The forgetful smart-switch

Z-wave products can be a bit expensive, and paying even more for the prime products with this technology might feel a bit too much for many of us. For example will a reliable smart-switch often costs about a hundred dollars. But is it actually worth paying this extra for the added functions and reliability? Or is it ok to go for the cheaper types of z-wave smart-switches?

Smart product from fibaro, worth the price
Smart product from fibaro, worth the price

I have not tried many switches (yet), but from before I have tried some remote-controlled switches that receives commands from a remote-control through its IR sensor. These are not really smart switches, so they are not really that comparable, but in my experience they did not hold up to what they promised. I was looking forward to controlling the outlets wirelessly, and setting up multi-switches on the remote to control wide arrays of lights and equipment in one press. But the reception of the signals was usually quite bad, and some times I needed to get really close to the (clearly visible) switch with the remote before it actually registered the signal. In this case I could actually just had a wired switch on the wall, it would have been far easier.

Z-wave is the way to go

But I was still intrigued by wireless technology and smart-switches with z-wave are a bit more sophisticated than these simpler remote-controlled outlets. Z-wave products can be both remote controlled and automated, and the communication is transmitted across a meshed network (nodes can extend the signal coverage by forwarding signals to nodes that are too far away from the controller interface). So far I have not had any problems with coverage of any z-wave product, even those running on batteries. So even for the cheaper power-switches the coverage is usually great, just because of the z-wave standard.

But what about the reliability of the products, in general? I see from my research that many of the cheaper power-switches have less features than the more expensive ones. They often lack the power-meter function so there is no way of measuring the actual power-consumption. This might not be a big issue for many of us, you will still be able to see the on/off status clearly in whatever home automation software you are using. After all, z-wave is set up in such a way that it communicates both ways so the controlling software will always know if the node actually received the command or not.

An attempt to save money

I wanted to try some of the cheaper alternatives to power-switches, because before buying the whole lot for the complete automation. If they proved being OK I could potentially save a lot of money, so it was worth trying some before the big investment.

A DIY solution for making a control panel: upcycled old smart-phone, communicating with the home-automation software
A DIY solution for making a control panel: upcycled old smart-phone, communicating with the home-automation software

At least I can now write about my experience with a cheaper alternative, so that others can benefit from my mistake. As you probably guessed; the product did not quite reach my expectations. It worked great in the beginning, it was easy to include in the network and the software (I’m using Homeseer) was able to get its status and send the commands. The switch I tried did not have a power-monitor, so no additional info was available (was not needed for this anyways). I just wanted it to be automated and controlled remotely.

So… I plugged the z-wave switch into an available socket behind my stereo-rack and stationary computer, and then duplicating it so that it could control both my amplifier and my screens. The total power consumption was way below the limit for the switch, and for a while it seemed to be working perfectly. For now I had it set up to be controlled from a soft-switch on a wall-mounted phone I use as a “mini dashboard”, but later I planned for it to be controlled automatically by hooking it up to the office-mode virtual-device so that it would turn off/on according to the different modes (Off/Work/Gaming/Evening etc).

Now, it needs to be replaced

Turns out, after a while it just stops responding to any commands. It continues to provide electricity to the devices, and it even replies with the correct status (It answers that its off when I command it to turn off, and vice-versa) but it still continues to power the units. The button on the unit also “works” and the led-indicator gives me the “correct” feedback. Without the actual function, that is… To make it work again I have to take i out of the socket and replug it. When I do this I have another few days (maybe even a week) of it working as it should and then it just stops working correctly again. Not really up to my expectations, and definitively not reliable.

Great working smart-product from D-Link
Great working smart-product from D-Link

The lack of power-monitoring I was ok with, it was worth the almost 35 dollars I saved by buying this instead of the more expensive alternatives. But when its so unreliable I wont take any chances. A home automation system should be reliable, especially if the switch was connected to something critical (like a heater or a coffee-maker) that could end up burning down the house if it was stuck in powered mode. So this products (not mentioned by name) get zero stars from me, unfortunately.

It could be just this one, right?

Unfortunately, this happened with two units of the same brand. The first one actually failed even harder, as it completely died. It did not respond to the physical button and disappeared from the z-wave network. No unplug and replug did the trick, and without any internal life I could not reset it either. Nothing I did could breathe life into it again so I contacted the shop where I bought it and got a new one for free. The switch had been connected to my coffee-maker (and the power consumption was also here well below the 2300W it was approved for) so it was “good” that it failed this way instead. Why it failed was still unsure though.

Doing better investments

These strips are also quite clever, a smart product worth the investment
These strips are also quite clever, a smart product worth the investment

In the end I decided not to waste any more time on the cheaper products and decided to go for the products I knew works and that I can rely on. I want to turn this article into something positive, so here goes; Fibaro makes awesome products! I am not paid to write this, but so far it has been the absolute truth for me. I have several of their products (although, never tried their controller) and they all work great!

Their smart power-switch has, of course, the same feedbacks of the cheaper ones regarding its status and is easy to include in your z-wave network. As an added bonus it also monitors the power consumption and sums up its total, something I have enjoyed a lot (surprisingly) during the last year. I have one connected to my office wall-mounted heater and another one to my coffee-maker, and they both work splendid. Stable and a product I can rely on!

Warning!

Lately I have experienced one of these acting weird too. At first it failed to respond to commands, but a quick re-plug fixed that. Of course, this is still not acceptable, and it does pose some risks to the reliability of the system. But now it has failed even worse.

The wall plug had lost its contact with the z-wave interface, keeping the heater in my office powered, and after several re-plugs I am afraid I now will have to re-add it to the controller to get it back. Hopefully it will be back on track from that, but I will still need to make some sort of emergency function that checks that the nodes are actually responding and warn me if they don’t.

So, now this article could be about z-wave smart-switches in general. Or maybe it needs to be about the UZB interface, or about the HomeSeer controller software – I just don’t know at the moment, I only know that something is unreliable and I need to get to the bottom of it asap…

More insight, and clever automation

I have now also realised how much electricity the heater actually uses, and I understand more of why our electricity bill was so high during this last winter (living in Norway, and none of the other heaters in the apartment is controlled by the automation software – yet) and I have also realised that a coffee-maker actually draws more electricity than the heater but only for a very short time. So the power-monitor function is actually worth it. Now I have even used the power-monitoring to make my coffee-maker smarter! More on that in an upcoming article….

Another smart and recommended product from fibaro
Another smart and recommended product from fibaro

I want to recommend the Fibaro Wall Plug if you need a reliable power-switch for your z-wave network. And you should reconsider if you are planning on buying cheap to save money. If you buy cheap when first trying out home-automation it might damage your view on in as a whole. The Fibaro products are worth its price, and I am sure that there are other great manufacturers too. We will see in time as I continue to invest and develop my home-automation system.

If you have similar (or opposing) experience with some of what I mention, or maybe you can recommend other brands of smart-switches for z-wave network, please share by commenting below.

And, thanks for reading!

By |2018-03-12T11:13:24+02:00August 10th, 2017|Categories: Longread, Recommendation, Review|Tags: , , , |

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Inventor through instinct | Born curious, fascinated by natural complexity - and technology | Natural problem-solver | Inherent need to Create | Perceptual | A creative soul, fundamentally Artistic | Headstrong, mostly | Idealistic, knowingly Dreamy | Engineer, Entrepreneur | Thorough, Responsible, Careful | Concerned