What Smart Switches & Plugs Do You Use?

What brands is everyone using in the US? What success or failures have you had?

I am looking at going with one brand for switches and plugs in a new home build. I’m looking for the cheapest option out there. I have had very little success sourcing switches and plugs for under $50 each…

I noticed Eaton makes some switches that are Z-Wave and appear to integrate together. But when I called the local Eaton electrical supply house, it sounds like they are no longer doing their Smart Home stuff anymore.

Sonoff is really tempting… But they aren’t UL listed…

Anyhow, any advice is appreciated! I’ll be digging a foundation soon and I do not have any plan yet for my electrician… So I’m scrambling here!

Cheers!!

Joe

I’m not from the US, but I use Sonoff switch and it is seems good for it’s price. Yes, you have to spend some time with it to get working and install the modified firmware, but you can do almost anything with it, and it has a reasonable price I think. However they don’t have plugs if I’m right

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For dimmers and switches, I have the house filled with Leviton VRMX1 and VRS15, which were $35/ea and $30/ea on a Black Friday deal direct from Leviton a while back. And their little brothers without Association, DZMX1, and DZS15, which were from a Woot deal for $30/ea. Leviton support was very good. They replaced one dimmer that was acting goofy, and sent us black replacement faceplates because I could see a line in the originals from their moulds. The devices have worked great, but I do not believe they are sold any more. If I was buying more dimmers and switches, I would first look at what Leviton has, based on my experience with these devices. But if I was building a house, I would look into UPB… wireless can be a pain.

The plugins I like the most are the Aeon Labs DSC06, which I purchased open-box for $20/ea. They provide a number of configuration parameters for energy monitoring, where my other plugs can’t be as finely tuned.

Retail prices are way too high, and if you know what you want and are patient, you can find a deal on almost everything. Also, if you are ordering in bulk, most places will knock down their price. Never hurts to politely ask!

@5iver Thanks for the response! I have always been very impressed with the Levitron products I have used in the past as well (all electrical and IT nothing smart… yet.)

I completely agree with wireless. I had a fiasco with a zig-bee controlled door system at the school district I work at. Prior to that they had a door system that used it’s own propriatary bluewave protocol. Both were worthless. The doors would drop connection left and right. Granted that’s in a large building that has very thick cement walls. We had multiple repeaters to try and help the situation but that did not. Wired in with CAT6 and they are all happily functioning now. Bluewave finally dumped their wireless all together.

Can you explain what UPB is?

Thanks!!

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There are several technologies that can be used for hardwiring communications for home automation. If the home is actually built for it, I would imagine these to be more stable than a system working on a wireless network, and they would use less power in the long run too… and no batteries! There shouldn’t be much additional planning needed for lighting, compared to that needed for the location and type of sensors that will be used. A healthy amount of CAT6 wouldn’t hurt either, especially for POE cameras and dashboards. It’s not easy or elegant to piece together a system once the house is built, so it is a great opportunity to be able to design the home and its automation at the same time.

@5iver thanks for the info! The link from smart home was helpful.

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I use UPB (Universal Powerline Bus) switches, relays, and dimmers, from two different manufacturers: Simply Automated, and PCS Pulseworx.

My installed UPB Devices

Simply Automated™ brand:
(4) x US11-40, Single rocker dimmer
(4) x US2-40, Universal dimmer controller
(2) x US22-40, Universal dual dimmer controller (2 separate 120V circuits)
(1) x UML-20-W, Heavy Duty UPB dimmer module (max 400 watts dimmed)
(1) x UMA-20-W, Heavy Duty UPB relay module (max 15 amps switched)
(1) x ZPCI-W, Wire-in phase coupler (not currently needed or in use but tested ok in past.)

