How To Install A Smart Light Switch

Smart light switches provide a simple method to manage your current home lighting fixtures with the help of Alexa or Google Assistant.

While your immediate response might be hiring an electrician to install your smart light switch, the process is not overly complicated. Installing it is just as simple as replacing a regular switch, and if you are relatively handy, you can actually do it yourself.

The trade-off is that you need to handle some wiring work, but we’ll guide you through each step in the guide below.

Key Points

  • Installing a smart light switch requires very basic tools and only takes a few minutes.
  • Before everything else, the most important step is always to turn off the power before you touch any wiring.
  • Then you’ll remove the old switch from the wall.
  • After that, connect the wires in your wall to the wires on your new smart switch and test if they work.
  • If you have any safety concerns or aren’t comfortable with basic wiring, work with an electrician instead.

How To Install A Smart Light Switch: Before the Installation

smart light switches

Most smart light switches are quite similar to those ‘dumb’ or traditional switches already on the walls of your house. The major distinction is that they get power from both the existing wiring and also with the battery.

You need to arrange a few things before beginning the installation process; they are not complicated but important. Let’s go through them.

Note: Before we begin, ensure you have a basic understanding of how light switch wiring works, the meaning of wire colors, and how to control the mains power on/off switch at the breaker box. If you are not sure about dealing with household electricity, please turn to a professional electrician for help.

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1. Prepare Your Kit

With many smart light switches, the batteries usually come with the package and fit discretely inside the switch housing. Also, screws are often included, but you can use the ones already holding your existing switch on the wall.

Other than that, you’ll need a few basic tools, including:

Prepare Your Kit
  • Screwdriver (Flathead and/or Philips head, depending on your wall covers)
  • A voltage tester pen or a voltmeter
  • Electrical tape
  • Wire nuts
  • Pliers
  • Wire cutter and stripper
  • Insulated gloves

2. Learn Your Smart Switch Setup

When it comes to installing smart switches, there is one fundamental approach you need to take: understanding your existing wall switch configuration.

Make sure to check if your current wiring and fixtures will work well with the smart light switch. The most precise method to confirm a perfect match is to refer to the manufacturer’s specifications and guidelines.

Typically, you need to buy a single-gang setup if the wall panel only has one switch. A two-gang smart light switch is necessary if it has two switches, and you should get a three-gang switch if it has three switches.

3. Turn Off the power

Turn Off the power

No matter what, you should always make safety a top priority when dealing with electrical wires. You obviously do not want to risk getting an electrical shock while poking around in there! So, take a minute to turn off the breaker that controls the switch you will work on at the fuse or circuit breaker box.

If you are not fortunate to live in a house with breakers that aren’t labeled, turning off the right one could be a trial-and-error affair. You’ll need to switch on all the lights in your target room and start going through each breaker until the target light turns off.

Another good way is to grab a non-contact voltage tester or a voltmeter to identify live wires and circuits. Try the light switches and appliances in the same room to be absolutely sure that there is no power. If the power is off, it’s safe to carry on.

Note: When installing multiple light switches, do not assume that the fixtures are all wired the same. It is common for each room to have a different switch setup. Therefore, make sure to repeat these steps for every room.

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Installing a Smart Light Switch: Step-By-Step Instructions

Like we said before, sometimes setting up a smart light switch can be difficult. But if you have basic skills in wiring, then you can take on the task. Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Open the Wall Plate of the Existing Light Switch

Open the Wall Plate of the Existing Light Switch

Depending on your switch model, there are usually two sets of screws: some screws (usually Phillips head) hold the switch itself inside the electrical box, and other screws (often flat head) keep the cover plate on the switch. Either way, removing these screws is pretty simple!

First, open up the switch by taking a flathead screwdriver and carefully unscrewing the screws holding the wall plate. It should come off the wall easily, but if it’s stuck, it’s likely due to dried paint or adhesive.

In this case, you can use the flathead screwdriver or even a butter knife to do the trick. You should unscrew the screws holding your actual light switch and slowly pull it out once exposed.

Step 2: Examine the Wiring Setup

Carefully inspect the wiring setup to ensure your old switch has the four main types of wires required for switch installation. Most smart light switches require a ground wire, a neutral wire, an “in” wire, and an “out” wire.

Several homes normally have ground and “in” and “out” wires, but some houses built before the 80s do not have neutral wires. The neutral wires are usually white or gray in color—oftentimes, a pair of wires with wire nuts at the back of your gang box.

If you’re missing the neutral wire, the smart light switch installation is still possible, but you need to buy a specific kind that doesn’t require a neutral wire.

Quick Tip: Before moving to the next step, check for any signs of damage, wear, or tear. This is a crucial safety check to avoid serious accidents such as fires if not repaired in time.

Step 3: Remove the Existing Light Switch

Once again, ensure the power is completely turned off at the breaker. Even though the wires are often easy to tell apart by the direction they come out of the box and their colors, it would help if you take a picture of the setup before disconnecting any wire. You may use it for reference later.

Now, remove each wire one by one to disconnect the old light switch completely. If the wires are unlabeled, use different colors of electrical tape and label them to avoid confusion during the installation.

Step 4: Install the Smart Switch to the Wall

The smart light switch installation is pretty much the reverse of removing your old switch. Depending on your wiring, you may need to prepare your wires for the new switch using a wire stripper. After that, connect each wire to its respective slot on the smart switch.

