Lutron's new smart dimmer fits over existing light switches

One of the biggest annoyances of replacing your light bulbs with smart ones is the need to keep the wall switch turned on. The smart lights need power to work, and they can’t get it if the socket is turned off. This leaves you in the position of not being able to control the lights the way people have come to expect, and being left with only voice or smartphone app control. Conversely, it can also mean your smart lights don’t work as expected because someone turned off the wall switch (I’m looking at you, kids).

Now, those two options are certainly one of the selling points of having smart lights, along with color selection, dimming, and integration with sensors and scenes. But sometimes you just want to be able to turn the damn light on or off quickly, and quietly. It’s also handy for guests who many not know how to use your smart home.

There are a number of smart switch options on the market, but these typically require being wired in place of the existing light switch, and that means they need a neutral wire to power the switch itself. Many light switch installations don’t have this (because it’s not needed for a dumb switch), and it can be problematic to retrofit. I’ve previously come up with a solution for this problem in the Philips Hue ecosystem of smart lights using their Hue Dimmer switch, but this approach depends on the type of wall switch you have, as the space behind the dimmer is limited.

Smart home company Lutron has now come to the party with an elegant and intuitive smart dimmer that works with any ZigBee controlled smart lights, and is specifically certified for use with Philips Hue. The Lutron Aurora Smart Bulb Dimmer is a compact rotary device that attaches to the face plate of your existing wall switch. The base plate has a slot for the switch to sit in, and a metal strap to hold it on the on position, with the knob spanning into place on top.

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The knob itself is double-action. Push to turn on and off, turn to adjust brightness. Lutron says the slot in the base plate has been tested with a wide variety of switches and wall plate designs to ensure maximum compatibility, but it only works with toggle-type switches at this stage.

The device is powered by a single CR2032 button battery, which Lutron says should last 3-4 years, depending on usage.

As the switch connects to the smart light’s ZigBee network, it’s not dependent on WiFi or internet connectivity, and being able to connect to the Philip’s Hue Bridge means it’s fully HomeKit compatible in the same way as Philip’s own Tap and Dimmer switches.

Lutron is not the first to offer a solution to the problem of what to do with your existing light switches. Last year Philips added a number of lighting partners to it’s Hue program, one of which is Illumra. The Click for Philips Hue is a dual two-way rocker switch using the same battery-less technology as Philip’s own Tap Switch, but in a more conventional light switch for factor. Moreover, the Click is also designed to fit over existing wall switches, and can also be controlled via HomeKit through the Hue Bridge. You can pick one up on Amazon.

These devices are a cost effective and easy to install answer to making your smart lights a more intuitive and cleanly integrated part of your home. We’re sure to see more devices like these, but the key to simple DIY installation and low maintenance is the use of the ZigBee protocol. As this significantly drops the power required for the device to work they can be effectively run on small batteries for long periods, or indeed no batteries at all using only the energy of pressing the switch itself to send the required signal. You’ll still need to ensure your existing wall switch style will fit under the smart switch, but if it does your guests (and your kids) will thank you.