PulseWorx PCS™ brand:
(5) x FMR1-20 Fixture Module Relay (max 20 amps switched)
(1) x WS1C, 0-10V Relay Dimmer. I use this to control a large 0-10V dimmable outdoor 120V-powered LED flood light. Note, the WSC1C does not supply mains power to the flood light. All it does is remotely set a 0-10V DC control signal which tells the outdoor dimmable flood light how bright it should be. (Or, off.)
(1) x RM-0-10V (receiver module fo WS1C, not directly addressable by UPB)

When I did a total electrical re-wire + new panel in my 1300 sq ft. single-family home 3 years ago I ran 3-conductor cable (hot / neutral / ground ) to every switch and outlet box. I used a SquareD QO-series panel and matching SquareD combination GFCI-AFCI breakers on every circuit. Additionally, every circuit is also protected by a good-quality wall-outlet GFCI which feeds all outlets on its branch downstream. There’s also a SquareD plug-in whole-house surge protector at the panel.
My UPB setup has had no reliability problems at all related to any of these other components.

I installed UPB dimmer-switches at every wall light-switch location, giving me complete on/off and ~20%-100% dimming capability on all of the standard A19-type CREE LED light bulbs in ceiling fixtures. (Side note: of ~25 CREE 60W LED bulbs I installed in 2014, only 2 have failed. These were in the bathroom & died gradually (intermittent flashing) over a number of months, presumably due to high humidity from the shower-over-tub.) Of course OpenHAB controls all of this through the UPB binding, via an RS232 --> Powerline interface device.

The reason I chose hard-wired UPB over a free-space RF (radio-frequency) solution is reliability. I don’t trust RF to be absolutely reliable, especially in a dense urban environment. UPB is a relatively low-frequency, high-voltage signal carried directly on the house’s 120V wiring. Due to my strong bias towards reliability I will probably never use ZigBee / Z-wave or similar sorts of RF-mesh devices in any part of my HA / Security setup. Copper wire is comparatively expensive & hard to install compared to RF, but it is typically 5-nines reliable (when correctly installed) compared to 1- or 2-nines reliability for RF signals. In the long run I enjoy the luxury of not having to think about interference, battery life, re-pairing devices and sensors that lose track of themselves, etc.

I have a total of12 UPB wall-switch dimmers, 5 UPB on/off relays. So far I have had one equipment failure: the RS232 --> Powerline interface device (between the OpenHAB server & the house wiring) failed. It was replaced under warranty at no cost. None of the switches / dimmers / relays have failed yet. One of the switches cycles on/off at least 48 times a day, controlling a ventilation fan which runs for 15 minutes per hour. (NB: that fan itself is actually powered through a separate dumb relay, to isolate the UPB switch from motor start-up current / voltage spikes. So, the UPB switch in that instance sees only 20 or 30 milliamps of current needed to close the relay.)

UPB does have a couple of minor quirks. Due to the fairly low data/baud rate over the wire (I believe it’s around 4800 baud,) there is perceptible lag when sending commands to remote groups of switches. I’d estimate it at about 250 milliseconds or so. There is also some lag even when operating a local UPB switch directly connected to a load – perhaps 100 milliseconds. It’s a bit different from the effectively “instant-on” of a plain hard-wired electrical switch.

Reliability of command sending/receiving is quite high but certainly not perfect. Subjectively speaking UPB commands over the house wiring are successfully transmitted & executed about 99.9% of the time – that’s 999 times out of 1000 – but UPB should never be used as the sole or primary control method for life-critical or safety-critical control systems, unless there are redundant fail-safe mechanisms built in to the overall system. (For example: using UPB to directly control heaters that do not have their own thermostats built it: what happens if OpenHAB sends a UPB command to turn off a heater but the command isn’t received and executed?)

Module cost seems to be too high to me. $60-70 for the least-expensive single-circuit switch, going up to $90-$150 for multi-circuit switch/dimmers and auxiliary relays. Compared to the real cost of manufacturing these devices these are sky high margins. The cost just reflects the fact that the market for such devices is very small (compared to the # of potential homes they could be installed in,) so the manufacturing volume is very low & the per-device cost high. You have to pay if you want to play.

I like UPB’s reliability but I am uncertain about its long-term (>10 to 20 year) viability as a technology. Leviton RF products seem to have deeper market penetration. In market sectors like this there’s no guarantee that “the best tech wins,” marketing & industry collusion are signficant factors, see VHS vs. BetaMAX in the 1980s. So, as a hedge against the chance that UPB manufacturers drop the tech entirely, I keep a second RS232 --> Powerline interface in my box of replacement parts in case the primary one fails. (If the RS232 --> Powerline interface fails, ~$1500 to $2,000 worth of installed UPB devices will still function with local switch control but they are unavailable to OpenHAB, which would be very inconvenient.)

