that so I’m stuck.

So if I were you I’d:

  • run power to where the switches would be (disconnected)
  • run cat-5e or cat-6 to the windows, doors, and any other desired location for sensors and actuators, maybe run two wires, one to carry POE
  • run lots of cat-5e or cat-6 where you might want to put your entertainment system. It is possible to run HDMI and speakers off of cat-5e so this gives you flexibility to put your media server, audio receiver, et al in a different location than your screen

Now is the time to run lots of wire. Once you walls are closed that becomes much more difficult and much more expensive.

I completely agree. However, I also believe that complete automation is not always possible/usable. There are always edge cases, special occasions, etc that were not anticipated or are not feasible to implement in the automation and having a traditional and intuitive method for interacting with the automation to override the automated behavior is a huge win for usability.

As another anecdote, I have a lamp in the living room which comes on during the day when the weather says it is cloudy (eventually I’ll wire in a photoresistor and base it on lighting). However, my wife is a musician and when she is practicing or her ensemble is over and they are rehearsing they want the light on no matter what the weather says. So she just needs to flip the wall switch and the rule will disable itself. Without the switch I would have to put a touch screen in the room or she would have to use her phone… awkward.

Not directed at me but I’ll answer. I would not. I think the extra little cost now would be worth the ability to flexibly adjust to future changes in technology, retrofit the house as my needs adjust, and provide a home usable by more than just me, sometimes referred to the WAF, though I extend it far beyond just my wife.

However, I probably would not necessarily put in a switch everywhere you would if the house were otherwise not automated. I also might not hook the switches up to the lights directly and instead have them hooked into the home automation.

However, despite @admccabe’s assertion, there is no user interface as simple and as intuitive to the majority of the people in the world as a wall switch. Just because a user interface is “antiquated” doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

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@rlkoshak you said a lot more elegantly and thoroughly that I was trying to.

@Max_G: a few other thoughts I had the other day:

Costs: I personally chose to use smart switches instead of smart bulbs as 1 switch is a lot cheaper than buying a bunch of bulbs. I suppose you could use something like the Aeon micro switches but that doesn’t really end up any cheaper than just using smart switches.

When something goes wrong: As noted above, with technology, there are often unforeseen issues. I know my wife has been unhappy when I’ve updated OpenHAB and it broke (and I don’t rely on it for primary functionality very much).

Have it both ways: I was also thinking…in no way does having switches installed prevent you from fully automating everything. The two are not mutually exclusive.

I am still in the middle of building and I opted to install a light switch to each zone or living area, this way my lights can be disabled to make safe for changing globes and a feature of my lights is that if the power to turned off and back in again the lights revert to a default on. This means in your four zoned open living area you only have four light switches at each door way that never get used, the automation does everything. On top of this I have also installed a separate switch plate in the room that uses cat6 to send signals back to open hab and these are going to trigger lighting scenes. One button can then set your 32 lights to different on and dim settings. 6 different looks can be reached quickly with a button push with multi pushes or double clicks also opening up more. Have been doing the electronic design myself and this is going to look pretty special when done.

Hard part was convincing the wife not to have separate swiches. So I have a hybrid system that can have the automation ripped out when I sell the place.

I haven’t read through all the replies yet, so maybe it’s already been mentioned, but electrical code generally requires at least one switched light or receptacle in each room. Additionally, hallways and staircases are required to have a 3-way switch at each end. So you can’t do away with them altogether.

That said, you could probably have one master switch in each room that turns all the lights for that room on/off, then turn to opebHAB to provide the functionality you want for each individual light. That way you have a backup for network outages, and if done right, it would be fairly easy to hardwire all the lights in each room to one (or a few) switches, should you ever decide to sell (or get rid of openHAB).

Thanks Steve; this wasn’t mentioned yet.
Which country does your code apply to?

I’m in Canada, so I’m not sure how much it aligns with the Australian electrical code. I know ours is pretty similar to the American code book. Worth looking into, though.

In Australia, the wiring code says:

[The word “shall” is used in a paragraph it means that it is not an option, it is a compulsory requirement that must be met to comply with the Standard)]

2.3.7 Functional (control) switching General
Functional switching may be used where switching of electrical equipment, or part of an electrical installation, is required for operational control only and not for safety reasons.
NOTE: Functional switching devices may be switches, semiconductor (solid state) devices, or contactors.
A functional switching device shall be provided for each part of a circuit or item of apparatus that may be required to be controlled independently of other parts of the electrical installation or apparatus.

I’m no lawyer but to me that reads that like you are required to install the switches for “each part of a circuit” that “may be required to be controlled independently.”

But if it were me I would consult with an expert to discuss your options.

In the US building code is usually handled locally and when building a house one much have each stage inspected to ensure it is up to code. I’ve found, in my limited experience, the inspectors are open to answering questions like these and it far better to get them on board for something unusual like this than to have them show up on inspection day and apply a stop work until you change it to meet code.

For me there are 3 points in question>

My wife don’t like automatic light switching. So is every person living in this home happy with this approach?

If the smarthome controller is not responding anymore. What is your plan for a breakdown?

Is my security good enough. Are you sure that no one can take over your home?

On the facts of the answers (and the other aspecsts) I would make a calculation and rate the decision.

Is this similar to not liking automatic cars? Huh, I am waiting for self-driving cars!
I do not rule out other forms of control; e.g. using a remote, voice.

Like anything else that is critical for you…
Replace smart home controller with any other “thing”… and what is your back-up?
In my case I use standard components, have spares of each (that is each sensor, relay, raspberry, etc.), mirrored HDDs, daily back-ups

A re-sounding yes; No links to the Internet; firewalls, no un-protected wireless… :slight_smile:

Also, I have a test environment, before pushing code to ‘production’.
Back-ups allow reverting back in case of trouble.

At the end of the day, it comes down to the individual risk appetite – as Rich indicated. this applies to to everything we do in life. :slight_smile: