Apple’s smart home standard, HomeKit, is gradually picking up steam as more accessory manufacturers get on board. However, the availability of HomeKit accessories is still much smaller outside of the US.
For smart lightning, bulbs like Philips Hue are great for a quick-and-easy way to add HomeKit into your home, but ideally you want to make your light switches themselves smart. Lutron Caseta has been available in the US for some time. Now, there’s a (great) choice for UK homes too: the LightwaveRF Light Switch. Read on for my full review.
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Smart bulbs like Hue or Koogeek are simple to install and simple to use, but at some level — they can be considered a hack. You have to keep the wall switch on at all times for the bulbs to stay powered to communicate with the hubs. If someone comes over who isn’t familiar with your smart home setup, they’ll inevitably reach for the wall switch and be confused about how to turn the lights on.
It’s also nice to be able to use a physical switch sometimes. As cool as controlling lights with your voice is, the novelty wears off and there are still plenty of times when the most convenient thing to reach for is the wall switch, not Siri or the Home app. There are makeshift solutions to this problem like wireless switches, but you still have to worry about hiding the original switch etcetera.
A third issue with the smart bulb solution is that some fancier lights just aren’t well suited to replacing bulbs. This was my main problem. As shown in the photos, our living room / kitchen area has feature lights where bulbs like Hue can’t be used, or don’t make sense. The living room silver lights incorporate about 10 tiny LEDs into a single ‘faux-chandelier’. Philips Hue is just incompatible here. Similarly, the black spider light in the dining room is made up of seven Edison screw bulbs. It just doesn’t make sense to use seven smart bulbs here.
The Lightwave Light Switches are the answer. These are UK-circuit compatible dimming switches. You can get them in one-gang and two-gang versions. You need a Lightwave hub to use them with HomeKit (more below). Lightwave are stocked at the UK Apple Store, as well as online retailers, so you can go and see them in store before you buy.
It’s important to note that UK homes do not have neutral wires running through the walls. This means that the smart switches have to be dimmable. When the lights are visibly off, there is still a tiny amount of power going through the circuit to keep the Lightwave wireless communication antennas inside the switch running, allowing them to respond to remote commands at any time.
So whilst these are more flexible than the aforementioned bulb options, it isn’t a free for all. You still need to ensure the lights you are connecting to these switches can be dimmed. You can buy cheap dimmable bulbs if you don’t already have them, with Lightwave supporting both halogen and many LED dimmable lights.
Luckily for me, all of the lights in the open plan room I was making smart were dimmable already, they were controlled with dumb manual dimmers previously.
With that in mind, the other roadblock to using these switches is first time installation. Changing a bulb with a Hue bulb is a simple matter of unscrewing and re-screwing. Installing a wall switch and connecting to the house wiring is obviously significantly more effort.
I was nervous about this step when I was waiting for my review units to come, I may be technically minded but I’m not a dab hand at DIY and know very little about electrics. I shouldn’t have been so worried. Installing a light switch is surprisingly easy, and I swapped all three of my dumb dimmer switches for the Lightwave smart ones in about 45 minutes total time, and the second and third took much less time than the first one. I spent at least ten minutes figuring out that the holes for the wires were hidden behind a white warning label. You need to peel this off before you start.
They are designed to be user-installable. Lightwave includes an instruction pamphlet that tells you what to do, I watched a couple YouTube videos in preparation as well. Really, though, it’s a straightforward matter of:
- Turning off the power at the consumer box / breaker switch. You can test you’ve turned off the right thing by verifying that the lights no longer turn on.
- Unscrewing the old switch faceplate from the wall.
- Use a smaller screwdriver to release the live wire in and switched live wire out.
- Place these wires into the equivalent locations on the Lightwave switch, and screw them in, taking care to put the wires into the correct labelled positions on the unit. This is probably the fiddliest step as I found the wires are prone to popping out, but a little trial and error goes a long way here.
- Insert the Lightwave switch into the wall cavity, and screw it in. The Lightwave boxes are intentionally designed to be small and fit in most home’s walls without needing to dig out more space. There’s a black spacer that goes between the wall and the switch if you need slightly more depth (I used this).
- Snap on the Lightwave metal faceplate. You’re done.
(I installed three one-gang switches. There’s an extra wire involved if you are doing a two-gang switch installation.)
If these steps put you off, you can call an electrician round to do it for you. There’s nothing ‘extraordinary’ about the Lightwave switch compared to a dumb switch as far as installation is concerned, so it won’t require a specialist or anything like that.
Assuming you did everything correctly, you can then just turn the power on. The Lightwave switches calibrate automatically and can be used as a ‘dumb’ switch for turning the lights on and changing the brightness immediately.
Aesthetic taste will vary, but I really like how the Lightwave switches look. They have premium silver stainless steel faceplates, with a simple button layout and a status LED sandwiched between them. They certainly look nicer than the cheap-and-cheerful plastic knob dimmers we were using before, although the metal plate does smudge pretty easily. Lightwave also sells a white metal version of its switches if you’d prefer a more neutral color.
I used the included black plastic spacers as you can see in the image below. If you can move the wires around or have a deeper wall cavity, the switches can be installed so the faceplates are truly flush to the wall.
The buttons are slightly more mushy to press than I would have hoped, but perfectly fine in the scheme of things. You press the top button to turn on the lights, and the bottom button to turn them off. You can hold on the top button to increase brightness or hold on the bottom button to decrease brightness.
The dimmers remember the last set brightness, so if you turn them off at 25%, the next evening they will turn back on to 25%. One nicety in behavior is that toggling the lights on and off is not an abrupt flash of light; the brightness ‘tweens’ with a pleasing fade transition.
The status LED is red when the lights are off, and shines blue when the lights are turned on. A surprising convenience of these switches is at night you don’t have to feel around in the dark for the light switch; the LED glow can guide your hand to the right place. The brightness and hue of the ‘off’ LED color can be customized in the Lightwave app. This was great news for me because the default bright red indicator was far too harsh for my liking. I picked a dim white color for the off state, a customization that you have to repeat for each switch you have. Note: you cannot turn the LEDs completely off, and the blue color for the ‘on’ state cannot be changed.
Thumbs up for the manual experience. How’s the smart part of this equation? Very good. To work with HomeKit, you need a Lightwave Link Plus hub. You plug the hub into your home router with an (included) Ethernet cable. This hub acts as the go-between for the HomeKit protocol and the proprietary LightwaveRF radio frequencies.
Pairing a light switch is a simple affair; you just hold-down both buttons for a few seconds to enter pairing mode and follow along with the instructions in the Lightwave app. My initial setup was marred by a weird issue that meant the pairing process always failed. I ended up calling Lightwave’s free tech support phone line, they remotely reset the hub, and everything started working. I haven’t had any connection glitches since, and I’ve been using the switches for more than a month now.
Connecting the Lightwave system to my HomeKit home is a standard affair of scanning the HomeKit code on the label, and we’re done. The hub shows up as its own accessory in the Home app, and any attached accessories are automatically added.
You can do everything you’d expect with the HomeKit integration — change brightness, turn all the lights off, set up automations. The lights respond very quickly to any command. I can tell my HomePod to turn the lights on in the living room and — boom — a second later it’s done. Asking Siri on Apple Watch is a few beats slower than using the HomePod or the iPhone … but this is a drawback of all Home app interactions on watchOS.
Whilst my rooms are technically open plan, I divied up each section of the kitchen/living-room/dining area into separate rooms in the Home app. I can turn on just the kitchen light, just the conservatory or do all of them at once. All three rooms are included in a ‘Downstairs’ zone too.
You can of course share your Home with your family to let them control the same accessories too. (Unfortunately, the Home app does not sync room background images between devices.) My HomePod acts as a HomeKit hub so I can use the smart light accessories remotely. It sure is nice to be able to leave home and check that you haven’t left the lights on accidentally.
It just all works great. I have incorporated the lights into two HomeKit scenes. My Good Night scene now includes turning all the lights off, and I made a ‘Nighttime TV’ scene which turns the living room and conservatory lights off — and sets the kitchen light at 25% brightness for ambience. This is great when you are chilling out watching TV in the evenings. Saying one command to Siri precisely controls all three lights in one go.
That feels like the future. I also set up one automation which enables the Good Night scene at 2am; if someone forgets to turn the lights off, they switch themselves off automagically so we don’t waste electricity throughout the night. You can do even more complicated automations, like turning on lights in response to motion sensors, or when people arrive at home, but I’ve kept things relatively simple for the time being.
One tip for the Home app is to customize the icons to reflect your actual room situation. The Home app will default to a generic light bulb glyph, but you can edit it to better match your light. I set all three of mine to the hanging down light bulb.
It’s hard to critique something that works without a hitch. The Lightwave is the perfect answer for us, it lets us connect our non-standard lighting to a smart light system that anyone can use, either through the Home app or pressing the physical switch. If someone comes over, you don’t need to explain to them what to do. They can use the light switch like a light switch, as it should be.
In addition to HomeKit, you can get a Lightwave app for Android, and connect to an Echo with an Amazon Alexa skill, and there’s integration with Google Home too.
The real crux here is whether you need or want smart home lights in the first place. We are very much in the scope of a first-world problem space here, but I can say I would miss the switches if they somehow could vanish overnight. It’s incredible how useful being able to turn off the downstairs lights are whilst you are upstairs. There’s just a fantastic convenience to everything about it, it’s more than just turning off the lights in the same room that you are in.
The biggest drawback to this whole setup is cost. The Lightwave system is not cheap. The 1-gang switch is ~£60 each, and the hub is £130. The Apple Store sells a starter kit bundle of one switch and one hub, but there’s no price discount over buying separately. The cost is not negligible by any means. All this smart home stuff is still in the luxury territory, no doubt, but it sure is nice if you can save up for it.