At the OpenHAB level: I use OH to automatically change indoor & outdoor lighting levels and scenes according to the current dawn/dusk time (as provided by OH’s Astro binding.) I also use it to control a bathroom exhaust vent fan which is adequate to pull fresh air into the entire house if the windows & doors are configured correctly. I’ve set up a mode to randomly activate lights in certain rooms for occupancy-simulation. At some point I would like to integrate OH with my separate hard-wired home security system so that outdoor motion sensors could trigger DMX-controlled RGB LED strips in every room to blink in certain colors to signal caution or danger, but I haven’t implemented that yet.

I should also add: I’m still using OpenHAB 1.x dating from about 2015, due to the “if it’s not broke don’t fix it” principle. I look forward to moving to OH 2.x sometime but it will take 20-30 hours or more of testing and re-integration, not something I’m ready to take on any time soon.

I know this is old, but looking at this, I’m thinking something isn’t right. You changed all your breaker for GFCI-AFCI breaker and you added GFCI outlet? Why? You already have the GFCI breaker, that seems like a waste of money.

You say 3 conductor cable, Hot, Neutral and Ground. Ground is never a conductor so I’m unsure what you are talking about. A 14/2 cable has a hot and neutral, and the ground is the baremetal cable. If you have 3 conductor, it means you have normally a white, black and either red or green wire plus a bare metal for the ground. That mean you have 2 hot and a neutral/common.

On another note, how does your UPD setup goes? I’m renovating and looking for solution on controlling multiple light, fans, outlets and maybe power monitoring too. I have some wemo but they are so unreliable.

THank you!

Yeah, the GFCI outlets are overkill, but add a teeny bit of convenience for occupants. The main panel is down in the basement… but the in-wall GFCI outlets, wired per-room, trip faster (before) the circuit-breaker GFCIs. That way, if someone trips a GFCI outlet, it only cuts power to their bedroom, and they can attempt to clear the fault & reset in the room, rather than going downstairs. (Trip time on the wall outlet GFCIs averages about 7 to 9ms, whereas the circuit breaker panel GFCIs seem to trip at 15ms.)

As for “3 conductors,” OK, you got me on terminology there. Technically it’s 2 current-carrying conductors and 1 ground conductor. But the ground conductor is still a conductor because, well – it’s conductive, and when called into action to provide a path for fault current to return to source – it is conducting.

My point in saying “3 conductors” is to emphasize that every outlet with a UPD device at it requires both HOT and NEUTRAL. That’s a deal-breaker for many older buildings which very frequently have only a HOT (and maybe a ground) for typical switched devices like overhead light fixtures.

Anyway – about a year after writing that long post, I sold the house, anyway… During that additional year I had no problems with UPB. But I have not attempted to install a UPB-based system at my new residence, due to aforementioned lack of NEUTRAL conductor at wall switch boxes.

It’s way too much work to re-wire a finished house just to add UPB wall switches. If I decide to do another home-automation setup, very probably I will use Shelly™ devices that get installed directly into wall socket junction boxes, & do their signalling over WiFi.

Oh, and just for fun –

In point of fact, the actual cable I used to rewire almost the entire house was 12/4 MC Lite! Yes, 12/4 – 4 conductors, red, black, white, and blue, plus a 5th green-colored ECG.

The reasoning here was to be able to have a separate dedicated circuit, per-room, for a 120V 1500W electrical heater, while pulling only one cable per room. This was going to be controlled thermostatically via UPB using UPB’s available 20A permanent in-line wire-in relays. (Also allowed easily running multiple dedicated circuits to the 6 or 7 different outlets at the kitchen countertops.)

In fact I did get this system working, it was a form of electrical-resistance ‘zoned heating’, with different UPB-controlled temperature levels & heating schedules per-room, depending on the daily & weekly occupancy patterns of the person living in that room. (Or if the room was empty entirely.) Temperature-sensing for thermostatic control was done with inexpensive 1Wire 18DSB20 temperature sensors, one per room mounted at standard thermostat height.

