Smart switches can sometimes be better to purchase than smart bulbs, but when Lutron Caseta switches sell for up to $60 each, it makes some people ask why smart switches are “so expensive“? And if you can get two smart RGB bulbs for $60, why pay $60 for just a smart switch?
Whilst there are some expensive smart switches costing $60+ each, you can also pay $20 or less for smart switches – and they can sometimes save you lots of money compared to smart bulbs. So whilst they can be “expensive” at times, smart switches are often worth the money you pay for them.
How smart switches work
Smart switches are designed to replace the existing ‘dumb’ light switch on your wall, meaning that smart switches are often hardwired to your house’s electric. They can be turned on and off just like you’d have done with your existing switches, but you can also control the smart switch with a phone app or voice control (via a smart speaker such as Amazon Echo).
One downside of smart switches is that they often require a neutral wire, so if your existing wall switch doesn’t have this, you won’t be able to use most smart switches on the market. Having said that, you can get ‘no neutral wire’ smart switches – there’s just less choice open to you.
As you can probably tell, installing a smart switch requires some electrical knowledge and competence. The following video gives a good demonstration of the steps required to install a Lutron Caseta switch:
Whilst I’ll explore the prices of smart switches more in the following sections, part of the reason that smart switches are “so expensive” is that it’s an actual hardwired electrical component, meaning that it must be completely safe and built to comply with all the relevant building codes, whilst also offering all the various light switch combinations that are available.
If you’re ever visited Lowe’s or Home Depot and gone to the light switch section, you’ll know what I am referring to: there are loads of different switches there. Some switch modules control one or two lights, others control more. Some support dimming, some don’t. Others turn ceiling or extractor fans on/off, whilst others simply give more voltage to extractor fans (to make them spin faster and hence extract moisture at higher rates).
This means that more product variations are required than most other smart products (such as smart plugs and smart speakers that simply plug into the wall!), which increases product development costs and hence raises the average price of each smart switch.
Plus there’s an element of economies of scale here: because there’ll be less demand for each specific product variation, less units of each switch type are manufactured – and hence the price per switch increases.
Economic pricing theory aside, let’s take a look at some actual prices to better illustrate the point!
Typical smart switch prices
I wanted to explain the rough sort of prices you could expect to pay for different smart switches, so the following are the non-sales Amazon prices for various smart switches are different prices (i.e. from simple/cheaper switches to the more expensive variants):
In other words, the prices of smart switch can vary a lot – from under $20 for simple, single pole switches (especially within more budget ranges) to significantly higher prices for more complex switches within the premium-quality Lutron Caseta range.
Smart switch prices compared to smart plugs and normal switches
Whilst smart switches do fulfil a useful purpose, if you have table or floor lamps, you can probably use smart plugs instead. Or you can potentially buy smart bulbs (more on this later) and hence stick to normal (dumb) switches. But would this save you money?
Well, you’ll clearly save money by sticking to normal switches, the price of which are very low due to their high production levels and relatively simple (internal) wiring:
- A simple one gang switch can be 68¢ for a single unit, or below 50¢/each if you them as part of a pack.
- Slightly more complicated switches can be $7-8 (e.g. for a 3 way light), but this is still far less than $20+ for smart switches.
Dimmer switches are pricier however, such as $20/each for a Lutron dimmer (non-smart) switch. So in this particular case, getting a smart dimming switch may actually make sense.
But in all other cases, the price of a standard (dumb) switch is far lower than their smart alternative.
This compares to $15-17 each for a smart Gosund or Kasa smart switch, so smart plugs are also a cheaper alternative. Hence if you do rely on floor or table lamps, you can make them smart (with on/off functionality) by plugging them into the smart plug, saving you money but also the hassle of not needing to do any electrical wiring to install it!
Are smart switches still cheaper than smart bulbs?
As I explored above, it’s clear that smart plugs (and dumb switches) are cheaper than smart switches. But what about buying smart bulbs: are they a viable (and cheaper) alternative to smart switches?
The answer is that usually it is cheaper, but it depends on where you want to use them. If you have a room with a single light and a single pole switch, then a fancy RGB smart bulb can cost you anywhere from $25-50 (with unknown makes costing $25, and the more premium LIFX and Hue brands costing closer to $50). However a cheaper white smart bulb (which still supports dimming) can be just $15-20.
Whereas a smart switch can cost anywhere from $15 up to $25, but wouldn’t support dimming.
In other words, you can get smart dimming capability with a smart bulb from just $15, but with the cheapest smart switch (costing a similar amount) you wouldn’t get dimming capability. So in this case, a smart bulb will be slightly cheaper.
But in nearly every other case, a smart switch will work out cheaper. Let’s say you have a room with 8 spotlights. A smart switch can control all of these, costing around $20 in total.
Whereas changing all 8 spotlights to smart bulbs would cost $160 for smart white bulbs and up to $400 with smart RGB bulbs – far more than the cost of a single smart switch.
Will smart switches get cheaper in the future?
To carry on my ‘economies of scale’ point from earlier, there’s quite a lot of smart switch choice within each product range (out of necessity). If GE Enbrighten only get 1,000 sales each month for their $45 extra load switch, the price will continue to stay high.
But if they can start selling 10,000 or even 100,000 units, the price will fall quickly because GE Enbrighten can ramp up production and bring down their per-unit cost. I know that some cynics will say “Bah, they won’t bring down the cost – they’ll just keep the price high“. Well, if GE Enbrighten did this, their rivals will see the large demand for this particular switch type and start producing them en masse instead – and start undercutting the GE price.
In short, the more that smart switches are purchased (i.e. the more that demand rises), the more that the prices will continue to drop. We’ve already seen smart switches get to below $20 in 2020, lower than the base price of smart switches 5-10 years ago.
Or to put it another way: as people get more interested in smart technology as a whole, they’ll also become more interested in smart plugs – which will inevitably help reduce their price as competition heats up in the market.