On a recent Internet of Things Podcast, we took a voicemail from Shane on our podcast hotline. Shane has to replace the electrical panel in his home and thinking about going with a smart electrical panel. He notes that we’ve recommended the Sense Home Energy monitoring solution in the past. However, he’s concerned that as a smaller company, Sense may not be around through the life of his breaker box. So Shane is looking for other smart electrical panel options from more established companies. He’s also considering smart outlets, not smart plugs, and smart switches. Shane wants to know what his options are for those as well, particularly for a HomeKit home.
First up, a kudos to Shane for thinking about the longevity and long-term support for his smart home. I’m not suggesting that Sense won’t be around in a few years, but it’s a valid concern for the decision making process. And to be honest, if Shane has to replace his electrical panel anyway, the time is right for a fully-featured solution.
The $299 Sense product is great for monitoring energy usage. However, a fully integrated smart panel does more than that. You can remotely disable from the app as needed.
Of course, a full featured system is going to cost much more. The price will vary based on your service amperage and the number of circuit breakers you need. Estimates range between $2,000 and $5,000 as a result. That’s because either panel, the individual circuit breakers, or both, have connectivity and smarts built in.
We researched various smart panel options and suggest Shane consider those from Legrand, Leviton and Schneider Electric. All three brands offer similar products, so the decision likely comes down to price and smart home platform compatibility. Unfortunately, none of them a direct integration with Apple HomeKit as they rely upon their own individual mobile apps.
The $2,999 Schneider Electric Energy Center uses the Wiser monitoring system, which has a special version of the Sense app. However unlike having just a Sense monitor and traditional breaker box, Schneider Electric’s SmartLoad system does allow for remote disabling of circuits.
To get a better idea of what all three of these smart panels offer, I’ll use this Leviton video to illustrate. It provides a solid overview of the features and smart functionality through the mobile app:
Again, all three of these options are similar in what they offer. Pricing can be a challenge to find, so you may need to seek out an electrician on that front. You’d be relying on one anyway for the installation and I’m sure different electricians can offer their own perspective on the various options.
When it comes to smart outlets, not the plug in type used with existing outlets, there are plenty of options available. And you’ll find better smart home platform compatibility. Leviton’s smart outlets, for example, work with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Home, IFTTT, SmartThings and Schlage systems. Leviton also says it will provide Matter updates to its Decora Smart switches later this year.
And, important for Shane’s requirements, the company also has smart GFCI outlets. (Update: Leviton has connected GFCI breakers but not connected GFCI outlets.) Schnieder Electric offers connected outlets with GFCI protection as well but we couldn’t find one from Legrand. We did reach out to Legrand asking about that but did not get a response. Legrand does, however, offer smart outlets similar to those from Leviton and Schneider Electric.
From a smart switch perspective, there are options aplenty. Meaning you don’t have to get switches with the same brand as your smart panel. The panels monitor entire circuits, which would include switches on those circuits. So, for example, you could buy any of the above mentioned smart panels and use switches from GE, Lutron, TP-Link or any other vendor.
Just choose the ones that look nicest to you and work with your smart home system. Eventually, Matter-certified switches will open up even more options since they’ll work across ecosystems. Personally, I’d go with Lutron Caseta switches. That’s what I bought after Stacey’s years of happiness with hers.
To hear Shane’s question in full, as well as our discussion on the topic, tune in to the Internet of Things Podcast below:
JD Roberts says
The Leviton link in your article didn’t work. I believe this is the one you intended:
A couple of important notes.
One) Leviton will be adding Matter support to its Wi-Fi line, which is called “Decora Smart“ not “smart Decora.“
that matters because leviton offers a whole bunch of “Decora“ products, including dumb switches, Z wave, Bluetooth, and HomeKit compatible, none of which are going to get Matter support. Only the “Decora Smart” WiFi line will.
2) again, Leviton offers many different models with identical cases but different protocols. It’s not true that all of their smart plugs work with both smartthings and HomeKit, for example. They have a Z wave model that works with smartthings and a separate Bluetooth model that works with HomeKit. And they have a Wi-Fi model which currently works with smartthings, but which will currently not work with the Apple home app. But once it gets matter support, it will work with both.