Due to the overall far higher cost per BTU of heating with electricity (vs. natural gas,) in the end it would have been about the same monthly energy cost to just keep the entire house at 62ºF using an ordinary 1-zone central forced air furnace…

All seems a bit crazy & overkill, in retrospect. It was not a luxury home, just an average mid-sized big city single-family dwelling.

No prob on the 3 conductor, I just wanted to be clear the type of cable, I’m still learning in all of that. I do plan on having neutral everywhere. I currently have wemo switch and that few places without neutral are a pain.

As for as Shelly, I have 3 and I hate them. Well, the shelly 1 I use in a extension cord work great. But I have 2 Shelly1pm that control a relay and it doesn’t work great. I might switch them to another for of control to make them work better.

I used the Shelly1pm because it’s a wet contact. I use them to control my water heater and pool pump. They power a 240v relay that power each device. Thing is often, they freeze. Either when I toggle on/off or when there’s a small power drop/surge. I installed a snubber like they suggested and it doesn’t work. I feel because it’s powering both the Shelly, the relay and the device and it doesn’t like that. I might switch to a shelly1 instead and just power them from a nearby 120v switch and let them switch the relay (I say relay but it’s a contactor to be precise since it’s 40a 240v) which will be powered by another source.

Problem I have with Shelly is I cannot find nice switch to use them. Yes, I could use simple toggle switch that turn on/off when flipped, but that mean for stuff that aren’t light, the switch position won’t reflect the state when it was turned on/off by any automation or device. A push button switch would be very nice but can’t find that I can use with low and high voltage, they are all smart. Status indicator is a plus.

I’m currently looking at the kasa line which are cheap on the price and can be controlled offline, but it’s again WiFi… Why I have a very reliable WiFi, it’s still a point of failure. But it’s true that having these make the house easier to sell then a big customized setup.

Edit: except some Shelly, they also require a neutral. You can’t juste have them on a on/off wire since it will lose power when the switch cut it.

Also,. Wow on the other stuff you did, it’s really amazing. I used to have a house like that. My father is an electrician and we had switch everywhere in the house (small square pushbuton with glass cover that you could remove to write on the button that had a small red and green led under). It would control light, outlet and such. He had a main panel his in bedroom where each control was duplicated so he could see what was on or not. And at the main door, there was a led panel that showed what was on/off.

I’m effectively trying to replicate that with a openhab control as well, and it’s turning to be impossible, or I don’t k ow what these were

That’s very interesting, thanks for sharing your experiences with Shelly™. They look like such neat & well designed items, with good marketing. If I tried them I would definitely just buy one or two & then carefully test them for a couple of months under all conditions before investing in 10 or 20 units to do an entire house.

I can say, UPB, once it is installed & configured (you need to use a Windows-based GUI app to configure UPB “scenes” properly,) and then additionally interfaced with an OpenHAB controller for daily and weekly scheduling and HA integration – it works very well. I would say, subjectively and anecdotally, that UPB seemed 99.7% reliable in transmitting/receiving switching and dimming commands, during the several years I lived in a UPB-equipped house. (997 successful sends out of 1000 attempts.) Also, during that time, I never had any of approximately 20-odd UPB wall switches, dimmers, in-wall relays, stand-alone wire-in relays, etc. fail or partial-malfunction.

But, UPB units are expensive on a per-unit basis, and only feasible where neutrals are already installed at switch locations. One other thing I never liked about UPB was the switching latency. Estimated at around 150 to 200ms. Takes some getting used to, not a deal-breaker, but you notice it every time you go to turn a light on or off.

Haven’t looked into the other current offerings for line-voltage-controlling HA technologies lately to be able to comment further on other technologies.

Hi Gilbert,
Sounds like you know your stuff and been doing this awhile. I’m curious if you have used any kind of network architecture or building automation design software? I’m looking for some kind of tool that can help me plan out my network and hardware design. Thank you for the thorough replies above, I’ve learned a lot about UPB which is something I had never heard of before!