Wireless and battery-free light switches remain relatively unknown to the general public. However, they could soon become an integral part of our urban environment. Our homes are likely to be equipped with this kind of technology in the near future. Whatever its intended purpose – to add a new light switch to an existing installation or to associate it to a remote control system – the main benefit remains the same: the user does not have to fish cables through walls to add simple light bulbs.
They have another advantage: they can be installed without consulting an electrician, in less than ten minutes. The price is also interesting, considering the low installation costs. In this article, we will have a look at three different products: one that includes a switch and a wireless receiver; one that can be directly connected to an electrical outlet; and a third that has been produced for the Philips Hue light bulbs.
How it works
Wireless and battery-free switches are very easy to use. A radio signal transmits the on/off information to a receiver, which can be directly integrated in an electrical circuit before to reach the bulb. Some devices are already equipped with a compatible receiver. Here’s how it works: it generates electricity called piezoelectricity: a complicated word for a simpler concept, which is electric polarity due to the pressure of the finger on the switch. This action creates enough energy to send the information. The mechanical energy is then transformed into electrical energy thanks to a small generator located inside the device. That is the reason why that kind of switch is a little bit thicker than most of the conventional ones.
The first company to patent this process was the German EnOcean. It gave its name to the communication protocol used to treat the information sent via radio waves to the receiver. Most of the brands that have manufactured wireless and battery-free switches use that same protocol. In short, the technology used is the same: the only thing that varies is the product design.
Why use it
Minimum installation effort
Adding a conventional switch often comes with installation work, which can get complicated for non-professionals. Drawing up a cabling plan, cutting out the partition wall, connecting the installation… These are three of many reasons why manufacturers have developed wireless switches, which reduce installation work to the minimum. It takes an average of ten minutes to set up a wireless switch. Costs are also reduced, as it is no longer necessary to physically connect the switch to the electricity grid. Savings made thanks to the reduced installation costs can easily compensate the price of the product, higher than for a conventional device.
Battery-free switches have another advantage: they require no maintenance. Indeed, it is no longer necessary to check battery condition to ensure the switch will work. The sole use of mechanical energy ensures the autonomy of the device. The only issue the user will have to face is natural wear, but it will take years before the switch is out of use. Battery-free switches are also ecological, once again thanks to their power mode.
Many location options
As the system does not have to be connected to any electric cable, the switch frees itself from its conventional location. The user can choose to secure it with screws or tape on any kind of surface: a fridge, a cupboard door, a desk, a window or even an object which can then be moved. As for the design, some manufacturers have already begun to produce esthetic products, but further efforts need to be made to reduce the device’s size, as the mini generator placed inside the switch makes it thicker than a conventional one.
To work, the wireless switch needs to be connected to a receiver, which can be directly integrated in the product you want to operate (for example, the Philips Hue bulbs can directly be switched on and off with the Philips Hue Tap switch) or can be inserted directly into the electrical circuit, behind the old switch for example. It is the case for the NodOn switches. The setup is easy, but the user still will have to follow carefully the given instructions. If necessary, a professional can complete the installation process.
To connect the emitter to the receiver, the user will only have to push a button placed on the switch. The connected light bulbs which are compatible with this kind of switch can also be set up via the mobile app.
Simplicity: NodOn's wall switch EnOcean
The wireless and battery-less switch developed by NodOn uses the radio protocol EnOcean. There are two ways to benefit from the system. If the user already has compatible products, the setup will be very quick. The only thing they will have to do is to secure the switch (with screws or double-sided tape) wherever they want, and to follow the instructions to activate the product. If the user does not have compatible products, already equipped with a EnOcean-compatible receiver, they can still monitor the electrical installation by setting up a receiver themselves. NodOn sells receivers for less than 50 dollars. This micromodule has to be fixed to the back of a wired switch or in the ceiling.
The switch is delivered with one simple button to control one group of devices and two half buttons to control two groups. Two shades are available: cozy white and cozy grey.
The pros... the cons...
Works with any kind of existing system
Can require installation of a receiver
The alternative: the RunLessWire Plug-in Wireless Switch Kit
If installing a receiver seems too complicated, there are other solutions. RunLessWire has developed a system made up of a self-powered wireless switch and a plug-in receiver. The kit costs $95 ($47 per item). It functions in much the same way as the previous product, with one exception: the user here will have to monitor a plug and the plugged in devices. It can be particularly useful to drive a living-room lamp, a television set or a Hi-Fi system.
For the setup, simply plug the cord of an electrical device into the receiver, then plug the receiver into a standard electrical outlet (any 120 VAC power outlet) and mount switch in any location with adhesive or screws. The device can then be controlled using the self-powered wireless light switch. Range of switch is 50-150 feet.
The pros... the cons...
Easy and fast to install (integrated receiver)
Cannot operate a ceiling light
A stylish design: the Philips Hue Tap switch
The Philips Hue Tap switch is a connected and smart device. With an attractive design, it works only with the Philips Hue smart light bulbs (see our article here). The setup is very easy as the switch just has to be connected to the bridge (the appliance which connects the bulb to your smartphone) via the dedicated app.
This switch has many more features than the two other products that have been presented in this article. It can easily be compared to a remote control, rather than being a simple button. At first sight, the device seems to be equipped with three buttons, but a fourth one is hiding: it covers the entire surface of the device (it is the “off” button). The smaller ones can be used to adjust the bulbs’ brightness according to tastes and occasions. Up to four different parameters can be configured and finger-operated. It is also possible to remove the switch from its wall socket, making the resemblance with a remote control even clearer. The user can though use it comfortably seated on their sofa.
The pros... the cons..
Very easy to install, memorizes customized lighting ambiences, aesthetic design
High price, only compatible with the Philips Hue smart light bulbs
Product review - Philips Hue
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