On our most recent IoT Podcast, Michael called in to our voicemail hotline with a question about his under cabinet light strips. He’s looking for a switch or other option to add some smarts to them, although he’s using a set of smart LIFX light strips. If Michael is going to use a switch, it can’t have a neutral wire and he does use SmartThings.
We have a couple of options to suggest here, which apply both to Michael’s situation as well as anyone else who uses light strips under their cabinets. In a recent kitchen remodel, we actually added regular light strips, so I had a similar similar situation to deal with.
In my case, my under cabinet lights are plugged in to a regular outlet that’s already controlled by a switch. For me, it was easy to swap the old switch for a new Lutron Caseta switch. And Michael can take a similar approach although he’d need a different brand for the switch.
We found a GE smart dimming switch that doesn’t require a neutral wire for around $50 on Amazon, for example. That would work with his SmartThings setup and let him manually control the lights when required. He could also save a few bucks and opt for a non-dimming version of the same GE switch for $33.
Thinking outside the box a little, this solution actually doesn’t require a switch. A smart outlet for the under cabinet lights may do the trick as many of them have buttons to turn the power on and off. Of course, if the outlet for these lights is hidden in a cabinet like mine, that may not be ideal. Still, it’s an option that’s worth mentioning.
A programmable button might do the trick here since LIFX does integrate with SmartThings. Although expensive at $80, the Flic Smart Button three-pack fits the bill here. So one button could be used to control under cabinet lights and two others are ready for future use in this case. One caveat though: That integration is cloud-based so if your home internet is down, the button won’t work.
So regardless of whether you have a smart or non-connected light strip under your cabinets, there are several options to add some smarts to them.
To hear Michael’s question in full, as well as our discussion on the topic, tune in to the IoT Podcast below:
JD Roberts says
You can’t use a smart dimmer in conjunction with smart lights unless the switch is specifically designed for that purpose. The two dimming features in the two devices will conflict with each other and may even create a fire hazard. Basically any dimmer which functions by cutting current to the smart bulbs, whether the switch is dumb or smart, has this problem.
This issue doesn’t come up with dumb lights, which is why you didn’t run into it in your own remodel.
The on/off switch also runs into the issue that if you cut the current to the smart lights they can no longer hear the next network command, so you can no longer turn them on in other ways. Plus the inrush current every time the power is restored runs the risk of significantly shortening the lifespan of what are already expensive lights. Most smart lights are intended to always have power, and you should follow the manufacturer’s recommendation to preserve your investment.
Fortunately, there’s a very easy solution given that the questioner already has a smartthings account. All they need to do is get any Smart Device, Battery Powered or Mains Powered, which can communicate with smartthings. It can be a button, a wall switch, a remote. It just has to not work by controlling the current to the LIFX strips That device will send a Command to smartthings and smartthings will pass along the command to the LIFX strip. There are lots of different choices depending on the exact details of the use case and whether you just want on/off or whether you want to be able to control scenes that would change colors or dim levels. And some of these will work locally, so you don’t run into the Internet cloud issue that you mention.
This is a frequently asked question in the smartthings community, and there is a community FAQ on the different approaches. I suggest reading that. it says “Hue” in the topic title, but it applies to any brand of smart lights.
JD Roberts says
Apologies, correcting myself: since these are LIFX light strips, that integration with SmartThings is currently cloud to cloud, regardless of the switch you use. (Hue has a local ST integration, but LIFX does not.) That still doesn’t mean you should use a switch which cuts the current for all the reasons previously stated, but it is something to be aware of.
It’s possible that once Matter is working that this will change, at least for basic functions, but we will just have to wait and see on that.
Again, my apologies for any confusion. Obviously, this stuff gets complicated!