Replacing old switches with smart dimmers

Smart lighting offers numerous benefits; scheduled activation, remote control, dimming and color selections, preconfigured lighting scenes, and integration with other sensors in the home. All that can be rendered techie fluff, however, if you can't just turn the damn lights on. This conundrum is particularly relevant if you have kids, house guests, or less than enthusiastic spouses who may not have a smartphone to do these tasks, or be willing to do so every time.

CNET actually has a good write up of this issue, and the options generally available to us. Typically this comes down to a single choice; Smart switches, or smart lights (whether by bulb, socket, or fitting). Generally, smart switches solve the convenience issue, but may involve more effort than your willing to commit. Replaces your wall switches may not even be an option if you are in a rental, or don't have the right wiring in your walls. Also, while these switches will allow switching, and even dimming, of the lights in a room, you don't get color options.

On the other hand, the smart lights give all the goodness, but without the convenience of a wall switch. As I've built out my Philips Hue experimental installation I've had to tackle this. It quickly became apparent that I would need to be able to simply turn the lights on when entering a room in the dark for a quick errand, and voice control didn't always work.

I've tried a couple of options from Philips, both the Tap Switch, and the Dimmer. The Tap switch wasn't going to do it. I had to mount it next to the normal wall switch, and it didn't behave the same way. Rather than toggling a light, or even a room, it simply selects a preset scene. I could assign on and off to each of the 4 buttons, but it wasn't intuitive, and didn't prevent people turning off the wall switch, sabotaging the whole arrangement.

 Wall Switch Side View

Wall Switch Side View

The Dimmer, on the other hand, seemed lie a better option for single room control. Having much more intuitive on and off buttons, plus a clear dimmer function. It even looks like a wall switch, even though it's battery powered instead of hard wired. I liked the look and function of the device, and wanted to see how it might be placed for best effect. After some experimenting, I found that I could place the Dimmer OVER the existing wall switch, providing easy control of the smart lights, AND preventing the switch being turned off.

Now an obvious caveat here is that this approach is entirely dependent on the style of wall switches you have. They need to be small (the switch itself, not the plate), and low profile. As a bonus, I found the Philips Dimmer to be the exact right size to fit on top of my existing wall plates. 

Using 3M Command Adhesive strips (the Large size) was the easiest option. While the placement of the strips would prevent the use of their clean removal capability, it would be an issue in this case as the wall plates are gloss plastic and wouldn't be permanently marked either way. The strips themselves give just enough extra clearance to allow the dimmer to site over the existing switch.

Firstly, unpack the dimmer, and have 2 Large Command Adhesive strips available. 

Clean the wall plate of the switch to be covered. Just use a damp cloth to remove any grime from the wall plater to ensure a good bond. Make sure the plate is fully dry (I used a tissue).

Take the Dimmer remote off the back plate and turn it over. Then place an adhesive strip on each side. Take care to get the outer edge flush to make it less conspicuous, then press it on firmly.

 Step 1 - Prep

Step 1 - Prep

 Step 2 - Attaching strips

Step 2 - Attaching strips

Now remove the wall side backing from the strips, and carefully place the dimmer plate over the existing switch. Make sure the switch is ON first. Align the edges of the dimmer plate with the wall plate of the switch, and press firmly for 30 seconds, per the 3M instructions. This is important as I had the plates pop off when I didn't hold them for long enough.

Once secure, place the dimmer remote back on the plate, and you're done. Now you have 'upgraded wall switches' with dimmer capability, multiple scene presets, and you you can take the remote with you to boot. All without anyone being able to turn off your smart lights by accident.

 Step 3 - Dimmer Plate Attached

Step 3 - Dimmer Plate Attached

 Finished Product

Finished Product