Can you install smart switches if your home doesn’t have neutral wires? – Stacey on IoT

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Stacey on IoT | Internet of Things news and analysis
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This week's question from the IoT Podcast Hotline likely applies to many people, or at least, those that have older homes. On the podcast, our caller asks if he can make a 50-plus-year-old house a little smarter. The problem? The home's electrical system doesn't have neutral wires.
The good news is that yes, this problem can be solved. The bad news is that you really don't have much choice here. Only a single, relatively expensive switch will do the trick. Plus it requires an add-on hub and only works with dimmable lights. Hopefully, our caller didn't already spend a bundle on bulbs that aren't dimmable.
The product is Lutron's Caseta Wireless Switch PD-6WCL-WH, which costs around $55 from Amazon. It comes in several colors: black, white, ivory and light almond. This switch also works with Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit. Lutron does provide a bulb compatibility tool showing which lights it has tested and found to work with this switch.
While this smart switch is a bit more expensive than others, it's a lot cheaper to add these to an older home than it is to completely rewire the house. It would be nice if there were other competing options but sadly, we haven't found any. If you know of one, let us know in the comments.
To hear the question in full and our discussion of the Lutron Caseta switch, just tap the play button below.

Filed Under: Featured, How-To
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Jon Smirl says

The Insteon line also has a 2-wire dimmer.
Given the way 2-wire dimmers work they aren't going to work very well with LED or CFL light bulbs (if they even work at all). These 2-wire devices work by always running a very low trickle of electricity through the bulb. LED type devices won't allow the tiny trickle through. Halogen or incandescent bulbs will pass it.
Always turn on the air gap feature in the dimmer when changing bulbs with these devices since there is continuous AC present at the bulb socket.
John James says

Lutron has an extensive line of dimmers that work without a neutral wire and are compatible with LED lighting.
Lutron also maintains a lab where they test hundreds of light fixtures – bulb, LED, CFL, etc. and publish extensive compatibility test reports.
Fun fact that is not widely known – Lutron invented the modern dimmer and hold many patents. If anyone is going to be able to handle the widest range of light fixtures and loads, it will be Lutron.
I also think Stacy is being a bit judgmental calling Caseta an “expensive” option. When you install a switch or dimmer in your wall (or more likely, hire a certified/licensed electrician to do it), you don't want junk from unknown companies that will fail and need to be replaced in a short time.
Richard Gunther says

Insteon also offers a two-wire dimmer that works without a neutral wire. Like Lutron, you can use it independently, paired with an Insteon remote or other Insteon switches—or you can incorporate it into a larger smart home ecosystem with scenes and voice control, using their hub.
Doug Krug says

I meant to get to this yesterday, and Richard beat me too it. I know he was cringing along with me when you said Luton was the ONLY solution!
Also wanted to suggest that you recommend the Caséta Smart Bridge Pro, instead of the standard bridge. As a regular on the Hubitat forum, I see lots of new Hubitat users bummed out that they bought the non-Pro bridge when they discover that Hubitat only uses the Telnet function of the Pro bridge. It sounds like a disadvantage at first until you realize how fast and solid the performance is without that cloud connection. Hubitat also takes Lutron to a whole other level, offering Pico connection to anything and features from a Caséta bridge you'd normally only find in Lutron RA2 devices. You can also add multiple Caséta Smart Bridge Pros to Hubitat, essentially eliminating the 50 device limit.
Stacey Higginbotham says

I am a terrible person for forgetting Insteon. And we should have put it in there. But does its hub support HomeKit? I see a hub that supports Google and Alexa, which may be important to folks considering it.
Richard Gunther says

Insteon's current hub, which supports Google Home and Alexa, does not also support HomeKit.
William Hart says

It is not called a “neutral” wire. It is a ground wire. It serves purely as a safety connection, and has been required in most places in the US since the 1960s. It is the bare copper or green wire.
The neutral wire is part of the current carrying circuit and is always present. It is distinguished from the hot wire because it is bonded to ground at the service entrance. The neutral wire is normally white. However, in some cases, like with a 3 way light switch a white white can be connected to the hot side (though it should be marked with black or red tape).
For safety, all white white should be treated as hot legs. And the neutral wire should never be confused with the ground wire.
Richard Gunther says

William, I think you're misunderstanding the issue. Kevin is, indeed, talking about a Neutral wire—the white wire that completes the circuit. Not all homes have this Neutral wire drawn into the switch boxes. This is particularly true of older homes. The Neutral wire is certainly part of the circuit, but it may not be accessible when you're installing a switch. Most smart switches and dimmers require connecting to the “hot” line, the load, and the neutral wire (in addition to the previously unmentioned ground wire). Lutron and Insteon, however, offer smart dimmers that don't require connecting to that Neutral line. You can connect them to just the line, the load, (and ground).
BigOldGeek says

Does Lutron or Insteaon or anyone do gangs of these? I have four-up and three-up switches everywhere I'd want these.
Richard Gunther says

You can install Lutron and Insteon switches in standard US three- and four-gang switch boxes. Lutron's heat sink fins can be removed to accommodate this. But if you're talking about multiple switches, or loads, built into one switch device for a single-gang box, the answer is no—at least not in a DIY product.
Bill That says

In that case the home has neutral wires, it is just a single stitch point that is missing the neutral. The title is misleading.
James Todd says

I bought and installed one of these in my 110 year old home last week. It works just as well as the Caseta switches with a neutral and I’m buying 10 more. The only problem, I’ve found is when I connect it to Siri, I cannot connect it to Google/Alexa. Does any know if it is tricking power or using battery to like pico switches to turn the power on? The lights are off when turned off so it doesn’t look like they trickle power.
Christopher Aitchison says

you can buy a smart switch from eBay that don't require a neutral wire they are about £14 upwards but you have to connect a capacitor to the light i have one but wasn't aware that i had to connect the capacitor to the light but i connected it to my kitchen light but it keeps turning off and on again i tried connecting the capacitor to the light switch but it didn't work so I'll try and connect it to my light in the ceiling but i tried it in my hall way but it doesn't seem to come on this is before i knew that I had to connect the capacitor to the ceiling light I'll try that and see if it works and I'll let you know cx
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