3) do you have a model number for the Leviton GFCI smart outlet you are referring to? To the best of my knowledge, as noted when discussing the previous article, Leviton has dumb GFCI outlets and smart Wi-Fi outlets, but they don’t have a Wi-Fi GFCI outlet that is controllable. (They might have one which reports its own status, but that’s a completely different kind of feature.) I’d be very interested if they do have one, since I don’t think anybody else does for the engineering reasons we discussed last time.
(The Schneider smart panel does have a “convenience GFI outlet” built into the panel, but the outlet itself is dumb: it’s being controlled by a smart control further upline, a configuration I mentioned in my previous post on this topic. It’s no different than having a dumb outlet in the house in that sense.)
4) i’m a little confused about the comment that it doesn’t matter what brand the switches are, since it will matter a lot if you’re hoping to see everything all in one app, or even create an automation that includes both the panel and the switch. It won’t matter from an electrical standpoint, if that was the point being made. But from a user standpoint, they might feel like significantly different choices.
Just as one example, a fairly common use case is that when the smoke alarm goes off, turn on the lights and turn off some major appliances. If you were hoping to use the smart panel to turn off the appliance circuit, you wouldn’t be able to include that in a single automation with turning on the individual lights unless you were using Weiser lights (part of the same home automation platform as the panel). So I think until everything works with matter, the question about the brand of switches needs more detail on the use case prior to making a recommendation.
JD Roberts says
Now to the three products mentioned as “smart panel” candidates…
First, Menards (a US retailer) has a great buying guide article on selecting a panel from a hardware aspect. Highly recommended reading before going any further.
Now, to get this out of the way: the Legrand/Netatmo product is called a “smart electrical panel,” but it’s really a line of DIN contactor modules designed by a French company for the European market. Not a full panel. It doesn’t match US code requirements for panel replacement and I don’t think you can buy it from an authorized dealer in the US or Canada. So we’d need to ask what country the caller is in. It does have HomeKit integration, but that’s because it’s seen there as just a relay. If you’re in the UK or France it would be a really good candidate for controlling an expensive on-demand water heater at times set to match local rate tiers, but I don’t think it’s what the caller was looking for. (In US terminology it would at best be called a “sub panel,” not a “load center” but it’s really just components.)
So that leaves us with two real load center candidates, Leviton and Schneider (sold in the US as the Square D line). Both are heavyweights in the category with lots of special features and US safety code certifications. Both widely available from authorized installers. Both handle a 200 amp home.
The Leviton has some extra safety features, including meeting the new UL 943 standard, and has really nice fault indicator LEDs. Very pretty looking in the indoor model. All plug on, which makes changing out a breaker really fast but also probably means each individual breaker is more expensive. This is the one you would expect to see in Mark Cuban’s house. 😉 Most local inspectors will feel really comfortable with it. It’s part of a smart home line which offers some HomeKit-compatible models, but the smart load center will not show up in the Apple home app. Interestingly, it does have some Alexa and Google Home compatibility, but I don’t know the exact details on that, and it might be pretty limited. So I would expect to be doing almost everything in Leviton’s own app, which might be OK. If the app controls are really important to you, there’s more research to be done to verify features. But I think definitely a strong candidate.
Schneider is a German company which has been selling electrical equipment into the US market for a long time and their smart panel is sold under their Square D brand. This is a really interesting offering. It’s optimized for homes which both have solar panels and are connected to the grid and who may also have a backup generator. Their app makes it really easy to control switching from one input source to another and to control things like when your EV charges based on the input sources available. (Another recent user question to the podcast.) it’s not as pretty as the Leviton and while it should meet code in most US jurisdictions. It doesn’t have the in panel indicator lights, or some of the extra safety callouts. But if you’re trying to manage multiple energy sources, it’s a really good match to that. You will need to use their own app. Again, although Schneider has some devices with are HomeKit compatible, this is not one of them. Also, you need to hope for a local inspector who is familiar with EV charging setups. If so, they will probably really like the Square D panel. If not, they may have to call back to the office or look some stuff up. And there are a few jurisdictions that won’t like having the convenience plug inside the panel box, although I think most of those are updating their codes for EVs.
So again, I think it depends on the details of the use case. People in Europe who want to control a specific circuit load might find the Legrand/Netatmo the best choice and from that aspect it does have a good HomeKit integration.
People who are sometimes on the grid and sometimes on selfgenerated power like solar and want to smartly control switching between those inputs will probably find that the Schneider/Square D has all the “would be nice“ features they were hoping for in a package that implies “high quality German industrial engineering.” It looks, and is, complicated, and the same is true of the app, but it has a lot of power user features. (No pun intended, but, yeah.) If Stacey used both Solar panels and grid engineering from a utility company that offered offpeak discounts, she would love this.
