Belkin continues to expand their line of home automation products with everything from a smart Crock Pot to smart LED lights that are virtually plug and play. Connected light bulbs, much like the Philips Hue kit, are an easy way to get started with home automation. If you are looking to connect your existing lighting, the Belkin WeMo Light Switch replaces your existing switch, offering you a number of ways to interact and control your lights. I’ve been using a pair of WeMo Light Switches for over 6 months and have found them to be a fantastic addition to my smart home.
The WeMo Light Switch comes with everything you need to get up and running. If you are familiar or comfortable working with electricity, you could characterize this is a moderately difficult install. I’m not a trained electrician, unless they are handing out certificates for watching a ton of YouTube videos from actual professionals. The single most important tip is to turn off all of your electricity at your panel whenever you are pulling out or installing new switches. Before touching any wires, I use a cheap voltage tester to be on the safe side.
If you are completely new to home automation, I’d say that at some point you will want to replace switches. If you want to get your feet wet, without the wiring, there are number of products that work well with lamps. You plug them into any socket and it instantly becomes a smart outlet. In fact, we use an outdoor option that allows us to control our Christmas lights from anywhere in the world. For indoor use, the Belkin WeMo Switch can offer similar capabilities, without having to purchase a hub. More on that later, but hubs can help you manage a myriad of products from different manufacturers.
Before getting started, I turned off all electricity at my circuit breaker. Using a phillips screwdriver, I proceeded pull out two perfectly good, but dumb, light switches. Here’s where things can and often do, get confusing. There are many factors, including the age of your home and who did the original wiring. If you purchased a pre-existing home, the last owner might have had a bit of DIY spirit, resulting in some odd wiring. These being basically on/off switches, the wiring is typically very straight-forward. The copper is always your ground. On this particular switch, there are two black wires and the switch itself doesn’t clearly show which is the hot or power line. Don’t worry, with the WeMo Light Switch it does not matter which is which. While I’m not advocating or recommending how I do things, here’s how I handle it if I encounter a switch where I need to know the hot. I’ll turn on the electric and use that handy voltage tester to see which is the hot cable. Once you figure that out, the rest should be relatively easy.
Note: While my old switches don’t use a neutral wire, they are in the box and you must use them when installing.
Tip: Use your iPhone’s camera to take pictures of the existing wiring. Should things go bad, having a back-up plan is vital. While this particular install went smooth, I’ve had nightmare installs when working with 3-way Z-Wave switches.
Installation of the WeMo Light Switch involved three wires. I connected the two black wires using the supplied wire nuts and wired the neutral wires to the neutral in the box. The green wire gets wired to your copper wire. Before completing the install, I turned on the power at the circuit breaker, just to be sure things were in working order. This way, if things are not working afterwards, something would have likely occurred when placing the switch back in the wall. An orange glow indicated the switch was up and running.
Probably the biggest challenge of the this install was putting all of the wires back in the box. The WeMo was larger than the old switch, so required more space. I’m guessing this is due to the included electronics that makes them smart. For some, this could present a more challenging install, if not a deal breaker.
The switches have a very distinct look. When the lights are not on, there is a black circle at the bottom of the switch. I didn’t find it particularly bothersome, but it was immediately noticeable by my wife. So if any husbands are planning a surprise DIY, you might want to check with your significant other.
Setting Up WeMo Light Switch
Once you’ve wired your switch, it immediately functions as your previous switch. Flip the paddle and you can toggle your lights on or off. This is an important distinction between WeMo (or any Z-Wave light switch) and Philips Hue. For the Hue bulbs, you shift control to your phone, Harmony remote or a $70 Hue controller. This change in control is often hard to convey to others in your household. The WeMo works like a normal switch, which is good. There are no dimming features in this particular switch. But hey, you came for the smart features, so that does require a few additional steps. To connect to your WiFi network, you have to first connect your iPhone (or Android phone) to the switch over WiFi.
1. Navigate to Settings > WiFi > Select WeMo. Your switch should now connect directly with your phone.
2. Select your WiFi Network. Tap to select your network and you’ll need to enter your password.
3. Once connected, you’ll have an opportunity to name your switch and select a device icon. Both are helpful as you start to add new lights to your network.
Immediately after configuring my network, I was immediately greeted by a a notification that new firmware was available. That was a bit scary, fearing this might undo all of my setup. My fears were unfounded, as the firmware patch was applied pain-free. In fact, WeMo pushes these firmware updates semi-regularly. They include a playful message that your devices are feeling happy and running the latest software. A “Hooray” button dismisses the notification, which I found refreshing in the sea of “OK” confirmations.
Using the WeMo app
The WeMo app brings up a list of devices and your custom name for each switch or device. Next to these are big power buttons. When you turn them on, there is a subtle animation as the button turns green. Lights went on immediately after pressing the button. My router is about 30 feet from the switches and it’s not on the same level. I’ve never had a single issue with the switches disconnecting from my WiFi network. They’ve always been accessible and working as intended.
The second tab lets you set custom rules for your devices. They can be controlled by a set time and allow for repeating events. There’s also an option to turn them on or off at sunrise or sunset. I ended up setting up my switches for my porch and front lanterns. While I wanted them to go on at sunset, I used a second, but also supported method. There is also an Away mode, where you set the time when the lights should go on or off.
Integrating with IFTTT
Built-in to the app is support for IFTTT. This allows you to use ‘recipes’ which are actions based on certain events. This can be your arrival or in my case, I use IFTTT to turn my lights on at sunset. This sounds like a trivial feature, but there’s something incredibly nice about never having to turn your outdoor lights on, yet having them on at the exact time it gets dark. I also use IFTTT to turn off my lights at 10:30 every night. On occasion, I’ll override this with either the WeMo app or using SmartThings. At last check, there 316 IFTTT recipes for use with WeMo devices.
Works with SmartThings
My house has become a melting pot of smart home technology. At the center of this a hub, which isn’t uncommon. There are hubs from Wink, Staples, Vera and my current hub – SmartThings. WeMo can be a completely self-contained system. Additionally, it work with Vera, Wink and I suppose others. Your mileage may vary, but my experience has been quite good. SmartThings allows me to integrate WeMo lights within my actions. For example, a ‘Good Night’ action can include turning off all of your lights. Handy if you have multiple lights, switches and they are from an assortment of manufacturers.
Should You Buy A WeMo?
Whether you are new to home automation or integrating into an existing system, the WeMo Light Switch is a very good option. If you are working with an existing hub, you may find the WeMo products can be slightly more expensive at around $10 more per switch. Most standard Z-Wave switches run around $40, with Insteon running around $50. At times, you’ll find Amazon offering the WeMo at around the same price. Having the flexibility of using their dedicated app, IFTTT and your hub is well worth the added cost. You’ll need some basic electrical skill, but that’s the extent of the difficulty. Installation and setup was fast and easy. I’ve found the WeMo Light Switch to be an incredibly stable product, that works as intended, making it a perfect addition to any smart home.
Shop the WeMo Store at Amazon.