Smart things continue to infiltrate homes across the country, but what was once just a curiosity has become a minefield full of misinformation and confusion as homeowners seek to circumvent things they see as issues that can be cured by home automation. Installing smart switches and suggesting smart bulbs and plugs seem like they should be straightforward issues, but, too often, homeowners make them complicated.
Smart Switches Versus Traditional Switches
We all know that most traditional light switches don’t require a ground wire to work, but that’s because they’re such basic circuit interrupters. In one direction, the circuit is closed, in another it’s open. Easy, right? Well, it gets more complicated when smart switches come into the picture. Remember, these are more than just a simple device to open and close the wire bridge, they’re pieces of technology that require additional safety measures to ensure they’ll function properly.
Not only does that mean they need adequate power and a properly sized breaker, they also need a ground wire. If there’s a grounded outlet nearby, that’s not a huge problem, but in an older home that may not have a ground attached at each outlet, it becomes an installation nightmare. If the house is old enough that it’s safe to assume it doesn’t have ground wires all over, never suggest that an “easy fix” to any switch problem could be a smart switch.
Smart Plugs Have Limited Value
Although there are a few things that smart plugs are very good at, they’re not great for a general purpose install. After all, how useful is it to be able to, say, switch the microwave on and off with an app or using a voice assistant? On the other hand, if the house is lighted with lamps or the outlet is primarily for use during the holiday season, a smart outlet may make sense.
When a homeowner can turn their Christmas lights on from the office or make sure their lamps are switched on and off when they’re gone to make it look more like someone is home, that’s a pretty good use of the money and time it takes to set those outlets up. Like smart switches, smart outlets require a proper ground, keep that in mind when discussing this option with a customer.
When All Else Fails, Smart Bulbs
Smart bulbs continue to be the best all-around utilitarian option for homeowners who want smart technology but lack ground wires in convenient places. Since they feed off the power in the socket where they’re installed, rather than being directly wired in, no ground is required. Each bulb can be programmed in an app or set to come on and off (often in different colors) using a voice assistant’s home automation routines. They work everywhere and they’re portable, but smart bulbs aren’t always that affordable or reliable. The price is dropping, but it is still a serious concern for many.
Other “Smart” Things
There’s a huge range of smart things on the market these days, from smart appliances to smart shades. They all require power, which, in some fundamental way, make them your jurisdiction – some more than others, obviously. But, if a customer tells you they hope to buy the newest smart refrigerator and need a new circuit for it, you will definitely want to make sure you’ve brushed up on what that means. The computer inside that fridge will pull additional power, as will the wifi it requires to stay smart. The power has to be clean, it’s basically a big computer, after all, and a ground wire isn’t optional if you want that item to perform for the long term, no matter how old the house is.
Have you installed any smart home products? What did you learn that you wish you’d known before you started?