People who like technology to be made clean and simple and are getting a smart panel mostly because they tend to get everything smart if it’s available and reliable will probably find the Leviton more “approachable” (Leviton’s term). They will appreciate the extra safety features, and like the looks and the in-panel indicator lights. They will also probably like the “my Leviton“ app. They may think they will want Alexa or Google Home integration although I’m not sure they’d ever use it for this device class. This is also the one most likely to eventually get Matter compatibility, but no promises.
So I think these are three very different candidates that will meet different use cases. Definitely all three would require some further research. But the good news is that there are now candidates to research! Choice is good.
JD Roberts says
A friend says I need to clarify “panel” vs “subpanel” so…
The panel/load center/main breaker box is where electricity comes in from the utility company network (“the grid”) and gets distributed around your house. And some can also handle inputs from multiple sources, like the grid and solar panels and a backup generator.
A subpanel uses one circuit to get electricity from your panel and then distributes that around a specific area of your home that has high load needs, typically a workshop or laundry area or home theater. Subpanels were traditionally used for convenience or to reduce rewiring costs. These days they may also be used to add monitoring or smart control of high load areas.
The Legrand/Netatmo components are designed to go into a subpanel.
The Leviton and Schneider load centers are designed to replace a main panel.
I hope that’s clearer.
For the record… Schneider Electric is a French company despite the German sounding name
JD Roberts says
Thanks for the correction! I had no idea—my first encounter with them was via the Merten zwave devices, but it turns out Merten is a German company that Schneider acquired in 2006. I should have looked them up before posting; my bad.
Anyway, I also knew they were big, but I had no idea how big: they are a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues of over €30 billion!
From the official website:
“ We are leading the digital transformation of energy management and automation.”
Damn that guy should be hired.
@JD Roberts, what do you think about the Sense product ?
JD Roberts says
I don’t have any personal experience with sense. I do have some friends who have tried it. And I see a lot of reviews with a similar assessment: it sounds great in theory, but in practice, the more smart and energy efficient devices you have the more likely it is NOT to recognize them. It would probably be great for somebody who put in a DIY solar panel system that didn’t come with any monitoring, but for a typical reader of this site, it just looks like it’s going to miss a lot of stuff.
What makes Sense unusual is that it’s not reporting device-specific draw based on actually measuring that draw. Instead, it’s trying to figure out which devices are which based on historic patterns of use. If you have a conventional stove and you make dinner every night at 6 PM, it’s probably going to be able to distinguish that from the lightbulbs in the bathroom. But if you have a lot of smart appliances that you are already moderating or you have lots and lots of small draw Devices or you have a variable schedule, then it just may not be able to figure out which is which. They tried to address this problem a couple of years ago by adding an integration with a smart plug to measure the point draw, but there are still reported issues about that, and not everything’s plugged into a 15 amp smart plug.
Here’s part of a 2022 review from SolarReviews.comp
“The other disadvantage is that Sense requires patience, and sometimes doesn’t detect always-on appliances like computers, WiFi routers, and more. It can take a month or more for Sense to find some home appliances and devices (although solar tracking works right away), and some users have complained about Sense detecting the same TV dozens of times, or recognizing one of their A/C units but not another identical one for a different part of their house.”
What I see in most of the reviews from people whose technical expertise I trust is that they want to love Sense, they love the idea of it, they love the data they do get, and they keep hoping it will get better.
Here’s a 2022 Reddit thread that looks pretty typical:
So you’ll have to draw your own conclusions, or speak directly to someone with hands-on experience. Based just on the multiple reports I’ve read and heard from friends of mine who have tried it, I would put it in the “cool gadget” category. (Which puts it out of my budget.)
Not sure that was much help, but I don’t think it’s a replacement for a true smart load center. Then again, those are exponentially more expensive.
That’s a wonderful answer.
I hope am not fooled by a next gen ChatGPT
Can you prove that you are human? 😮
JD Roberts says
I’m human, but I’m not sure how I’d prove it. 🤔
I’ve been posting on the SmartThings community forum since 2014, for what that’s worth, so you can see a long history there.
JD Roberts says
Here’s one of my first home automation project reports from 2015. I don’t think it matches up with what an AI of that time would write, but you can judge for yourself.
I was kidding of course but kudos