To save you the hassle, most switches include instructions for this in the user manual. All you have to do is connect the:

  • neutral wire to neutral wire
  • ground wire to ground wire, 
  • “in” wire to “in” wire
  • “out” wire to “out” wire

Once you’ve connected the wires, use wire connectors to gently tug and keep them secure. You wouldn’t want them sticking out when pushing your switch back inside the gang box.

Step 5: Power on and Test the Wires

At this point, screw the switch into the box partially, then turn the breaker box power back on to test out your new switch. If it doesn’t work, you need to reexamine your connections.

Turn off the power at the breaker box again and start playing around with the wires. Chances are one of the wires is loose, so check that all the cables are adequately secured. If everything works, move on to the next step.   

Step 6: Screw the Smart Light Switch

Screw the Smart Light Switch

Cut off the power once again, then feed the wire connections into the wall box. Even though you could be tempted to shove the wires, we suggest slowing down and neatly putting them inside the box.

Once all the wires are in place, align the new switch within the electrical box and make sure it sits on the mount holes. Use the screws that came with the switch to secure it in place (You can also use the screws from your old switch too). After that, snap the light switch plate on the wall or screw it.

With the physical installation complete, restore the power and integrate the smart light switch into your home automation system.

Finish Setting Up the Smart Switch

The hard part is over! After installation comes the fun part—getting the most out of your new smart lighting setup. This should be pretty easy.

Whether you are using a Zigbee/Z-Wave switch that requires a hub or a standalone Wi-Fi light switch, the process is more or less the same. First, ensure that you connect your phone to your Wi-Fi network, then download the Smart Light app and create an account.

Add the switch to your app and then link it to your home Wi-Fi network. Once that’s done, name the switch whatever you prefer, and assign it to a suitable room in your home.

You can now check out the app’s settings and integrate your smart light switch with voice assistants like Google Home, Alexa, Apple Home, or any home internet system. Home automation will, however, depend on the model of your switch and which systems it is compatible with.

The beauty here is how easy the switch is to control, just like other smart home devices. You can unlock the full potential of all the features it has to offer by creating schedules, routines, and timers.

General Tips for Installing a Smart Light Switch

Enhancing your home lighting experience by installing smart light switches isn’t really complex, but it is important to keep these basic tips in mind when you do so:

  • Thoroughly read the instruction manual before setting up your smart light switch to familiarize yourself with the wiring details. Remember, it’s perfectly common for the smart switch to look very different from a traditional switch.
  • Verify that your old switch has a ground and neutral wire before purchasing a smart switch. In case you don’t have either wire, make sure that the smart switch you buy is compatible.
  • We recommend checking your instruction guide if you are installing a smart light switch in a home with no neutral wire or if you are dealing with a two- or three-gang smart light switch.
  • Wiring can vary from room to room, so don’t automatically assume that the setup in all your rooms will look the same.
  • Ensure you put the wires back into the switch box neatly to reduce fire hazards.
  • When setting up the switch in the app, check that your device is on a 2.4 GHz network to avoid facing connectivity issues.

Frequently Asked Question

Do You Need an Electrician to Install a Smart Light Switch?

Smart light switch installation is not overly complicated, and you may well be able to do it on your own. This is, of course, when you follow the right installation procedure.
We recommend that you thoroughly read the entire instruction manual before setting up your smart light switch to familiarize yourself with the wiring details. However, if you are not comfortable dealing with household electricity, please turn to a professional electrician for help.

What Do You Need to Install a Smart Switch?

Most smart light switches require a ground wire, a neutral wire, an “in” wire, and an “out” wire. This is why you should carefully inspect the wiring setup to ensure your existing switch has these four main wires required for switch installation. In case you don’t have a ground wire or neutral wire, make sure that the smart switch you buy is compatible with such a setup.

Can You Use a Smart Switch Without a Neutral Wire?

You can still use your smart switch if there is no neutral wire, but you have two ways to go around this. One way is to buy a smart switch that doesn’t require a neutral wire. The steps to set it up are similar: cut the power supply at the breaker, join the load wire with that one on the switch, and connect the hot wire to the hot wire on the switch too.
The second option is to have an electrician install one. With this, the electrician will drill through your walls and run new wiring with a neutral wire for your new switch.

Why Is Neutral Wire Needed for a Smart Switch?

Unlike a traditional light switch, a smart switch requires a constant flow of electricity to work; and this is what the neutral wire does. This wire basically allows the current to flow back to the breaker to complete the circuit. In other words, when you turn off the switch, instead of the circuit breaking, a small amount of power continues to flow to your smart light switch.

Bottom Line

We trust that this guide has been helpful to you. In reality, a smart light switch installation is not as complicated as many may imagine. You can do it yourself by following the directions we have given above.

However, you should confirm if your current wiring and fixtures will work with the new smart light switch. Naturally, if handling electrical wiring isn’t something you feel at ease with, then calling an electrician is also another great option.

About Tristan Perry

Tristan Perry is a software developer who is passionate about tech gadgets, DIY and housing. He has therefore loved seeing smart homes hit the mainstream. Tristan also has an academic background (in Math & Computer Science), and so he enjoys digging into the technical ways that smart home devices work.

Tristan owns close to a dozen Amazon Echo devices, way too many Philips Hue bulbs and lightstrips, a boat-load of Ring Cameras and Doorbells... and a bunch of other smart home devices too (from Reolink, Google Nest, GLEDOPTO and others).

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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